Adult ADHD and the Automatic No — and Automatic Yes

automatic no

 

What’s the Automatic No? It’s a phenomenon I’ve long observed among many folks with Adult ADHD.  (In fact, I seem to have coined the term, writing about it first in 2014 in an article I wrote for CHADD.)

To the uninitiated, the Automatic No might look like negativity or even oppositional defiance. But typically there is more afoot.  How do I know this?  Two ways:

  1. Professionally, by developing expertise in Adult ADHD
  2. Personally, by observing at home and elsewhere

Oh, I’ve also seen the Automatic Yes, too. More about that in a minute.

The Professional Explanation

We could categorize the Automatic No as a “poor coping response.”

That is, when folks grow up without benefit of the ADHD diagnosis or treatment, they tend to come up with all variety of ways to cope with their challenges.  Some are positive. Some are counter-productive—and some even destructive.  Many “poor coping responses” simply are desperate attempts at getting by day to day—lacking better explanations for their challenges.

Therapy for Adult ADHD should shine a major light on identifying these counterproductive coping responses and, with diagnosis/treatment now in hand, finding more productive coping responses. That was a major focus of my first book and now  a major focus of my online training (launches soon, so be sure to subscribe!).

As for the personal, my husband (aka, Dr. Goat) used to be the Master of the Automatic No. Once he was diagnosed with ADHD (in 1999), I started understanding how he developed this habit.  When I interviewed him, a few years ago, for an article on his best tips for slowing his own ADHD roller coaster,* I asked him about the Automatic No.

Dr. Goat: The Personal Explanation

At any rate, here is his response to my question:

What’s the Automatic No? Simple. I would routinely say no when my wife would propose an outing or a different way of doing things at home. Who knows why. I wasn’t opposed to most of her suggestions.

Looking back, I suspect I reflexively rejected adding one more thing to the pile I was supposed to think about or remember—possibly resulting in another failure. Most of you know what I mean by this: You grow so accustomed to falling flat when attempting new things that you avoid trying them. I found it easier to say no and go watch Star Trek instead!

Since then, I’ve learned to listen with an open mind before rejecting an idea. Now we have this shtick, in which Gina will suggest something and I’ll say “No.” She’ll repeat it, and I’ll say “No.” She tries one more time, and I often say ‘OK.’

Why does this help?  It give me time to get the Automatic No’s out of my system, and it allows me to assess how I actually feel about the idea.”
In other words, it’s sort of like this guy above, from the BBC show The Vicar of Dibley.
It made such a difference when my husband started saying “yes” or “let me think about it” or “I’d say yes, but” instead of the Automatic No.
 

The Automatic Yes: The Other Side of the Coin

A friend of mine diagnosed with ADHD in her 30s has long wrestled with the opposite problem: The Automatic Yes.

Actually, it just seems the opposite problem. It’s really just the flip side of the same challenge: Finding it easier to give a blanket answer rather than  think through a response—and risk giving the wrong one. From requests for her to volunteer at her children’s school or babysit her sister’s children, she has trouble saying no.

Yes, she’d call herself a people-pleaser. But if we stop there, we likely miss the core cause.

At the core, ADHD creates trouble for her in distinguishing among tasks she can accommodate versus those that she cannot—or doesn’t want to.  Another layer of challenge: She feels she must respond immediately.  That means she over-commits, thus disappointing others and herself.

I suggested that she practice saying, “Let me think about it” or “I’ll get back to you”.  Or even, putting the onus on the person making the request:  “Could you please ask me in a text or e-mail? That way, I’ll be sure to give it thought and get back to you.”   This is easier to do now that she’s been taking medication a few years.

Finding The Illusive Middle Ground

Most humans—but especially for humans with ADHD—struggle to find the middle ground on all kinds of issues. For people with ADHD struggling with the fallout from extremes of the  Automatic No and the Automatic Yes, solutions start with examining the nature of the response.

In this essay, Taylor J writes about her reaction to reading about these issues in Chapter 3 of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?:   Chapter 3: Deconstruct Your ADHD Roller CoasterChapter 3: Deconstruct Your ADHD Roller Coaster

Watch The Video

In this video, I touch upon the importance of distinguishing between ADHD symptoms and poor coping responses.

Have You Grappled with ADHD and the Automatic No — or Yes?

Have you made peace with it? What was your strategy?  We’d love to know. Just leave a comment!

One Reader Shares Her Perspective:

A reader named Betty shared her concise and insightful experiences with this.  To make sure other readers see it, I share it here.
Betty writes:

I fluctuate between.

As a child, I survived by doing more than expected so that my failures were lost in the blazing light of accomplishment. It was my responsibility to see that the world was in order.

If my parents fought it was because I failed – and they fought often. I didn’t feel I had the right to say no to any request.

Initially I thought this was a peace-keeping technique, and maybe it was at first. Upon reflection, I began to see the “yes” response, not only as as a validation of my reason for being, but as a prideful response. No one could be as good as I am.

Repeated failures (as a result of saying yes to things I wasn’t equipped to accomplish, or lacking the time, or trying to juggle too much) “no” became my go to response. I said it nicely enough but the result was the same. I got out from under. But I missed out on opportunities to learn, to grow, and too enjoy.

Since my diagnosis, and studying about life with ADHD, I have begun to moderate my approach to requests. Asking questions, assessing current commitments and resources have helped me achieve a more balanced life.

Note:

*That article referenced above is:  How I Got My Groove Back.  Note: I did not write that headline and I still don’t understand it. He was getting a groove for the first time, not getting it back. But read it—it’s good!

Stay posted!  Join my mailing list.  Look for announcements about online training soon!

Gina Pera

 

14 thoughts on “Adult ADHD and the Automatic No — and Automatic Yes”

  1. I’m glad to have a phrase for this phenomenon. My adhd husband does this to almost *everything.* Lately he has been having some digestive troubles, that cause him pronounced discomfort & prevent him from doing some of his normal activities. It’s been a few weeks now, so this morning I suggested he call his doc. “No.”

    I know better than to push – that will only make him dig in, and make it harder for him to change his mind later. But it’s incredibly frustrating.

    1. Hi Lori,

      You’re welcome!

      Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating and, if other ADHD-related challenges are affecting his and your quality of life, unnecessarily frustrating.

      So many people assume that such behaviors are part of “personality” — but typically they spring directly from poorly managed ADHD.

      I encourage you to check out my new online course. I know this topic upside down and backward. My books form a highly respected body of work that make that clear.

      https://adhdsuccesstraining.com/adult-adhd-solving-the-four-essential-puzzle-pieces-consumers/

      take care,
      g

  2. Valerie Sprenger

    Thanks, once again, Gina. I think your comments are bang on. My ADD husband discovered after about 38 years of marriage that his ‘natural’ response to things I asked him – even for things that would ONLY benefit him such as when he wanted to lie on the floor to nap (one of his favorite things to do) “Would you like a pillow?” – was “no”. Then he realized that he WOULD like a pillow, but his default answer was “NO”. Being at the receiving end of this and other negative coping mechanisms he developed before our marriage has all but destroyed my relationships with other people. I believe I became warped adapting to his behaviour and left behind my healthier ways of interacting with people (which of course didn’t work with him). Your battle to educate, educate, educate is so important.

    1. Dear Valerie,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry the phenomenon resonates so much for you. And I know exactly what you mean about “warped adapting.”

      take care,
      g

    2. Wow. So sorry. I remember the pillow thing. I remember thinking, “Why did I just say no to a pillow?” Sorry it made other relationships more difficult.

    3. Hi Joel,

      Right, why did you say no? For no reason! 🙂

      This is a hard concept for many people to understand. They want to believe that whatever we say must, at the heart of it, convey some deep meaning.

      But sometimes our limbic system just reacts. Like “critter brains” do!

      g

  3. Dear Gina: What a wonderful moment minutes ago when I received the notification on my email to rehearse! I said a conscious yes, that´ s why I am here. I believe this declarations: no and yes, are a huge topic. I would say they can be named the key for freedom.

    Instead of saying yes, to avoid conflict, or seek pleasing, when it is a no, I use… “let me think about it”.. When they push me, is a NO simple and clear. Always preceded by thanking, whatever they are inviting me to.

    I was not a person like Dr Goat, no automatic no in my life before, not even those that were born as no… We all can learn, we just need to practice.

    It is not a communication issue, it is more an emotional one. Great article Gina. Thanks for the chance to stop 10 min.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Norma.

      I love that….when pushed, it’s a clear no. Great and simple rule to follow!

      I am working on that material I owe you!!!

      g

  4. I don’t know if I could say I am an automatic no or an automatic yes person, but I absolutely resonate with the panic of feeling pressured to give an immediate answer. One of the most valuable things my husband ever gave me was the advice to use the excuse “Let me talk that over with my husband.” It’s such a useful tool to give my brain time to figure out the potential consequences of saying yes or no and how I actually feel about it.

  5. You may share my comments anytime or anywhere you choose. I have shared this in my CHADD and Totally ADD presentations. It is so important that we share what we have been given. You showed the way in your writings when you opted to be vulnerable as you shared your journey.

  6. I fluctuate between.

    As a child I survived by doing more than expected so that my failures were lost in the blazing light of accomplishment. It was my responsibility to see that the world was in order.

    If my parents fought it was because I failed – and they fought often. I didn’t feel I had the right to say no to any request.

    Initially I thought this was a peace-keeping technique, and maybe it was at first. Upon reflection, I began to see the “yes” response, not only as as a validation of my reason for being, but as a prideful response. No one could be as good as I am.

    Repeated failures (as a result of saying yes to things I wasn’t equipped to accomplish, or lacking the time, or trying to juggle too much) “no” became my go to response. I said it nicely enough but the result was the same. I got out from under. But I missed out on opportunities to learn, to grow, and too enjoy.

    Since my diagnosis, and studying about life with ADHD, I have begun to moderate my approach to requests. Asking questions, assessing current commitments and resources have helped me achieve a more balanced life.

    1. Dear Betty — I am grateful for your concise yet extremely insightful and illustrative-of-all-the-potential-complexity comment.

      I would love to add it to the post, at the end, to be sure more readers see it….if that’s okay with you. Without your name, of course — or with it, as you prefer!

      Thank you!!!
      g

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