Psychological Denial of ADHD, or The FEAR Factor

denial of ADHD


By Taylor J.

Chapter 13 is the first chapter under the #2 Success Strategy: Dealing with Denial. As such, it covers the common psychological reasons behind denial of ADHD– that is, for either partner denying that there’s any real problem going on. (Or, if there is a problem, it most certainly is not ADHD.)

Most of these reasons for psychological denial can be traced back to F.E.A.R. or “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

Welcome back to the “You, Me, and ADHD” Book Club. Based on my first book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?  

ADHD Medications and Relationships

Here, Taylor shares her insights about Chapter 13, about some of the “fear factors” that keep us or our partners in denial of ADHD.

So much inaccurate information floats around about ADHD, it’s entirely reasonable for us to respond with some of these common defense mechanisms.

I’ll share a “denial patterns” that we experienced:

1. “Our challenges can’t be related to ADHD. That’s all about hyperactive little boys who can’t stop climbing the walls.”

My husband (PhD math professor AKA “Dr. Math”) reasonably asserted, “If we’re not communicating well, I can assure you that wall-climbing has nothing to do with it.”

It’s true, he wasn’t scaling the bedroom wall as we attempted to communicate. Instead, his hyperactivity was more subtle—the incessant finger-drumming to the beat of the music that was always playing in his mind. That music often kept him from hearing me, or anyone else he loved.

2. Lifelong rationalizations obscure reality: “I over-spent this month; everyone does that sometimes.”

Yes, but not everyone does that on a regular basis, due to impulsive spending. Not everyone forgets to pick up the kids twice a week. Not everyone oversleeps every single day.

3. The rationalization of “success.”

Gina writes:

People who are top performers at work, or have a string of graduate degrees, can assume that their achievements rule out ADHD. “I can’t have ADHD. I make a lot of money.” Or “I’m a well-loved pastor who has a special relationship with God.”

Yes, maybe they are earning buckets of money—but they also might not be paying their bills. Yes, they’re successful at work—but maybe they pour every ounce of focus into it, leaving little or nothing for the rest of life. Yes, the congregation loves that pastor—but he shows a darker side of his personality to his family, during the rare hours he spends with them.

4. “I’m just being a man [or a woman].”

I’ve written before about how distorted, rigid gender roles were a part of our church lives for a time. So you can imagine how often I heard the man/woman excuse, to the point that I finally (rudely, unproductively) started throwing it in his face: “You’re so focused on your power tools because that’s what men do? Fine. I’m going to go talk on the phone for three hours, doing what women do, and see how you like it.”

While men and women—and people in general—can definitely be very different, even to the point of illustrating gender stereotype, ADHD symptoms can exaggerate normal differences to the point of impairment.

5. Fears of Playing God

The rest of chapter 13 covers fears that we may feel as partners of an ADHD spouse.

Prior to learning about ADHD, my greatest fear was “playing God,” or violating my husband’s autonomy.

Gina writes:

It’s ill-advised to try molding a person into our idea of the perfect mate. There is a difference, however, between accepting people and letting them wallow so deeply in their dysfunction that they never have a chance to discover who they truly are beneath the weight of their symptoms.”[Emphasis mine.]

Chapter 13 covers many more fears about an ADHD diagnosis.

Please, if you don’t read a single other chapter of the book, come back for next time’s discussion on “Biological Denial.” This chapter truly changed how I interacted with my husband and helped strengthen my resolve to get him effective treatment. Treatment can be life-changing.

Discussion points on ADHD and Denial:

  1. What types of denial or resistance to the diagnosis (yours or your partner’s) has your partner communicated to you?
  2. What fears have you experienced in trying to get your partner treated?
  3. If you’re past the denial stage, what helped you or your family to overcome those fears?

—Gina Pera



9 thoughts on “Psychological Denial of ADHD, or The FEAR Factor”

  1. Hi Gina,
    My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school. We tried everything possible to avoid medication, but we finally decided to give it a try. She took meds until the 2nd semester of college and decided to go off of them on her own with out doctor guided tapering. She started failing classes and dropped out of college. We didn’t know that she went off the meds until asking what was going on with the drastic change. She got a job and was fired, then got another job and quit. She started doing drugs, but is not currently using. She lived off her savings for awhile and moved in with my mom. She hasn’t gotten back to work or school in 3+ years. When I speak to her about her ADHD or getting work or school, she gets defensive and angry with me and my mom. We feel like she seems happy, but she isn’t very social with her peers. My mom and I feel like we are stuck in what we can do to help her. She refuses to go to counseling. What do you recommend?

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      I appreciate your situation. That’s tough.

      The college years can be treacherous for kids with ADHD. They come to question the diagnosis, the medications….often given peer opinions.

      They start failing. And they don’t realize that stopping the medication is why they are failing. Insight continues to nose-dive.

      The trouble is, medication is typically prescribed badly. They don’t learn supportive skills. All of this conspires to make them avoid talking about it and refusing treatment.

      What I recommend is that you get seriously educated (most we see online and even in books will not cut it). About ADHD, about “denial” and about the medications and other physical issues.

      The more grounded you are in what needs to happen, the less vulnerable you are to her protests springing from denial. But you’re also better prepared to find a more competent prescriber– and be prepared to guide the choices and monitoring.

      People will say, “Oh, that’s not appropriate for a parent to do that.” Guess what? Who else is going to do it? Who else has that’s child’s future front and center? It’s sure not some therapist who calls that “codependent” and understands nothing of what is happening.

      I would not financially support her. I would have household structure, routines. and guidelines.

      Your mom needs to get educated, too. All of you, really. That’s the only way.

      You might interested in the training I created to help consumers guide medications decisions with the MD and get the best results.

      Because it is mostly a Hot Mess out there.

      good luck

  2. Taylor J, is there a way I can connect or at least private message you? I don’t have twitter, but I have Facebook, Skype, Telegram and a email.

    1. Hi Unsure,

      You can communicate with Taylor J right here.

      That’s the purpose of this online book club: to have discussions.


  3. What types of denial….
    He doesn’t connect ADHD to his challenges.
    He rationalizes it. Yes, he performs well at work and makes a nice salary, but it leaves him with little interest/energy for anything else.
    He plays the blame game. Our relational difficulties are my fault because I’m the one who has changed.

    What fears…
    I think the biggest fear for my DH is the fear of losing his identity. He talks about being fun, creative, and spontaneous and he thinks he’ll lose that spontaneity if he gets treated.
    I think he’s also afraid of being labeled with a mental illness and the stigma with that.

    I’m afraid of having to help him manage this disorder for the rest of our lives. Right now I’m tired. He’s not getting appropriate treatment and I am responsible for so much. I’m trying to claw my way out of the hole and I just feel like everything–every discussion, every decision–is just so much work. I’m so tired of being the one to bend and compromise the majority of the time. Maybe with appropriate treatment that gets better, but what if it doesn’t???? Then what?

    1. Hi Deb,

      Thanks for detailing how this chapter resonates for you, and no doubt so many others.

      Good luck navigating the next steps.

      Keep finding your voice. That’s going to help counter the denials.


  4. KJ, I really hope I haven’t given anyone the impression that life after diagnosis is smooth sailing. 🙁 If I did, I’m so sorry.

    My husband and I both still have a lifetime’s worth of bad habits to overcome, and it’s a daily struggle. I can’t emphasize enough that ADHD is a DISability, not a special gifting that transcends space and time (the way some writers make it out to be).

    Rather, even with medication, even with coping strategies, even with knowledge, I have to make a daily effort just to get my teeth brushed. I have to put structures in place to support my jelly-fish-like brain, because without them, my brain will just go with the current.

    I’m currently writing this response while my two youngest kids are watching too much television. Yes, I’m brilliant, yes I have unique ideas, yes I have a lot of gifts, but I also have people who depend on me to be a good freaking mom. (My husband, and my kids.) At the end of the day, if I’m not a good mom, none of the other stuff I can do matters very much.

    So, yes, there will still be struggles. The good thing is that they can be mitigated, with a lot of work.

    I have to go, my three year old is calling me. But I’m glad you posted this here, because it’s an important point!

  5. There’s another aspect of denial I think missing in the book!

    My husband has been diagnosed and takes ritalin – and has an ADD coach – at each stage his denial has been about something else. First he didn’t have ADD – until the diagnosis – then he didn’t have it that bad, so didn’t need to do anything more than take the medication – until I threatened divorce – then he got the coach – but even now he struggles to use the tools as he convinces himself – he CAN remember things etc or he SHOULD be able to get by without the tools…

    Everything I read about denial says once you get the diagnosis and medication and understanding it will be plain sailing. Three years after diagnosis and treatment – denial is STILL a problem for us. I think the issue with my husband is that he was brought up (in practice neglected) by two parents with undiagnosed ADD who created their own world away from everyone else – where none of this mattered. They have wallowed in their dysfunction by not admitting to themselves that there was any dysfunction, and that is the coping strategy they imprinted in my husband. He has a hard time admitting there is anything wrong – he’s had 38 years of doing that, before he was diagnosed and needs psychotherapy to unlearn his parents’ unhelpful patterns. I guess he can’t be alone given that ADD is heritable – and has not been recognised or not well treated until recent years.

    If denial was your parents’ strategy for dealing with their undiagnosed and unrecognised ADD, unlearning that is very difficult.

    1. Hi KJ,

      Thanks for relating your experience. I know it is not a rare one!

      I sort of touched on that “soft” aspect of denial in the denial chapters. But what you’re speaking of is more emphatically addressed in the chapters on therapy. In particular: revising counterproductive habits and self-talk.

      I can see how growing up with both parents’ unrecognized ADHD could set a very different standard by which he might measure his habits now.

      But really, much of it is having little access to guidance that can help him turn around his counterproductive thoughts, responses, and behaviors. Even very smart folks with ADHD can need help with figuring out the logistics of learning to do things differently.

      Thanks for writing.


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