Adult ADHD can generate feelings of being a little kid again, and not in a good way. Pestered by that tiny voice that reminds you that what you feel, think, do and have isn’t as good as “everyone” else? Find yourself in a continuous loop of brooding over what you believe that you are missing out on, you don’t have enough of, you will never achieve?
While comparison shopping may get you a good deal, comparing yourself to others and coming up short does not. Yes, the competitive spirit can help power you towards success. Reflecting on a problem can help you find a solution. However, the downside for some is when habitual comparative thinking leads you down the path of negative thinking and rumination.
Defaulting to negative thinking can be a common reaction to the challenges and stress faced by someone with Adult ADHD. It’s a form of learned helplessness, self-sabotage and is often rooted in distorted thinking. The rational thinking side is replaced with fabrication, “awfulizing” and “shoulding.”
Rick’s Story. Talented, attractive and fun to be around, behind the scenes Rick is constantly plagued by haunting thoughts of not being as good, successful, funny, interesting, hardworking, organized, motivated or deserving as _______ (fill in the blank). Furthermore, whatever unresolved issue is bubbling in his brain leads to the horrible “realization” that his future is doomed….he’ll never have a loving partner, his kids will be estranged from him, he’ll never have the perfect career, nobody will respect him. In his way of thinking, he missed many opportunities that could have/should have been his (being a doctor, being a teacher, being a success in business, making a gzillions dollars). But it’s too late now. Those ships have sailed.
Climbing out of the rabbit hole. Brooding and ruminating may begin as avenues towards finding and understanding the root cause of a problem, but in fact do just the opposite. In time, the brain becomes tricked into thinking that the repetitive thought-chewing is the only way to find the answer. What’s left on the sidelines are facts, action, and resolution. The real tools you need to move to a better place.
Here are some strategies for helping you process your emotions without sliding into the rumination trap.
- Get out of the car, chair or bed and start moving. All three of these spots can become enablers to your habit. Spending long periods of time in a passive environment creates a beautiful co-dependency situation. Your mind gets trained to ruminate when you drive, sit for long periods or stay in bed too long. Tap into activities that require your full attention.
- Journal the negative event/thoughts so that you can review them later. Later gives you an opportunity to put some time between the event and the actual outcome. Was it as bad as you thought it would be? Was the result what you anticipated? What actually happened, vs what you thought would happen?
- Challenge yourself with the facts. If you can’t produce any to support your ruminations, decide that your brain is just playing games with you. Any facts you do gather, enter into your journal so you have a frame of reference for later.
- Practice re-framing your negative thoughts with the complete opposite ideas. For instance, “It’s great that the kids want to spend time with their mom; it’s good for them to have a relationship with both of us,” vs. “The kids only want to spend time with their mom. It’s not fair that they like her more than me. I’ll probably get sick and die alone. No one wants me.” It may be difficult to do with conviction, but you may get a few laughs over your re-frames and distract your negative thinking.