The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: communication

Boundaries in the ADHD home

Boundaries in our home are simple — they may even seem trivial — but they’re mighty. They’re the key to domestic peace (or ceasefire, if that’s where you are on your journey). ADHD adults living under the same roof need to learn, create, and respect boundaries.

The ADHD interruption paradox

We ADHD’ers struggle with interruptions. Interrupting shows up multiple times in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Ironically, many of us can’t tolerate interruptions to our own work or train of thought. I get cranky when I fear I’ll lose my place or forget what I was doing. My husband experiences intense task inertia, making interruptions especially uncomfortable because they intrude on his hyperfocus. While ADHD’ers dish out interruptions like it’s our full-time job, we might respond with a temper tantrum.

Thanks to our limited grasp on social cues, we don’t always know when interruptions are acceptable, either. My favorite solution: spell it out. What seems obvious to you may not make any sense to me.

When my husband lamented, “I never know when it’s okay to interrupt your reading!” I gave him a basic ground rule: magazines are always interruptable. Books are not.

I tend to say whatever pops into my mind. My husband can’t stand when I start talking every two minutes because it prevents him from getting anything done. Once he’s distracted, it takes him a while to settle back down to the task. Interruptions feel costly to him but negligible to me because I interrupt myself all the time. I didn’t know it stressed him out until he said so.

Being mindful of meds

Knowing when our meds are effective is one of the most important boundaries — and the toughest lesson — we’ve learned. In a high-stakes conversation, unmedicated me is extreme, volatile, passionate, and uncompromising. I’ll fixate on an issue and fight for it tooth and nail, yet lose track of why I felt so strongly once the moment has passed. I’ll yell and cry and make ultimatums. Medicated me has read several books about communication skills. I repeat what others have said to make sure I understand. I make the conversation about solutions, not problems. I entertain the possibility of compromise. Clearly, some conversations should be off-limits when one or both of us is unmedicated.

Deferring a conversation for meds can feel uncomfortable. For one, it’s hard to defer anything without the help of stimulant medication. We also exist in a culture that cracks jokes about people being “off their meds” and creates stigma around psychiatric disorders. Saying, “we should discuss this when we both have the benefit of our medication” can make us feel weak and incapable.

To that I say, imagine you’re lactose intolerant. Does it give you more self-confidence to eat ice cream whenever you want? Or does it make sense to wait until after you’ve taken some Lactaid?

ADHD meds don’t just keep you from getting fired. They also help you build a strong marriage. I’ve learned it the hard way, we need to use them accordingly.

Spelling it out

No matter what the boundaries are, they need to be explicit. People with ADHD don’t get subtlety. We tend to freak out a little when we’re expected to read between the lines. Even if something feels like a “duh,” it may not be on the other person’s radar. Successful relationships require an abundance of clarity — and then a little more on top of that.

What are some boundaries you and your partner have created over the years? How does your home life change when you respect these boundaries?

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Book Review: The Insider’s Guide to ADHD

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Insider’s Guide to ADHD presents a unique perspective on parenting young ADHD’ers. Through a  survey of 95 ADHD adults, author Penny Williams shares dos and don’ts from those who should know best.

penny williams book review

I expected Insider’s Guide to read like a collective memoir, but it’s more informed by survey responses than driven by them. You won’t find case studies or lengthy anecdotes. Direct quotes from the survey are generally short.

Williams has built a successful brand by writing from her perspective: a dedicated mom without ADHD, learning obsessively through research and real-life experience. She retains that voice in Insider’s Guide, drawing heavily on her own experiences along with survey responses.

Insider’s Guide teaches solid parenting strategies and steers readers away from the old-school parenting style many of us grew up with.

Williams offers these critical messages for parents of kids with ADHD:

  • Even lovely, supportive parents can unwittingly leave their kids feeling doomed to failure.
  • All kids need to learn self-sufficiency, and helicopter parenting sabotages future success.
  • Shame and punishment aren’t effective for creating long-term positive change.
  • Figuring out the right medication and dosage can be a life-changer.

Depending your current parenting and communication skills, Insider’s Guide may or may not help you. It’s a crash course, and Williams covers many of the same points as previous books I’ve reviewed — How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Duct Tape Parenting — but in slightly less depth.

These books pack more concrete examples, high-impact testimonials, and quotes from parenting experts, but Insider’s Guide makes an excellent sell to the skeptical or uninitiated. Williams offers testimony from real people who’ve lived through a childhood with ADHD. There’s overwhelming consensus on what works.

I especially appreciated this quote from a mom with ADHD: “I never liked the thought of medication for my child, but it made such a difference in my own life, I could not hold that back from maybe giving my child a chance to feel like days can be easier.” Parents are faced with overwhelming, complex choices. This illustrates beautifully what ADHD adults bring to the table.

One cautionary note: Williams represents survey results with visual aids throughout the book, but don’t extrapolate these to all adults with ADHD. The survey’s sample size is relatively small, at 95, and overwhelmingly female (78.1%). While it’s great to see women with ADHD represented, this doesn’t reflect the overall demographics of ADHD adults.

That’s not to discredit the insights Insider’s Guide has to offer. It’s just important to consider sample size and methods used when applying survey results to the population at large.

Insider’s Guide starts a necessary conversation. Awareness of ADHD is growing, and those of us who attended elementary school in the 1980s and 1990s — when ADHD and stimulant medications really became household names — now have children of our own. It’s time to explore how our childhood experiences can influence our parenting. I’m glad to see a book on this topic, and I hope it opens the door to bigger and more ambitious projects in the future.

Bottom line: if you’re stuck in a negative parenting rut and haven’t enjoyed books targeting neurotypical kids, Insider’s Guide is a great place to start. If you’ve already read How to Talk and Duct Tape Parenting, expect a repackaging of those ideas through the ADHD lens.

How about you? Have you read Insider’s Guide, or do you have another book to recommend? Please share your thoughts!

I have ADHD, but I try to be a good friend anyway

Sometimes I ask myself: am I a good friend?

I don’t really know the answer, and that can be both frustrating and exhausting.

Social struggles are common for ADHD’ers. According to Dr. Russell Barkley in his book Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, we consistently report having fewer close friends than our peers.

I worry about this because I have nice friends. I like them, and I want them to continue liking me, but I fear no one really sees my best.

I’m getting better, though. Like anything in ADHDland, being a good friend takes learning, practice, and intentional strategies.

Here are the most valuable things I’ve learned:

  1. I contribute what I can, where I can.
    To make up for the times when I do weird stuff, don’t know the right thing to say, or just go off the radar for a while, I capitalize on the good things I have to offer: a loaf of homemade bread just because. A magazine clipping in the mail. A ride across town in the middle of a work day. I go for the little things and hope they add up.
  2. I’m honest about my foibles.
    In his book Just Listen, Dr. Mark Goulston calls this the “stipulation gambit.” I’m forthright about character flaws that might create misunderstandings. For example, I’m terrible with the phone. If it rings unexpectedly, I’m unlikely to answer it,  and I’m not shy about sharing this anxiety. I’d rather people think I’m neurotic than unconcerned. Likewise with forgetfulness, interrupting, speaking with too much intensity, and monologuing.
  3. I spend less time on Facebook than I used to.
    Scrolling through my news feed fools my brain into thinking I’m connected when I’m really not. It also sucks time away from more meaningful, one-on-one connections: writing emails and texts, arranging visits, or just having dinner together.
  4. I’ve stopped waiting until I feel less overwhelmed.
    It won’t happen. I have ADHD. It’s hard to do, but I try not to let myself use overwhelm and “being too busy” as a reason to defer social plans.
  5. I accept that my friends are a project.
    It feels like cheating to use my calendaring and task management apps to manage friendships. I hope my friends don’t figure out we’re only hanging out because I made our dinner its own project in Toodledo. Including time to think about friends and family during my weekly review feels cold. Then again, I use these systems for everything else I think is important. Why not afford friends and family the same consideration?
  6. I write down gift ideas year-round and squirrel them away in Google Documents.
    I don’t know about you, but I’m far more likely to think of the Best Gift Idea Ever in July than the week before Christmas. My brain isn’t good at generating lots of new ideas under pressure. If I give a home run gift, it’s probably something I wrote down several months earlier. Maybe I even wrote it on the bathroom mirror as I stepped out of the shower.
  7. I’ve read several books on communication and brain science.
    I read to learn about my brain, others’ brains, and how to show my best self to the world. There’s no shame in acknowledging I’m not good at something and working to get better. In Your Brain at Work, David Rock suggests learning to recognize your brain’s inherent weaknesses so you can say, “that’s just my brain” instead of going into freakout mode. It helps. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to those big ADHD emotions that shut down your rational brain.
  8. I try to be a good friend to myself, too.
    Being kind to myself has — I begrudgingly admit — made me more attractive to others and allowed me to fill my life with good people who care about me. Mistakes happen, though, and it’s easy to become consumed by negative self-talk. In Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life, Sari Solden advises against “over apologizing or putting yourself down.” I’ve tried to take that to heart and keep apologies simple, heartfelt, and proportionate to what happened.

How about you? How do you keep ADHD from getting the best of your personal relationships?

When you’re not yourself

During an emotional meltdown, part of us really does disappear. My two-year-old gave me a powerful reminder of this while we were staying with friends for the weekend.

R — exhausted from days of fun and social interaction — totally lost it getting ready for nap. We were in full meltdown mode. I just sat in the middle of the room and tried to remain calm as he sobbed, crawled in circles, and screamed incoherent sentences.

The crying eventually subsided. R opened his eyes, looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time, smiled, and said…

“Hi.”

Hi. As though he had just returned from Somewhere Else. In a way, he had.

When your rational brain checks out

It happens to grownups, too. I especially like how Dr. Mark Goulston describes this phenomenon in his book Just Listen.  He refers to our “three-part brain” as:

  • The lower reptilian brain (fight-or-flight),
  • The middle mammal brain (emotions), and
  • The higher primate brain (logic and rational thought)

These parts were added on sequentially as we evolved. For a real-life illustration, spend some time with babies and toddlers. In his classic Happiest Toddler on the BlockDr. Harvey Karp compares toddlers to “primitive little cavemen” living a “superfast rerun of ancient human development.”

As adults, Goulston says, these three parts of our brain can work as a team. However, add a little stress and our old reptile brain takes over.

“If you’re talking to [someone] whose lower brain or midbrain is in control,” explains Goulston, “you’re talking to a cornered snake or, at best, a hysterical rabbit.”

The biggest mistake we make in our ADHD household? Assuming someone is thinking rationally — with our primate brain — when we’re not.

not yourself pull quote

Your reptile brain deserves some space

When I’m feeling like that cornered snake or hysterical rabbit — not sure which is worse — the critical next step is telling myself, you’re not yourself right now. Or, more accurately, I’m the last person I want handling an important decision or conversation.

I’ve learned it’s best to honor where I am at the moment and give myself space to cool down. Naming feelings helps a lot. Try it next time you’re in emotional or fight-or-flight mode: say — aloud or to yourself — I’m feeling really out of control. That comment was really hurtful. Wow, I’m so angry. Listening to my child cry is sending my stress hormones through the roof.

It’s a hard skill to learn, and it requires practice. My brain loves to trick me into justifying extreme emotions or, even worse, sticking it out in an argument despite feeling hysterical.

This is almost always a terrible idea, especially given ADHD’s effects on emotional regulation. Emotional control is often lacking in ADHD adults. “Without well-developed verbal and nonverbal working memory,” explains Dr. Russell Barkley in Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, “you have less capacity for the visual imagery and self-speech that can help you calm your emotions.”

If you’re in a relationship with an ADHD adult, this emotional reactivity may be all too familiar. In Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?Gina Pera describes “a tendency to become easily frustrated and growl or blow up, but react 10 minutes later with over-the-top excitement to something else.”

This describes me to a T. My rational brain can be a real diva. It’s ready to walk off the stage at any moment, leaving me to yell the exact wrong thing at my husband, boss, or kid. Once I’m entrenched in a conflict, I forget how I even got there.

It’s tough to counter this. The first step is noticing it’s happening. Intense emotions are, most of the time, an indication that I need to back off. It’s not the time to work through an important issue with my husband, make decisions, or provide my opinion on someone else’s behavior. A poor grasp of time makes it tough to defer these things. Right Now can be the only time that feels real.

But defer we must, if we want to maintain healthy relationships. It’s okay to be upset, and it never hurts to ask, “can we talk about this a little later?” It’s not okay to explode at someone, say a lot of really upsetting things to them, and later claim you have no memory of what happened. My life has been a lot of the former and not enough of the latter, but I’m working on it.

How about you? How do you minimize the damage when your rational brain shuts down?

Use a signal for bad ADHD behavior…and don’t forget to laugh.

Sometimes — maybe even most times — we don’t realize we’re making a scene until it’s too late.

Many ADHD adults are plagued by emotional reactivity, impulsive outbursts, and overreactions. Dr. Michele Novotni, author of What does everybody else know that I don’t?: Social skills help for adults with ADHD, describes this behavior as “ready, fire, aim.” We progress so quickly from stimulus to response, we don’t understand the meaning of the phrase think before you speak.

This is a source of anger and embarrassment for our long-suffering spouses, especially in group social settings.

Angry outbursts at home leave our partners feeling hurt and confused. Paradoxically, these outbursts often lead to periods of calm, and we may not understand why our spouse is still hurting. “Your angry thoughts are like a flash flood,” writes Novotni, “rushing through gullies and then quickly drying up again.”

Granted, overreactions can be funny. I’ll never live down the time I placed my hands over my ears and wailed “I’m so confused!” in the middle of a discussion at the office. They can also propel a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

These moments don’t need to be a runaway train. You can install an emergency brake: a signal that communicates hey, you’re doing it again instantly and wordlessly.

Words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive, especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking. Look for a discreet hand sign or gesture. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry. “Instead of criticism and belittlement, try humor,” suggests Gina Pera in Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Our outburst signal was born years ago, at the dinner table. I don’t remember what provoked me. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we stared at the line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed until our sides hurt.

Now, when my husband sees me start to tumble into meltdown mode, he makes a tabletop with one hand, looks me in the eye, and lowers his other fist onto it.

Signs are objective, general, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Have you and your partner tried signals to help derail bad behavior? How do you send a message without making things worse?

Blame shifting: when someone you love puts it all on you

If you love someone with ADHD, you may know too well how blame shifting can hurt a relationship.

Blame shifting takes many forms:

“If you didn’t make me so angry all the time, I wouldn’t explode at you. Would you rather I bottled it all up?”

“I wouldn’t have gotten a speeding ticket if you hadn’t asked a bunch of questions when you knew I was trying to get out the door.”

“I never thought I’d be the type to cheat, but you made me feel so unappreciated.”

“You and Dad never modeled a healthy relationship for me. No wonder my marriage fell apart.”

Daniel Amen blame shifting quote

For the purposes of this post, let’s look at a smaller-scale example:

Suppose you’re having company over tonight. Your husband meant to take pork chops out of the freezer last night, but he forgot. He arrives home from some errands at 4:30, ready to marinate the chops so he can throw them on the grill when your guests arrive.

Upon discovering the meat still in the freezer, he blows up at you:

“Great, now dinner is ruined! You were here all day and you couldn’t have noticed the meat wasn’t in the fridge? Every time I think you have my back, you’re just thinking about your own stuff and doing your own thing. All our other married friends work together as a team. You make me feel like our relationship is just every man for himself…”

And on and on.

In describing this behavior to your friends — or searching the internet — you may learn blame shifting is often categorized as psychological abuse.

Does this mean you’re in an abusive relationship and it’s time to get out?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Why we blame others

Just like shifting blame onto others is easier to swallow than accepting your own (often overwhelming) faults, it’s easy to cast ourselves in the role of the victim. Once we’ve accepted the role, both parties learn to play their part like it’s second nature.

Before we write off a blame shifter as incurably abusive and ill-intentioned, it’s worth a closer look. The ability to see a situation from multiple angles and experience emotions without being blinded by them is a marker of strength. We can assert and protect ourselves in ways other than walking out the door.

As we seek that steady foundation, we need to remember why people people tend to mistreat others. As a child, I remember my mother telling me bullies picked on me because they felt badly about themselves.

Bullies of all ages use others to shift focus away from their own hurts. In his book Healing ADD from the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel Amen writes, “people who ruin their own lives have a strong tendency to blame other people when things go wrong.” Consider the pain, humiliation, and self-loathing weighing on the hearts of so many ADHD adults and it’s easy to see blame shifting and other emotionally abusive behaviors as the path of least resistance.

Accepting even a minor failure — like forgetting to take the meat out of the freezer — can feel like too much to bear if your self-image has already been decimated by ADHD. Allowing ourselves to own that one misstep threatens to open the floodgates, confirming our worst fears about ourselves and reinforcing our most damaging self-criticisms.

Disarm with compassion and clarity

I’m not excusing bad behavior, but rather seeking explanations beyond “he’s just a bad person.” When you’re feeling wounded by a blame shifter’s words, try to remember they’re hurting, too. This knowledge may make it easier to begin from a strong and productive place rather than simply retreating or attacking back.

And it does take strength. The best first step in a conflict is to acknowledge your own contribution, even if the other person is wrong.

Why? Because this removes the blame shifter’s weapon. You cannot assume a position of strength without making yourself vulnerable. When someone shifts the blame, that’s a good signal that they’re coming from a place of weakness and will redouble their attacks if you begin by focusing on their faults.

When acknowledging your contribution, don’t dwell on blame or get melodramatic. The idea is to communicate to the other person, “I’m not interested in discussing who’s to blame here” and move on.

In the case of the frozen meat, that means saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t notice when I went into the fridge to get my lunch. If I had, we may have been able to get the meat thawed in time.”

You may fear you’re just rewarding bad behavior. There’s inherent risk in making yourself vulnerable. But consider your options: if you argue, deny, and try to pass the buck back to the blame shifter, you’re making them feel even more threatened and thus even more prone to attack. You could just slink away, refuse to engage, and wait for it to blow over, but that makes you an ideal target: a person who won’t stand up for herself, who will allow someone to tear you down to make themselves feel better. That’s not okay.

After accepting your contribution, be firm. Make sure you’re not enabling blame shifting now or in the future. Help the blame shifter see their role in the situation by making clear, non-threatening observations about what happened.

Avoid statements that aren’t about you, like “you said you’d be in charge of the meat. I shouldn’t have needed to worry about it.”

Instead, describe only your own feelings, observations, and interpretations: “the meat wasn’t on my radar. I guess I kind of forgot about it after we decided you’d grill and I’d make the side dishes. It sounds like you’d like for us to check each other a little more intentionally to make sure nothing gets forgotten.”

This shifts focus away from finger-pointing and toward problem solving.

If the blame shifter continues to dump on you, speak up. Resist the urge to get emotional or confrontational. For example: “I feel like I’m trying to look at this from both sides. It’s not okay with me to just focus on how I messed up because that’s not what I feel really happened here. Am I making it difficult for you to have a two-sided conversation about this?”

Once a blame shifter learns that you won’t take the bait and feed the flames with more emotion, they’ll stop seeing you as a viable container for their own bad feelings and low self esteem.

You can’t do it all

Sometimes a loved one will continue behaving badly, especially if their ADHD is untreated or poorly managed. Only you can know — through experience, soul searching, and repeated attempts to open doors to effective communication — if it’s time to remove yourself from a toxic environment.

However, it’s important to remember there’s hurt on both sides, and rarely does responsibility for stopping the cycle rest with just one person.

Much of the advice in this post was gleaned from Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen’s Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. If you’re dealing with a poor communicator, the best thing you can do to make things better is to hone your own skills and lead by example. I highly recommend Difficult Conversations as a starting point for anyone seeking to heal a damaged relationship.

Have you felt victimized by a blame shifter? What did you do? Are you a recovering blame shifter? I’d love to hear your story in the comments.

Book Review: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen coverHow to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk has been called “the ultimate parenting bible,” and rightly so. Nearly everything you need to know about communicating with children — and people in general — lies within its pages.

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish preach a style of parenting that feels so different, you may just turn over to a blank page in your parenting journey. It requires a complete paradigm shift from “how do I get my kids to do what I want them to do?” to “how do I engage my kids’ cooperation?”

My parenting world also turned upside down when I read Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting, and both books are indispensable. Where one leaves off, the other begins. How To Talk So Kids Will Listen gives more specific examples and techniques, especially for situations when ignoring problem behavior feels like the wrong idea. Parents will come out of this book with a great toolbox not only for shaping desirable behavior, but for developing strong, lasting relationships with their kids.

In a way, this book feels like Difficult Conversations applied to parenting. It’s far more than that, but How to Talk So Kids Will Listen will teach similar skills: listening, empathizing, problem-solving, and viewing situations from your child’s perspective. As I’ve begun using Faber and Mazlish’s techniques, it’s been easier to apply the core concepts to my social interactions with everyone.

After all, children give us opportunities to practice (and start over) every single day. With each success, my son and I both gain confidence in our ability to communicate and solve problems effectively. We can apply everything we learn in our home to interactions with the world at large.

Let’s face it: ADHD adults struggle with patience, empathy, and communication. This makes parenting a particularly tough challenge. The techniques in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen haven’t just made me a better parent, they’ve made me a better person. As my toddler and I practice on each other, I feel a glimmer of hope that I’ll get better at handling tough situations with grown-ups, too.

Not only that, ADHD households aren’t peaceful by nature. We have to work at it. It’s so easy for both parents and kids to fly off the handle, and once a situation escalates, calming down is incredibly difficult — if not impossible. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen will help you prevent meltdowns (yours or theirs) from happening in the first place.

If you doubt a general parenting book can be applied to ADHD households, simply turn to the testimonials toward the end of the book. You’ll find several parents sharing the tremendous benefit Faber and Mazlish’s methods have had for their ADHD kids.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen‘s biggest weakness is its age. Where Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting provides an indictment of the too soft, too involved, ‘helicoptering’ parent of today, Faber and Mazlish criticize an authoritarian style that is far less prevalent now than it was when the book was published in 1980. However, if you keep in mind the pitfalls of both approaches and commit to the principles in this book, you’ll be just fine.

If you’re sick of nagging, yelling, punishing, or just plain feeling drained and frustrated at the end of every day, it’s time for a fresh approach. The road to a more peaceful, cooperative, interdependent family isn’t an easy one, but this time-tested book will show you the way.

Book Review: Difficult Conversations

difficult conversations coverRelationships — social, marital, parental, professional — cause a lot of pain for ADHD adults.

Though it’s only one part of the struggle, most of us could use some serious help in the communication department.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Mostby Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, helps us make sense of tricky interactions. It should be required reading for anyone who hasn’t done mediation or communication training (I have, but still learned a lot).

Difficult Conversations separates readers from our own narrative and reveals the reasons underlying others’ hot-headed — and often baffling — reactions.

This is especially helpful because ADHD’ers tend to communicate in the language of high drama: accusations, assumptions, black-and-white thinking, and runaway emotions. I found the section about personal identities particularly helpful. It’s easy for ADHD adults to fall into defensive or blame-shifting behaviors because owning our failures is so painful. This is critical to remember when discussing tender subjects. Our identities as loving spouses, dedicated parents, or responsible adults can easily feel under attack.

ADHD adults who tend toward the impulsive and over-emotional may find Difficult Conversations particularly instructive. The authors go far beyond the too-common — and generally unhelpful — “think before you speak.” We learn that sharing feelings productively is vital to healthy relationships — and when we do it well, it needn’t be messy or destructive.

Buyer beware, though: this isn’t the only book you’ll ever need to go happily on your way to communication mastery. Difficult Conversations provides a solid foundation to understand what contributes to communication meltdowns. It won’t help you use the skills in real time or, most important, widen the gap between stimulus and response. To be successful, you’ll need to recognize and inhibit knee-jerk reactions before they leave your mouth. You’ll also need to remember your new communication skills in the moment. This is easier said that done.

As a result, I experienced a lot of frustration as I read Difficult Conversations. Every chapter feels like well-articulated common sense, which makes the difficulty of implementation all  the more demoralizing. ADHD adults embarking on this journey will need a partner willing to endure a lot of practice, reflection, and setbacks. I also suspect most of us will need stimulant medication to experience the full potential benefit of Difficult Conversations. Otherwise, the cognitive resources required to apply all this new knowledge in the heat of the moment will be too great.

Do you have a similar book to recommend? I’m always looking for new titles to read and review, so send your suggestions my way in the comments.

“You’re doing it again.” Developing a signal for problem ADHD behavior.

natalie portman ear pull gif

Our outburst signal was born at the dinner table. Maybe my husband made light of a frustrating situation. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we both stared at that line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed.

We laughed until our sides hurt. Most importantly, we laughed until our tension and frustration were all but forgotten.

ADHD overreactions can be funny, but they can also escalate a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

In the moment, words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive — especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking (e.g., your spouse is acting like a toddler).

“Instead of criticism and belittlement,” suggests Gina Pera, award-winning author of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?“try humor.”

If you or a family member struggle frequently with overreactions and sudden outbursts, create a sign. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry.

Ever since that night at the dinner table, my husband has a signal to let me know I’m overreacting. He looks me in the eye and pointedly lowers his fist onto the palm of his other hand.

Signs help break the moment, make you laugh (or at least crack a smile), and inform you in a non-confrontational way that you’re doing it again. Signs are objective, not situation-specific, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Communication — especially reading moods and social cues — is often a major struggle for adults with ADHD. What coping strategies have you and your partner implemented? Which ones have been successful, and which have flopped? Why do you think that is?

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