What should you do when your ADHD symptoms are a source of amusement for people you love? I often hear about this challenge in my support group and on web-based forums. Your loved ones may adore you and find you lovable, like a puppy, and may unwittingly be hurting your feelings.
“We’re just playing with you,” they might say…like your uncle who would tickle you until it hurt and ignore your plea for him to stop. He was just playing.
If you tell a friend that he is hurting your feelings, he may reply that you’re just being sensitive, thereby reframing his insensitivity as your problem. If you react to his response with defensiveness, you risk reinforcing his perspective—proving him right—and so you may tend to shut down instead. Then you feel the deep loneliness that many adults with ADHD experience.
In truth, you may be more sensitive than some of your friends. Many adults with ADHD experience a sense of alienation after years of being misunderstood and mislabeled. That is why I chose to make “Who You Are and Who You’re Not” the first chapter in Living Well with ADHD. Others may have characterized you in ways that don’t accurately portray who you are. You are not your ADHD symptoms, nor the labels that may have been ascribed to you, and you are not defined by what others think of you. Others may believe that their portrait of you is a mirror, but their painting is impressioniam—a distorted image of you.
Chapter seven in my book is, “ADHD is Funny…And It’s Not.” Disabled people can be funny, like anyone, but a disability is not funny. Who would laugh at someone for using a walker? You wouldn’t say to him, “You look like an old man.” To someone with ADHD, saying “you may not remember” is more sensitive than laughing at him for forgetting. When I was a twenty-something, I recall someone remarking, in front of peers, that my eyeglass lenses were thick as a coke bottle. I told him that my vision problem was not funny.
Accepting your neurological difference is essential to living well. Your wish for others to be more sensitive is reasonable, but first, you must be clear about the essence of who you are so you can live with confidence. It is a bonus when others understand you, but not mandatory for your wellbeing. You need not rely on others to validate you. You have already have value…you can’t get it from others, and you don’t have to earn it. Living your values demonstrates who you are.
So, here is what you can say when your ADHD symptoms are a source of amusement for a friend: “I don’t think you intended to hurt me, but it would be unfair to you if I kept my hurt feelings to myself. Our relationship is important to me.”