Adults with ADHD were once children with ADHD. Many of them were bullied, ridiculed, criticized, shamed, suspended, expelled from school, compared negatively to their siblings, or humiliated in front of their classmates. While the actual risk of harm may be less in adulthood, the conditioned brain may still anticipate harm and remain vigilant and easily aroused. The arousal can take the form of fear or rage and may lead to striking out, withdrawing, or being defensive. The primary arousal cannot be controlled simply by will or changed immediately.

What can you do if you can’t prevent or extinguish an uncomfortable feeling? You can get up close to it where you can examine it and know it as a sensation. You can watch the thought that arises from it and observe it as mental activity. If you pause before responding to an emotion-driven thought, then you have a better chance to observe it as an event. To borrow from the millennial generation’s vocabulary, “It’s a thing.”

I’m not suggesting that humans are nothing but conditioned lab rats, but only that our brains form mental habits around traumatic events. If we habitually believe that our feelings and thoughts are the same as reality, we will be enslaved by our feelings and distorted perceptions. Our actions will be driven by a desire to resolve the discomfort rather than stay the course and attain our goals. Staying the course usually requires willingness to tolerate discomfort.

Psychologists have a name for buying thoughts as truths. They call it cognitive fusion. Meditation teachers call it attachment.

You don’t have to buy the “story lines” (thoughts) that your emotionally flooded brain is trying to sell. To pause and suspend belief in them is to maintain an open and wise mind.

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