ADHD and People Pleasing: How Being Overly Concerned with the Feelings of Others Became a Habit and What to Do About It

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For years, the field of mental health has overlooked the emotional side of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Now, the latest research shows that ADHD causes struggles with emotions as much as it does with organization. The truth is, ADHD adults are often consumed with big feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. Shame that they are not measuring up to their colleagues. Guilt that they turned in the paperwork two minutes late. And fear that they will be rejected, fired, or not invited to the party. In an effort to avoid the fear, shame, or guilt that comes with “making a mistake” or “letting someone down,” it’s easy for adults with ADHD to get stuck in a pattern of people-pleasing. This leaves many ADHD adults finding themselves simply feeling like a waiter who is constantly behind on their orders, compulsively checking in with their tables, and often neglecting to take care of their own needs in the busy restaurant of life.

What is ironic about the fear of failure or rejection is that many ADHDers don’t see the success. They don’t see that they were promoted for their intelligence, not their overworking. And yes, Many ADHD adults are highly successful. They got the job, the promotion, and saw their way through higher education. In fact, many of these adults don’t even know they have ADHD. Yet, many have learned to cope with undiagnosed ADHD by being overly vigilant to others’ needs in an effort to not get the (metaphorical) bad grade.

But the truth is: redirecting your energy onto your own plate (so to speak) can improve confidence and productivity.

Here’s a Look at How ADHD Can Lead to People Pleasing

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Missed questions on a quiz. Forgetting homework. Panicked late nights as you scramble to finish your sixth-grade science project. Hearing from your parents (who “don’t believe in mental health”) that “you’re not living up to your potential.” Over the years, the combination of feeling scattered and not getting the support one needs takes an emotional toll.

ADHD and Emotions

ADHD causes you to feel emotions more deeply than others. Shame, guilt, fear, and anger are all experienced with heightened levels of intensity. On top of this, many ADHD adults feel like it takes them longer to recover from emotions. They can hyper-focus on strong feelings. However, when you combine strong emotions with feelings of being disempowered throughout life, the mind can hyperfocus on the fears of letting others down (enter people pleasing).

Rejection Sensitivity

As an adult, nearly every ADHDer experiences Rejection Sensitivity on some level. This is the intense sensitivity to being criticized, even if one is being complimented. For many, this feels like a lightning bolt of fear that they are letting others down or will not measure up. However, it also makes one highly risk averse, which in turn prevents them from getting more positive feedback or developing the confidence needed to be assertive, tackle a problem, or reach a goal.

How to Stop People Pleasing by Setting Better Boundaries


Before you set boundaries, you need to know why you struggle with setting them. Understanding the “why” behind your boundary setting is key. For example, is late-night email checking about your boss or about your fear? Next, you’ll need to decide where you want to set them. For example, do you need to set a boundary with a person, your time, or with yourself?

A vector graphic of a smiling woman pointing at a presentation. Learn how online therapy in Columbus, OH can offer therapy for self-doubt in Columbus, OH and other services as well. Contact a therapist in Columbus, Oh today to learn more.Make a Plan for your Boundaries

It’s important to plan ahead when it comes to boundaries. Will you not be checking emails after a certain time? When will you be more intentional about carving out time to work on your hobbies? Establishing a frame ensures that boundary setting doesn’t just become another box on the to-do list.

Recognize your Power

People pleasing isn’t a knee-jerk reaction. There is always a choice between overlooking our own needs (while compulsively checking on everyone else’s) or ensuring our own needs are met. We all have the power to say “no” to what isn’t working and “yes” to what is working in our lives.

Learn to Say No

“No” is a complete sentence. There isn’t a need to apologize or take it back. The skill to build is learning to stop at the “no” part and not disqualify it by saying yes to 100 other things in its place. For example, “No, I can’t get that report to you by tonight at 5 pm, but I can do your laundry and take your kids to swim class for a week, does that work?” Yeah, we’ll want to avoid that one.

A vector graphic of a person shouting no from a large megaphone. Learn how online therapy in Columbus, OH can offer support in addressing people pleasing behaviors. You can learn to live with your ADHD symptoms by contacting Focused Mind ADHD Counseling today.Reinvesting in Yourself

Ultimately, there are lots of times when our job or life demands that we can’t really say no. That’s just reality. But if we are real with ourselves, there are also times when it’s our own anxiety, shame, or guilt that is leading to overextending. However, it is possible to be accountable to others and reinvest in ourselves.

In fact, while boundaries might feel uncomfortable, they actually create more trust and accountability in our relationships. Boundaries are not rude or selfish. They are cornerstones for letting others know how to behave around us. Boundaries help us listen while also feeling heard. They communicate self-worth and invite others to treat us with respect.


Need help ending people-pleasing and setting better boundaries? Our counseling practice in Columbus, Ohio has caring therapists who specialize in ADHD treatment. You can start practicing more independence with a trained therapist. To start your counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  1. Fill out the contact form to reach out and schedule a free 15-minute phone call.
  2. Meet with one of our caring therapists.
  3. Stop feeling so behind. Start feeling in control of your own time.

Other ADHD Services Offered at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling

Adult ADHD treatment is not the only service we offer at our Columbus, OH-based counseling practice. At Focused Mind ADHD Counseling, we offer a variety of mental health services, including ADHD testing. We know that as an adult with ADHD, you may also benefit from anxiety treatment for ADHD, counseling for men with ADHD, or depression counseling for ADHD. You can also view our blog for more resources and helpful info!