John had another bad day.
It was an emotional roller coaster. John’s bad day started with a rushed morning. This was followed by an hour of beating himself up for forgetting his wallet. The day ended with another fight with his wife. He was flooded with frustration, anger, and then shame.
John and his wife started couples counseling a few months ago. After their more recent argument, he started to wonder if he was “bipolar lite” or something. He thought he’d mention it to his couple counselor. That’s when she said six words that would change his life: “Have you ever been evaluated for ADHD?”
John’s story is all too common. John doesn’t have an “anger management problem.” His adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was overlooked or untreated in childhood. Now as an adult, he struggles with one of the most common and often ignored symptoms in adults with ADHD: emotional dysregulation.
So what’s the first step in being able to manage your emotions when you have ADHD? Knowing the facts. Here are five important facts about emotional regulation in ADHD:
1. Adults with ADHD have trouble recognizing their feelings.
ADHD is a disorder of attention. It’s hard to know what to focus on when. There are just too many things going on in your mind at one time. This not only makes figuring out your exact emotion at the moment challenging. But it also makes big emotions overpower the smaller ones. For example, anger can overshadow (or make one mislabel) the underlying worry or guilt.
In his book Smart but Stuck, Dr. Thomas E. Brown explains that adults with ADHD can feel “gobbled up” by emotions. For example, a hallmark symptom of ADHD is struggling to start (or keep up) tasks. Particularly, those you find boring. You could spend hours overthinking or feeling helpless about how to get started. Feeling ashamed and frozen with your lack of productivity while knowing you’re somehow avoiding tasks. And that build-up of frustration or worry can be all-consuming. So it’s easy to see how quickly John would go from zero to ten when (in the middle of all those feelings) his wife approaches him about dinner with his in-laws.
3. Adults with ADHD struggle with seeing “the bigger picture.”
Emotional “tunnel vision” can take you out of the moment and into a tailspin. Many adults with ADHD report feeling an emotion (like frustration) and not being able to focus on anything else. This can cause someone to want to quickly react to their emotions. For example, “I must tell her how I feel,” or “I can’t do anything else until I buy this or fix that.”
4. Anxiety and depression are common in adults with ADHD.
According to ADDitude Magazine, 25-40% of adults with ADHD have anxiety disorders. In some cases, anxiety symptoms (like worst-case-scenario thinking) are even more powerful than adult ADHD symptoms. People with ADHD also experience depression at nearly three times the rate of people without ADHD. In his book, Driven to Distraction, Dr. Ned Halliwell notes that having ADHD and depression together often has to do with years of criticism for unintended mistakes. Depression symptoms could also be triggered during a life transition when getting things done is even more important, yet feels impossible.
5. ADHD can create low self-esteem and excessive shame.
Like a running loop, John hears things like, “How many times do I have to tell you to close the dishwasher?” “Another career change? When are you going to grow up?” “Another speeding ticket? Why are you like this?” The resiliency and strength of an adult with ADHD who hears these things––often daily––is pretty amazing. The years of built-up criticism create ongoing piles of shame. Shame that has no outlet and, in this case, no real function. Still, shame creates emotional vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are often triggered by sensing criticism or rejection.
What helps adults with ADHD and emotional regulation?
After John is properly diagnosed with ADHD, he’ll want to find a way to understand and manage his often-conflicting emotions by:
- Learning tools to be mindful of emotions, manage shame, anxiety, and see the bigger picture when feeling them.
- Learning how to communicate emotions more effectively to feel heard. For example, “striking while the iron is cold” when wanting to bring up stressful topics.
- Finding an ADHD counselor to learn more about ADHD. And, how to manage symptoms while tapping into his ADHD superpowers.
Begin Adult ADHD Therapy in Columbus, OH
You don’t have to struggle with emotional regulation because of your adult ADHD. You can learn how to better communicate your emotions with the help of a caring adult ADHD therapist. Our Columbus, OH-based counseling practice can help you focus your mind, and enjoy life to the fullest.
To start your counseling journey, follow these simple steps:
- Fill out the contact form to schedule a consultation.
- Meet with one of our caring therapists.
- Hone your emotional control. Focus your busy mind.
Other Adult ADHD Services offered at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling
If you’d like more help incorporating emotional regulation into your life and feel like you could use some professional support, an ADHD specialist can help. ADHD treatment can help you manage and better express your emotions. Because ADHD impacts people in different ways, Focused Mind ADHD Counseling offers a variety of services including adult ADHD treatment, counseling for men with ADHD, depression counseling for ADHD, and anxiety treatment for ADHD. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our Columbus therapists.