Are you good at anything?
We receive the messages of the world LOUD AND CLEAR: this place isn't for you, now go try harder. Every.single.day I hear a woman with ADHD speak negatively about herself, sometimes in defeat but more often as the punchline of her own jab.
The things people with ADHD struggle with are NOT character flaws, though we often see them as personal weaknesses.
Did you know there is a difference between a weakness and a challenge? A weakness is a quality or state, it's reflective of the self. A challenge is a stimulating task or problem, it's related to a situation or something external.
Here are some examples of challenges:
An unhelpful behavior or the lack of a helpful behavior
A lack of skills or education – we simply don't know how
A negative or stuck perspective (eg."always and never" thinking)
A brain-based challenge (eg. ADHD, depression, anxiety)
When we approach a challenge with our strengths in view, we are more open to possibility. If we only look at the negative (what's going wrong), we get overloaded with guilt, shame, and fear.
Last night in the ADHD Enclave Collaborative we spent time reflecting on ourselves through an exercise to explore our strengths. I invite you to work through the prompts below and share in the comments or come over to the Enclave and connect with others like you.
You may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to think highly of yourself. There are no right or wrong answers or ways to work through this - just be you.
The power of positivity is often weaponized against the oppressed. It's used in toxic ways that result in more guilt and shame rather than freedom and empowerment. But! There is compelling research about the benefits to our mental, physical, and emotional health when we acknowledge and understand our strengths.
Give yourself permission to see you.
Think of time you felt good about yourself. It could have been something you felt proud of, something simple or a big win. Perhaps you helped someone recently, finished a task without struggling, maybe you held back the urge to pick a fight, submitted something important on time, or you remembered to brush your teeth this morning. As it comes to you, just sit with it and notice how you feel in remembering. Ask yourself, what did it take to accomplish it? What does that say about you?
List 3-5 adjectives that describe you at your best. Here's a list of words that may help - scroll to the second list on the page. Feel free to list more than 5!
What do you most value about yourself?
Complete these sentence stems with whatever comes to mind first – don't overthink it, just let it flow.
I long for
I am inspired by
The following questions are for reflecting after the exercise above. We discussed together last night, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
How did it feel to answer the questions and work through the prompts?
What surprised you?
What did you learn about yourself?
How could your responses/realizations help you face a current challenge?
During our reflection in the Enclave Collaborative, one member shared the difficulty in responding because of how much she tries to mask her ADHD. There were a lot of heads nodding.
A life lacking in approval and "success" creates an internal mask that makes it hard to see and know our true selves.
We cannot validate ourselves, because the standards are not ours. The voice in our head judging our challenges as personal weaknesses comes from a society crafted for others. That same voice tells us our strengths are not legitimate. We should not celebrate too soon or at all, because surely we will disprove them and feel ashamed and foolish.
It's easier to acknowledge the strengths of others, but we long for praise and positive feedback. Often this is a secret shame shared as a confession - I need a lot of praise and I resent that about myself.
In the brain, trauma can be anything that really upsets you - hurts your feelings or makes you feel afraid. Trauma is trauma. It doesn't have to be big obvious events. Trauma is unique to the person and includes things that would not be traumatic to someone else.
When you've been reprimanded, teased, mocked, and mistreated for the way you think and act it makes you hyperaware of the potential for judgement and rejection. This is what trauma does to our brains. This also means we may need equally significant amounts of positive reinforcement to counter those painful pathways. There are a lot of people labeling these parts of ADHD as additional disorders. We don't need more pathology.
We need to see ourselves more clearly, speak our painful truths, remember that parts of life are unfair for neurodivergent people, and give ourselves permission to name our strengths.
You are a unique individual with many facets, and when you leverage the things you're good at you can work through and around the challenges you face.
The Enclave Collaborative meets twice a week to explore topics that matter to women with ADHD. We'd love to have you.