The Hard, the Powerful, and the Annoying Aspects of Connection
Updated: Oct 24
We need connection with others, but struggle to prioritize it. Research shows a lack of connection negatively impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health.
But what is connection? Loosely defined, connection is an interaction between people that contributes to one, or both/all, parties feeling validated and valued.
Have you heard about Rat Park?
Psychologist Dr. Bruce Alexander set out to understand addiction. Rats given the choice between plain water and cocaine laced water were more likely to prefer cocaine water when in isolation. When they were placed in "Rat Park" around other rats, they preferred the plain water without cocaine.
We can agree we all need connection, even some of us who thought they needed very little of it are now seeing how much more connection they need in reality. Thanks, COVID!
But, so much about connection feels complicated and hard for ADHD folks. Why is that? What is our problem with small talk, anyway?
Here are some things that may complicate connection when you have ADHD:
Miscommunication can result from our impulsiveness in talking too much or over people, interrupting, sharing unnecessary details, zoning out, or speaking too directly (often out of impatience).
We forget to reach out or reply. It's not for lack of care but it is often interpreted that way.
We assume others think the worst of us, yet we often assume the best of them (they're probably better than me).
Trauma impacts connection when we've been hurt in situations where we did not perform as expected. Some of us were told how 'bad' we were and others overheard it or picked up on it. This makes it hard to be vulnerable and connect.
Stress, mood, and emotional regulation are difficult to manage with ADHD, especially for women with hormones dancing. We don't know when we'll feel like connecting, but it isn't right now.
Perhaps logistics get in our way as we battle with overcommitting and an inability to estimate and track time effectively. Other times we're expected to initiate or plan a way to connect, which can require a lot of frontal lobe functioning.
Many of us have sensory sensitivities that impact us in the moment of connection. We can struggle to focus on what someone is saying rather than ambient noise in a restaurant or the car stereo. If we get too overwhelmed, we may find ourselves lashing out or being terse.
We get distracted by our own discomfort and sometimes that is misinterpreted by others as we don't care or are not listening. A lot of this can link to the ADHD brain, not to mention if you also struggle with your mental health.
Connection for overwhelmed people is crucial for managing stress, but also a great source of it.
The good news is there are things about ADHD that make us especially good at connecting with others.
For starters, the ADHD brain is typically excellent at making connections across ideas, thoughts, or data. Many of us see patterns and notice nuances missed by others.
We pick up on what is not being said, which can illuminate something for the other person.
Our dynamic thinking can lend to cleverness and, sometimes, sharp wit and engaging storytelling.
We can be innovative problem solvers, which many people value.
Most neurodiverse people have suffered at some point, and when we're feeling stronger or more open, we're likely to make others feel seen and heard. We can be a safe place of empathy and encouragement to others when they're hurting.
These challenges and strengths are not one-size-fits-all, but it's a start at looking at ourselves honestly and being curious about how we show up in relationships.
In a recent Enclave Collaborative discussion, we spent time venting about the awfulness of small talk. A lot of us find it unbearable and will avoid social situations when we know it's required. What is that about?
We wondered if it's just too much for our brains to engage in the endless scanning to find commonality or a topic you can engage in to make an actual connection. The scenarios also bring out a lot of masks, which feel heavy and exhausting to manage (ours and theirs). Whatever the reason, there does seem to be a consensus that people with ADHD don't like small talk, even those of us who claim to be good at it.
When we don't know the social norms or feel confident reading the room, connection can feel daunting and too risky.
We don't want to say the wrong thing or give the wrong impression. We don't know how to respectfully and kindly exit conversations or find ways to engage when our brain is yelling, "BORING!"
Being connected is vitally important to all of us, here are some reflection questions to think over ways you might already have connection in your life, and what you might have learned about connection, especially living through this pandemic.
You're always encouraged to respond to these or anything else in the comments below.
How do you know if you're lacking connection?
How do you know when you have a meaningful connection in your life?
Are most of us repellant against having the "create an image" versus being authentic?
What have you learned about connection through the pandemic?