Being Social and Making Friends as an Adult with ADHD

 ADHD Weekly, September 17, 2020

Adults with ADHD frequently think being sociable with others is an all-or-nothing part of their lives. Either they’re oversharing and talking too much, or they’re withdrawn and staying home alone.

Hyperactivity in adults is often expressed as being overly talkative and boisterous. For some people, years of being scolded for being “too loud,” “too personal,” or “just too much” prompts them to retreat inward where they won’t be in the way of others.

Caught between these two extremes, how can someone with ADHD be sociable without feeling like she’s stepping on toes?

Being social when you have ADHD

“[People with ADHD] often struggle socially because they may miss subtle social cues; lose focus mid-conversation and realize they’ve not heard most of what the other person has said to them; or they may impulsively make statements which come across as inappropriate or rude without meaning to,” writes Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC. “As a result, their relationships with others may suffer and they begin to shy away from social interactions altogether.”

How can someone with ADHD then be a “people person?” Ms. Van Rikxort offers five suggestions:

  • Ask yourself, who is your audience? Is it a friend, family member, workplace colleague, or someone you’ve just met? Pause to decide if what you want to share is something this person would want to, or even should, know. Have in mind a few easy fallback statements that are generally pleasant.
  • Take a moment to observe the other person and the situation, even describing both silently to yourself. Observing the situation can help you discover the social cues you need to enter or even strike up a successful conversation.
  • When you know you’ll be at a social event, create a list of topics and how you’d like to share them with others. Ms. Van Rikxort suggests basic questions such as “How was your week/weekend/holiday? Did you do anything fun?”; “Have you seen any good movies/TV shows?”; “Do you follow sports at all?”“The better prepared you feel beforehand, the easier it will be to relax and mingle,” she writes.
  •  Pick out an organization or an activity you enjoy where you can find people who have a shared interest. While social distancing has made it necessary to close many social spots, it has led many clubs, groups, and organizations to hold meetings and events online. This can give you the opportunity to practice socializing in situations where you have more control. You can even use your mute button to control when you want to share something and when you want to listen to others.

Making friends as an adult

Forming new friendships can be difficult in adulthood. For those dealing also with ADHD, it can sometimes feel bewildering or even impossible.

“It’s much easier to be a good friend if you start with people who are good friendship material; that is, people who are a good fit for you,” says Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA. “They appreciate your good qualities and are willing to overlook or at least tolerate the things about you that they don’t appreciate—and vice versa.”

Picking out a new group to attend, whether it’s a CHADD group, a local book club, an art or craft class, creates an opportunity to meet new people with whom you know you share interests. Having a conversation plan when you go to the event will help you to be able to approach someone. If the event is online, you have the chance to observe the other attendees. You can privately message someone you’d like to get to know better.

Making new friends and maintaining friendships require executive function skills that often are impaired by ADHD. Rather than rely on your memory, use your calendar to mark down events and to plan time to call, chat, or visit with a new friend. Add information about your friends, such as birthdays and anniversaries, when you’d want to contact them or send a card. Use a notebook to jot down things you learn about your friend, such as a favorite restaurant or sports team, that help you in conversations later.

Dr. Tuckman reminds his patients to manage their expectations when it comes to friendships and being social with others.

“When you can, it’s even better to set things up ahead of time, before anyone gets the wrong idea,” he says. “This is where expectation management comes in—that is, actively managing the expectations that other people have of you, telling them what they should and shouldn’t expect you to do. Because ADHD affects an adult’s ability to consistently do what others expect, expectation management is an especially
important skill to develop.”

You might not share your ADHD diagnosis right away, but letting a friend know you might be running late to an event or that you jot things in your calendar so you don’t forget them can help to smooth the way when you’re first becoming friends.

“Expectation management has the goal of preventing bad feelings, misinterpretations, and resentment,” Dr. Tuckman says.

Looking for ideas on being more social?

Join the discussion: What would you suggest to help someone make new friends?