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Self-Compassion: An Important Tool in Managing ADHD Symptoms

 ADHD Weekly 2017-06-15


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For the adult affected by ADHD, the negative comments from a lifetime of struggling with ADHD symptoms can lead to harsh internal monologues. Self-compassion becomes a skill, as the adult learns to accept mistakes and develop resilience.

ADHD is a complex brain disorder affecting executive function. Self-esteem and confidence can suffer as people cope with challenges caused by symptoms at school, work, and in relationships. Negative self-talk can undermine the ability to lead a healthy and productive life. Self-compassion—being kind and understanding with yourself  when faced with personal challenges or perceived failings—is an important tool for overcoming an inner critic and building positive coping skills.

Self-compassion involves acknowledging emotions, thoughts and situations as they are—accepting the emotions and thoughts in the moment, and practicing acceptance and self-care. Resilient management of ADHD symptoms includes being patient with missteps, and gentle with yourself as you assess how to move forward. 

Health and negative self-talk

We now understand that our mind and emotions can affect our physical health. Recent research shows a positive mental state is linked to higher levels of health, including lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease, better blood sugar levels, a healthy weight and longer life. 

Negative emotions activate a part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety, and can increase stress hormone levels, heart rates, and blood pressure. Sustained stress can eventually contribute to illness, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. 

When a person has ADHD, it is common for her to engage in negative “self-talk,” a constant stream of thinking that is self-critical. This can lead to or aggravate depression, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness. Learning coping strategies like self-compassion can help to more effectively manage thoughts and emotions. 

Developing self-compassion

Compassion, says Kristin Neff, PhD, “involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly."

“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself, ” Dr. Neff says. She is an associate professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, in Austin.

Self-compassion allows us to be more objective about our situation, thoughts or emotions, and can help us have a more balanced perspective, she says.

According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion has three elements:

  • Mindfulness vs. over-identification. Self-compassion involves a balanced approach, without ignoring or exaggerating our feelings. It is being mindful of our negative thoughts and emotions in the moment, and not so caught up by them, so that we are not swept away by negative reactivity. 

Practicing self-compassion can lead to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, and higher levels of happiness, optimism and connection with others. 

Tips for practicing self-compassion

How can you learn and practice self-compassion throughout the day?

  • Motivation. You may use your inner critic for motivation, thinking that being hard on yourself will help you change your behavior. Instead, practice using a kinder, gentler way to motivate yourself. What language do wise and nurturing friends, family members or mentors use with you to point out unproductive behavior and encourage you to take different actions? Practice using their tone and phrases in your self-talk.

Self-compassion is a journey

The effect of ADHD symptoms can be profound, and being self-critical can be harmful. Self-compassion can help you build emotional equilibrium and resilience while you focus on concrete next steps for managing your symptoms. 

Looking for more?

How can you practice self-compassion in your daily life?

Developing self-compassion and kindness can seem difficult when you are coping with a negative internal monologue. The negative messages stemming from ADHD symptoms can make it feel like we are unworthy of compassion, but it is important to learn the skills that combat those thoughts and allow us to lead happier lives. Keep reading for tips on developing compassion for yourself.