There are a lot of difficulties that come with ADHD. One of the most common is ADHD negative talk. ADD negative talk is where you use your brain to chastise and put yourself down. If that sounds ridiculous, it is because it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Negative self-talk is a common problem for lots of people. It can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Negative self-talk can be especially problematic for those of us with ADHD.
Where Does Negative Talk Come From?
There are entire branches of psychiatry, biology, and neurology dedicated to understanding the various things that go on in the human mind. One of those things is understanding the seemingly different voices and inputs in your own head. You may already have some sort of definition that makes sense to you. For example, I often divide what happens inside of me as front brain, rear brain, and as a separate entity, my body.
My body is the part that will not allow me to fall asleep no matter what I try, and then has the nerve to feel sluggish and sooo tired the next day.
The rear brain is where all of those thoughts that just pop up come from. Thoughts like, “I’m bored,” or “I wonder if the McDonald’s attached to gas stations ever get gas in the food.” Some of the thoughts that come from the back brain don’t even come through as words. You just know and understand because it’s your own brain.
The front brain, then, is the brain I control. The one that says, what I want it say and thinks what I want it to think.
Perhaps an example would help:
It is 10:00 pm and I am laying down to go to sleep. I tell myself, inside my own brain, “We HAVE to start going to the gym tomorrow.” All three of my brain subparts are fine with this.
It is 6:30 am and the alarm goes off because we HAVE to go to the gym, but my body is EXHAUSTED. It can’t keep its eyes open for even two seconds. My front brain doesn’t want to hear it, but the back brain jumps in. We could go after work, or later in the evening, or not at all. There is always tomorrow.
It is 7:00 pm and I’m a combination of angry, sad, and betrayed that I didn’t make it to the gym today. The anger is from the rear brain; the voice saying “For gawd’s sake we HAVE to start going to the gym or we are going to miss out on an amazing opportunity when we are too out of shape to go. The sick feeling of despair and bile comes from my body. All three-brain parts conspiring to make me feel worse and worse.
It is 7:30 pm and I feel down, miserable and gray. I order pizza because my body WANTS pizza and NOTHING ELSE. My back brain picks the place. My front brain just doesn’t care because no matter what I do, it never works out.
Negative Talk and ADHD
Right now, you are
a) over it for my little sob story (but you totally recognize it)
b) thinking that this kind of thing happens to everyone, not just people with ADHD.
You are right, on both accounts.
What makes negative talk such a powerful demotivating force in people is that whenever you stop to think about something, you give your brain parts (however you like to divide them up) a chance to grab the wheel and hijack the ship, if I may mix some metaphors. If you have ADHD, you stop to think about something else all the time. This is what makes negative self-talk and ADHD so powerful. You literally stop to think about other things all the time.
Sure, sometimes you just think about how rabbits actually dig with soft paws that don’t have much claws on them, and that’s no harm, no foul.
(Unless of course, you stop working on that thing that was already due yesterday, so you look it up, do some reading, and end up wondering why the prairie dogs in Wyoming near Devil’s Tower are a respected wildlife tourist feature, when in Colorado they deliberately let black footed ferrets loose in prairie dog colonies because that is their primary food… After, of course, they distribute peanut butter pellets laced with plague vaccine around the prarie dog colony so the ferrets don’t get if from eating them – (Don’t even get me started on how a single, small ferret can take down a big ‘ol fat prairie dog.))
There is a ton of room for negative talk in that one thought chain (literally about rabbit holes). Imagine how many times per day a person with ADHD changes their chain of thought and how many chances that stupid back brain gets a chance to jump in and derail everything.
Tips to Avoid Negative Self-Talk
- Challenge Negative Thoughts: Often, negative self-talk is based on distorted or irrational versions of events. You don’t always order Chinese food instead of cooking. You don’t never go to the gym or do the right thing. Challenge these thoughts and replace them with more realistic ones, we can change our perspective and improve our mood. For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I’m never going to succeed,” challenge that thought by asking yourself, “Is that really true?” and replacing it with a more realistic though.
- Focus on Your Strengths: It’s easy to get caught up in our weaknesses or shortcomings. Try to focus on your strengths. You still play well and have lots of fun with racquetball, so you aren’t completely out of shape.
- Surround Yourself with Positivity: Negative self-talk can be reinforced by negative influences in our environment. You’ll get a lot more milage out of a picture of a beach in the Bahamas than a self-mocking photo of you eating an 8-scoop sundae.
- Surround yourself with positive people and seek out positive experiences and activities. This is NOT permission to dump on your friends. This is about positive experiences. Meet up with a friend. Talk about baseball. Play darts. Go home. You should feel better.
- Get some sun. There are multiple studies now that show being in nature helps people with ADHD, AND people with depression. There you go. Two birds with one stone. If you really want to kick it up a notch combing in a hike or walk. Your brain is designed to observe and analyze its environment. will do that a lot more if there is a new, moving environment to observe.
Mindfulness and Negative Self-Talk
I believe in mindfulness, and I believe that the key to mindfulness is some form of meditation or inner exploration. However, I do not recommend going to this well when you are battling negative self-talk. This just gives your brain time to wallow in pity. Do meditate and practice mindfulness, just don’t do it in this case. Wait until you can at least feel good after a deep sigh.
Negative Talk and Beating Yourself Up
A wise woman once said (okay, fine a therapist, but still…) “If beating yourself up worked, it would have already worked by now.”
I like that.
Of course, knowing rationally what to do and think is a lot easier than doing it. It still is hard to go to the gym, not eat the cake, and stick to one serving of mashed potatoes. (Yes, food is my love language. Shut up.) That is the whole point. Assuming you divide your brain up the way I do, you have no control of the back brain or your body. All you can do is control your front brain, but there lies the path to victory.
If you do not feed the negative loops in your head with your front brain, then eventually the other two will give up. Sure, it’s not perfect and sometimes it will take a long while, but beating negative talk is critical to dealing with ADHD and making life better for all your brain parts.
So, write down, “EXERCISE” in your calendar and circle it in read. Set your alarm for 6:30 am maybe once, just this once, when your body is sooooo tiiiiirreed, force yourself up anyway. When your brain complains about how much time being at the gym “wastes” remind yourself that you can put on the latest show that you’ve “been meaning to watch” while you work on the Precor, or bike or whatever. If you can’t think of anything to watch, remind whichever part remembers stuff that you can always watch Eddie play Metallic on top of a motor home in order to rage-attract some demons.
You will never win “for good” but you can get moving in the right direction.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need go rewatch Stranger Things 4.