Home » 6 Breakthrough Tips to Improve Toxic Communications with ADHDers

6 Breakthrough Tips to Improve Toxic Communications with ADHDers

Avoid injured feelings and devastating conflicts

Image by Mote Oo Education from Pixabay

Image by Mote Oo Education from Pixabay

Conversations can go from a peaceful discussion to a hurtful argument in seconds when one partner has ADHD. ADHDers often find it difficult to keep their emotions in check and under control during intense interactions. Anger, resentment, and arguing are common when ADHD is present. Both the ADHDer and their partner must take steps to minimize conflict and injured feelings.

Early diagnosis of ADHD

ADHD in the past has been viewed as a childhood disorder, characterized by patterns of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity. It has been stated that it interferes with normal functioning and/or development. 

Kids in elementary school have often been classified as “problem children, hyperactive, disabled, or having a disorder.” But in reality, they quickly process the information given them, then their brains are ready for the next subject or assignment, while “normal” children are still analyzing or thinking about the same assignment. 

When no further information is given, the ADHD kids become fidgety or hyperactive because their brains no longer have enough new information to process.

Childhood ADHD

Dennis was diagnosed with ADHD, hyperactivity-impulsivity, at age six during the first grade. He didn’t get any complaints in kindergarten because they had plenty of play time. When he finished a project he was allowed to go to the activity center.

First grade was a totally different story. When the kids finished an assignment they were told to get a book to read or work on a different project until the rest of the class was finished. 

Dennis was usually the first one finished, even when he tried to take his time, he was still finished before everyone else.

He’d put his elbow on the desk and rest his head in his hand and close his eyes. That would last a couple of minutes then he’d switch hands. He’d shift in his chair crossing one leg on top, then the other. He tried really hard not to sigh or make any noise. But he just couldn’t help it. He was so bored.

One day, after about ten minutes of trying hard to be quiet and sit still he looked around the room. Everybody had their heads down working on their assignments except one other boy.

Their eyes met. They started making faces at each other, then their heads began to bob. Soon their hands and arms began to move. 

The teacher looked up when she heard snickering coming from both sides of the room. Other students were laughing at their funny faces.

They all jumped when a book hit the desk hard.

The laughing stopped. Everybody sat still, not sure what was coming next. 

This began happening several times per week. The teacher was getting as frustrated with the two boys as they were with the lack of work.

One of the boys went to the teacher and asked for more work. The teacher responded, “You just need to be quiet until the rest of the class is finished.”

She then notified the parents that they needed to take the boys to a counselor and get them some Ritalin so they would calm down.

This is a scenario that I’m sure many of you have heard or experienced.

Adult ADHD

Many adults had similar childhood symptoms, but were never diagnosed. Their symptoms matured into adult characteristics. Statistics suggests that at least 65% of childhood ADHD continues into adulthood. 

In the past, people with ADHD or ADD have been classified as “abnormal” because they don’t think like the neurotypical population.

CHADD, an advocacy group for children and adults with ADHD, listed the symptoms for inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive in adults in the post, Diagnosis of ADHD in Adults:

I have had the privilege (at times) of being around four adults with ADHD. Everyone of them have some typical characteristics. But I have also found that there are two characteristic, in all four, that really stand out, but are not usually listed.  They are actually smarter and more creative than those of us considered “normal.” 

ADHDers have also been described as having more energy, self-awareness, self-reliance, and resilience that those of use who are “neurotypical” or “normal”, according to the article Benefits of ADHD: Strengths and Benefits.

After more recent research, ADHD is now being referred to as “Fast Brain,” according to Dr. Caroline Leaf who you will find on YouTube. Other studies have also proven this to be correct. “ADHDers” can think circles around the rest of us. 

When something comes up where a decision or conclusion needs to be reached, the “ADHDers”, very often, have moved on to implementing the solutions while us “normals” are still thinking and weighing out the options. 

Often, the non-ADHDer has to say, “Slow down. Let me think about this.” 

Dismissiveness

Adults ADHDers may often appear dismissive when other “normal” individuals want confirmation that they have been heard and understood.  

Therefore, it becomes difficult for the “normal” individual to get necessary feedback  because it is difficult for the ADHD person to slow their brain down long enough to give the “normal” person what they need. 

Dennis, now 35, sits at the dining room table talking to Gracie, his wife of two years. She is trying talk to him about a problem she is having at work. She explains the situation between her and a co-worker and how it is impacting her work. 

She stops talking and looks at Dennis. He has not said anything. He has not expressed the typical gestures like a head nod or saying “really” or something, anything, that would convey that he is listening. 

He didn’t even use the common hand gestures often used to brush someone away or heavy sighing, looking at his watch or some other dismissive behavior. No, he seemed gone. The expression on his face said mentally he wasn’t even in the room.

Grace stopped talking and sat quietly for a few minutes. Finally, she got up to leave. Dennis raised his head and eyes to look at her. 

“Are you finished?” he said.

“Of course. It does no good to talk to myself.”

“I’m listening. I heard every word you said,” he replied.

Dennis proceeded to tell her what she had said, even though he had appeared to not be listening. 

“What is it you want me to say?” he said.

Gracie stormed out of the room, “Just forget it. I’ll find someone else to talk to.”

This is a very familiar complaint of “normals” in relationships with ADHDers.

Conclusion – seeing with fresh eyes

ADHDers often appear to be very self-centered. It is a very annoying characteristic for the non-ADHDer. It appears and feels like they just don’t care or they only care about themselves. 

Research has shown that the ADHDer is not coming from a mean or selfish place. They just don’t follow the traditional rules that the “normals” do. Their brains are moving too quickly. They see things differently. They are often very impulsive with their responses.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-20, ESV)”

A person doesn’t have to have ADHD or any other “disorder” to be able to relate to what Paul is saying to the Romans. When we are operating with our carnal mind we often do not understand our own actions. We want to do what is right, but we often do the things we hate or don’t want to do. 

A person with ADHD may find it more difficult to make themself do what they should. It requires developing awareness and self-disciple. But as it says in Romans 8:26-27, God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness.

The ADHDers have fresh inquisitive eyes. Dennis and Gracie almost never see things from the same perspective. Sometimes this causes a problem. Other times it brings excitement and new possibilities into the relationship and the situation.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27, ESV)”

A possible solution, for both the “normal” and the ADHDer, might be to put these 6 strategies to work:

  1. The “normal” person needs to choose not to be offended or reactive negatively when they feel they are being ignored.
  2. ADHDers need to develop a strategy that remind them to pause before speaking or responding to something that was said. Different strategies work for different people. Some ideas are counting to 5 before responding, deep breathing, visualizing not speaking, asking for a few minutes and walk away before speaking.
  3. The “normal” person needs to intentionally get their ADHDers attention and ask for feedback.
  4. The ADHDer must become aware of their trigger and design a strategy that will replace the normal impulsive response with a more appropriate response. For example: Dennis assumes he knows what Gracie is going to say and that it will negatively impact him so he chooses to be dismissive as if he did not hear what was said. Instead, Dennis could become aware of Gracie’s tone or attitude and choose to watch until she is finished, while taking several deep breathes and ask a question before responding.
  5. The “normal” person needs to ask for a two-way discussion so that both sides of the issue can be clearly illuminated and evaluated from a “practical” perspective. This would allow any changes to be made or modified with the agreement of both parties.
  6. The ADHDer needs to come up with a strategy, like taking notes while the other person is talking, to be able to understand and respond appropriately instead of impulsively commenting without a full grasp of the situation.

Prayer, asking for God’s help in understanding and responding appropriately, is always needed. Psalms 25, when made personal, is a great way to prepare to start any conversation or interaction that has the potential for being devastating.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me… Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalms 25:1-5, ESV)”

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