“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful
“I need you to talk to Mary for me,” Jeff said. “She’s not listening to me. I need you to explain my ADHD to her. She just doesn’t understand that it’s not my fault. It’s the ADHD.”
Jeff knew I had a degree in Psychology and certification in Life Coaching, so he presumed that I would automatically take his side and go to bat for him with Mary. Instead, I started asking him questions, like “What does Mary want?”
In response, I got, “You have to talk to her, she just doesn’t understand that I have ADHD and it’s not my fault. I can’t help but act this way. You have to get her to understand.”
I wanted to scream into the phone, “Hey, are you listening to me?” But instead, I once again asked, “What does Mary want?”
“You just have to make her understand that I can’t live without her. I’d have nothing left to live for. She has to understand that she is my whole world.”
After talking to Jeff several times by phone and after some research into the tactics of people with uncontrolled ADHD, I found he was indulging in Reactive Language Communication. He wasn’t taking responsibility for any of his words or behavior and he was also trying to Gaslight me, as well as, Mary.
The term “gaslight” is taken from the 1944 movie Gaslight, based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, “Gas Light” where a woman’s husband slowly manipulates her into believing she’s insane. According to Empowerwork.org, “Gaslighting is a manipulation strategy that makes someone question their self-worth and sanity.” It’s done in an attempt to fulfill the perpetrator’s self-centered needs for control over others, financial gain, or conformity to his beliefs and perceptions.
“Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think.” – Psychology Today
After many phone calls of asking the same question, he finally answered, “She wants me to leave. But, she just doesn’t understand. Please talk to her.”
Due to the processing challenges for people with ADHD, it often leaves others questioning their authenticity. Are they for real or are they “Gaslighting?” It is possible for people with ADHD to be misunderstood and labeled unfairly as “lying”, “untrustworthy”, or “manipulative”, when they aren’t gaslighting. Yet, people with ADHD, like anyone else, can be manipulative, untrustworthy, and intentionally misleading.
Back to the beginning
From all appearances, Jeff was a good guy. He had an 8-year-old son who he seemed to adore. He had been at our house several times. As I stepped back and watched, I decided he was not welcome anymore. Every word out of his mouth seemed to promote himself and his viewpoint.
Mary and Jeff met by accident. She drove a small bus for a job. She was out in the “boonies” when her bus broke down. As she sat alongside the road waiting for the mechanic, Jeff happened along making deliveries of his own. He waited with her until the tow truck arrived. He seemed to be very caring and sensitive.
Mary had just gotten out of a very abusive relationship. Jeff’s attention felt good. He seemed to genuinely care about her. She worked very long hours so he’d go to her apartment, walk her dog, and have a hot meal waiting for her when she got home. Who, of us women, wouldn’t like the attention?
Later, she acknowledged that the attention and care she received hit a tender place in her heart. She had always been the caregiver. She had never been treated so well until the other shoe dropped.
About five or six months after meeting, Jeff said he had an accident at work and hurt his knee. He sued the employer and claimed he couldn’t work, he lost the case.
Tender-hearted Mary was supportive in helping him out any way she could. He eventually manipulated her into totally supporting him. But every time she did something he didn’t like he’d send her hundreds of text messages and emails describing how she was wrong, everything was her fault until she almost began to believe it – Gaslighting.
It ended in several court cases, but, fortunately, Mary was able to get out of the relationship without it bankrupting her.
Gaslighting – The Exception
I am not saying all people who have ADHD or other disorders engage in “gaslighting”. I’ve read many of the comments in blogs, like ADDitudemag.com, where people tell their stories. My guess is that most people with ADHD do not engage in “gaslighting,” but Jeff seemed to believe his own lies.
Jeff was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. They started him on medication to stem some of the effects of the ADHD, but his mother and he didn’t like the lethargic effect it had on him. He was taken off the meds, instead of adjusting the dosage.
From talking to his mother and his dad, who also had ADHD, it appears that he was coddled as a child. He seemed to get everything he wanted when he wanted it. At age 40, his parents, who were retired, still took care of him and criticized him, instead of helping him to find ways to work around the disorder to have a normal life.
ADHD and Communication
People with ADHD are easily distracted. They often “zone out” during a conversation which makes them appear to not be interested. When they do and realize it, they may try to pick up the conversation and remember what they missed, which contributes to more “zone out”. Anxiety and frustration may also be associated with the loss of attention, complicating the issue.
My husband has ADHD. We’ve created some “workarounds” to deal with the “zone out” times. I can tell when he’s not present in a conversation. Oh yes, he makes noise like he’s paying attention, but I always ask what I said, which brings him back to the conversation. It has become a standing joke between us instead of a point of contention.
When I ask what I’ve said, he can usually give me five works then it gets lost. At that point, I have his attention and repeat what I said.
“Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.”
When we started working on our communication it was frustrating for both of us, especially me, when I’d have to repeat everything I said. Sometimes I’d be talking and notice the “light was not on – nobody home”, so I’d stop talking. Sometimes I’d walk away and he didn’t even notice. He gave no indication that I was even in the room. He was actually looking at his phone or computer, pretending to listen to me.
At first, I got offended. As we began working on the situation, I made the decision to not take it personally. When he’d “zone out” I’d get his attention and ask if he was ready to listen. It became must less stressful for both of us.
Psychology Today states, “Complicating matters, it becomes hard for the person with ADHD to know where to exactly attribute their communication problems. Was it misunderstanding information in the first place, seeing the negative reactions of others, feeling added communication insecurities, or, then again, having the original memory lapses and distortions? Sadly, there are usually no easy answers.”
When I began taking the “zone out” times, distractions, or lack of attentiveness, as a matter of fact, we were able to look at the different situations and find “workarounds” that worked for both of us. Is it easy? No. But, it has saved our marriage and helped us both to grow together and individually.