Impulsivity in People With ADHD
The person who displays impulsive tendencies is often reckless and impatient, not taking the necessary time to think through decisions. Some are painfully shy in social situations because they have been corrected, reprimanded and ridiculed when they did what felt normal and right to them. They often find it difficult to wait their turn, interrupting other’s conversations or activities. They often blurt out answers to questions or give information when the speaker is only five words into their sentence.
Emotional self-regulation is a complex neurological function. It helps us pay attention to shifting stimuli, evaluate them, and respond in inappropriate ways. When it is lacking — as it is for many children with ADHD — parents often struggle to explain and teach “self-control.” – ADDtitude.com
People with ADHD are often unable to control their initial response to situations, especially if the situation excites their emotions, one way or the other. Often their emotions can go from 0 to 100 in seconds for no apparent reason and without any control. It can cause an intense flow of words or irrational actions.
Their brain chemistry often leads to poor emotional management and impulse control. People with ADHD have to work harder than others regulating and modifying their feelings, thoughts, and responses instead of allowing their emotions to control what they do and say.
They lack the ability to “self-regulate” during emotional times. They also can’t connect their behavior to future consequences, thus, making it difficult to modify their behavior. People with ADHD have difficulty connecting their behavior or words to future cause and effect. They perceive the source of the problem as some other person or circumstance other than themselves.
As the scientific understanding of ADHD has grown and changed, many experts have come to view ADHD not as a disorder of attention, but rather one of self-regulation and self-control. According to the Child Mind Institute, “self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of [a] situation.”
The Child Mind Institute states that “Self-regulation helps us learn, too — meaning that a child who struggles to self-regulate is also likely to struggle when faced with a boring lesson, a difficult homework assignment, or, in adulthood, a new task at work. In other words, self-regulation is one of the most foundational skills a child can have — not only to succeed in school but also to succeed throughout her life.”
Up Close and Personal
One of the most difficult things for my husband to do is be quiet and listen. If something is said, he doesn’t have to be angry or explosive, it’s like his words come tumbling out after hearing just five words from the other person. This behavior ties in with the behavior of interrupting.
A friend of mine was in a relationship with a guy with ADHD. During the course of an argument that lasted several days, she received 200 text messages. You could tell he was talking into his phone. The dialogue went on and on, saying the same thing over and over – insane. His words flowed non-stop. It didn’t matter what she replied back, the text repeated the same message in rapid-fire.
Larry came up with a workaround to keep him from being impulsive and opening his wallet. He always calls to tell me about what has been proposed or something he might want to do or purchase. He may come to me totally excited and can’t wait. Usually, by the time he finishes telling me he’s already decided it isn’t a good idea or comes up with a compromise.
It’s like just the phone call gives him the time to slow his mind down and allow himself to seriously think about the proposal. The fact that he checks first has saved us a lot of problems and money.
I often run my fingers over my lips like I’m zipping my lips together. He stops, puts his hand over his mouth to stop the flow of words, eyes wide with amazement. I chuckle every time. Seeing his amazement is extremely interesting.
Exercises to Improve Self-Regulation
“Sesame Street” teaches self-regulation through more than just situational modeling. They also use Stop Light Strategy. This strategy is good for children, as well as, adults.
It also makes use of easy-to-follow techniques that emphasize pausing, naming the emotion you’re feeling, and implementing a strategy you know for controlling it:
Stoplight Strategy: The stoplight strategy may help you pause and ponder before acting on a stressful situation. It consists of three steps:
- Stop (red light): Take a long, deep breath, say the problem, and how you feel – identify your emotion.
- Make a plan (yellow light): Asking, “What could I do? How could I make these solutions work? Which of these solutions are best?”
- Go (green light): Try your best idea. Reflect on what happened. Try another idea if needed.
It’s possible to have more than one emotion at a time, such as anger, sadness, nervousness, and happiness. It is often difficult to clearly identify the emotion you are feeling. It takes practice and thought.
One good way to start identifying your emotions is to identify how the emotions make you feel on the inside. For example, anger may make you feel hot, while anxiety gives you butterflies in your stomach.
It’s important to identify how you feel and determine strategies for regulating each emotion for impulse control.
Take in a slowly breathe in through your nose then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Repeat this breathing exercise several times when you feel your emotions begin to rise. The breathing helps you calm your emotions and identify what triggered the emotion.
People with ADHD do a lot of talking, to themselves and to others. Unfortunately, if the talk moves inward, they often find themselves unable to keep track of the ideas in their head. It’s better to talk out loud whether it’s to solve a problem or remind them to calm down.
It also helps to keep a journal or notes. Everyone has a smartphone where you can record what you need to say or jot down a note. Self-talk can help calm the whirlwind inner monologue of an ADHD brain.
Distractions, “shiny things”, aren’t all bad! You can use distractions to keep yourself from becoming emotionally charged, or running off at the mouth, or to avoid an unpleasant situation. A fidget-spinner is a great tool for self-distraction. Different techniques and tools can be useful for different people. My husband uses his phone or music as a distraction when necessary.
These techniques can be adapted for any age person who is learning to deal with the effects of ADHD. There is no reason to allow your mind to run wild at top speed. You can learn techniques to control it.
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