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  • Scott Shapiro, MD

ADHD and Shame: 7 Strategies to Feel Better About Yourself

Do You Struggle With ADHD and Shame? Seven strategies for overcoming shame and embracing life with adult ADHD.

ADHD Shame Management


Living with adult ADHD can be challenging, and one often overlooked aspect of the condition is the experience of shame. Shame can create a constant internal battle and hinder individuals from reaching their full potential. However, understanding the nature of shame and implementing effective strategies can help you overcome it and lead a fulfilling life.

In this post, I explore seven strategies for overcoming shame and embracing life with adult ADHD. By implementing these strategies, individuals with adult ADHD can break free from shame’s grip and thrive.

1. Self-Education

One of the first steps in overcoming shame associated with adult ADHD is to understand the condition comprehensively. Educating yourself about ADHD’s symptoms, causes, and treatment options can help dispel misconceptions and reduce self-blame. Knowledge empowers individuals to recognize that ADHD is a neurobiological condition and that their struggles are not a result of personal shortcomings.

According to Barkley (2010), “ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” Understanding the neurobiological basis of ADHD can help individuals reframe their experiences and reduce self-judgment.

2. Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion is crucial in overcoming shame. Individuals with adult ADHD often internalize societal stigmas and develop negative self-perceptions. Engaging in self-compassionate thoughts and actions involves treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness. It is important to remember that ADHD is not a character flaw but a unique way of experiencing the world.

Neff (2003) defined self-compassion as “being kind and understanding toward oneself in pain or failure, rather than harshly self-critical.” By cultivating self-compassion, individuals with adult ADHD can counteract shame and develop a more positive self-image.

3. Seeking Support

Seeking support from understanding individuals, such as friends, family, or support groups, can be immensely helpful in overcoming shame. Sharing experiences, challenges, and triumphs with others who have similar struggles can foster a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation. Support groups can provide a safe space for open discussions and exchange of coping strategies.

Research by Matza et al. (2005) highlighted the importance of social support in managing ADHD. They found that individuals with higher social support levels reported better health-related quality of life. By connecting with others who understand their experiences, individuals with adult ADHD can find a sense of validation and support to overcome shame.

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4. Reframing Negative Self-Perceptions

Shame often arises from negative self-perceptions associated with ADHD-related difficulties. Individuals can reduce shame and improve self-esteem by reframing these negative thoughts into more realistic and compassionate perspectives. Recognizing personal strengths, achievements, and resilience can help shift the focus from perceived inadequacies to growth and progress.

Lam and Dvorak (2019) stated, “Reappraising shame-inducing situations can lead to reductions in feelings of shame and increases in self-compassion.” By challenging negative self-perceptions and adopting a more compassionate outlook, individuals with adult ADHD can cultivate a sense of self-worth and decrease shame.

5. Practicing Self-Care

Engaging in self-care activities is essential for individuals with adult ADHD to improve overall well-being and reduce shame. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy nutrition, and stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness and meditation can contribute to better emotional and cognitive regulation. Prioritizing self-care allows individuals to manage ADHD symptoms better and enhances self-confidence.

Dvorsky and Faraone (2014) found that excessive smartphone use, which often interferes with self-care practices, is associated with cognitive deficits similar to ADHD. Individuals can improve their overall well-being and reduce excessive smartphone use by focusing on self-care activities and reducing ADHD-related challenges.

6. Setting Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals is crucial for adults with ADHD to manage expectations and minimize shame. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps helps to avoid overwhelm and increase productivity. Celebrating each accomplishment, no matter how small, fosters a sense of achievement and boosts self-esteem.

Hwang et al. (2019) emphasized the role of goal setting in academic functioning for individuals with ADHD. They found that goal setting mediates the relationship between ADHD symptoms and academic performance. By setting realistic goals and acknowledging progress, individuals with adult ADHD can overcome shame and experience a sense of accomplishment.

7. Embracing Personal Strengths

Instead of focusing solely on weaknesses, adults with ADHD should acknowledge and celebrate their unique strengths. ADHD often brings creativity, hyperfocus, and the ability to think outside the box. By embracing these strengths, individuals can cultivate a sense of pride and self-acceptance, reducing shame and unlocking their full potential.

White and Shah (2011) explored the relationship between ADHD and creativity in adults. They found that individuals with ADHD exhibited uninhibited imaginations and higher creativity levels than the control group. By recognizing and embracing their creative abilities, individuals with adult ADHD can build self-confidence and challenge shame-based beliefs.

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Overcoming shame associated with adult ADHD is a journey that requires self-education, self-compassion, support, reframing negative self-perceptions, self-care, setting realistic goals, and embracing personal strengths. By implementing these strategies, individuals with adult ADHD can break free from shame’s grip and thrive.

Scott Shapiro, MD - website

Barkley, R. A. (2010). Taking charge of ADHD: The complete, authoritative guide for parents (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.

Dvorsky, M. R., & Faraone, S. V. (2014). Comparing the cognitive deficits associated with ADHD and excessive smartphone use. Journal of Attention Disorders, 18(2), 162-169.

Lam, C. S., & Dvorak, R. D. (2019). Understanding the relationship between ADHD and shame: The roles of emotion dysregulation, perseveration, and self-compassion. Journal of Attention Disorders, 23(6), 603-613.

Matza, L. S., Rentz, A. M., Secnik, K., Swensen, A. R., Revicki, D. A., & Michelson, D. (2005). The impact of ADHD on health-related quality of life in pediatric and adult patients. Quality of Life Research, 14(1), 137-149.

Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.

White, H. A., & Shah, P. (2011). ADHD traits are associated with creative achievement in adults. Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 51(7), 799-803.


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