Tuesday, November 25, 2014

'I'm Sorry' Is Not a Magic Wand

by Kirsten Milliken, PhD

A few days ago I was sitting with a friend who also has ADHD. We were having a great time amusing one another with stories of our day. I had a really funny story to tell. It was a story that was going to cause us to laugh hard and long—maybe even snort!

Earlier that day I’d had an interaction with some twenty-something-year-olds at the mall. I set the scene, but before I could tell the actual story, my friend remarked, “They must be looking at you, hanging out at the mall, thinking, “what a loser.” Now, in the real world, this remark was actually somewhat funny. But in my world, the word “loser” hit an old sore spot and made me catch my breath.

My friend immediately saw that I was hurt. I immediately said, “I know you did not mean anything by that. It just felt mean to me.” My friend apologized and I accepted it saying it really was not necessary. I knew her intention was not mean. We are friends. She was caught up in the image of the scene I had set up. I understood the context of the comment. The hurt was from my past. So I had accepted the apology and now she wanted to hear the story…

But I was no longer in the same mood.

I wanted to tell the story. It was hilarious. But I had to be in that mood to tell it.

I said I needed a few minutes. But we have ADHD.

My friend was still in a playful mood and wanted to continue in that mood—not this new one. I was trying to resolve my hurt, but it was going to take a lot of effort to get back there again. She did not want to feel guilty and wanted to go back to playing. She got mad at me. “So you don’t want to share your story because you’re mad at me?” I was not. But the play had been put on hold and this was unacceptable to her. There was no way for her to understand my struggle to play more because she did not know what was causing my hurt if it was not her comment.

An apology is not a magic wand. Whether it is your words or actions that causes someone’s hurt, things do not just go back the way they were because an apology is offered and accepted.
Grab a plate and throw it on the ground.
—Okay, done.
Did it break?
—Yes.
Now say sorry to it.
—Sorry.
Did it go back to the way it was before?
—No.
Do you understand?
I love this quote about apologies: It illustrates exactly what I tried to explain to my friend. But she felt bad and did not understand no matter how hard I tried to explain.

I have to say that I desperately wanted to get back to being more playful as well. I love our fun together. But I needed to pause and find my way back there. But now I had two barriers to feeling playful—my own hurt and hers. Needless to say we did not play, and the evening ended earlier than expected. Sadly.

So what would have gotten us back to play? Time will eventually get us back to play. In the moment, if my friend had asked me what was causing my upset if it was not her words, this might have helped her to understand my reaction. Changing the subject to something else for a brief period of time may have also helped to change my focus from the word that triggered me to something more enjoyable.

Moods can change quickly. But they are not like rubber bands. Once they change they do not snap back by just willing ourselves to let them go. With time, distractions, and understanding they can resolve. I’m looking forward to more play with my friend and I still have that story to tell her next time. It’s hilarious!



Kirsten Milliken, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, a certified ADHD coach, and the founder of PlayDHD. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her two amazing children and two really freaky dogs. Dr. Milliken is passionate about helping those with ADHD communicate about the ways that ADHD affects them and coaches them to develop skill sets that build on their strengths in order to manage the day-to-day challenges of ADHD. She created PLAYDHD to create a specific awareness of the connection between ADHD and the value of play. Her website, playdhd.com, is dedicated to the art of using play in managing symptoms of ADHD, achieving goals, and enjoying life. She is an active member in the ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO), CHADD, Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), International Coaches Federation (ICF), and a graduate of the ADD Coaches Academy (ADDCA). She regularly presents at ADHD conferences on the subject of play. She also hosts the PlayDHD podcast, is a frequent guest and former co-host on Attention Talk Radio, and contributes to various other websites serving the ADHD community.

1 comment:

  1. Sharing of these posts is very important for many of us and our children ...also adults with ADHD. It's hard to figure the way around many issues and defensiveness or evasion can be the first of "coping" skills to emerge. Thanks very much for this.

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