Although we all make the occasional social blunder, most people are pretty forgiving if it doesn’t happen too often. However, those with ADHD tend to use up their free passes too quickly, causing others to make deeper assumptions about their character. As a result, people with ADHD can be seen as irresponsible, self-centered, or rude, even though they’re really not (or at least not any more than anyone else!).
As in other parts of their lives, adults with ADHD know what they should and shouldn’t do but have trouble sticking with that plan. They know they should pay attention to people and remember what they are told, but they find their attention wandering. Or they interrupt people for fear of forgetting their comment before the other person stops talking. They too frequently put their foot in their mouth. They may express both positive and negative emotions strongly, which can overwhelm some people. They may also miss the nonverbal cues that are so important in social interactions or run late too often.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to improving your relationships and friendships, you don’t need to strive for perfection. Often, some partial improvements are enough to make things much better and create a situation where your positive qualities outweigh the negative feelings the other person has about your ADHD-based behaviors.
Real-life friendships have suffered in our cyber-driven world, yet they are just as important as ever. Adults with ADHD need good friends too. Supportive relationships have an important protective effect for both our mental health as well as our physical health. Five ways you can boost that benefit include:
- Know yourself.
- Find good friends.
- Consider disclosure carefully.
- Manage expectations.
- Be open to fair criticism.
In order to be able to manage your relationships effectively, you first need to know yourself and what you want. What do you expect from your friends? What are you willing to give in friendships? With what sort of people do you get along best? What sort of people get along best with you? What are you willing to be flexible about and what won’t you budge on? These answers will make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Find good friends
It’s much easier to be a good friend if you start with people who are good friendship material; that is, people who are a good fit for you. They appreciate your good qualities and are willing to overlook or at least tolerate the things about you that they don’t appreciate—and vice versa. Sometimes we stay with the same friends out of habit, even though we may have outgrown them. Or perhaps they were never really great friends to begin with, but they were there, so we kept them.
Because of prior social difficulties, some adults with ADHD will settle for friends who don’t treat them very well or who make them the butt of too many jokes or negative comments. Even though it isn’t always fun, they tolerate it because it’s familiar and at least they can keep the friendship. Although I understand how this can develop, I would hope for better for them. So it may be worth thinking about the dynamics in some of your friendships. Are you treated with respect and fairness? If not, it may be worth politely pointing it out and asking for a change. If ADHD-related behaviors have made you the easy target in the group, then working on your ADHD gives you much more credibility to ask to be treated better. Of course, your friends have the right to continue doing what they do, but you also have the right to find other friends.
If you feel like you need some new friends, the easiest way to find them is to look around at the people that you already know as acquaintances. Are any of them possibilities to be promoted up to friend status? You can also put yourself into situations where you can meet some new people. Your local CHADD chapter is one obvious place, but look for situations where people gather. You may need to try a number of things before you encounter someone that you click with. You probably will also have to try a few times before anything comes of it. Don’t take rejection personally—not everyone is interested in making new friends, so it isn’t anything about you.
Of course, if you’re one of those folks who get bored with people after a while, you’re more likely to hang in there if you start with interesting people. It’s fine to have multiple shorter friendships, but it’s helpful to have at least some longer ones.
Consider disclosure carefully
I’m often asked by clients and audience members at presentations about whether someone should tell friends about having ADHD. There are no right or wrong answers, since it depends on the circumstances, the openness of the person with ADHD, and the trustworthiness of the other person. My hope is just that the decision to tell someone is well thought out, rather than impulsive or based on what turn out to be shaky assumptions. To read more about this topic, see my article, “To Tell or Not to Tell,” in the April 2009 issue of Attention magazine.
NEXT WEEK: It's important to manage expectations and be open to fair criticism.
This post originally appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
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A clinical psychologist based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA, specializes in diagnosing and treating children, teens, and adults with ADHD. He is the author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD (Specialty Press, 2009) and Integrative Treatment for Adult ADHD (New Harbinger, 2007). He is a member of the CHADD board of directors.