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The impact of ADHD on adult self-esteem: A closer look for ADHD Awareness Month

ADHD and self-esteem in adults

October is ADHD Awareness Month, and it’s essential to shed light on the often-overlooked issue of self-esteem among adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Zoe A. Martinez, M.D., Ph.D., who is a lead psychiatrist at Done, shares valuable insights into this subject below. Let’s explore the effects of ADHD on the self-esteem of adults and how to address these challenges.

The low self-esteem struggle for adults with ADHD

One of the key concerns is why adults with ADHD often struggle with lower self-esteem than their neurotypical peers. Dr. Martinez emphasizes that individuals with ADHD frequently internalize their difficulties in academic and occupational performance as personal flaws, such as “laziness” or “stupidity.” These negative self-perceptions can cause a pervasive feeling of inadequacy.

The role of social media

Dr. Martinez dismisses the notion that social media contributes significantly to low self-esteem in adults with ADHD. Instead, this issue predates the rise of social media.

She explains that “most of the negative feedback individuals receive is directly from school, their places of employment or family members and close friends who may be annoyed with some of the symptoms of ADHD which can make individuals appear careless or rude.”

The power of self-compassion

Self-compassion emerges as a potent tool to counteract the adverse effects of ADHD on self-esteem. Cultivating self-compassion can help individuals “have realistic expectations of themselves, which can help them make better choices when it comes to academic or professional pursuits,” says Dr. Martinez.

She explains these healthier choices are more likely to happen because self-compassion can help individuals seek care and have more realistic expectations of themselves. Furthermore, “…s/he/they may feel more comfortable reaching out to family and friends for increased social support.”

Boosting self-esteem through activities

In addition to self-compassion, engaging in activities that align with one’s interests and competencies is another avenue for enhancing self-esteem. For many adults with ADHD, these activities may incorporate physical movement combined with a degree of concentration, harnessing executive functioning skills. All without requiring them to stand still, Dr. Martinez tells me.

“Examples are exercise, cooking, gardening, minor home repairs, simple car repairs, etc.,” says Martinez. Of course, only begin a new exercise routine after receiving a doctor’s approval.

Seeking professional support

When low self-esteem persists and negatively impacts various aspects of life, seeking professional support can be helpful. “…Particularly if it impacts functioning in interpersonal or social interactions, academic or occupational functioning,” Dr. Martinze adds.

In this case, “…it is a good idea to consider meeting with a professional to discuss options for treatment and whether supportive counseling will be sufficient or if an individual needs to schedule an appointment that could include diagnosing a more significant illness.” She explains that self-esteem is not part of the DSM v or ICD 10 criteria but might be symptomatic of a range of mental health illnesses.

Making a difference for ADHD Awareness Month

As part of ADHD Awareness Month, there are concrete steps to take to make a difference. Dr. Martinez says, “If you have a friend or family member who has diagnosed ADHD, ask them how they are doing, what, if anything, they are struggling with, and how you can help.”

She goes on to tell me that if you suspect a friend or family member might have ADHD, gently share your observations and encourage them to consult with a professional. Support individuals seeking treatment or working with clinicians if they tell you they are doing so.

Concluding words on ADHD and self-esteem in adults

In observance of ADHD Awareness Month, it’s crucial to acknowledge the challenges that adults with ADHD face in terms of self-esteem. By understanding the roots of low self-esteem, practicing self-compassion, engaging in fulfilling activities, seeking professional help when necessary, and offering support to those affected, we can work towards improving the lives of individuals living with ADHD and empowering them to build healthier self-esteem.

More about Dr. Zoe A. Martinez

Zoe A. Martinez M.D., Ph.D. is a lead psychiatrist at Done, where she has worked since 2018. She is board certified in both adult and child and adolescent psychiatry. Dr. Martinez received her Ph.D. from UCLA in behavioral neuroscience and her M.D. from UCSD. She completed her residency training and fellowship at UCLA.


Top photo of Zoe Martinez used with permission.

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