I knew this guy when I was younger that everyone seemed to like. He was considered, kind, caring, charismatic, and charming. Generally the most caring person you could ever ask to meet. He was witty, smart, fun and basically pretty amazing to be around. He made everyone laugh and feel welcome in his presence. If it was needed, which was more often than he’d care to admit, he counseled those feeling down or needing guidance. He seemed to have this uncanny wisdom about him that always applied to those he aided, even if he didn’t know them.
So, here is this great guy. Yet every day he would look in the mirror and despise the face looking back at him. He generally felt like he was the biggest failure he’d ever know. He couldn’t stand the damaged and disorderly that was staring back at him. (You guessed it. He has ADHD.)
When I hear of someone feeling this way, I’m not really shocked, just saddened. I would see some pretty amazing people that have no problem demeaning themselves. Uncomfortable in their own skin, disliking who they are or have become. When I went through this battle, it was feeling a sense of shame because I was subjecting those around me to my ADHD. You see, I was actually raised to personify the condition. I was ADHD, and I was a nuisance to all of those that had to encounter me. When such thoughts go on unfiltered and unchecked, they can become deeply embedded in your psyche. They hit like a boxer with no mercy and leave a mark that no one can see except the suffering soul. And they can’t get it out of their sight. It breaks the heart, shreds at the soul and makes them feel, well, worthless. In short, it tears down their self-esteem.
Now, I know that everyone has heard about self-esteem and how it’s a huge part of who you are. However, let’s just define the term really quick.
Self-esteem is defined as having confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect. Basically, you’re putting a value on you. What you’re worth to yourself and your world. And who doesn’t want to value themselves? Who doesn’t want to be seen as a great person with endless potential and hope beyond measure? Who doesn’t want to look in the mirror and smile at the reflection, loving the person looking back at you?
You’d be surprised.
I know I was. Now, I’ve been counseling people with low self-esteem for some time now, and I thought I had seen it all. However, I was also living in a world where I was blind to the damage that was going on right under my nose. And when it finally reared its ugly little head, it hit me like a semi into a guard rail. (Quite the visual!). But, let me set the stage for this little story.
I’m not going to lie, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my children when they were little. It really gets me all soft and fuzzy inside. Their little laughs, quirks and personalities always makes me smile. The way they’d see the world and all its wonders and possibilities. How their little personalities developed as they grew into the world, wanting nothing more than to grab it by the horns and make it a better place for everyone. Those sweet memories when they were innocent and hopeful, ready to develop into the masters of their domains and conquer the universe.
A time where I had yet to screw them up.
Oooh, so harsh I am with myself. Well, most parents will be. If you love your kids like I do, (not a challenge. I’d win.) Any little mistake will seem like a huge one. And what’s worse, sometimes you find out you did something you didn’t even realize and it impacted them for most of their lives. That’s where the semi comes in. Something that was said or done, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of anger, and their children’s self-esteem takes a hit. We don’t want to damage our loved ones, we’d rather build them up. And we spend hours on end telling them constantly how great they are and what a gift they’ve become. So, why is it that you spend a lifetime building them up, yet one careless or misinterpreted remark is the one that sticks? (I sense a ‘Murphy’s Law’ joke coming, so I’ll just move this along.)
I had a conversation with my oldest daughter recently, and I don’t think she was aware that she was going to metaphorically punch me in the gut. (She’d offer to do it for real If I so needed. The smile is so sweet….). Now, I’m obviously going to be bias in my opinion of my children, but I don’t lie so you’ll have to take my word for this. My daughter is absolutely beautiful. And I’m making a statement that has been made to me numerous times over the years. I always thought people would complement my child out of sheer honesty. They were never ‘Just being polite’. And I had no problem beaming with pride about my little girls. (With my son, the pride beams differently. It’s a guy thing.) I’ve always seen the sweetness, brilliance and beauty of my little ladybug. All I ever wanted was for her to see herself the way that I see her. A literal angel dropped from heaven like a drop of honey to sate even the bitterest soul with her beauty, charm and wonder. (Dear Lord, did that just come out of me?)
So, imagine my shock when I found out my child thought she was about as pretty as a puddle of muddy water. (And I was shocked that I was shocked. No, I will not explain this little Inception moment I just created). You see, I discovered that she had some rather deep rooted self-esteem issues that I never even imagined existed. Hearing my little girl express the self-deprecation that had been building over time in her mind and heart just about broke mine. And I had to face a couple of harsh realities about her situation. And one of them was that I had been ignorant of who she surrounded herself with. She was such a leader and a beacon of light to so many of her peers I hadn’t realized that she had actually surrounded herself with some pretty self-righteous people that did nothing but bring her down. And, to make matters worse, some of the insecurities were created directly by me! She told me of a few things I’d said to her in the past that actually hurt her. I never knew! I could have died right there. Talk about failing as a parent! All of the good I might have felt I’d done for my baby girl just washed away in a tsunami of shame and a hurricane of guilt. (How’s that visual strike you!) I was so ashamed of myself I could have turned in my parenting license right there if I’d had one. And I’m not alone. Many parents are walking around bragging about their children and have no idea how in the name of Jehosephat did they get such a disparaging image of themselves. I mean, seriously! Haven’t they been listening?
After hearing such depravity, I wanted to do whatever it took to remove those negative moments from her mind and replace them with the truth. However, I had to swallow that bitter pill of reality that it wasn’t going to happen. I cannot allow myself to be so naive I thought I could simply hug the pain out of my child. The damage was done and the scar was there. So, no matter what is said, it’ll be a slow climb out of that pit to get her back to a place of healthy self-worth. Of course, even though I could apologize and own my mistake completely, the damage has been set and the image they have is pretty ingrained in their psyche. So, what does a father do?
Now, I’ve spent some time here blathering on about my kids and self-esteem and such. But, what does this have to do with ADHD? Well, if you really are asking that question, you definitely do not have ADHD. If you do have ADHD, you know what I’m talking about. So for those who love a disorderly, listen up. This is probably going to surprise you.
When you have such a condition as ADHD, you cannot help but find yourself the center of attention much of the time. Of course, much of that time it’s not exactly the kind of attention you’re craving. Being compulsive, hyper and easily distracted, you will normally find yourself facing the business end of someone’s aggravation and disappointment. You get in trouble for things you either didn’t mean to do, or that you didn’t even realize you were doing. It happens at home, at school, at work and in social situations. (Try explaining yourself to your girl when you’re kissing her and suddenly get a thought and walk away wordlessly. I’ve done that. More than once. And she still married me.) You can’t escape the drama any more than you can escape the ADHD. So, while you grow up in this little world of racing thoughts, spontaneous decisions and hasty actions, you annoy and frustrate many that encounter you. Even those that love you. They get angry, displeased and disappointed because you cannot seem to act like everyone else. Why can’t you just calm down? Try harder? How can you not notice how loud you’re being? Why can’t you just sit still? Stop making excuses and just pay attention! (A collective teeth gnashing for those of us familiar with all of those statements.) If this is all you ever hear, you begin to see yourself as the failure they apparently believe you to be. That sticks with you. And it affects how you see yourself.
Let me define this from a psychological perspective. Everyone has a Self Concept. This is where any experience a person encounters can help them grow and better themselves. It becomes a part of their personal definition. Due to this fact, they need to have Self Regard. A place in their beliefs that they’re a good person and worthy to be loved. To develop that, they need to have Positive Regard from those that are important to them.
Yeah, that is a lot of medical jargon they teach in school.
What does it mean? It’s actually rather simple. We all want to be a better version of ourselves. We’re always trying to improve. And in doing so, we start to identify ourselves through the experiences we encounter, or Self Concept. In order to build that self-esteem, we need to see ourselves as worthy and decent people, or Self Regard. But we cannot simply do this for ourselves. We need to have the positive input from those we respect to help build that self-esteem and see ourselves as we truly can be, or Positive Regard.
In essence, by showing others the good we see in them, we build them up and help them become the person they want to be. So, why are there so many kids out there with ADHD with such low self-esteem?
To be quite honest, everyone is important to us. It doesn’t matter if you see your glowing little ball of energy as an incredible blessing that can take on the world. Well, that does matter, however the minute one person, be it a coach, teacher, family member or even just a friend, sticks a negative bias on us, it sticks. By the time we’re school age, we know we’re different. We know everyone else is normal and we just stick out. (And you know that’s not actually true, but that’s just how it works in our minds.) Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like everyone is going out of their way to damage the ADHD psyche. The teacher might be frustrated or ignorant, or the friend playing, or the family member trying to deliver a backhanded compliment in an effort to, “try to mold them.” (Oh brother). But the ADHD mind, especially the young ones, are highly susceptible to criticism and praise. I mean, it’s a definitive character trait that when you compliment us our productivity increases immediately. (Imagine when my manager discovered that. Well, imagine if she ever did…). Remember, our emotions don’t have brakes!
How do we help those of us with ADHD look at ourselves like we should? How do you tell your little disorderly just how special and different and amazing they are without pointing out they have a ‘disorder’? I mean, you can’t clean a counter with a dirty rag. (What’s with the visuals today?)
Here’s a clue. What are you focusing on? Are you looking at the obvious issues? Are you concentrating on what seems broken? When was the last time you mentioned something they did well that had nothing to do with ADHD? I recently told my child that I remember all of the roles she acted in all of the plays and have always enjoyed her entertaining. She’s my favorite. No, she doesn’t have ADHD, but that doesn’t matter. This is a universal language. (And my little ladybug has a smile that makes me want to weep it’s so sweet! Squishy dad moment!)
So, when the disorderly in your life is having a bad day, give them some positive regard. Let them know what is good about them. Help them see that ADHD isn’t the only thing they can identify with by complimenting something that they can grab a hold of and make a part of who they are. Watch those eyes brighten, that chest swell, and that amazing mind of theirs spin with ideas and thoughts of the wonders they can give to the world. Because there is nothing greater than a child with hope.
And just for fun: