ADHD and Self Esteem: The Danger of Comparing Yourself To Others2020-12-18T10:03:18-05:00

Studies have shown people with ADHD have lower self-esteem, lower self confidence. One of the advantages of being a Patron is having a say in what we cover, and Poor Self-Esteem is a hot-button topic.

One common habit that decimates self-esteem, and is so easy to slip into, is COMPARING.

Comparing ourselves to others. Or, let’s be honest, comparing yourself to people who are far more ‘successful, popular, athletic, wealthy, happy, good-looking, etc..”

Here’s a story from my own life, one that planted it’s roots in high school (Shudder) and gradually blossomed to Olympic, proportions.

(And yes, those people you envy, the ones who seem to have it all, may be miserable, feeling trapped, and envy you. But that’s a topic for another video.)

Best,

Rick Green

Hi I’m Rick Green, I want to talk about self-esteem and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Many books have been written about it, I own most of them and what I’ve learned is that self-esteem, whether ADHD or not, comes from our thoughts about ourselves, not from others. All the admiration and acclaim from thousands or millions of people does not build self-esteem. If it did well famous people wouldn’t drink, take drugs, or commit suicide.

Now to be clear this took a while to figure out, a while being my lifetime. Certainly I bought into the idea that my self-esteem arises from what I accomplish, what I do, and it’s undermined by what I fail at doing or avoid doing because I’m afraid I’m going to fail and I failed in the past, but it’s really my thoughts about what I have or have not done.

But even then my thoughts are affected by the culture I grew up in. For example if I’ve been raised in Scotland my self-esteem might hinge on my ability to toss a huge pole while wearing a plaid skirt and a dead animal man purse. Where I grew up self-esteem was based on five things; looks, owning a car, fashionable dress, school marks, and sports. Model railroading didn’t even crack the top 20.

Okay so follow me here, where I grew up running was considered a sport, a talent worth having. That meant gym class, track and field, now in high school I wore short shorts and a t-shirt to go running, and it didn’t look any better back then, in fact I think I was actually in worse physical shape than I am now.

At my high school, (sings) Don Mills, Don Mills collegiate is the school we honor and cheer! In gym I usually pulled off a solid C minus or was given a C minus out of pity, and that C minus pulled down my total average from a c plus to almost a C.   Sure there was ball hockey and actually I was pretty good, pity that street hockey was not part of the Phys. Ed curriculum.

In gym class I was great at dodge ball if you were on the other team. I was like the dodge ball magnet, that could be the title of my autobiography I think right there. Such a manly sport it’s not like say football where you score points and people may get hurt, oh no in dodge ball you get points by hurting someone. Self-esteem and gym class, so our gym teacher often sent us on a run out the back of the school across the field along some suburban streets to a long winding path down to a park by a river… underneath the highway but still, and then you turned around and you came back.

It was lovely to look at and I looked because every few minutes I would be slowing down and pausing to savour the view of the trees and I’d stop and smell the roses or the sewer covers. Am I the only one who wore black socks in gym? So I’m running along and what I remember most was that as I was approaching that intimidating descent, even the descent was hard, down into the valley, the fastest runners in class were already coming back up. Wow that’s a nice reminder of how bad you are, you pass everyone ahead of you who’s on their way back.

The first two runners going that away were my friends who were twin brothers John and Paul. We’d laugh as we passed, we’d laugh and nod and wave and they’d offered me encouragement. So you can imagine gym class after gym class, year after year what I started to make all of that mean about myself and my self-esteem, I’m a loser, I’m last, all of my friends are passing me by. Yeah I know I played soccer and road hockey but I told myself that doesn’t count because I was good at those.

Here’s the thing years later after I staggered my way through university like a limbo dancer ducking and sinking as low as possible without actually falling and failing, I graduated and I’m watching the summer Olympics, it’s the track and field, not my favourite.

They’re running and in between thoughts of I’d love to win a gold medal at something and are we out of dip? So I’m half watching half munching the Olympics until the announcer announces, and running in this heat are twins John and Paul Craig. What?! That’s them?! They were they are Olympic class athletes?

At that moment I learned to stop comparing myself to other people … I wish.   Actually at that moment I thought “wow I’m really a loser because they used to be friends of mine, I’m terrible at maintaining friendship so they probably don’t even remember me”.

Later I found out that they had both run the mile in under four minutes a mile in under four minutes, Paul was a little faster than John, I always felt John was a bit of a slacker, but I tried to let it go, I’ve had cars that couldn’t do a four minute mile. I tried to forget about it let it go but then came Pope John Paul the first and then pope John Paul II, and every time the Pope made headlines I’d be reminded of John and Paul my friends and what a loser I was and what a slug I was and how I let those great friends vanish out of my life. Maybe if I hadn’t been wearing the black socks.

It was only years later when I was telling this story for the umpteenth time that my wife said “so I guess at that moment you realized you shouldn’t go around comparing yourself to other people?” That’s what I learned 25 years ago and added it to my wisdom, the wisdom that I hope you take away from this story is what my wife took away from it and eventually even I took away from it. You cannot compare yourself to other people. I say that knowing we will always compare ourselves to other people, heck that’s what the Olympics are all about right?

However you can get better at noticing when it’s happening and if it’s disempowering you or it’s turned negative and when you do you can let it go or you can simply switch and appreciate that someone could do something well other people can do things you can’t do, you even want to do those things. Maybe, maybe not, but remember you can do things that other people cannot do and you’re way better looking than everyone else. Am I right? See there you go.

Comparing yourself to others is doubly dangerous with ADHD, focus on what you do well, what do you love, what comes naturally, what are your strengths? That’s a worthwhile question for anyone ADHD or not, but for us there’s an added step, first figuring out our personal flavor of ADHD. Yes I have problems with attention; do I also have problems with hyperactivity or with impulsivity, with restlessness?

Play to your strengths is the key to success for everyone whether ADHD is on your resume or not. Figure out what you love to do and I’m sure there will be many things that you love to do and some that you can do and can do really well, you might even turn one of them into a career or a side career, and here’s a bonus once you figure out your particular buffet of symptoms it’s far easier to understand why some things are a huge challenge for you and then concentrate most of your time and energy on what you do well, which with ADHD is almost always something that we find interesting.

 

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