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Self-Care, Compassion and Adult ADHD

A women smiles and hugs her dog

My inner critic at times gets very loud and overwhelming. Sound familiar? This makes any form of self-compassion or self-care seem impossible, especially when it relates to things I find challenging, or certain things related to my past experiences, and my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder diagnosis. 

You Can’t Have Self-Care Without Self-Compassion

I recall the first time I heard of self-compassion. I thought it was just an over-simplistic and patronizing term. I quickly realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’ve found that it’s truly empowering and one of my greatest assets.

Self-compassion and self- care have helped me become more resilient than I thought was possible. I can confidently say it was the best thing I’ve done for my mental health and wellbeing.

Dr. Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power Of Being Kind To Yourself (Amazon), defines self-compassion as learning to take a more empathetic, resilient approach to judging ourselves when facing particular challenges. 

Instead of making excuses or using unhealthy skills like avoidance, I love this definition because it describes self-compassion, not as a way to avoid one’s challenging thoughts, feelings, and our diagnosis empowering us to own those things.

Prioritizing Self-Compassion

If you’re like me, living with ADHD sometimes makes you feel frustration, and other self-defeating emotions. Things like a lack of progress, or not being where you want to be in life, and stigmatized. 

Often, my self-talk sounds like “Why bother making positive changes or opening up about my mental health challenge? No one will listen.” 

Beliefs like these have made me go down that metaphorical rabbit hole of negative thoughts, feelings, and self-talk. I’d sometimes spend hours telling myself I’m a failure because I still have challenging thoughts, feelings and specific triggers.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to prioritize self-compassion in peer support school, which has empowered me in my recovery and mental health journey.  I now know that self-compassion is one of the most valuable tools in my psychological toolbox.

Developing Self-Compassion Skills

Developing self-compassion skills has empowered me, as well as others to:

  • reframe self-talk and beliefs about self-compassion
  • develop a strength-based, compassionate approach to defining our diagnosis and various challenges
  • look at issues such as what we consider to be the definition of progress
  • see other aspects of our mental health
  • identify erroneous beliefs regarding the healthcare system, and our emotional vulnerabilities

Let’s start with a technique I learned from the Canadian Mental Association’s (CMHA) peer support program.  This CBT technique combined with self-talk is called the 3C’s.  It’s a tool for recognizing our inner critic. 

Using the 3C’s

What are the 3C’s and how can you use them as a tool for developing self -compassion? I’m glad you asked. I’ll explain what they are, and why they’re such a powerful tool, one that I consider a must for self-care.

Catch It 

The first “C” is learning to catch how our various thoughts, feelings, people, and situations influence how we relate to our challenges and our negative thinking patterns—affecting how we relate to the outside world, and to ourselves. 

These thoughts can be about anything related to our diagnosis, such as:

  • Our progress – when we find it difficult to see our progress, or our little victories.
  • Our beliefs – about things such as seeking support and taking medications.
  • How we cope – with our past traumas and emotional vulnerabilities.

Check It

The second “C” develops coping strategies for checking and acknowledging how various things related to our diagnosis make us feel, instead of avoiding those challenging thoughts and feelings. 

Check in by asking yourself questions like:

  • How am I feeling, and what are a few things I can do to take a healthier approach to my thoughts and feelings?
  • How can I show more patience, understanding, and empathy?
  • Are my expectations reasonable?

Change It

The final step is about creating strategies for learning how to relate those challenging things instead of avoiding them, or letting our frustrations and our inner critic get the best of us.

Here’s a personal example from my own life.  Whenever I find myself in a negative self-talk loop, such as telling myself I’m a failure, or I’ll never accomplish as much as anyone else, I stop and remember the following. Progress can either be taking baby steps, or giant leaps forward.  Even though baby steps don’t seem like much, remember that they’re steps in the right direction.

A man and women contemplate life

Progress May Not Look Like You Think It Does

Recognizing and acknowledging our challenges, or the need for psychological and pharmaceutical support is an enormous win. The win isn’t about having a problem-free life but learning to take a healthier, more resilient approach to cope with specific challenges. 

In other words, having challenging thoughts and emotions, and other struggles isn’t a sign you’re not making progress. Progress isn’t what we go through, but how we choose to relate to those things by owning our actions, words, and thoughts while learning to take an active role in our mental health journey. 

For this reason, we deserve to celebrate our progress; whether it’s big or small, it’s still worth acknowledging.  Even though it’s difficult to recognize certain wins, improvement doesn’t make them less valid, and you deserve to recognize your progress.

Self-Compassion Leads to Self-Care

Compassion is the foundation that empowers us to take a more realistic and compassionate approach to how we define progress and failure, and build a solid self-care plan.

My best advice is to start small, and remember you’re going to have days where you can’t think of anything, and that’s ok.  You’re human, and none of us are flawless.

Remembering the true definition of self-care isn’t about fad diets, hiring an overpriced personal trainer, and other nonsense.  It begins with self-compassion; taking the time to figure out where you are, and where you want to go.  Understanding that leads to taking the time to practice what is best for you, and what you need for self-care. 

Remember that we’ve all been there.  Instead of avoiding or being scared of your inner critic, show your inner critic empathy, and communicate with it to build you up, instead of tearing you down.

So, let’s empower ourselves by remembering that we may always have challenges, but one day, whether it’s today or years from now, you’ll be proud of yourself for not giving up.  Press on, even on the most challenging days!

ADHD and Negative Self-Talk

When we have ADHD, we deal with many stigmas in the outside world, and that stigma causes us to be hard on ourselves. The average ADHD child experiences 20,000 more negative comments before the age of twelve.  As we get older, that number sadly gets higher.  When we learn to define our diagnosis with help from the 3C’s, we start to understand the difference between reacting and responding, self-loathing, and self-care.

Self-compassion and other psychological skills don’t happen overnight, so remember to start with baby steps, and one day those steps will lead to amazing things. If you need professional help developing this, that’s fine and normal when you have ADHD.

How Self-Compassion Helps

Here are a few examples of how self-compassion helps us:

  • Understanding that it’s fine to need support, whether it’s learning various life skills, medication, counseling, or all of the above, you have no reason to feel shame.
  • It empowers us to choose how we define our diagnosis and challenges and talk about our challenges more confidently.
  • It helps us to be able to focus on the things, and people who matter most to us, and not give our power away.
  • It helps us understand the value of being honest with ourselves, and can help us feel empowered in our journey.
  • It helps us gain a better understanding of what positive change is.

 Additional Resources

CHADD: Use Summer to Improve Your Parent Child Relationship
Guides To strength-based therapy
Guides to various journaling prompts for things related to gratitude and other things
Using the Mnemonic “Three Cs” with Children and Adolescents
ADHD 101: Parents Edition book by Sandy Pace
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power Of Being Kind To Yourself
Free mental health courses taught at The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Recovery College
Tips on why you shouldn’t be ashamed of your emotional vulnerabilities

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