Emotional Flare-Ups with ADHD Getting the Best of You? Four Ways to Pull Through

We can all act without thinking, but for those with ADHD it can happen more consistently and go hand in hand with regular temper flare-ups and angry, impulsive outbursts. These behaviors are not only difficult to tolerate for all involved but can also lead to embarrassment and feelings of shame for the person with ADHD.  

ADHD and Emotion Management  

 

It can be tough for children and adults with ADHD to manage disappointment and frustration, and not overly fixate or panic when things don’t go as expected.  Seemingly small setbacks can spark intense outbursts. Without considering the outcome, it's not unusual for impulsive, hasty remarks to burst out, only to have deep regrets later. 

ADHD and Shame 

Many individuals with ADHD are sensitive to hurting others and feel horrible when they disappoint people. They feel shame for their failure to meet the expectations of those they respect, their teachers, parents, partners, friends, and bosses. 

Shame is so paralyzing that it’s difficult for us to take responsibility when we’ve wronged someone. When an individual with ADHD already feels terrified that they’re not good enough, they can feel as if they’re broken and unfixable when they’ve let someone down. Eventually, these feelings of shame are so burdensome to carry that they’re pushed aside or passed on through blame, fudging the truth, and impulsive outbursts. 

 

Here are four ways to pull through the shame of emotional flare-ups when you live with ADHD. 

 

Recognize and Reframe Your Triggers  

Triggers are old feelings and unconscious emotional baggage that get stirred up from current experiences. Our “fight or flight” system in our brains hijacks our ability to manage our emotions. We respond to a perceived threat with anger and can lash out, only later realizing we over-reacted. 

Quick Tips:
Recognize when you tend to get triggered.  Is it when you’re running late? When you walk in the house with a mess? When your child won’t cooperate with homework? 
Notice what happens in your body but resist taking action. Do you tense up in your chest? Does your heart race? Do you get hot and sweaty? Feel nauseous?
Reclaim your brain. Calm yourself by taking a few breaths, drinking some water, or removing yourself from the situation for a few minutes. Experiment with what works for you.  
• Ask yourself what past experiences might be causing this trigger. Maybe you get really stressed in the morning, and it’s a real push to start the day on time. You feel resentful when you feel you need to be on top of everyone to get moving. You feel devalued and invisible when no one listens to you. You’re reminded of when you were a kid and how you felt invisible as well.    
Reframe the story you’re telling yourself. For example, if you get triggered from being disrespected and ignored, perhaps you’re telling yourself, “I can’t believe this is happening. What am I doing wrong? When will he ever learn? I feel terrible the way he’s treating me.” You can reframe the story to, “We’re working on this. I know he’s trying. I’m doing my best. I’m not going to take this personally.”
Decide what you could do next time. Take care of yourself. Express what you need. Discuss the situation. “I’m feeling worried because I really need you to cooperate. We both need to be on time in the morning so how can we make this work for both of us?”
 

Heal the Shame

In her book, Dare to Lead, social researcher Brené Brown says that “shame is the fear of disconnection.” Shame is based on the perception that our worthiness and love is conditional on our meeting expectations. 

People with ADHD can experience happiness and criticism more powerfully than others. The shame of doing something wrong is too scary because of the fear of being left behind and deprived of the love they need. They tend to hear what’s meant as feedback as an attack on who they are. It can also be difficult to take responsibility for their actions so they may blame others or fudge the truth. 
 
Quick Tips:
Do not pass on the shame. If you notice you’re highly critical of yourself or others, reframe your negative thoughts. “I can’t get through to her,” can become “I’m focusing on listening;” “This is too hard” can become “I’m working on this;” “I will never get this,” can become “I’m taking baby steps!”  
Give yourself permission not to be perfect. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are enough. 
• Be compassionate with yourself about your past experiences and work on accepting, rather than fighting, what comes up when you are triggered. 
 

Make a Plan for Repair

Let's suppose your loved one does everything they can to hold it together all day long but when the school/workday is over they can barely keep it together. All the upsets of the day come to the surface and when they're with you, and before you know it there’s an outburst. You feel attacked so you yell back. 

Your loved one’s reaction is a subconscious way of burying their feelings about the day.  Unfortunately, anger is a way of defending powerful feelings. You are both allowed to be angry, but no matter how your loved one behaved, your anger is your responsibility. Although your child/sibling/parent/partner needs to improve their behavior, you’re not going to get anywhere when you're all keyed up.

Quick Tips:
 Take responsibility for your behavior by examining and acknowledging the feelings that your anger represents to you. 
Apologize for your strong reactions. Even if you felt provoked, apologizing is wonderful modeling and acknowledges the impact of your actions. “I’m sorry I lost control.”   
Resist blame. Don’t go into what “made” you flare-up by explaining or defending your actions.
No lecturing after giving (or receiving) an apology. Reminding your child, friend, or partner that their behavior was selfish, thoughtless, or inappropriate after the apology was made will discourage them from wanting to apologize again. It essentially retracts the apology. 
Further discussion happens later. There may be a need for conversation later about the situation, but this can wait until a later time. Otherwise, an immediate discussion can take away from the apology. 
 

Problem-Solve

Living with shame causes many individuals with ADHD to try to be perfect. But mistakes happen. It’s important to problem-solve and restore the situation. 

Quick Tips:
• Allow yourself to try again. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. Let me try again. What I meant was….”
Make a plan for repair. “I’m so sorry I forgot to pick up the cleaning. How about I pick it up early tomorrow morning?” 
Make a plan for next time and stay accountable. Decide on when you want to calmly discuss what to do differently next time. 
Focus on making things better and allow for space and time to reconnect. GIve yourselves some time and space to recover from emotionally charged circumstances. 
 
Individuals with ADHD can act without thinking, with angry, impulsive outbursts that may lead to feelings of embarrassment and shame. To help you and your loved ones with ADHD pull though these emotional flare-ups:
 

• Recognize and Reframe Your Triggers 

• Heal the Shame

• Make a Plan for Repair

• Problem Solve

Try these and let me know how they work out for you!

 

Warmly,

 

 PS. Need more assistance with staying on track with the change you want? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some steps you can take right away!

 

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