Fear of Failure: Strengthen Confidence in Three Powerful Ways Living with ADHD

Most of us have experienced failure at some time or another. Fear of failing can bring us to a standstill and cause us to resist doing anything about it. When live you with ADHD, it’s not uncommon to feel as if you can’t do anything right. Internalizing criticism more intensely than others, people with ADHD can experience perceived or real failure to live up to expectations. “Shoulda’s, coulda’s, woulda’s” become a self-sabotaging internal dialogue, that can reduce self-esteem, decrease motivation, and paralyze decision-making.  

ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria  

If you live with ADHD and experience "Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria" (RSD), the risk of giving your best shot at something and then failing is a threat that is so painful and distressing that it feels unsafe. RSD is when an individual with ADHD experiences extreme emotional pain triggered by the perception, real or imagined, of being:
• rejected
• teased
• criticized
• a disappointment to important people in their lives
• disappointed in themselves when they failed to achieve their own standards or goals. 

According to Dr. William Dodson, MD., Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is only found in individuals with ADHD. Dr. Dodson says that this emotional pain is intense and experienced as catastrophic. (Attention Magazine, October 2016; National Resource Center on ADHD, ADHD Weekly, April 4, 2019).

When living with ADHD and the terrible pain of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, the all too familiar way of shielding yourself from failure is to give up trying, unless quick success is guaranteed. 


Here are three powerful ways to confront the fear of failure when you live with ADHD, so you can strengthen your confidence, commit to your choices, and achieve what's most important to you. 


Shed the Shoulds 

Shoulds are expectations we have of ourselves or the self-talk we’ve adopted from our interpretation of other people’s expectations of us. Should’s can be limiting ideas or rules we impose on ourselves. 

If you live with ADHD, you may experience these “shoulda's, coulda’s, woulda’s” as ruminating or racing thoughts. They may come from the feedback you've received over the years, that may be internalized and experienced as intense criticism. 

Quick Tips:
Consider these four questions with the example “I should have my dream job by now.”  
• What about the idea that you should have your dream job by now is true? 
• When you consider the idea that you should have your dream job by now, what do you know that is absolutely true? 
• What's it like for you when you have this thought that you should have your dream job by now? 
• What would you be like if you didn't have the thought that you should have your dream job by now? 
(Based on "The Work," by Byron Katie.)

Let Go of the Fear of Making the "Wrong" Decision  

Our loyalty to a decision is directly proportional to our loyalty to ourselves. When you live with ADHD, there can be a tendency to turn against yourself and give up when challenges get in the way. A lot of time and energy is lost with the never-ending fear of making the “wrong” decision, which would, in turn, mean a “fail.”  


Yet, in most cases, just about any choice can be adapted into a useful and productive decision. In other words, there is no perfect decision. We make decisions based on our commitment and investment in that decision. Some choices require more effort, time, energy, hope, and struggle. At the same time, the act of making and acting on one decision at a time brings more satisfaction than the decision itself.

Quick Tips:
Clarify your priorities, based on your values, strengths, passions, and needs.  
Let go of the dream world of having it all. The drive to have it all leads to debilitating depletion of time, energy, money, and talent, and inevitable failure. 
• Think about the consequences of not deciding.  
• Experiment with one single working choice at a time. 

Stop the Comparisons

There’s always going to be someone who has more or accomplished more or less than you have. Comparing ourselves to others only separates and isolates us, causing us to feel better or worse than others. Rather than focusing on where you are relative to other people, put your experiences into the context of your own journey. 

Quick Tips:
Keep your eyes on your own paper. If you find yourself spinning your wheels, slow down, and ask yourself, "What am I learning about myself?"
If you have to compare, put your experiences into the context of where you were ten years ago and notice how where you are now.  
What has you comparing yourself to others who are further along than you, rather than others who are not as further along as you are?
• Rather than worrying about failing, visualize obstacles, walk through some possible ideas, and give yourself the peace of mind that you can think flexibly.
• We’re happiest when we’re on the journey, not when it’s over. Relish every moment.
To sum up, if you live with ADHD, and/or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, you may internalize criticism more intensely than others, and experience perceived or real failure to live up to expectations. To confront the fear of failure and strengthen your confidence:

• Shed the Shoulds

• Let Go of the Fear of Making the Wrong Decision

• Stop the Comparisons

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




 PS. Need more assistance with confronting the fear of failure so you can strengthen your confidence, stay motivated, and achieve what's most important to you? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some realistic steps you can put into action now!


 Katie, B. (2002). Loving What is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. Pennsylvania, United States: Harmony Press. 

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