Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
January 28, 2023

Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It: ADHD Edition

ADHD has been long stigmatized in our society. People with ADHD are often seen as lazy, unmotivated, scatterbrained, or forgetful. If you’ve grown up hearing things like this about yourself, you might have reasonably started to internalize them. But these accusations are both hurtful and untrue. In reality, ADHD impacts people’s executive functioning, the mental processes that help us focus, plan, multitask, and remember. 

If you grew up hearing that you’re not good enough, you might believe this yourself. But negative self-talk can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues. So what are some examples of negative self-talk, and how can you change it to create a better relationship with yourself?

examples of negative self-talk

ADHD and Negative Thoughts

If you have ADHD, you may have been scolded again and again by frustrated caregivers, partners, friends, teachers, and bosses. And if you were diagnosed late in life, or still haven’t been properly diagnosed, it would be very easy to internalize these messages. Many people with ADHD were taught from a very early age that their behavior was bad, wrong, aggravating, or too much.

If you weren’t diagnosed until later in life, you might feel a lot of shame for who you are. It’s easy to think that you’re not a good person because of how you’ve been treated by adults your whole life. You might have been hyperactive or dreamy as a child. Or maybe you struggled to focus in order to study for tests. It seemed like everyone else could pay attention to their work – so why couldn’t you?

When you feel like something is wrong or broken within you, negative self-talk and limiting beliefs often begin to arise. These are damn hard internal processes. You might start scolding yourself for being stupid, less-than, or lazy. But the more you engage in negative self-talk, the more likely you are to develop mental health problems like low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and people-pleasing. 

Examples of Negative Self-Talk

Imagine you moved recently. You finally upgraded to a new and bigger space, and you’re really excited to get settled in your new home or apartment. In your excitement, you start planning all the ways you’re going to decorate. You go to the hardware store to pick out the perfect shades of paint. You look at new lamps and light fixtures online. You start feverishly searching for rugs, couches, and new furnishings. After a while, though, you start to lag. The novelty has worn off, and you feel like you’re getting more and more behind in all the things you wanted to do. 

Many of us can relate to starting a new project with hyperfocus and gusto and then, once the novelty wears off, being unable to sustain that energy. You might move the same items from your to-do list from one week to the next, over and over until it’s been months and you still haven’t done what you were hoping to. Or maybe you abandon your project altogether because it isn’t providing the same levels of dopamine it once was.

Whatever the case may be, it’s easy to realize your progress is slowing and to start berating yourself. You might think to yourself, “Ugh, why am I like this? Why can’t I ever just finish what I start? I’m so bad at everything.”

Or maybe you deal with regular decision paralysis. Decision paralysis can result in procrastinating on important tasks or work duties until the last minute. You feel deep shame for how overwhelmed you get whenever you have to make decisions big or small. Examples of negative self-talk in this scenario might sound like, “Why can’t I just make one single decision?! Nobody else seems to struggle this much figuring out something so easy as what to eat for dinner. This should be easier.”

Whatever the negative thoughts are, they often revolve around comparing yourself to others, feeling stupid, or “shoulding” yourself. 

negative self-talk and how to change it

Can a Diagnosis Help Change the Relationship Between ADHD and Negative Thoughts?

An ADHD diagnosis can go a long way in helping you explore negative self-talk and how to change it. When you have a diagnosis, you can finally start to understand why you behave in certain ways. And instead of shaming yourself and feeling inferior to everyone else for having these challenges, you can start to normalize your experiences.

When you recognize that your struggles are connected to having an ADHD brain, you might go easier on yourself and allow for more self-compassion. You may start to recognize that there’s actually nothing wrong with you, but rather chemical and behavioral issues you can start to address directly. You may also feel more resourced to seek out a therapist who can help you with your specific situation. 

However, getting a diagnosis can feel disempowering to some people. Some feel stigmatized and labeled when they get a diagnosis because now they have a new issue to contend with on top of everything else. If you haven’t been diagnosed and aren’t sure whether it would help or hurt, talk to a healthcare provider or therapist who specializes in ADHD. 

Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It

Changing negative self-talk doesn’t happen overnight. You probably learned to speak negatively toward yourself from a very young age, and it takes time and patience to start to flip the script. But with practice, you can do it. 

Start by acknowledging the thoughts as they arise. When you recognize a thought as a thought and not a fact, it can hold less power. When you have a negative thought, notice it, and then try to replace it with something slightly truer or more helpful.

Reframing, challenging, or externalizing your thoughts can help stop the cycle of negative self-thoughts in their tracks. Or at least these practices might make you more aware of the cycle itself. 

For example, if you think, “What’s wrong with me for never being able to get my work done on time?” pay attention to the thought itself. And then you might say to yourself, “Ah, there’s my ADHD talking.” Or you can ask yourself, “is it really true that I never get my work done on time?” 

Another strategy for negative self-talk and how to change it can be to involve a friend. We all need connection and support in order to thrive, and negative self-talk can feel really defeating to combat on your own. Ask someone close to you to hype you up about something you feel badly about. For example, if you feel like you’re stupid because you get distracted easily, ask a friend to help you remember things about yourself that make you feel smart. Connection and cognitive reframing? Double win. 

Therapy and Coaching Can Help You Combat the Impacts of ADHD and Negative Thoughts

If you feel like ADHD and negative thoughts are consuming your life and hurting your mental health, I’m here to help. I offer online therapy in Idaho and Iowa and coaching services wherever you’re located for anxious clients who struggle with things like people-pleasing, perfectionism, burnout, overwhelm, and ADHD.

Reach out today and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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