Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
June 1, 2024

Can ADHD Cause Manipulation? An ADHD Myth Debunked

ADHD is a disorder that has long been misunderstood and stigmatized among adults. Although the general public’s understanding of ADHD has come a long way in recent years, many adults with the neurodevelopmental disorder still struggle to fit into a neurotypical world.

Many common assumptions about ADHD are harmful and inaccurate. Among these is the myth that people with ADHD are manipulative. Sadly, such beliefs only serve to further stigmatize people with ADHD and neurodivergence as a whole. Let’s unpack this myth once and for all.

ADHD and Manipulation

Manipulation is defined as holding an unfair control or influence over someone else. There’s a myth out there that ADHD and manipulation go together. But can ADHD cause manipulation? 

For adults with ADHD, the idea that their neurodivergence might be causing them to be manipulative can feel like a slap in the face. Simply put, people with ADHD are just as capable as anyone else in acting in manipulative ways. However, the vast majority of people with ADHD are intelligent, kind, and trying their best to fit into the world around them and do right by others – not manipulate anyone. 

There’s no evidence out there that shows people with ADHD are more manipulative than anyone else. But ADHD is a disorder that impacts emotional reasoning, decision-making, communication, impulsivity, and other key areas of the brain that, when ignored or overlooked, can cause problems in relationships, at home, and at work. Certain behaviors associated with ADHD can feel manipulative if the person isn’t aware of them or if they aren’t fully understood. 

What are manipulative behaviors of ADHD

What Are Manipulative Behaviors of ADHD?

The following behaviors are symptoms of ADHD that, when misunderstood or taken out of context, may come across as manipulative. 

Interruption and Inattention

The basis of this myth comes from symptoms of ADHD that can sometimes mirror manipulative behaviors. These include behaviors like interrupting someone, speaking out of turn, or appearing to not be paying attention when being spoken to. Such actions can make other people believe you don’t care, don’t respect them, or are being purposely manipulative, when in reality you simply struggle with impulsivity and inattention. 

Adults with ADHD have often struggled with these behaviors throughout their lives, and are typically painfully aware of these behaviors in themselves. As a result, many work really hard to temper their impulses and practice more active speaking and listening skills. Luckily, these skills are absolutely learnable and get easier with time and practice. 

People-pleasing

People-pleasing is seldom an attempt at manipulating anyone. This behavior is a learned coping mechanism that often forms due to childhood trauma. For example, a chronic people-pleaser may have learned that trying to get their needs met in childhood would ultimately be met with rejection, judgment, or abandonment. In an attempt to secure love and avoid these awful feelings of disconnection, they learned to put their own needs behind everybody else’s. 

The intention behind people-pleasing is by no means blameworthy. It’s an understandable protective strategy that developed out of a real need to survive and belong. But when you repress your true emotions, downplay your needs, and avoid boundaries like the plague, what you’re really doing is trying to control other people’s perception of you in order to avoid rejection. This control can be somewhat manipulative, because you aren’t being your authentic self with them. 

People-pleasers are still trying to get their needs met, but their deep fear of rejection and lack of self-trust usually mean they try to get them met in a roundabout way. It can feel terrifying to set boundaries or communicate directly and honestly. So instead, they may simply hope that people will meet their needs without communicating what they are – and that usually results in a world of confusion and resentment.

Perfectionism

Both people-pleasing and perfectionism are more common among people with ADHD because of the likelihood that you experienced parents, teachers, and even friends who didn’t understand your neurodivergence and made you feel ashamed or less-than. 

Perfectionism, at its core, is about wanting to ensure your sense of self-worth by gaining the approval of everyone around you. The idea of being judged as worthless or lazy is terrifying, so you may do your best to wear all the hats and juggle all the balls. Just like people-pleasing, perfectionism develops as a coping mechanism to deal with learned beliefs that you aren’t enough.

When you’re a perfectionist, you tend to be dishonest about your actual capacity, particularly especially in the workplace. Ultimately, however, when you don’t show up as your authentic self, you’re misleading the people around you – and yourself. 

ADHD manipulation

Emotional Dysregulation

One of the biggest challenges of living with ADHD is the emotional dysregulation that comes along with it. People with ADHD have more difficulty with emotion regulation, and generally experience emotions more intensely. This can translate to higher levels of anger and moodiness, irritability, anxiety, and depression. 

Heightened emotion isn’t by itself a manipulative behavior. Emotions are never a problem, and having intense emotions doesn’t make you bad or wrong. Awareness is key. If you don’t work on managing your emotional dysregulation in a healthy way, it can lead to behaviors that can be manipulative or hurtful – behaviors like yelling, saying hurtful things you later regret, giving the silent treatment, or unknowingly projecting your anxieties onto someone else. 

Support For ADHD Manipulation

ADHD is accompanied by a lot of symptoms that, when not properly acknowledged or managed, can result in patterns that end up hurting you and the relationships in your life. This doesn’t mean you’re manipulative. In fact, if you’re like most of the people I work with, you’re probably very self-aware and do a kickass job at living with a neurodevelopmental disorder that can frankly feel all-consuming at times.

But the fact remains: people with ADHD have to work overtime to keep negative communication, people-pleasing, perfectionist, emotionally heightened tendencies at bay. It isn’t fair, but it comes with the territory.

As a therapist and coach, I know how exhausting it feels to constantly juggle all these moving parts. If you’re struggling with any of this, I see you. And if you want support in living a more aligned and authentic life with ADHD, I’m here for you.

I help people struggling with ADHD, perfectionism, overachieving, and anxiety dial down their fears and live more authentically. It’s completely possible to have ADHD and have an aligned and fulfilling life – you just might need support getting there.  

I’m here to help you:

  • Figure out which (old, unhelpful) coping mechanisms might be keeping you stuck – and how to leave them behind once and for all
  • Address the underlying anxiety that keeps you in cycles of self-sabotage
  • Challenge beliefs learned in childhood that probably aren’t true
  • Learn healthy emotional regulation skills to improve your relationships
  • Practice facing your fears
  • Cultivate genuine feelings of self-compassion and self-worth so you feel confident in who you are and what you bring to the world
  • Find peace in showing up exactly as you are, even when it’s less than perfect

Learn more about my therapy services (including EMDR and talk therapy) if you’re located in Idaho or Iowa. For all other locations, check out my coaching services. My coaching program offers all the same expertise, tools, and guidance as therapy in a more direct and goal-oriented approach that you can benefit from anywhere. 

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation 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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