How To Beat The Negative Thought Vortex

the negative thought vortex of ADHD

You can beat the negative thought vortex of ADHD, you just need to understand why it’s happening and what you can do about it.

Life with ADHD can be challenging.  Am I right?

It is very common for ADHD women to struggle with negative self-talk and emotional regulation. I myself struggle with this.

Not only do I have ADHD, but I also have what a therapist would call cognitive distortions.

Basically, cognitive distortions are negative automatic thoughts.

In their book, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adult ADHD, J. Russell Ramsay and Anthony Rostain explain, “Adults with ADHD often have amassed a library of negative thoughts and attitudes about themselves and their abilities to manage various aspects of life.”

I call it the negative thought vortex of ADHD.

Something goes wrong and your thought process automatically goes negative.

It’s my fault. He/she doesn’t like me.

If he doesn’t like me, everyone must not like me.

I have no friends. I’ll be alone forever. 

This happens every time. I say the wrong thing. Do the wrong thing…

Blaming ADHD for all of my negative thinking and emotional issues would be easy. But I don’t like making excuses for my behavior just because of my diagnosis.

Like you, I’ve experienced parental rejection, peer rejection, parental loss and a number of things that are hard to process.

We all have a set of life experiences, and for better or worse we all develop core beliefs about ourselves based on these experiences.

But when you have ADHD the chemical groundwork is laid for you to have a bit more trouble than your neurotypical counterparts.

ADHD doesn’t cause the negative thought vortex, but it does make it challenging for us to manage our emotions and inner dialogue.

how to beat the negative thought vortex

(of ADHD)


The Cognitive Triangle

This handy little graphic illustrates the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with events in the middle.

cognitive triangle

The event occurs when something happens to set the process in motion. Events trigger the interplay between our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

When you have ADHD, your emotions are already pretty intense. So an adverse event can lead us straight into bad feelings and thoughts. Even minor events can send us straight down the rabbit hole.

Remember, we don’t have behavioral inhibition – the ability to disengage from an ongoing behavior, hit the pause button, and think rationally about our next move.

So what are the chances we can easily pause and analyze our own thoughts?

Very slim. Therefore, we are prone to distorted and negative thinking.

common cognitive distortions in ADHD

These are the most common cognitive distortions and negative thought patterns seen in ADHD women and adults.

Magnification – Exaggerating the negative aspects of a situation and underestimating the positive aspects.

Black and white thinking– seeing everything as good or bad, perfect or failure. Absolutely, categorical terms. There is no grey area.

Overgeneralization– drawing a conclusion about your own abilities based on a single incident; when something bad happens once you except that it will happen again.

Mind Reading– believing that you know what others are thinking or feeling about YOU.

Catastrophizing– expecting a disaster from every situation. Inflating the negative to make it worse than it really is.

Personalization– assume that everything someone does/says is about you; comparing yourself to others to determine who is better, smarter etc.

Blaming– holding other people responsible for your pain, or blaming yourself for every problem.

Shoulds– maintaining a list of rules about how you should act, becoming angry when others break the rules, or feeling guilty if you break the rules.

Taken from Cognitive Behavioral therapy for Adult ADHD. (See my full disclosure)

How to beat the negative thought vortex

First, talk to your therapist or doctor about your automatic negative thoughts. Spend some time thinking about when and how these thoughts come up for you in day-to-day life.

Often this can be part of a mindfulness, or journaling practice.

Cognitive behavioral therapy should be included in your ADHD your treatment. If you are not currently in therapy, ask your PCP for a referral to a therapist in your area.

CBT is one of the most effective and well-researched treatments available to deal with cognitive distortions. With a therapist you can work to develop:

  • Behavioral scripts and routines
  • Positive reinforcement for task completion
  • Ways to handle negative reinforcement (ineffective/avoidant behaviors)
  • Plans for when things go wrong (If…, then…)

The other great thing about CBT and DBT is that you practice thinking and talking about your own thoughts (metacognition).  You learn to question where they are coming from and the validity of the thoughts.

You and I both know that living with ADHD means we have some executive function deficits. This is a fact of life for us. It’s hard to trust yourself sometimes, and it’s really hard to stay positive.

ADHD doesn’t cause the negative thought vortex, but it does make it challenging for us to manage our emotions and inner dialogue.

We are human, we replay painful events over and over in our minds because our brains are wired that way.

The best way to work through these thinking errors is to identify and learn how to confront them head-on. (As you would in therapy.)

ADHD treatment should always be multi-faceted. Medical management, therapy, social support, and education are vitally important.

***Much of the information above was taken from Cognitive Therapy for Adult ADHD.**** The link below is an affiliate link. See my full disclosure.

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