Shame, Anxiety and Worthiness with ADHD


Shame, Anxiety ADHD

Shame, anxiety, and worthiness are recurrent themes in the conversations I have with my private support group.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Brene Brown, everyone has.

I picked up a copy of The Gifts of Imperfection a while back, and I took my time reading it. Then I read it again. (affiliate link, see my full disclosure)

You know what it’s like to grow up with ADHD.  You’ve never felt smart enough, fast enough, pretty enough, or thin enough. And you probably don’t even know why.

This inadequacy complex is aggravated by our ADHD symptoms. I should know because I get countless emails from women similar to myself who are struggling to live up to their own expectations.

And then there is the shame. This is where Brene Brown comes into the picture. I mean, I have shame and I have had the ADHD diagnosis for years.  What about those just diagnosed?

The shame never goes away.

I’m not going to do a full book review, but  I’ll highlight the sections I believe apply to the lives of women living with ADHD.

Setting Boundaries is a form of Compassion

If you have ADHD then you are constantly trying not to disappoint people. This can lead to overcompensating. Overcompensating can take many forms, but the most common is a lack of personal boundaries.

How many of us fail to say “no” when we need to? <raises hand.>  Inevitably, I end up resentful and grouchy.

Brown argues that by holding people accountable for their behavior we are actually accepting them as they are – and in turn freeing ourselves from having to blame them for hurting us. The best way to hold someone accountable is to set a personal boundary.

Self-acceptance, (which is part of authenticity) forces us to be more accepting of others.

Ultimately we become more compassionate. Brown writes, “the key is to separate people from their behaviors – to address what they are doing, not who they are.”

Lesson 1: Separate your ADHD behaviors and symptoms from who you are as a person. Set boundaries so that you can better accept yourself and others.

You Are Worthy

You and I are worthy of everything. Of love, belonging, and happiness.

What is it about this ADHD thing that makes us feel so unworthy? (if you figure it out let me know please!)

Dr. Brown writes about “worthiness prerequisites.” I know that I’ve always had these prerequisites surrounding my life. As an adult I have prerequisites surrounding my ADHD and this website.

  • I’ll be worthy when I get 100k page views per month.

  • I’ll be worthy when I make money on my writing.

  • I’ll be worthy when I can quit my day job.

We all feel like we cannot be authentic about who we are. We all have our social face on, as Ms. Brown writes, we “chameleon” our way through life so that we feel like we belong.

I write about my flaws all the time, but I do it so that I can “fit in” with all of you.

You are my tribe. You, the readers, form my sense of belonging.

As I learned from this book, putting ourselves first, and accepting ourselves first is a revolutionary concept.

Lesson 2: Put yourself first. Don’t feel guilty about it. Know that you deserve it.


Anxiety Comes From Within

Most of you know that I used to take anxiety medication. Now I take Concerta.

Have you ever considered the fact that most of the racing thoughts that keep you awake at night are coming from your own mind?

Our expectations for ourselves are so much more demanding than those of others.

In her book, Brene Brown defines shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

You put pressure on yourself at work, at home, and probably in your own mind. Check out my post on emotional management.

Maybe we need to get over it?

You and I both need to lose the fear of being rejected just because we exist.

According to Dr. Brown, “shame happens between people, and it is healed between people.”

Lesson 3: Recognize how you are creating shame and anxiety in your own life.  Tell your shame stories to the people in your life.

Check out the ADHD Enclave, and have these conversations with other women who understand you!


Shame is the Birthplace of Perfectionism

So yeah…I have written about perfectionism and ADHD before.

Brown explains that perfectionism is focused outside of ourselves. It is about the way others see us. We are seeking external rewards, praise, and acceptance.

Overcoming perfectionism is only possible through self-compassion. “Our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we are all in this together. Imperfectly, but together.”

Lesson 4: Practice Self-Compassion. Focus less on external rewards and more on internal (instrinsic) rewards. Define yourself. Evolve.

It is OK to do Nothing sometimes

Brene Brown cites the research of Dr. Stuart Brown into the importance of play.

She writes, “play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups and is at the core of creativity and innovation.”

I have always felt that taking a “brain break” at some point in my day is essential to my well-being. I used to let my students take a brain break during long block periods at school. They were much more motivated and cooperative after a few minutes of down time.

I have never understood our society’s focus on productivity at all costs. We work longer daily hours and we have less weekly vacation than any other industrialized nation. And in the words of Ms. Brown, “we use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives.”

Lesson 5: Give yourself a break. Don’t measure your success by the size of your bank account or the car you drive. Rest is productive and it might even improve your brain function.

This is entirely too long for anyone with ADHD to read.

The bottom line is this – you do not have to live with a constant sense of shame. ADHD is part of who your are, not the whole package.

You are worthy of all good things.

For more information on Brene Brown visit her site at:

You can purchase her books and support this site at the same time by using my links below. Thanks in advance! (See full disclosure)

6 comments on “Shame, Anxiety and Worthiness with ADHD

  1. I am just discovering your site and I am so glad I stumbled upon it. I was just diagnosed with ADD after struggling with these very issues for 30 freakin years! It’s so uplifting to know that there are other people who deal with the same crap! Thanks for the tips <3

  2. Hi Rachael-
    Believe me you are not alone! I am so glad you stopped by.
    Having ADHD is one thing, being a woman with ADHD is a whole different situation.
    No matter how far we have come we still expect so much from ourselves. I hope you will stick around and hang out, or better yet join one of my Facebook groups!

  3. > What is it about this ADHD thing that makes us feel so unworthy? (if you figure it out let me know please!)

    I’m still working on this for sure, but in a recent therapy session I may have stumbled on an answer. At least for me, I look around at my cluttered, messy house and in the mirror at my weight, and all I see is someone who isn’t living up to the standards of the world. I’ve known that I don’t think the way “normal” people do for a long time. I thought, if I could harness the strengths of my ADHD, then I could fix the problems in my life and even if the solutions were weird, then I would be quirky instead of a mess. That’s the thing right there. I see the negative effects that my ADHD brain has on my life and it makes me feel like I’m losing at life. I feel unfit for my family, friends and even myself. I tend to be on the brink of an anxiety attack every time a friend comes over, because they will see my mess of a house.

    My biggest fear is that one by one, people will see me as disgusting or unreliable as a human being and leave me alone without anyone. I hope this helps. It’s helping me just to throw it out there.

  4. Hi there!
    Thanks so much for commenting. Good question?!
    I think it has to do with a lifetime of criticism from both ourselves and others.
    It’s hard to be a woman and have ADHD – we never feel like we are good enough, our homes aren’t good enough.
    I will say the older I get the easier it is to accept that this IS who I am.
    People that know me understand that my house is sanitary but not organized, it is what it is.
    Lets cross our fingers that the world doesn’t shut us out. The more we speak out the stronger we become as a group. I hope you stick around! Our Facebook group is a fun place to connect with other women that “get us.”

  5. Hi! I was literally in the middle of reading this thinking, this is so long, I don’t know if I can get through it. Considering I just started a blog myself I felt that I need to put in a little more effort and read the whole thing. Or at least skim it. I’m excited I found your blog. I’ll probably binge on it in the next couple of weeks. I loved this post.

  6. Thanks so much for commenting, Happy!
    It’s so funny you say that because I have been contemplating switching to some shorter content, or breaking up posts. I mean I have ADHD, my readers have ADHD…you know?
    What is your blog? Can I read it?

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