Taking a Compassionate Look at Adult ADHD

by Lizbeth K. Garcia-Bravo, PhD

Are you easily distracted and unable to stay organized at work or keep up with the responsibilities at home? Are you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed? Coping with adult ADHD can be difficult, especially if it’s gone undiagnosed and untreated for years. The symptoms may be causing problems in your relationships, self-esteem, or quality of life. Perhaps you’ve experienced a pattern of underachievement at work, school, or home due to your chronic difficulties. Over the years, you may have lost confidence and developed insecurities about your worth or abilities. If you have adult ADHD, here’s a compassionate viewpoint I’d like for you to remember: Your brain is not defective, it simply works differently.

What is ADHD?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurobiological disorder, and it’s largely due to genetics. It affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which controls our “executive functioning.” Executive functions help us to guide our thoughts and actions, as well as weigh the pros and cons when we’re making decisions. Our capacities for attention and concentration are also located in this area of the brain. In individuals with ADHD, this part of the brain is working less efficiently.

Although ADHD starts in childhood, many individuals are not diagnosed until adulthood. Adult ADHD tends to affect men and women equally, but women are diagnosed less often or not until adulthood because their symptoms are harder to spot. Instead of hyperactivity or behavioral problems at school, they may have been “daydreaming” or struggling with their ability to focus and pay attention.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

ADHD is characterized by three main symptoms:

  • Inattention (severe distractibility, forgetfulness, and disorganization)
  • Hyperactivity (extreme restlessness and feeling “on the go”)
  • Impulsivity (carelessness or reckless behavior)

There are three types of ADHD:

  • ADHD Inattentive Presentation (Previously known as ADD)
  • ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation (characterized by hyperactivity and impulsivity)
  • ADHD Combined Presentation (includes hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattentiveness)

The combined type is the most common, with the inattentive type being the second most commonly diagnosed. Inattentive ADHD is most common among girls and women. Diagnosis for adult ADHD can be complex, as it can at times be mistaken for anxiety or depression. A comprehensive diagnostic evaluation for ADHD can provide you with a clear understanding of your specific difficulties, as well as your personal strengths to help lead you in the right direction.

Living with Adult ADHD

Are you struggling with getting to work or appointments on time, misplacing items, chronic feelings of boredom, difficulty managing your work, home, or finances, or difficulty caring for your children? Do you feel others or loved ones perceive you as “scattered” or become frustrated with your wandering mind, impulsivity, chronic lateness, or poor follow-through?

Adult ADHD is typically characterized by difficulties with concentration, finishing tasks on time, following directions, and remembering information. Problems with irritability, low motivation, and procrastination are also common symptoms. It’s not unusual for individuals with adult ADHD to experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, or addiction issues due to the challenges they face day to day.

The symptoms of ADHD, as well as their impact on your relationships and daily life, can take a toll on your self-confidence and self-esteem. Over the years you may have been called “lazy” or were told repetitively to work harder, which may have led to feelings of embarrassment, shame, or hopelessness. Adult women with ADHD, in particular, may blame themselves when things become overwhelming and aren’t able to stay on top of things at home or at work. Consequently, researchers have found that adults with a lifetime of ADHD tend to have more negative outlooks on life and lower ratings of self-acceptance.

Self-Compassion and ADHD

Our thoughts and how we perceive ourselves greatly influence our emotional well-being. Likewise, the way you think about your symptoms and your inner dialogue can breed chronic feelings of underachievement and low self-confidence. The struggles of ADHD are real and can be undoubtedly overwhelming. However, imagine what it would feel like to think and speak to yourself using a gentle and compassionate viewpoint? Developing self-compassion can be instrumental in coping with the difficulties of living with ADHD by helping us accept our humanity and our imperfections. Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding with yourself, and it has been correlated with greater life satisfaction.

Being self-compassionate means being kind to ourselves even when we make mistakes, which is vital when coping with ADHD. Self-compassion research teaches us that suffering and imperfection are part of being human. We are able to see potential for growth and learning only when we’re compassionate with ourselves and willing to notice, understand, and accept our mistakes. Incorporating a self-compassionate perspective in your treatment for ADHD can not only help ease your efforts but also propel you towards a more satisfying and meaningful life.

Highlighting Your Positive Qualities

You’re probably pretty good at multitasking. Your brain works differently and has likely found ways of compensating for the difficulties, which means it’s working harder than Average Joe’s brain! It’s probable you have numerous gifts, but may have forgotten about your positive traits over the years due to the emotional pain of coping with ADHD. The negative symptoms feel so crushing at times that you’re just trying to keep your head above water on some days. But here’s something you may not realize- many individuals with ADHD achieve incredible things because of their dynamic ways of thinking outside of the box. They can be highly intelligent, creative, and have an amazing ability to focus intensely on things they feel passionate about. Can you identify any of these or other positive qualities that make you unique?

Managing ADHD involves being mindful of your symptoms and learning healthy ways of becoming more efficient and effective in those aspects of your life. However, it’s also important to remember to embrace your qualities, gifts, and what makes you unique!

We Can Help

You can reach your potential and regain hope by empowering yourself with knowledge and effective coping skills. Treatment often involves a multimodal approach that may include education, counseling, medication, behavioral/self-management skills, stress management, or organizational coaching.

If you are struggling with adult ADHD, contact us to set up an appointment for individual therapy. We can provide you with personal treatment recommendations and strengthen you with tools to help you manage your symptoms effectively.


Dr. Garcia-Bravo is a licensed bilingual psychologist and the co-owner of Progressing Minds, PLLC in San Antonio, TX. Her goals are to help you identify your strengths, gain a better understanding of your underlying difficulties, ensure that you feel validated and supported, and help you develop a concrete course of action to meet your goals. If you would like to learn more about our individual therapy services or to make an appointment, please use our contact form.