Being able to keep going when you experience setbacks is one of the most valuable skills there is. Resilience gets a lot of attention in psychology, and for good reason: how we react when things don’t go our way is the difference between moving forward and making a bad situation worse.
So does having ADHD affect our ability to persevere in the face of disheartening situations? There are a few different ways you can think about this:
- Having ADHD (or any mental health disorder) forces you to deal with a lot of setbacks, which makes you more resilient.
- Having ADHD means having problems with executive functioning, which means having problems with emotion regulation, which makes you less resilient.
- Having ADHD makes you flighty and always ready to move on to the next thing, which makes you less likely to get hung up on bad things that happen to you, which makes you more resilient.
I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. In different contexts, having ADHD might make you more resilient, might make you less resilient, or might have no effect on how resilient you are.
For example, people with ADHD sometimes have trouble organizing their thoughts and managing their emotions. This side of the disorder can make it easier to get stuck on bad things that happen to you, which of course makes you less resilient.
On the other hand, people with ADHD can also be highly reward-focused and ready to shift their attention to whatever’s interesting and stimulating in the present moment. This aspect of ADHD can make it easier to move forward with life, which can only be good for resilience.
Everyone has times when they have to do their best to persevere in the face of stressful situations, but for people with ADHD, many of these situations result directly from ADHD symptoms. So another way we can talk about resilience and ADHD is in terms of how well people function despite their symptoms — whether they’re able to avoid outcomes statistically more likely in ADHD like dropping out of high school.
It turns out this kind of resilience seems to be associated with the family and social support systems people have. In other words, ADHDers who have better relationships with their parents, friends, etc. are more likely to sidestep some of the negative life events ADHD can set the stage for.
In the end, the important thing is that resilience is a skill that can be learned.
We can all work on strengthening the support mechanisms we have in place for dealing with ADHD.
And each of us can develop our own personal kind of resilience that fits with how our ADHD brain works. For example, I find it helpful to indulge my impatience and flightiness if it means moving on to something else at a time when that’s what I need to do emotionally.
If you look through the research literature, you can find studies suggesting that people with ADHD are both more and less resilient. When we get down to it, this contradiction doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we can make a conscious effort to work on being able to keep our heads up when life throws us curveballs, which ultimately means softening some of the impact of our ADHD symptoms.
Image: Flickr/Dave Bezaire