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Self-Compassion and ADHD

It’s said that we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves, but sometimes we have to be reminded of the opposite: that it’s worth treating ourselves with the same empathy we have for other people. Without even realizing it, we often forget to extend to ourselves the same kindness we show others.

Self-Compassion“Self-compassion” is the idea that we should treat ourselves with acceptance, with the understanding that our feelings are valid and our mistakes are forgivable. This concept might sound a little fluffy, but scientifically it’s been shown that self-compassion correlates with many different aspects of mental health.

For example, people with higher self-compassion experience less depression. People with higher self-compassion move on from negative social situations more easily, and men with higher self-compassion are more open to mental health treatment. Self-compassion is an ingredient for a happy life.

Unfortunately, having ADHD (especially undiagnosed ADHD) has a way of chipping away at your self-compassion. People treat you like you’re lazy and incompetent. They can’t understand why you fail to do things that are easy for other people. And after a while, you start to internalize this lack of understanding.

The voice of other people telling you to “try harder” becomes a voice inside your head, constantly pressuring you and ridiculing you. You develop a belief that you are flawed, a disgust with these flaws, and an expectation of failure. All this is the opposite of self-compassion.

An ADHD diagnosis is a major first step toward restoring self-compassion. It shows you that your shortcomings aren’t the result of moral failings, or of mysterious defects. They’re the result of specific behaviors that are rooted in the way your brain works – or, often, a mismatch between the way your brain works and the way your environment expects your brain to work.

Once you start to understand your symptoms, there are additional steps you can take to build self-compassion. Some have to do with managing your symptoms: find new environments that accommodate your ADHD symptoms and you’ll prove to yourself that making external changes to resolve the mismatch between your environment and your brain is a more constructive path than beating yourself up over supposed character flaws.

Other changes are more general. Learn to really practice the cliches about using mistakes as learning opportunities and understanding that perfection doesn’t exist. Take up meditation if that’s your thing. And work with a therapist – restoring self-compassion is just one reason that psychotherapy is an important part of ADHD treatment.

Improving your self-compassion skills is a gradual process. It’s not easy, and sometimes it requires having the ability to show yourself self-compassion for not showing yourself self-compassion. But it will improve your ability to manage ADHD. And, even more importantly – this is what really matters in the end – it’ll make you happy.

Image: Flickr/Claudio

Self-Compassion and ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Self-Compassion and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Jan 2018
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