ADHD is a disorder that leads to not doing the things you should do. And not doing the things you should do leads to guilt.
It’s easy enough to see why behaviors associated with ADHD can give rise to feelings of guilt. But these feelings of guilt can become complex and hard to untangle – especially if they accrue over years of living with undiagnosed ADHD and not understanding what keeps going “wrong” with your life.
What makes these feelings even more complex is that they’re often shared by other people who don’t have ADHD but who are in some way involved with the person who has ADHD and therefore in a similar position of not understanding what isn’t working.
For example, when children with undiagnosed ADHD struggle in school, parents can end up feeling guilty too. These parents might wonder if they should be doing something differently or if they’re responsible for their child underachieving.
When students with ADHD struggle, teachers can also end up taking on a share of the guilt burden. A study published last year found that teachers often experience feelings of guilt over being unsure about how to help students with ADHD.
In the case of children with ADHD, the guilt experienced by others might be especially strong because parents and teachers are in a role where they are directly “responsible” for the success of these children.
However, adults with ADHD don’t have symptoms in a vacuum either. When adults with ADHD underperform at work, supervisors or coworkers are put in the position of figuring out how to address the problem or whether they’re expecting too much. In relationships, the behavior of people with ADHD might confuse their partners, who in turn might begin to wonder if they are doing something wrong.
While it’s usually the person with ADHD who will feel the effects of their symptoms most acutely, in many settings there are other people as well who will feel confusion, frustration, uncertainty and even guilt as a result of the ADHDer’s behavior. When someone with undiagnosed ADHD suffers in silence, everyone around them is usually worse off for it as well.
People without ADHD have a stake in improving ADHD awareness and mental health treatment too. An ADHD diagnosis can bring clarity not just for the person with ADHD, but for the other people in their life (if those people are willing to listen). Although we sometimes think of mental health as a strictly individual problem, this is an area where we’re all interconnected in the sense that happier, more self-aware and higher-functioning people form a happier, more self-aware and higher-functioning society.