Theoretically, having ADHD is something that can increase your empathy for other people.
You know what it’s like not to fit in, to struggle with things other people take for granted, to act in ways that don’t make sense to yourself or other people. All of that potentially makes you more understanding of other people’s quirks and imperfections.
But even if you have that empathy in a theoretical sense, applying it in the moment is harder. In fact, applying skills in the moment is where people with ADHD often experience challenges. Symptoms like impulsivity and not thinking situations through fully can interfere with us putting the theoretical knowledge we have – or in this case, the theoretical empathy we have – into action.
Something I’ve been trying to do lately is generally just be a little more patient with people who act in annoying, counterproductive or even somewhat self-centered ways. I’d like to think that I’m already fairly patient with other people overall. However, I’ve noticed that there are situations in my life where, theoretically, I know that someone’s behavior doesn’t have a bad intention behind it, but in the moment I get irritated with the way they’re acting even though doing so doesn’t help anything.
That’s especially true during this time of coronavirus, for a couple reasons. First, people are more frequently acting in ways that are driven by stress, anxiety, boredom, etc., leading them to behave in less rational ways. And second, those same factors probably increase the chances of me reacting to irrational behaviors with irritation.
So far I’ve found two techniques that seem to help cultivate a little more patience with others:
- Reminding myself to pause and reflect on what factors might be influencing someone to act in an irritating way and what stressors might be driving their behavior below the surface. Again, that’s especially true at a time when many people have additional concerns in their everyday lives.
- Finding similarities between my own behaviors and behaviors in others that irritate me. Often we’re hypocrites when we lose patience with other people because we’ve displayed similar tendencies in the past, or we’d at least be capable of acting in similar ways, so seeing some of those behaviors reflected in ourselves can build empathy.
There’s an important limitation to the exercise of trying to become more patient with other people, which is that it shouldn’t turn into making excuses for others. I don’t see any particular need to become more patient with people who act in genuinely inconsiderate, hurtful or ill-intentioned ways. The main point here is becoming more understanding in situations where friends and family who you trust do little things that are annoying but generally harmless.
On my end, this goal is a work in progress, so feel free to share any other tips you have!
Image: Flickr/Robert Couse-Baker