Dr. Cindy Taylor

Clinical Psychologist

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Home About ADD ADD Adults ADD Adult Articles ADD, Self Esteem, and Disconnection

ADD, Self Esteem, and Disconnection

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ADD, Self Esteem, and Disconnection
by Jan Roberts, M. S., LPC

Probably most individuals with attentional problems suffer from self-esteem issues due to the deficits in their lives caused by the attentional problems.  Irritation, anger or ridicule by others for one’s attentional shortcomings can cause one to feel at risk and inept; not following through or remembering to do things responsibly can lead to a fragmented sense of ability and stability; and the
experience of living unaware of the present moment in life can lead to a sense of impotence and “disconnection” both with self as well as with significant people in one’s life.

While various psychological models for dealing with self-esteem can be used successfully with the ADD individual, there appear to be several key components that need to be utilized in order to take in the new information.  The first component has been addressed in previous issues and is the obvious one:  medication to facilitate better-functioning brain chemistry.  While medication appears
to be a vital link to accessing information in order to make life changes, it appears to me that the issue of “disconnection” must be addressed in order to empower the ADD individual to learn how to be “present” and to learn how to get in control of ADD symptoms that may not be serving him or her well.  It is this component of “disconnection” that will be the focus of this article.

A common experience related by many clients is that of being so disconnected or unaware of themselves that they’ve gone to the point of extreme discomfort before getting a drink of water or eating or taking care of other physical needs.  They may stay out in the heat too long...or the cold too long.  They seem so distanced from their bodies that they are almost free-floating or shut down.  Another aspect of disconnection is a sense of being on the outside looking in at life.  There can be a sense of unreality which distances one from seeing consequences of one’s actions (or
lack ot actions!).  One individual related going to a theme park for the first time, riding on a water ride and being shocked awake when she got wet.  Others relate experiencing a “time warp” where time just has no meaning.  It doesn’t matter how early they get up in order to be at an appointment on time -- the time vanishes and they typically still arrive late.  It’s almost like they have to be
down to the wire before brain chemistry kicks in so that they can do the planning tasks in order to actually get ready, leave and be at the appointment.  This is a component experienced by many college students who are dealing (or not) with scheduling, studying, going to class, turning in assignments, and test taking. Many individuals relate that by the time they get home from work or
school they have to have some “down” time -- time to “zone” or just do nothing -- they just can’t handle thinking anymore right now.  Some elect to stay up after everyone has gone to bed in order to continue the “zoning.”  (By the way, one helpful approach to dealing with this behavior is calming physical touch -- a gentle hand on a shoulder that just connects -- it doesn’t tug, push, or pull...it just connects calmly.  This can sometimes bring the individual back to the present and thus awareness of body fatigue as well as emotional need for connectedness.  Verbal suggestions are not usually well-received and do not appear to break through the zone or disconnection, and may even elicit angry, irritated responses that push even further away from connection.)

A researcher with the Utah Group, Dr. Paul Wender, is credited by Dr. David Woods as saying that “ADD adults lack outsight.”  In other words, they lack the ability to perceive their impact on others and to accurately read social cues.  Woods goes on to say that “ADD adults may have adapted to their pathology and may see themselves as normal.  Consequently, they are shocked when they lose their job, find their spouse wanting a divorce, or wonder why they have no friends.”  (Woods, 1986).  This is an aspect of disconnection in the social realm. The bottom line is that regardless of
whether one is internally or externally  oblivious, disconnection or zoning or lack of outsight is not a benign or neutral condition.  It can cause extremely negative consequences for the ADD individual and his/her quality of life. Part of dealing with disconnection is to find ways to heighten attention so that these individuals can learn to become more aware, both of their own needs as well as those of significant others...to learn how to be fully present in their lives. 

One tool that can be helpful fairly early in therapy is a specific (and adapted) aspect of Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (T.A.):  the Ego States of the negative Parent, negative Child, and Adult.  Because T.A. is a complex theory with the potential for multiple transactions and cross transactions, and because there is a need for quick and easy to grasp cognitive tools for the highly distractible, impulsive, or inattentive person diagnosed with ADD, I’ve adapted the ego states information specifically for the ADD individual.  While I won’t go into detail about Eric Berne’s T. A., I’ll say briefly (and simplistically) that according to Berne, at any given moment in time, one is operating from one of the Ego States of Parent, Child, or Adult, and that there are both positive and negative aspects of each of these states.  The process of T. A. is to analyze transactions that might be going on internally with an individual, or that might be going on in relation to another individual so that one can make choices rather than continuing with preprogrammed behavior.  For the specific purpose of dealing with disconnection, I’ve found that the behaviors of people operating out of negative ego states (adapted version) elicit physiological reactions that can be links to connection with self and others. What do I mean about a physiological reaction?  And what difference does it make?  Excellent questions!  Let’s look at them.  In the adapted model, the Negative Parent State (NP) is pictured as the author of negative, punitive, shaming, judging, absolutism statements.  This is the
position of “nailing” someone.  This state is characterized by a lack of respect for the person in question.  One might find judgments going on internally regarding one’s own actions, or regarding someone else’s actions, such as :  “I’m so stupid for not remembering that!”  “I never remember where my keys are!”  “I knew I would blow it...I’m such a dummy!” or, “What a jerk...she never
thinks ahead!”.  Or, one might be on the receiving end of another person’s NP.  Whether these statements are coming internally toward self or being directed at one by another person, the
body can react as being at risk.  Most people would have a physiological reaction to these statements:  heart rate might increase; tension throughout the body might occur; the body might well move into a “fight or flight or freeze” or “survival” reaction. The ADD individual who lacks outsight may well be on the giving end of the NP and oblivious to why other people withdraw or don’t want to be around him or her.  For this reason, becoming aware of the potential effects of such transactions can empower this individual to identify behavior that may not be serving him or her well, and to make a conscious decision to treat others in an adult manner.  We’ll talk about the Adult State (A) a little later.

The adapted Negative Child State (NC) is one in which one does not have power to deal with transactions in a straightforward way.  This state is characterized by feeling like a victim or martyr; feeling trapped, cornered; feeling hurt or embarrassed; feeling like things are just too much to deal with -- “I just can’t take it anymore”, or “I just don’t know what to do.”  The victim state might lead one to say “If it weren’t for...” to excuse self from responsibility for whatever the issue is.  This state is characterized by having no healthy respect for self and by having no sense of control over
what is happening.  If left unchecked, this state can lead to depression, a need for addictions to feel some relief or sense of control, potential for stress illness, a need to withdraw or emotionally shut down, and a tendency to become passive aggressive. The NC physiological reactions then could be hyperarousal, muscle tension, and/or stress-induced physical pain or headaches.  Emotional symptoms as a result could be fear, anxiety, a “sick” feeling in the pit of the stomach, a sense of helplessness, agitation, depression or emotional shutdown -- all symptoms that typically do not lead to healthy action.

Once one becomes aware of his or her own physiological (and/or emotional) reactions, that person then has cues that enable him or her to identify what is going on subconsciously, and thus has the
option to choose different thoughts.  (There are additional cognitive tools that will add support for dealing with disconnection.  Remember, our goal is awareness and connection leading to making choices and successfully managing ADD symptoms.) The adapted model of the Adult State (A) is characterized by attributes such as personal responsibility, being able to discern one’s feelings, being able to own one’s feelings, being able to express what one is feeling with respect for self and others, being able to set appropriate boundaries, being able to allow others to have their own emotions, and being able to have a time-out with a commitment to discuss the issue at a better time (a different behavior from the withdrawal and passive aggression of the NC). 

This adult state is characterized by objective thinking rather than emotional knee-jerk reactivity.  The physiological reactions of the Adult State are those of being energized to tackle problems, a sense of strength and ability to stand and face issues and problem-solve, a sense of being in control, battle-ready and capable of taking care of issues that may arise.  Reactivity does not override the ability to think and problem-solve. How does this information help one to stop disconnecting or zoning or blindly blundering socially?  Information can expose habitual patterns and lay new
permissions in place with which to make decisions.  The information that there are a lot of covert or subconscious behaviors occurring and shaping transactions and relationships in one’s life might spur
this individual to want to decide for himself or herself what his or her reactions will be.  This individual may want more choice in life -- to not live out life according to a pre-written script passed down from grandparents and parents.  When this individual learns that it is possible to have real intimacy if one can learn how to be present and real about one’s own emotions in healthy ways, one might become invested in becoming more aware.  Just the added knowledge will make one more aware than he or she was before. If one can explore these various states and find what one’s own typical
transactions are and further explore potential consequences and costs to continuing in the same manner, one might wake up enough to decide to look for options to do things differently.  Then, the change process is not a simplistic one.  There can be stress in breaking old patterns of behavior...they seem innate and natural even though they may not be helpful.  We can feel at risk as we try new behaviors and are going to need reinforcement and support to help us keep focused on just why we’re putting ourselves through this.  The potential is a life that is being lived in the present and in a genuine way, a life in which we actively participate rather than passively react.

For many of us, we just need the information and we need to see examples of how to do things in ways that serve us better.  Then the process is trial and error.  Reacting in the programmed way, then realizing what we’re doing, and saying “Wait a minute...This feels really bad!  I don’t like feeling helpless.  I want to not feel at risk or less than.  Why/how am I giving this person/event power over my life to the extent I feel so flawed or trapped or “less than” that I want to give up and shut down.”  “Talking in this judging way is pushing that person away from me...Maybe I can say things in a better way that doesn’t embarrass or put down that person.”  “Maybe I have ‘always’ forgotten things in the past or not been responsible; things are different now.  I’m learning how to deal with ADD and I can change and do things better.  I’m not flawed.”  “I get to start over.  I will make it.”  The person who has learned to be present and to be Adult in reactions and decision-making will find that self-esteem issues are positively affected and that connection provides the potential to fully live one’s life.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 00:04  

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