Living Authentically

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Living with ADHD can be a challenge, to say the least. Each day often brings a variety of struggles: keeping up at work, finishing what you've started, losing things, saying things you didn't mean to say, and more. Of course, ADHD affects each person differently. But regardless, there are chronic, lifetime struggles we with ADHD all face.


    I've met few adults with ADHD who have not had their self confidence knocked out of them. As children, they were told to "just try harder"; that they aren't living up to their potential. Try as they might, their report cards often didn't reflect their true abilities due to distractions, procrastination, and more. Children with ADHD typically hear way more negative comments about themselves than positives and they grow up with that image of incompetency in their head.

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    As adults, they've heard negative comments about their lack of housekeeping skills, poor job performance, less than stellar social skills...and the list goes on.


    What often happens is the adult with ADHD begins to hide their authentic self because they're working too hard trying to fit in; trying to appease their spouse, family members, friends and colleagues. Undoing the words heard in childhood can be a lifetime effort. Endless hours are spent working against their ADHD- looking for lost items, working extra hours each day to stay caught up, hiding their messy, secret lives.


    This almost always comes with a price tag. Creativity is shut down. One's natural sense of humor becomes lost in a pool of self doubt and even depression. Anxiety takes its place, with constant worries about fitting in and trying to "look normal."


    These behaviors begin to take a life of their own until the person with ADHD (hopefully) wakes up one day and wonders where their authentic, real self has disappeared to. At this point, there's a huge choice to be made: to continue racing through life trying to be who you aren't, or...making a healthy decision to return to the person you are and were meant to be.


    Living authentically means acknowledging your limitations, getting help for them, but to then move forward. It's not easy to shelve the words echoing in your head about not being "good enough", whether at work, at home or even within yourself. What stops most people from living authentically is a broken sense of self and believing the old scripts that have been tossed at them since childhood. For many, it's extremely hard to change this and often, psychotherapy with someone who understands adult ADHD is the way to go.


    Let me give you an example of how I recently experienced an exercise in living authentically:


    From the time I was about 12 or so, my dream was to be in a band. I was always a musical sort and had learned to play a variety of instruments by the time I reached my teens. Some of those instruments are not exactly commonly played by a female, let alone a middle aged one. So for years, the only time I'd pick up my electric guitar, bass or drumsticks was when no one was around. I was not being my authentic self!


    Recently, I re-connected with some old friends who also love music and performing. We were invited to perform with a local band at a restaurant/bar. My friends and I were extremely nervous- I hadn't performed in a "band" since I was 18 or so and neither friend had ever performed professionally. We all could easily have declined the invitation, but we didn't. So a few weeks ago, we gathered up our courage and sang a number of songs; I even played guitar on some. It was a dream come true!


    Here's an exercise to help you move toward living authentically.  Get a notebook and write down the statements about yourself you've heard and still believe. Here are some I've heard many, many times from clients I've worked with over the years:

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    1. I'm not very bright (I've heard this from PhDs!)


    2. I'm a lousy mother- I can't even remember to make annual doctor's appointments for my kids.


    3. I don't know how my husband/wife can stand me; I'm so wrapped up in my own problems.


    4. I'll never get a good job- who would want to hire someone like me?


    5. I'm just a loser. I can't find my keys, can't pull together a simple dinner for my family. I just can't do what comes easy to everyone else.


    After writing down each negative statement on a separate piece of paper, read each one and then tear it up and throw it into the garbage. In your notebook, replace each statement with a positive one about yourself, instead, and make a point of referring to them regularly. Perhaps you are a good listener. Maybe you're a loyal friend. List your gifts and talents. Don't stop- keep writing them down, for there are many.


    Next, think about what you'd rather be doing AT THIS VERY MOMENT. Is your secret passion to become an opera singer? A nature photographer? Would you rather be living in a different part of the world? Do you see yourself in a new job? Begin to think about which of the things you've listed are doable. Are they are goals you can work on now, or are they for down the road when your life situation changes, .i.e. when the kids move out or when you retire.


    Ask yourself what it would take to accomplish these goals- goals that reflect who you really are. If your lack of self-confidence prevented you from learning to sing, promise yourself to sign up for a singing class. If you picture yourself in a dream job, take a class to start garnering the skills necessary to make a career change. This is your first step towards moving forward and re-discovering your authentic self.


    When those old words of doubt enter your head, immediately replace them with positives. Remind yourself of all the things you do well and things you've achieved over your lifetime. We tend to minimize those things while focusing on the negatives.

    Visualize yourself doing the things you really DO want to do. Try and study the detail of that image until you can draw it up in your head with less and less effort.


    The next time you tell yourself that something you want is not possible, pull up that image, take a deep breath, and make a plan on what you need to do to get to that authentic place.


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    Are you ready to take up the challenge?

Published On: January 05, 2009