Adult ADHD or Selfishness? How to Tell the Difference

Health Writer
View as:|
1 of 8

I am frequently asked whether people with ADHD are naturally selfish. Although I am not a medical professional, I am inclined to answer, “No, people with ADHD are not naturally selfish." I think that like all people, some are selfish and some are not. But, it is possible that some of the characteristics of ADHD give the impression of selfishness, though not the intention behind selfishness. Here are some ways ADHD traits can be misconstrued to show selfishness.


Frequent interruptions

During group situations, often times someone with ADHD will have a thought they'd like to add.  They've learned that if they wait until their turn to speak, they will forget what they wanted to add, so they will instead blurt it out — interrupting whoever is speaking. When this happens, they are seen as someone who wants to monopolize conversations or thinks they are more important.


A need for structure and advance planning

Adults with ADHD know that without structure they are never going to get anything accomplished.  Suppose you have scheduled your morning so you can get all your errands done by noon. But halfway through, your partner decides he or she wants to stop for breakfast and run into the store to pick up a few items. If you don’t agree, you are seen as selfish; if you do, you know your intentions for the morning will never be accomplished.


The need for down time.

People with ADHD are often hypersensitive and can be overwhelmed when in high-stimulus environments. You might feel overwhelmed after a day at work or a day at home. You might need time after an activity to destress, to unwind or rejuvenate. But suppose when you get home your kids and your spouse want your attention. Your need to have time to yourself for a few minutes might be seen as selfishness.


Easily distracted

No matter how much you are interested in what someone else is saying or doing, you might become distracted. You might pay attention to the sun shining outside, the dust on the floor, the noise of the kids playing in the other room. You might want to hear every word but your mind keeps wandering. You are seen as selfish for not listening.


Poor memory

People with ADHD are notoriously bad at remembering things. Our society says that a sign of caring is to remember birthdays and anniversaries.  When such details become lost in the maze of your ADHD mind, it is seen as your not caring enough to remember.



One of the less discussed characteristics of ADHD is hyperfocus – the intense level of concentration on something you find fascinating. During these times the rest of the world disappears. You forget all your other responsibilities and lose track of time. When others are counting on you during these periods of time, you are seen as selfish for ignoring their needs.


The takeaway

Some characteristics of ADHD mimic the traits of selfishness. The symptoms can make you seem as if you are concerned only with yourself, even when this isn’t true. Selfishness normally carries with it the intention that you care only for yourself – symptoms of ADHD do not. If you fear that those close to you feel you are being selfish, try to explain to them the reasons behind your behavior.