Coping with Criticism When You're an Adult with ADD

Your ADD shouldn't stop you from managing criticism effectively

Serious boss talking to businesswoman in conference room
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As an adult with ADD you may have received a lifetime of negative feedback around behaviors. It is no wonder a person would feel sensitive! Add to this a difficulty in managing emotions and perhaps at times a tendency to overreact because you feel things so deeply. All of these factors make criticism especially difficult.

While you can’t control what others will do or say, you can work to control how you react.

What are some ways to handle criticism so that it doesn’t lead to angry outbursts, injury to your personal or work relationships, or further damage to your own self esteem?

  1. Develop an awareness of your reactions. How do you tend to respond to criticism?  Do you respond differently to different people? Are you likely to react defensively even when the criticism is earned? For example, do you get angry when you're asked to account for a careless error? 
  2. Be aware of the situation and your relationship to the person delivering the criticism. If this is a work situation -- and the critical individual is your supervisor -- you will need to be very careful about managing your feelings. Often, asking for time to respond is the best strategy (counting to ten before responding is also helpful when possible!).
  3. When faced with a situation in which you are receiving negative feedback from another person, try to step back and explore your feelings. Use self-talk. “I am hurt and angry. Is this an overreaction?”
  1. If you know there will be an interaction that is difficult, practice your responses beforehand. Rehearse in front of a mirror or even in front of a friend or adult family member. Seek their feedback and advice.
  2. If you slip up and find that you have overreacted to a situation, calmly leave and return to the conversation when you are feeling in better control.
  1. Be kind to yourself. Try not to turn the negative feedback inward or dwell on it to the point it is hurtful to your self-esteem. Learn from whatever is helpful feedback and disregard the rest.
  2. If you are unsure whether your feelings about an interaction are appropriate or exaggerated, talk with a trusted friend or adult family member to get feedback.
  3. Be very careful when responding to email, texting, and social media. It is tempting to type and send an immediate response, but you may regret it seconds later. Often, the best response is to do nothing at all for at least a few minutes while you take time to think through the best answer to the critical message you've received.
  4. When responding to email, read and reread what you've written. Edit out any content that seems to be inappropriate or too strongly worded. Then -- check to be sure you are sending your response ONLY to the person who should read it, and NOT to any cc'd individuals.

Additional Reading:
Tips for Approaching Social Situations
Tips for Maintaining Focus
Friendships and ADHD
Treatment of ADHD
Signs and Symptoms of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder


Kathleen G. Nadeau. Adventures in Fast Forward: Life, Love, and Work for the ADD Adult. Brunner-Routledge. 1996.

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