ADD Empathy – 101
Sunday, February 26, 2012 8 Comments
ADDvice for non-ADDers
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Those who can SEE will never really “get” the struggles of those who cannot - but hey, could you at least TRY to believe what they say is difficult for them to do?
Could you at least TRY to stop offering advice from your sighted paradigm,
especially in that tone of voice that might as well be adding,
“Listen, you idiot, wrap your simple mind around this?”
And if you can’t do that . . .
Keep a sock at the ready and stuff it in your mouth, if that’s what it takes to keep from shoving your “sighted” platitudes down their “what-part-of-BLIND-don’t-you-get?” throats when they tell you that your idea won’t work for them. (TWO socks if you’re a “vanilla” therapist or non-ADD parent talking to your own ADD-flavored offspring.)
Does that sound harsh?
I promise you that is exactly how your tough-love “helpful” suggestions land with your ADD loved ones.
- I know that because they tell me (and have – over and over – for twenty years now) – in stories that are different but might as well be the same.
It breaks my heart.
- I know because that’s how the ”helpful” suggestions from a few of the ADD clue-free folk I KNOW care for me greatly almost always land with me – even though I’ve never been talked to in the words that some of my clients have heard from people who claim to care about them.
So I have to believe that you REALLY don’t understand that what you believe will be helpful actually has the opposite effect. I promise.
Maybe you will be able to understand just a little bit better with an uncensored, inside glimpse at my own ADD processing. Maybe seeing it in print from someone who might look, from the outside, like she has it together will open your eyes just a little bit wider to how hard your ADDers are trying. Really.
And maybe just a little bit of understanding from you might make a great big difference in the lives of your ADD loved ones.
It’s worth a shot . . .
Here’s the deal.
I am the ADD Poster Girl. Other than excellent reading skills and low-level struggles with hyperactivity (thank you, Lord, for those small favors!), I struggle mightily with every single challenge known to ADD, irrespective of an unusually high level of intelligence.
I’m an ADD Coach and I train ADD Coaches – in fact I co-founded the entire ADD coaching field. Trust me, I know what to DO. That’s never the reason I’m sharing my struggles with anybody! I’m lookin’ for a little empathy here! (And so, by the way, are your ADD loved ones.)
But hey, everybody loves to be helpful, so we know you’re gonna’ suggest
some little thing we have already tried, and that’s fine.
But do you think we could stop there?
Do we have to ride the “Well-try-it-again” Carousel and the “How come you’re always so resistant” Ferris Wheel?
Ya’ know, we’re trying our darndest not to make a beeline for the ram you so hard your teeth rattle BUMPER CARS!
Listening from Belief
Actually, most of us do pretty well, given all that we’re dealing with, but help-me-Hannah, why do you “vanillas” make it so much HARDER for us give you what you SAY you want??
The biggest part of the ADD problem stems from the failure of the non-ADD majority to
listen from belief.
- When you listen to us as if our functionality coulda’-woulda’-shoulda’ mirror yours if only we’d do it your way, you miss the finer points of what we’re trying to say to you — finer points that might illuminate the implications of executive functioning struggles and make us easier for you to understand and live with.
- You might also hold the key to a concept that would open a door to our lives — but we’ll never know if you don’t make sure you understand the parameters of the problem before you offer your solutions.
Please try to believe that if the solution can be found on a list, or in a book, or by taking a class, all but the newly diagnosed would have banished the problem long ago! I know I’ve certainly tried all of those “Here’s how you do it-s!” Repeatedly. They rarely work because they are scratching the wrong itch. The reasons YOU don’t do things are seldom the reasons WE don’t.
An example as a metaphor
I have NO sense of time – that causes all sorts of problems for me and for those counting on me.
- I know – those of you who have one are clueless here.
- Go back to the very top and re-read it aloud if your knee-jerk reaction was to jump in with any sort of solution.
- Read it TWO more times if your knee-jerk “solution” was anything in the neighborhood of alarms and datebooks.
The problem is pervasive – in arenas you’ve never considered. And it dominoes.
“No sense of time” means that, internally, a minute and an hour feel the same to me. I can never tell, without outside measure, how long I’ve been at a task. That creates internal pressure whenever time rears its ugly head. Which is all-the-time.
One Stressful Moment in an Entire Day of Same
During the many years before I learned to pay for everything with a debit card and keep track by computer, I wrote checks. I’m dyscalculate – I need the documentation.
It took me seemingly forever to develop the habit of stubbing the check before I made it out if I ever expected my documentation to be adequate, nevermind accurate.
Until then, everyone assumed I “forgot” to stub the check, or didn’t understand how important it was to stub the check, or got some kind of secondary gain from financial records in shambles.
So their “helpful” hints were aimed at scratching whatever itch they identified – and NEVER worked (and not because I didn’t want them to!)
Because here’s what really was behind it: managing mounting anxiety! (Try to remember that I am highly intelligent and that I founded a field — as you read the following words, think ADD!)
People behind me in the check-out line expected me to move out of their way the nano-second I finished signing my check — or so it seemed to me. PRESSURE! (Not so great for cognitive functioning.)
Hand extended, palm up, the clerk expected me to hand it over the nano-second I finished writing that check, too — and often snatched it out of my hand before I was ready to release it.
I suppose we both could feel the mounting impatience of the line behind me.
Short-term memory deficits, also part of an ADD diagnosis, make it impossible for me to hold the total in mind long enough to write it down again. So I had to ask for a repeat of the charges – which usually happened just after she had cleared the register and closed the drawer with my check inside. (For some reason, even I continue to believe I could do it if I really tried!)
I knew what would happen if I didn’t write it down right then and there:
Since my ADD brain doesn’t filter environmental stimuli automatically – as does yours – I became all too aware of the increase in impatience behind me whether I asked for a repeat of the total or fumbled with my receipt to find it there. I could hear it: those imperceptable-to-others sighs, the shuffling, the under-the-breath moans and groans. MORE pressure.
What was the name of this store again? Gone from my mind with my attempt to hurry myself along. Do I ask, or do I leave without writing it down? Is it somewhere on this receipt? On a sign large enough to see from here?
Because I don’t have an interior time-clock to tell me if they are being unreasonably impatient or if I am taking an unreasonably long time to stub a check, I can’t block out my mounting anxiety, even as I ask silently, a bit miffed myself, “Reasonably, how long COULD I have taken here?”
“Does it really matter where the check was written as long as you have the total?” I say to myself, even as I realize that it will make balancing my checkbook all the more difficult without that bit of assistance identifying the charge — along with a swarm of each and every problem that might domino from that decision, as persistent as flies at a picnic.
Maybe I could just write down the type of store in the comments line,
I tell myself - that might work. I don’t buy groceries in THAT many places.
Oh dear, how long have I been deliberating?
I must appear unbearably inconsiderate to the rest of the world – maybe I should just move on. Maybe I can remember to do this in the car. (Yeah, after I find my keys, unlock the door and the trunk, unload the groceries and return the cart – that’s really likely to happen!)
Oh NO, I’m still THINKING about this. I guess I really DO need to move along now – I probably have no choice.
ALL that agita from a simple little task like writing a check to pay for groceries, simply because I have no internal way to measure time!
Now that I’m rattled, I have to be especially careful as I make my way out of the parking lot, onto the highway, and on my way home. Pay attention, Madelyn. Don’t ruminate over the amount of the check! You’ll simply have to deal with the fall-out when it happens.
I guess now would be a good time to disclose that I have no sense of direction – I live lost.
Not Even in Therapy
Shortly after I was officially diagnosed, my New York therapist decided she wanted to work from home, rather than the Institute where I had been seeing her. OK. That’s not unusual in Manhattan. Lots of therapists work from home — which, in New York City means an apartment building.
The problem for me turned out to be the fact that her building had no lobby.
When I walked out of her apartment, I was only a small shared entryway from
a busy sidewalk on a busy street on the tony Upper East Side of New York City.
Since I was dealing with some fairly emotional issues at the time, I asked if she would give me “a fifteen minute warn” to help me avoid what I have come to call “time startle.” What I wanted was something similar to the count-down before “Places!” that New York stage managers give New York stage actors (which I was at the time). It was a reasonable request, I believed, since she was well aware of my lack of time sense. I explained that I wanted to compose myself before I hit the streets full of strangers.
But she went someplace else in her head, “Why don’t you just look at your watch?”
Say WHAT? I was thinking, as I said aloud, “How would I know when to look?”
When the look on her face told me she still didn’t get it, I went on to say that I could either keep track of the passage of time on my wristwatch OR I could engage in the therapy process. I couldn’t do both.
I wish I could report that she got it immediately after that, but I had to go on to demonstrate my interior monologue before she could understand what I meant. “‘Has it been a minute since I last looked? Five? Ten?’ And wouldn’t THAT make for an effective therapy session?”
Different Strokes for very different folks
The rationale behind these explanations is to underscore a point that can’t be made too strongly or too often: you really can’t know what might be helpful unless you really understand the parameters of the problem.
And the chances are dead-near perfect that whatever you think is behind the behavior is dead-near wrong unless you ask — and listen from belief!
ADD perspective in a humorous vein
- My Wrinkle in Time: HOW does time fly?
- Life in the Now Lane
- The Top Ten . . . Things we wish YOU’d stop doing!
- The Top Ten Stupid Questions from the ADD Clue-Free
- Happy New Year’s Resolution to YOU
- If I Should Die
Related articles - time, listening & ADD perspective
- ADD Partners – When Good Love Goes Bad
- Listening for Time Troubles
- HOW to listen from belief
- Listening vs Hearing (coachmi.wordpress.com)
Related articles around the ‘net about empathy
- In Search of Empathy: Six Habits of Empathetic People - (andrewarmour.com)
- Philosophy Weekend: What Is Empathy? (litkicks.com)
- Reclaiming Empathy (doctorsprout.wordpress.com)
- Empathy and Creativity (lunasealife.wordpress.com)
- The Mind-Reading Hormone: Your Brain’s Key to Empathy (my.psychologytoday.com)
- Building a Muscular Empathy (psychologytoday.com)
- Empathy (midwestinterfaithnetwork.wordpress.com)
- The Smell of Anxiety Prompts Empathy In Humans (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Be Your Own Objective 3rd Party (lifecoachforlosers.com)