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Adult ADHD: Learning the Skills of Self-Compassion and Emotion Regulation

Updated: May 16

What is Self-Compassion and Why is it Important?

For adults with late-diagnosed ADHD, the journey through school and development can be riddled with challenges that often go unrecognised and unaddressed. These individuals may have spent years feeling misunderstood or labelled as lazy, unmotivated, or unintelligent, when in reality, their difficulties stem from underlying neurobiological differences associated with ADHD. The education system, with its emphasis on conformity and standardised testing, can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and failure for those who don't fit neatly into traditional academic moulds. Consequently, many adults with ADHD carry deep-seated shame and self-doubt well into adulthood, which can impact various aspects of their lives, including relationships, career pursuits, and self-esteem.

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Self-compassion offers a powerful antidote to the pervasive self-criticism and negative self-talk that plague many adults with ADHD. Unlike self-esteem, which often relies on external validation and achievement, self-compassion is inherently unconditional. It doesn't hinge on success or failure but rather on treating oneself with kindness and understanding, regardless of circumstances. This shift in mindset can be transformative for individuals who have spent years internalising messages of inadequacy and unworthiness. By cultivating self-compassion, adults with ADHD can begin to challenge the deeply ingrained belief that their worth is contingent upon meeting unrealistic standards of productivity or performance. Instead, they learn to embrace their inherent value as human beings, and to extend the same level of compassion to themselves that they would to a close friend in need.

How to Practice Self-Compassion

1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, body scans, or mindful walking, can help adults with ADHD cultivate present-moment awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of their thoughts and feelings. By grounding themselves in the here and now, they can learn to observe their inner experiences with curiosity and compassion, rather than getting drawn into the cycle of self-critical thoughts.

2. Self-Kindness: Self-kindness involves actively soothing and comforting oneself in times of distress, rather than berating oneself for perceived shortcomings. This might involve speaking to oneself in a gentle and reassuring tone, engaging in comforting activities like taking a warm bath or cuddling up with a favourite book, or simply giving oneself permission to rest and recharge when needed. By practising self-kindness, adults with ADHD can begin to nurture a sense of inner warmth and acceptance that serves as a buffer against the harshness of self-criticism.

3. Common Humanity: Recognising that they are not alone in their struggles can be immensely validating for adults with ADHD. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can foster a sense of belonging and solidarity, reducing feelings of isolation and shame. Online support groups, ADHD coaching programmes, and community organisations dedicated to neurodiversity can provide valuable resources and opportunities for connection. By sharing their stories and offering support to one another, individuals with ADHD can cultivate a sense of common humanity that strengthens their resilience and sense of self-worth.

4. Set Realistic Expectations: Setting realistic expectations is essential for practising self-compassion, as it involves acknowledging one's limitations and honouring one's needs and boundaries. This might mean breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, prioritising self-care and rest, or seeking support from others when feeling overwhelmed. By letting go of perfectionism and embracing a mindset of progress over perfection, adults with ADHD can free themselves from the tyranny of unrealistic standards and cultivate greater compassion for themselves and their journey.

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Emotion Regulation with ADHD - Calming the Storm

Emotion regulation is another critical skill for adults with ADHD, who often grapple with intense and unpredictable emotions that can feel overwhelming at times. While it's natural to experience a wide range of emotions, difficulty regulating these emotions can interfere with daily functioning and lead to increased stress, impulsivity, and interpersonal conflict. By learning to identify their emotional triggers and develop healthy coping strategies, adults with ADHD can gain greater control over their emotional responses and cultivate a greater sense of calm and equilibrium in their lives.

1. Identify Triggers: Emotional triggers are specific situations, events, or thoughts that provoke strong emotional reactions in individuals with ADHD. These triggers can vary widely from person to person but often revolve around themes of rejection, failure, criticism, or feeling overwhelmed. By identifying their unique triggers, adults with ADHD can begin to anticipate and prepare for situations that might provoke strong emotions, allowing them to respond more skilfully and proactively.

2. Challenge Negative Self-Talk: Negative self-talk is a common hallmark of ADHD, fuelled by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and shame. By challenging these negative thoughts and replacing them with more compassionate and realistic self-talk, adults with ADHD can begin to reframe their internal narrative in a more positive and empowering light. This might involve consciously acknowledging and validating their emotions, reframing perceived failures as opportunities for growth, and cultivating a greater sense of self-compassion and self-acceptance.

3. Practice Self-Soothing Techniques: Self-soothing techniques are strategies that individuals can use to calm themselves in moments of distress or overwhelm. These techniques can vary widely depending on individual preferences and needs but often involve activities that engage the senses and promote relaxation and grounding. Examples include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, visualisation techniques, listening to calming music or nature sounds, or engaging in activities that bring joy and pleasure, such as hobbies or creative pursuits. By developing a repertoire of self-soothing techniques, adults with ADHD can build resilience in the face of adversity and cultivate a greater sense of inner calm and equilibrium.

4. Seek Professional Support: While self-help strategies can be invaluable for managing ADHD symptoms, they are not a substitute for professional support. Therapists who specialise in ADHD can provide valuable guidance and support tailored to the unique needs of neurodiverse adults. These therapists can help individuals develop personalised strategies for emotion regulation, cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance, and navigate the complexities of living with ADHD in a neurotypical world. In addition to traditional talk therapy, other therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), or mindfulness-based interventions, may also be beneficial for adults with ADHD. By seeking professional support, individuals can access the tools and resources they need to thrive and live their best lives.

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Living with late-diagnosed ADHD presents unique challenges that can have far-reaching effects on various aspects of life. However, by cultivating self-compassion and honing emotion regulation skills, adults with ADHD can empower themselves to navigate their journey with greater resilience, self-acceptance, and well-being. By treating themselves with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, they can break free from the cycle of self-criticism and embrace their strengths and weaknesses with compassion. With the support of specialised therapy and a commitment to self-care, the path to improved well-being and fulfilment becomes not only possible but also within reach.

If you're grappling with the complexities of understanding the struggles associated with late ADHD diagnosis in adults and the vital role self-compassion and emotion regulation in navigating these challenges, it's time to seek support from an experienced therapist. Rhiannon Derrig and Lia Lawton, are both seasoned psychosexual therapists. With their expertise and empathetic approach, you can embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing tailored to your unique needs.

By addressing the intersections of ADHD and psychosexual concerns with compassion and understanding, our therapists provide a safe space for exploring the complexities of your experiences. Take the first step towards greater self-awareness and well-being by scheduling an appointment with our specialists today. To book your session, call 1300 187 448 or visit

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