What Girls with ADHD Need to Hear

When I was diagnosed with ADHD in my 40s, I looked back at my life with a new set of eyes. My heart broke for the child I was. Messiness, time blindness, compulsive hyperfocus, emotional dysregulation, and rejection sensitivity were all things I’d internalized as my personal failings and default personality traits rather than what they really were: ADHD symptoms.

For most of my life, I did not have the knowledge I needed to understand myself and counterbalance pervasive negative messaging that made me feel inherently defective and ashamed. Post-diagnosis, it still takes a lot of effort to notice and rectify harmful, anti-neurodivergent messaging from those close to me and from wider society.

I’ve been on a journey to drain my seemingly bottomless pool of shame, and it’s not a linear process. There are days I revert to child-me, hiding in my bathroom, feeling small, powerless, and voiceless. What helps me is to speak to that little girl and tell her all the things I wish I heard growing up — things that would have helped me break the difference = shame equation that crystallized in my young mind.

Dear Younger Self: What All Girls with ADHD Need to Hear

1. You are strong. Strength is not the absence of fear. Strength is having fears and going outside your comfort zone anyway. It takes strength and courage to show your vulnerability. Your differences, challenges, and even your perceived blunders are signs of strength and determination!

2. There’s no singular “right way” of doing things. There are many ways to do things and many paths to get you where you want to go.

[Read: What Are the Consequences of Late-Life ADHD Diagnoses for Women?]

3. Some things are super hard, and you can ask for help if you need it. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are a failure, or that you are weak or a burden to others. I know you want to push through all on your own, because people always tell you to “try harder” or “have more discipline,” which makes you feel guilty. To be honest, that’s bad advice because they don’t know how hard you’re trying. I really need you to not be so hard on yourself, to learn to ask for help – everyone struggles with some things in life and it’s OK. And when you find yourself struggling, remember that you have plenty of other strengths and skills to celebrate!

4. Trust yourself! Your intuition – it is trustworthy. Your feelings – they are valid. Your voice – you don’t need permission to use it, and it’s OK to struggle to express yourself verbally; it’s something that takes practice and you’ll get better at it.

5. Shame tells us to hide. Don’t. Look it in the eye, say no, thank you, and tell it to leave. I know you try hard to be a “good girl” and make your parents proud, but it’s OK to break out of the mold and color outside the lines. You have a right to claim space. You have things to show and teach the world! Let people know the real you!

6. You are not alone in your feelings. If you feel lonely, insecure, or misunderstood, chances are others do, too! Sometimes you can have a lot of feelings, and it can be tough to contain them all. When you share how you feel, it helps you make sense of your emotions. And you give others the chance to help you, and to share their vulnerabilities.

[Read: 42 Raw Confessions from Women with ADHD]

7. It’s a beautiful thing to be a sensitive soul. You feel things deeply, you tune into people’s emotions, and wear your heart on your sleeve. That’s not a bad thing, though it does mean you can feel hurt and rejected when others don’t treat you the way you want to be treated. Just remember people have different levels of sensitivity. Some people struggle to be sensitive, while you have easy access to this quality and the gifts it presents, like being creative and empathetic.

8. Don’t try to be like everyone else. It’s normal to want to fit in with others, especially when you are growing up. But people love you for who you are. They love your light, your creativity, your uniqueness. Continue being your playful self!

9. You don’t need to be perfect to be loved. You are enough. Just the way you are. Enjoy the process rather than focusing on the results. Embrace imperfection — it will teach you to let go of self-criticism. It’s totally OK to be imperfect and to fail, and you will still be loved and accepted for who you are.

10. I am proud of you. Your value is not in what you achieve, but in who you are as a person. Your heart and your spirit. I am proud of who you are. I am proud of you for always trying things even though they may be hard for you.

11. I love you!

Spoiler alert: I still struggle and I don’t have it all figured out. I still need to repeat these nuggets of advice to myself each day. But the imaginary exercise of speaking to my younger self has helped me to understand where my limiting beliefs came from and to choose the words that help change my narratives.

Unlearning ingrained thought patterns is hard work. But repeating these things to myself and being my own advocate has made me kinder to myself and more authentically me. I hope it helps you, too.

I also made a comic about this very topic! You can read it in full here.

Healing Your Inner Child: Next Steps

Illustrations courtesy of Juliette Yu-Ming Lizeray.

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