Six Dangerous Myths About Anger and ADHD

My new book is about to be released, and it contains a significant section on overcoming “obstacle emotions” that keep you from improving your relationship (anger, fear, denial and hopelessness).  I’ve reprinted a very small portion of that section here for those who feel mired in anger.  This section is about the “myths” I sometimes hear people fall victim to about the “usefulness” or justification for their anger.

Six Dangerous Myths About Anger and ADHD

“If you are a non-ADHD partner, you may be having trouble envisioning how you might be able to overcome your anger.  If so, you may be falling victim to these destructive myths about anger and ADHD:

Myth #1– I Can’t Help It – My Spouse Drives Me To It

Sure you can!  There is no doubt that your spouse’s ADHD symptoms can create a huge burden.  But as Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger points out, anger is the result of our taking too much responsibility for our spouse’s feelings and reactions and not enough responsibility for our own life.  You can address the root causes of anger in your relationship by giving back the responsibility for fixing ADHD to the partner who has it, while at the same time taking charge of your own happiness again.  You can also train yourself to express your anger in positive and useful ways. 

It can be scary to give back the responsibility for ADHD to an ADHD partner whom you suspect is incapable of successfully navigating that responsibility.  Hopefully, you are beginning to see that the non-ADHD spouse can’t “fix” a partner’s ADHD no matter how much she might wish to.  Although scary, the only real choice is to have the ADHD spouse responsible for his or her issues and you responsible for your own.  You can (and should) be loving and supportive, and can give the “gift” of assistance when appropriate, as long as you are not the one responsible.  But as soon as you feel you “must” take certain things on and don’t really want to, resentment and anger will follow.

Myth #2– My Anger Will Force Him to Change

No it won’t – it hasn’t so far.  The things that you are angry about are the result of dealing with ADHD symptoms, which take time, effort and support to manage.  You can scare an ADHD person into changing temporarily, but you can’t force it to last.  You win the battle, but lose the war.  Nature’s response to anger is defensiveness and more anger.  The poisonous environment that anger creates is just the opposite from the supportive/safe environment that an ADHD person needs in order to be successful.  Not only will your anger not force him to change, it will virtually assure that he can’t.

Myth #3– He Deserves It

Anger is a sign that things are out of balance, and this can (and should) serve as a signal that things must change.  On the other hand, verbal abuse, screaming, belittling, shutting down and shutting out are forms of punishment and bullying.  No one “deserves” to be punished by their spouse.

Myth #4 – “Getting it All Out” Will Make Me Feel Better

Releasing a short burst of anger can be an effective way to release bad feelings.  But we’re not talking about a short burst of anger.  We’re talking about pervasive, “can’t get it out of my system” anger.  And the reason that releasing the anger doesn’t make you feel better over time is that the underlying reason why you are angry has to do with how you are both reacting to ADHD symptoms and how you are interacting as a couple.  If you don’t fix the problem (and by “problem” I mean your joint ability to deal with symptoms and each other) releasing anger won’t make either of you feel better…it will just repeatedly return and make you both feel worse.

Myth #5 – If I Feel Hopeless, I Should Disconnect

You may be utterly exhausted, but disconnection isn’t the solution.  Although some claim it is the only way to bear the pain, the downside is that the pain is still there.  And disconnection never makes a good marriage.  Don’t disconnect, seek help.

Myth #6– If I Deny My ADHD, The Problems Will Go Away

No.  ADHD is built into your body.  The symptoms will persist until you deal with them effectively with treatment, preferably with multi-pronged approach.”

Reprinted from The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps by Melissa Orlov, copyright 2010.