What is the proper response to "I can't do anything right"

I do not know how to answer this. After every ADD moment my husband says "i can't do anything right" and normally i respond with something like "it's not a big deal, don't do that to yourself, it's not your fault"

But what about when he does do something wrong? How do I respond then?

Scenario- Husband withdrew money from our checking account. Not a big deal, except he didn't go to one of our banks ATM's so there was a $3.99 fee for the ATM plus the $2 fee from our bank. Now 6 dollars isn't that big of a deal, but I'm unemployed, so it matters. He noticed the additional $2 fee this morning and gave me the "i just can't get anything right" sob story. I pretended i didn't hear him, b/c in this instance, he screwed up! I just couldn't bring myself to say to him "better luck next time" etc. I was angry!

Then I got mad at myself because I was angry at him for doing something he 'forgot'. It's just so frustrating. I don't feel like i can get mad at him when he does things like this, b/c I know he's not doing them on purpose, it's his add brain letting him forget. But seriously! how many times do I have to tell him the same thing!

How as a spouse are we supposed to deal with this?


I don't know how to exactly

I don't know how to exactly answer your question. But, I can say as the ADD spouse I have been there. I have had the "poor me, I can't do anything right" attitude. It's frustration.  Imagine your whole life you're told "You can't do anything right! That's not good enough! You screwed up again!" After a while you just accept it. You believe if you try your hardest and still don't do good enough than why should you even try in the first place? It's easier to say "I just can't do anything right."

You say he does this all the time? Maybe he needs more positive reinforcement when he does something right. Maybe he's so accustomed to only hearing negatives that he doesn't know how to be positive. It could be as simple as making it a point to thank your husband when he does the dishes or accomplishes a project. If he starts recognizing that he can do things right maybe that poor me attitude will fade.

As far as your specific example and how to respond when he truely does screw up, I would suggest that instead of just pointing out his mistake you come up with a plan to work on the problem. Make it a learning experience.

Doing Things Right

As with many with ADHD, your husband's self esteem is very low.  In general, the solution to that is finding a passion - something that's in his sweet spot that he does well (or can develop into doing well) so that his success starts to show that "I can't do anything right" is a lie -it's just that he doesn't do SOME things right.

But even now there must be something he does right (he's empathetic, creative, a good playmate for the kids???  Something...)  Encourage his interests in these areas so he can find pleasure in some of his activities.  Self esteem comes from a cycle of engaging with something, immersing yourself in it ("playing" in it), succeeding, having others notice your success and then engaging some more.  If you're interested, there is a very good description of this cycle in Ned Hallowell's book, "The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness".  (False accolades don't work to build self-esteem.  Only offer praise when it's due.)

You don't mention how he is treating his ADHD.  Things that seem confoundingly simple (like remembering to go to the right ATM) can be improved with good, solid treatment that diminish things like distraction and improve memory.  As I've said elsewhere, that includes physical changes (great exercise program, medications, fish oil. LENs therapy are a few) AND behavioral changes (systems for organizing, remembering, completing).

In my mind, a good way to respond when he says "I can't do anything right" is a combination of sympathy and boundaries/ideas.  So in the ATM case, a "Having ADHD symptoms is not so much fun, you're right.  What ADHD symptoms do you think got in your way this time?  Do you have ideas about how to do it differently next time?"  If he can't come up with some ideas (or isn't open to your contributing some), then he's not really working to address his symptoms and is using ADHD as his excuse.  In this example, he could put a yellow sticky (right then, when the idea comes up) on his ATM card that says "is this the right bank?"  That would remind him to think about where he is next time he pulls out the card.

If he starts to have successes because he's actively trying to change things, then that might encourage him to ask himself the general question - how could I do it better?  (Might even post it near his bed and write down one idea a night about something he wasn't so happy with that day for later use.)

Responding to "I can't do anything right."

Frustrating isn't it? Hubby has done this to me so many times, and I used to just think to myself, well he's already beating himself up so much I don't need to say anything. Over time I saw this just started making me resentful and making him a martyr. I started calling him on it, pointing out something he does well, and then saying, this is just something you need to work on and why.

It often goes, "Now come on, I don't think you really mean that. There are lots of things you do right. You put the dishes away today, you remembered to take your pill, you returned that phone call, but clearly this is something you need to work on because it's costing us money." Usually this is followed by us brainstorming ways he can try to keep this from happening again.

Like someone else mentioned it's also a huge help to thank him or point out things he does well or remembers during the day. Reminding him that he successfully put away the dishes earlier has a lot more impact if you already said "thanks for remembering the dishes" when you noticed he had done it.

This really is one of those frustrations that you can get past. Other ways of calling him on it could be saying, "Do you really think I'm saying you can't do anything right, or just that you made a mistake on this one thing?" "I think that's exaggerating." "I don't beleive that, but I do think you could do better on this issue."

You could also try talking to him about it at a totally separate time. Let him know how frustrating it is when he says that. That you know he might feel that way, but it makes you feel silenced and why.