“Imagine you were attacked by a bear (and survived). Your body would involuntarily go into a state of vigilance (that would make it harder to focus on other things). Now, imagine you were attacked by a bear again. You would likely go into a state called hyper-vigilance. Hyper-vigilance is where you really struggle for focus because so much of your brain is scanning for risk."
- Johann Hari, “Stolen Focus”
Attacked by a Bear
Most people with ADHD I have encountered are hyper-vigilant. As kids they may have been bullied, told they were lazy or bad, struggled with things that seem easy to others. They may have had an alcoholic parent, or a chronically distracted parent unable to help them feel fully loved. They may have been smart but unable to focus academically. Kids with ADHD are often the victims of criticism, anger and heartbreak. And, yes, they struggle to focus.
The resulting hyper-vigilance (or hyper-arousal) results in being easily overwhelmed by emotion. If every little thing seems as if it might be a threat, and your brain creates lots of emotions (as ADHD brains do), it’s easy for the emotions to take over. Fast.
It would be easy to suggest that partners of those with ADHD should make it their job to create a ‘safe’ environment to calm ADHD hyper-vigilance. But that would be too simplistic and does not get at the fact that not only is hyper-vigilance about input, but also that hyper-vigilance comes from inside, and is caused by trauma.
Until you can start to heal that trauma, it’s hard to address the triggering. One of the best ways to deal with trauma is EMDR therapy, as well as EFT. But even if those modes of therapy aren’t available, a professional that can help you explore the emotional injuries that you carry around can be a big help.
Would you consider therapy to heal your inner trauma?
➤ For those who celebrate, I wish you a peaceful and loving Hanukkah.
Resources For those in relationships impacted by ADHD
ADHD Effect In-Depth Couples' Seminar - Is your relationship in trouble? My highly acclaimed 9-session Zoom seminar has helped many couples thrive in healthier, happier relationships. Registration open for seminar starting February 2024.