The ADHD Solutions Blog

They're Not Controlling You, They're Controlling Themselves

Here's a terrific article by Dr. Ari Tuckman,  renowned author and ADHD specialist:

People with ADHD often feel others are trying to control them.  This includes family members, romantic partners, bosses, coworkers and friends.  Why won't they just get off your back? Don't they have anything better to do?

Attempts to exert control can be obvious, like when your spouse bans you from the checkbook, or more subtle, such as unsolicited advice.  I assume these actions are well intentioned, but that doesn't make them fun when you're on the receiving end.  So why are these people in your life so often trying to influence what you do?  Are they control freaks?  Do they enjoy bossing you around?

When I speak with family members and romantic partners of people with ADHD, I often find they're really trying to control their own anxiety.  They feel nervous when the bills aren't paid or when there's a lot of clutter.  They get on your case hoping to make themselves feel better by removing whatever's making them anxious or uncomfortable.  They don't intend to make you miserable, even when that's what happens.

There are two ways to deal with uncomfortable situations - external and internal anxiety management.  External anxiety management requires that you change the world around you to eliminate the source of the discomfort.  If your spouse is worried about late fees, she will ask you... repeatedly... to pay the bills.  Once the bills are paid, she doesn't need to worry about it any more.  Problem solved. However, while this works well in some situations, it doesn't work well in every case.

External anxiety management breaks down in situations that can't be resolved, or not immediately.  For example, you can't pay bills while you're driving.  We all encounter many situations where we must wait before acting.  The other potential problem is that being too insistent can strain the relationship.  Nagging may get the job done, but nobody is happy about it.  This is common when one person in a couple or family has ADHD - the non-ADHD person does a lot of reminding/nagging, and it's rarely appreciated.

By contrast, internal anxiety management is finding a way to be comfortable with something in your life that you don't have as much control over as you would want.  For example, the spouse without ADHD can decide that she will stop worrying over the occasional late fee because it isn't worth all the fighting.  She's not happy about the late fees, but she recognizes that being upset about them is making her miserable and ruining the relationship.  She decides to let this one go (for the most part) and focus her energy on things she is more likely to affect positively. For people with ADHD, this means that, although it can look like these other people are trying to control you, they're really just trying to control their own anxiety - using external anxiety management.  It may or may not be effective, but it probably causes more bad feelings than either one of you would want.

Usually, the best scenario is a balanced internal and external approach.  In therapy with a couple or family where one person (or more) has ADHD, I tackle the situation from both sides.  I try to help the person with ADHD be more consistent and reliable, so the other person indeed has less to worry about. But I also work with the non-ADHD person to learn ways to manage his or her anxiety internally. The non-ADHD spouse can reduce anxiety by picking battles that really matter, and tolerating things that aren't worth a battle.  By working it from both sides, there's less conflict and both parties can better deal with all the usual stuff that comes up in relationships, as well as the unusual stuff that comes up in couples where someone has ADHD!

The next time you're feeling controlled, remember that the other person may just be trying to control his or her own anxiety.  This might help you take a step back, calm down and deal with the situation more productively.  Of course, if you find yourself doing the controlling, consider whether an internal anxiety management strategy might give better results.

. . . . . . . .

Dr. Ari Tuckman is the Vice President of ADDA.  He is a psychologist in private practice in West Chester, PA.  His second book, More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD will be available in May 2009.

How to get out the door on time

All sorts of things conspire against our efforts to get out the door on time in the morning:  inability to estimate how long it takes to get ready, losing track of time, getting distracted, forgetting things that need to be done or gathered, etc.  Here are some strategies to improve your defense:

  • Create a morning schedule with “mini-deadlines”.  Figure out what you need to do in the morning, and when you need to be done with each thing.  For example, maybe your teeth need to be brushed by 7:30, you need to be out of the shower by 8:00, and your hair needs to be done by 8:15.  Having a checklist may help.  You can download a sample from the Resources page on my web site,
  • Check the time frequently.  Keep clocks or timers where you can see them – in the shower, at the sink, near the breakfast table.  Are you on track?  If not, you’ll need to move faster, fight harder to avoid distractions, or skip a step in your routine. Many people find that simply being aware of what time it is and where they are on the schedule helps them stay on task.
  • Adjust your routine.  If you find you’re consistently behind schedule, identify where you’re getting off track. You may need to allow more time for that item in your schedule.   That may also mean skipping something else on the list, getting up earlier, or preparing the night before.
  • Keep your keys, gloves, etc. by the door so you can grab them quickly when it’s time to leave.  Collect the things you need to take with you ahead of time (lunch, backpacks, etc.) and put them by the door too.
  • Don’t do anything not related to getting ready, like going on line for “just a minute” or throwing in a load of laundry.
  • Build extra time into the schedule for unexpected emergencies like cleaning up spills or printing the directions you forgot about.  If your morning is drama free, reward yourself by relaxing a little.  Or leave early.
  • Get enough sleep so you don’t hit the snooze button more times than you’ve scheduled, and you aren’t too groggy to focus.

A consistent, realistic routine is your best ally for reducing your morning chaos and getting where you need to be on time.

ADHD Coach credentialing is finally here!

Until today, no independent credentialing existed for ADHD Coaches that have been practicing for less than five years.  The closest thing out there was Life Coaching certification.  While Life Coaching and ADHD Coaching have a lot in common, there is one fundamental difference:  Life Coaches aren't supposed to solve problems.  Clients are seen as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.  Life Coaches help people find their own answers.  Which is wonderful, and I do that a lot.  But ADHD Coaching by definition includes education and recommending solutions.   I know a very prominent ADHD Coach who actually failed the ICF certification exam because she solved a problem for a client!  That's a real conflict.   I opted not to pursue Life Coach certification because  I feel it would be unethical to withhold advice from a client in order to get certified.  And being in business for three years, there was no other credential available to me. Today, my problem has been solved.  The Institute for the Advancement of ADHD Coaching (IAAC) announced the launch of the only ADHD credentialing program available to ADHD coaches internationally.   This is the culmination of five years of effort from some of the top names in the ADHD Coaching industry.  They began a pilot of their credentialing program about a year ago by offering a Senior Certified ADHD Coach designation for coaches with five or more years of experience. From their web site:

The mission of the IAAC is to advance the field of AD/HD coaching through the development and delivery of credentialing and certification for AD/HD coaches worldwide, in pursuit of excellence in our profession.

The Institute for the Advancement of AD/HD Coaching (IAAC) has been formed to define, protect the integrity of, and support the profession of AD/HD coaching in the world and to provide continuing education, credentialing, certification and ethical standards for AD/HD coaching.

I'll be applying for the credential in the next week or so since I meet all the criteria.  It's a very rigrorous process that involves an oral exam, a written exam, and verification of my coaching experience and education.   It'll take several months to complete.  So wish me luck, and keep watching this site for more good news!

Beware of wolves in coach's clothing

I recently enrolled in a six month program with a marketing coach.   I was very excited about the combination of marketing expertise and coaching.  As a trained and experienced coach myself, I expected this to be an individualized, supportive partnership that would be focused on my needs.   I would have someone to guide me, help me focus my efforts, help me figure out where I’m stuck, uncover self limiting beliefs, keep me motivated and hold me accountable.  And, of course, I'd be able to tap into her extensive knowledge of marketing. Boy was I disappointed.

Coaching is a popular concept these days.  And because coaching does not require a license, anyone can use the term. What I got from this person turned out to be more like a series of audio books with email support.  A canned set of tips and techniques “that have worked for thousands of people”.   Her approach was basically, "Read these 34 documents and email me with questions".  Yes, the information was good, but it was overwhelming.  I already knew most of it and I couldn't figure out where to start with the rest. It wasn't coaching. Coaching is so much more than skills instruction.  A coach reaches out to where you are right now, and leads you to where you want to be.  Coaching is personally relevant.  Probing.  Thought-provoking.  Creative.  It's about about getting into action. According to the International Coach Federation:

"Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach's job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has."

I have lots of experience, insight and knowledge about ADHD. Part of my job is to educate you, yes. But mostly my job is to get you to use that information.  To apply it to your own unique situation.  To find solutions that work for you.  To get you to change.  Apparently, not everyone works this way.

Lesson learned:  Just because someone calls herself a coach doesn't mean she IS a coach.

If you're in the market for a coach, make sure you and the prospective coach are in agreement on what the term means.  Don't make any assumptions.  Coaches love questions, so don't be afraid to ask.

Thankfully, I had negotiated a satisfaction guarantee with this "coach" and was able to get out of my contract.   Others in her program probably weren't so lucky, or may have left with a really bad idea of what coaching is all about.   I wish I had some way to let them know what coaching really is.

Predicting attention-related errors before they happen

I just read a really interesting article about new research that could affect future ADHD treatment.  According to the article, scientists can now see distinct changes in brain wave activity just BEFORE an attention-related mistake is about to occur.

The study, conducted by the University of California, Davis, and the Donders Institute in the Netherlands, was published last week. The study participants sat at a computer for an hour with random numbers flashing onto the screen every two seconds.  The subjects were instructed to tap a button when any number except five appeared.  40% of the time, they hit the button when they weren't supposed to, which was to be expected because of the repetitive nature of the test.  Using MEG (magnetoencephalography) technology, the researchers witnessed changes in brain wave activity about a second before each of the errors occurred.

Researcher Ali Mazaheri suggested that this discovery could lead to new treatments for ADHD.  "Instead of watching behavior — which is an imprecise measure of attention — we can monitor these alpha waves, which tell us that attention is waning. And that can help us design therapies as well as evaluate the efficacy of various treatments, whether it's training or drugs."

Here is a link to the full article:

Spring Wellness Seminar

I'll be one of three presenters at the Spring Wellness Seminar on Saturday April 4  at the Dulles South Community Center in South Riding, VA.  Here's the lineup:

  • Positive Practice

Maybe you are worried about finances. Or your work environment isn’t encouraging. Or at home you find yourself snapping at others when you don’t really mean to. It’s easy to be negative, sarcastic, cynical, or even just plain down in the dumps. Being positive is a skill - not something we either have or we don’t. Learn ways to overcome negative habits and reshape our thoughts, words and behavior to create a healthy, positive atmosphere.

AJ Ikner is a classical musician, new mom and a YogaFit trained instructor who has been practicing yoga since 1998. She is the owner of the AJYOGA studio in South Riding.


  • If You Could ‘Just Do It’ You’d Be Done By Now

You've been putting off the Big Project for way longer than you want to admit. Now is the time to get past the anxiety, uncertainty, and whatever else has been keeping you from getting it done.    In this workshop, you will get motivated, create an action plan, and come away with the tools you need to get going – and accomplish your goal! Participants are asked to bring a topic to work on. (Here are a few examples:  organize your basement, remodel your kitchen, start a business, change careers, go back to school.)

Beth Prosser is an ADHD & Life coach.  She helps adults as well as teens clarify and achieve their personal, professional, and/or academic goals.


  • Self-Healing with Reiki

Reiki is a simple, natural method of energy healing that was developed in Japan and is used to promote overall health and well-being. Many people use Reiki to restore balance, reduce stress and anxiety, release pain from headaches, backaches, and stomach aches, improve insomnia, and for addressing emotional and mental issues. Reiki can be practiced as a form of self-care or be received from a Reiki practitioner as a complement to all other medical and therapeutic practices. The practice and benefits of Reiki will be briefly discussed and a method for self-healing will be shared

Liz Holcomb is a certified Reiki Master-Teacher in the Usui Shiki Ryoho Tradition. She practices and teaches Reiki in Leesburg, Virginia.

The cost for the seminar is $25.00.  Sign up on the AJYOGA web site at, under "Special Events".

Get it in writing

Memory problems can cause tremendous frustration for those of us with ADHD and the people who depend on us.  You never know when your memory is going to fail you.  So you should write down everything you need to remember, no matter how sure you are that you won’t forget.

When people ask you to do something for them, if you can’t do it right away, have them write it down for you.  Ask them to send you a follow-up email or put it on your calendar or white board for you.  Make it common knowledge that if it isn’t written down in one of the places you check regularly, it isn’t going to happen.  Eventually, people will get into the habit of asking you where they should write things down.

Don’t think of it as an imposition. By insisting that requests be made in writing, you’re actually helping people. You’re increasing the odds that they will get what they need, by giving you what you need.

Turning Monolog into Dialog

Many thanks  to the Harrisburg Adults with ADHD Support Group for their warm response to my ADHD and Relationship/Social Issues presentation on Wednesday night.  There was a record turnout and wonderful audience participation!  We discussed strategies for about eighteen common issues.  Monologuing is one of them. Sometimes we get so engrossed in what we’re talking about that we go on for far longer than we intended – and far longer than our audience can stay interested.  We feel driven to fully express our thoughts before they escape.  The other person doesn’t have a chance to speak.  This usually has a negative effect on our listeners, and ultimately, our relationships. Monologuing is an ADHD behavior that many people aren’t even aware they have.  If you suspect it might be a factor in your interpersonal difficulties, here are some pointers.

  • Consider your audience when deciding how much detail to get into.   If you're really into cars, but the people you're talking to are not, just tell them you drive an Audi (or whatever) and let it go at that.
  • Practice becoming aware of how long you've been talking.   Noticing is the first step to making change.
  • Practice "bottom lining", or getting right to the point.  Is all that background information really important?
  • Insert deliberate pauses into your speech.  Say a few sentences, then stop for a second. That way if anyone has something to add, they have a chance.
  • Look for indication that your audience is still with you.  Are they smiling, nodding, asking questions?
  • Ask a friend in advance to redirect the conversation if you’ve gone on for too long.  Or agree on a way he or she can signal you.

Some of these skills may need to be learned because they don’t come naturally.  Try practicing them alone, role play with a friend, or experiment in easy situations like talking with a sales person.  That way, you'll be prepared the next time you find yourself monologuing. I've been talking for long enough now, so it's time to close.  Make it a dialog by posting a comment to let me know what you think!  I'd love to hear from you.

Join me on March 11 for a presentation on ADHD and Relationships / Social Issues

I’ll be conducting a presentation on ADHD and Relationships/Social Issues at the next Harrisburg Adults with ADHD Support Group meeting.

The presentation will be interactive: I’ll review the issues, suggest strategies, and facilitate group discussion so that everyone can share their insight and perspective.

The meeting will be held on Wednesday March 11, 2009 at 6:00, at the East Shore Library.   As always, there’s no cost to attend.

Visit the Harrisburg Area ADHD Support Group’s web page for more information about the group.

Another coaching success

It's a bittersweet evening. Another client has achieved all of his coaching goals, and it's time to say goodbye.

I'm happy and sad at the same time.  Grateful to his family for allowing me to be part of their lives for the past seven months.  Excited for what his future holds.  Proud of us both for a job well done.  I'm going to miss him.

All of my clients enrich my life.  They show me new ways of thinking and solving problems.  Each of them brings his or her own unique perspective on ADHD and its challenges.  I learn a lot from them. This particular young man is going to go far in life.  He's intellectually and musically gifted.  His family is loving and supportive.  He goes to an excellent school.  He's creative, ambitious.  The only thing that was holding him back was his ADHD.  And now he's gotten past that.  He's getting straight A's in school, beat his procrastination habit, developed consistent daily routines, is staying organized, and knows how to plan his days and avoid distractions.

He's going to fly.


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