A Different Take on Emotional Dysregulation with ADHD

Episode 108

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This week Shelly and Cam use a client story as a vehicle to explore emotion and emotional dysregulation. To have ADHD is to have challenges with managing appropriate and measured emotional responses. But that is not all. Emotion is key to the motivation system and developing new awareness and learning (All three barriers).

Cam and Shelly look at emotional dysregulation beyond the term and, in Translating ADHD fashion, dig into a client situation revealing language and dynamics that go far beyond a “failure to regulate”. Shelly shares in detail how her client located advocacy and agency from an emotionally charged interaction and found hope and change. She also shares how one can have strength and sensitivity in any given modality like visual, verbal or emotional.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Shelly: And this is translating ADHD this week. We’re going to build on our blame sponge episode from last week, and really look at this concept of emotional dysregulation. Before I say more about that, a quick reminder, we have a couple of slots still open in our next coaching group, which is on the topic of agency.

That group begins Wednesday, January 19th. And we will meet at 8:30 PM Eastern time for eight weeks. If you are interested in joining this group, visit the website, translating adhd.com. Click on the group coaching tab at the top. And if the application is still available, that means that there are still open slots.

So go ahead and apply. We would love to have you so emotional dysregulation cam, you said something really interesting before we hit record today. And that was that you see this as being similar to the conversation that we’ve had before on procrastination, meaning procrastination is this big umbrella term.

To know that one procrastinates as an ADHD person is not very helpful information. Every one of my clients, I procrastinate. I need help with procrastination, but what’s actually going on. When you look under the hood of procrastination for any given client is all rooted in individual manifestation. It’s so much more complicated than just the word procrastination.

Almost to the point that the word procrastination is useless. We got to know more than just procrastination, then just failing to activate for task. And the more common I do this work, the more we’re seeing that the same is true with emotional dysregulation. It’s helpful to a point to know that.

 Just going that far is not going to help us create change. So over the next several episodes, we’re going to open up the hood on emotional dysregulation and go deeper. Into some of our experiences, some of our client experiences to try and help you listener learn how to be curious in this arena, because like anything else we talk about on this show, there is an opportunity here to be curious and to cultivate some missing self-knowledge that will help inform your change process here. Cam, where do you want to dive? On this topic.

Cam: Well, there’s so many different places and I think your client example is a great one, but before we get to that client example is, yeah, there’s a understand own translate opportunity here. Just like with procrastination, that language, to really move through that first barrier of awareness and learn about.

The cause and effect of what’s happening around. What has you hesitate to get into action? What are you avoiding? Right? That damn acronym. What’s distracting you. What are you avoiding? What might be the missing behavior? And as we work with our clients and we start to move past these stop signs of procrastination or emotional dysregulation, and we start to create some awareness, we start to develop some helpful language.

And that’s the other thing that’s available here? Is that just that we were talking about my client two weeks ago. Of upgrading his language around interacting with his spouse, right. open and honest dialogue being in the trenches together connected. We are less adversarial. It’s helpful. The same thing is available here with emotion.

Emotion is another thing is it’s like one of those giant tasks that can be so hard to break into. So what do we do? We just take it off. Are we rejected at all, right? The blame sponge to pull it in or to reject fully. Cause we’re not really sure what to do there. This is about management. This is about access and emotion is not different from anything else that is managed by the executive function center of the brain.

But if we bring our keen observer. If we get curious, there’s always more here and that’s one of those bigger pieces or principles Of this podcast. If we dig in, we will find something else, something more that is useful, and we can move past that first barrier of awareness. So that’s the other thing here is start to play around with your language, with respect to feelings and emotion, because this is not just about feelings, Shelly.

This is about motivation. That emotion and attention together are so much to do. How we engage, how we take action, motivated to do certain things. Emotion is at play. Right? How often are you saying listener? Ah, what do I feel like doing today? I don’t feel like doing that. Emotions are at play. And so I’m really excited about this because this has been central to our work. So let’s dig in and let’s start with your client because I think it’s a brilliant example and a great place to begin our whole discovery and exploration around emotional dysregulation.

Shelly: So Cam, before I start describing this client’s scenario, I think it’s helpful to step back and talk about the emotional modality.

This client is both gifted and hypersensitive in the emotional modality. So what does this mean on the gifted side? It means that a lot of how he makes meaning. In the world has to do with how he’s feeling his emotions are a big part of what something means. 

Being hypersensitive means that he is very sensitive to both his emotions. And the positive and negative emotions of others. And that is really important information moving into the scenario that we’re going to talk about right now. So early in our coaching relationship, this client described a way of being to me that he wanted to access more frequently.

He calls it eloquent mode. Isn’t that great language? And eloquent mode is when he is showing up with confidence and competence. When there’s quote-unquote motivation at the ready, it feels easier to engage with tasks. He’s having fun learning or tackling difficult projects, something that he enjoys you like a difficult task. He likes to stretch learning, grow. And so. a big part of what he articulated that he wanted from coaching was more of this eloquent mode. I want to be able to show up like this more often because when I’m in this place, I feel like I’m unstoppable.

Cam: I want to just interject something that you said before we started recording here, and that was it. Wasn’t just showing up as competent and confident, but it was a feeling. Of competent and confident. And that’s just an important distinction there because we see how emotion comes into play with mindset. With motivation. It really matters.

Shelly: Particularly for this client being hypersensitive in the emotional modality. So for him, yes. This feels like the difference between. Being capable, being able, being sure in his abilities, being short as a leadership he does lead a team at work being sure in his role at home as husband and father and feeling the exact opposite of those things, feeling incapable incompetent, unable.

Cam: I want to say one more thing about this type of client, because, and I love that you brought in the modality aspect of gifted in the emotional, but also hypersensitive, right? This is a nod to Denslow Brown and her processing modalities, where she brings in strength. In modalities or the way we learn and process information, but she also folds in sensitivities, right?

That you can be gifted, but also have an extreme sensitivity. I liken it to a precise, scientific instrument, like a space telescope, that’s designed to look deep into space, but it’s really sensitive. And many of my clients. I have this presentation to where they’re creatives and they’re having to put their emotion to work. And with that, there is a sensitivity and they are vulnerable to sensitivities and things like RSD.

Shelly: Yeah, Cam. And I think that what’s so brilliant about how Denslow has articulated processing modalities is treating those two scales independently. It is really helpful and informative to look at a scale of competence and then separately look at a scale of sensitivity because as you just said, one person can be both to briefly give another example for those that are maybe struggling to follow.

I am both gifted and hypersensitive in the visual modality. So let’s talk about my giftedness. First. I was a professional organizer for a number of years. I’m really good at spatial arrangement. It’s not something I’ve ever studied or practiced at. It’s just something I’ve always had a knack for, of ranging spaces in an aesthetically pleasing way.

That’s the gifted. The hypersensitive side is that visual clutter for me feels noisy. It’s like visual. Clutter is mental clutter. I am very hypersensitive to visual noise. And so for my environment to work well for me, I need to reduce or eliminate visual clutter in order to attend to that hypersensitive.

Cam: And so that hypersensitivity means that we can have an emotional response to that situation that may not be helpful, right. Or take us offline. And with your client, there were certain situations where he was sensitive to inputs or stimuli that would knock him out of eloquent mode.

Shelly: Exactly. And this could happen at work or at home, but where it was most devastating was at home because. This client’s partnership has everything to him. He loves and adores his partner and his kids and how his partner feels about him matters so much to him. It’s everything to him. And so when he and his partner would have a TIFF have an argument and he feels.

As though he was being told he was incompetent. He felt as though he was being rejected in some way or a really important one. He felt as though his feelings about the situation were not being heard or taken into account because as it turns out his partner, maybe on the weak side of the emotional modality, So his partner doesn’t make meaning by way of emotion, the same way he does.

But prior to realizing that having his emotions discounted by his partner who just not only knocked him out of eloquent mode, knocked him right down into the valley for an extended stay days, maybe weeks in some cases. 

Cam: Yeah. And so his thinking was I got to lead with this eloquent road, right?

Shelly: Yeah. So he comes to coaching and he’s trying to figure out how to access eloquent mode. More frequently how to lead there, because if I can get into eloquent mode and stay there, I’m unstoppable. If I can inoculate myself against my emotional reactions and just stay in this eloquent mode, boy I’d be able to do anything.

And so we worked at eloquent mode both directly and indirectly over the course of a few months of coaching. It’s always being aware of what’s going on with it frequently talking about it often not working on it as a direct topic, but being curious about how the work we were doing was impacting his ability to access eloquent mode.

And we were discovering more and more. We couldn’t really predict eloquent mode. Even if we put the right ingredients into play, you know, a certain subset of self-care practices that make this client feel really good, a certain set of tasks that this client feels confident and competent in tackling that didn’t necessarily mean.

Eloquent mode would follow. So you see what he was trying to do is like let’s set up the stuff. I know that I feel good at, the self-care stuff. He’s got a very physical exercise regime. He loves to push himself there or work. Let’s set myself up by starting with what I know I’m good at what I feel sure about and then move into what I’m less sure about and see if that.

Kicks it off and still really wildly unpredictable results. And so just a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about eloquent mode in particularly talking about another conversation with his partner that left him in a bad place. And that conversation led to how to have advocacy and agents. In those situations, meaning the current situation was that a contentious conversation would happen and he would react one of two ways.

He’d either blow up or he’d shut down. He felt unable to converse in this place. And that makes sense. My therapist uses a really helpful phrase here. Called a flooding when you’re in that fight, flight or freeze place, when your body is flooded with adrenaline, you cannot have a constructive conversation from that place and hence blowing up or shutting down.

And so the next time this happened, He had a different experience. He was able to pause long enough to recognize that this is where this conversation is headed. If I don’t do something different and then he was able to advocate for himself. “Hey, I do want to talk about this. I’m not able to do that right now.”

Can we please come back to this? Having a different experience right now, did that magically generate eloquent mode? No, it didn’t on the heels of this conversation. He realized another thing. Meaning man, all this time I’ve been looking for eloquent mode as a way to activate for task. If I have eloquent mode and I can activate, but recounting this different experience. He started to question. Hmm. Rather than trying to build eloquent mode first, can I start on a task and find eloquent mode? Really interesting question there. 

Cam: I love listening to this story. And I want to go back to where the ADHD may be coming into play. Our listeners are like, wait a second. This is a coaching podcast. This is an ADHD podcast. What does this have to do with ADHD? What does this have to do with me? That moment of our emotional response?

And you get into a situation. We have triggers. We have stimuli that comes in. And right there, he either blows up or shuts down. And so the amount of the blow up, intensity of our response with ADHD, is it a matter of regulation? Hence back to the topic today of emotional dysregulation, we struggle with regulating an appropriate response, right?

So, finding the appropriate emotional response is the ADHD dilemma. This is controlled by the prefrontal cortex and our executive function center. And so in that situation, we will either blow up and go really big and intense. And then that intensity stays there. As you said, he could be in this place, a negative place for hours, days.

I’ve had clients who were, I have a blood with their spouse and it creates this just impossible mode or mindset. What’s the point, right? That emotion then informs our narrative, which informs our context.

Shelly: Exactly, Cam, this is what you would call, collapsed, distinctions. All of those distinctions, just collapse into this story of I’m not being successful. My partner doesn’t see me as successful. No matter what I do. My partner is not happy with me as a person. This client sometimes questions does my partner even like me, despite knowing she does in this place, does my partner value anything about me? And if this person doesn’t like or value anything about me, what is the point? So completely discounting or not even accessing all of the ways in which this client is being successful every day. Has been really successful in his career has been successful as a husband and a father.

All of that goes out the window and it is replaced by this story of failure and impossibility. It is impossible to have a different experience here. What’s the point why bother to chain? Nothing’s changing anyway.

Cam: And I was just want to come back to it’s this dynamic here, you could say like, well, it’s the spouse’s problem, and it’s not necessarily the spouse is problem. Right? The spouse is bringing an aggravation. It might be fed up by, you know, he said he was going to do something.

He didn’t do it. And that’s one of those invisible things. With ADHD. It’s like, here’s a capable guy. Why isn’t he being capable in this timestamp moment right now? And that frustration comes out. And again, the thing that happens with us is we take that data and we will supersize. Right. We will make it more than it is more intense.

This is why we get rejection-sensitive dysphoria responses is because we take that rejection or purse. This is rejection. This is invalidation, right. I’m being rejected right now. Part of it’s, the rejection part of it is a perceived rejection, an important thing there. And coming back to. When hope leaves the room, This is why emotion is so valuable in effective ADHD management. You can’t have motivation and agency and purpose without emotion, without positive emotion. And if hope leaves the room and you’re left with hopelessness, then we go to this deepest, darkest valley. Place or we’ve talked about the pool and the deep end of the,

Shelly: Cam, I love that you say this sounds like a problem of the spouse because outside looking in, it could sound like that his spouse is just too hard on him or conversely, maybe he deserves it. Again, the black and white all or nothing. Thinking in those statements when the truth is the reality is somewhere in the middle. And here’s why we’ll remind your listeners. We call this show, translating ADHD for a reason. it is not easy for people who do not have these brains to really comprehend what it’s like to walk around and perceive the world through ADHD.

So one of the really interesting things about this recent conversation with this client was talking explicitly about the emotional modality and his realizing that his spouse was likely on the weaker side of competence in that modality. Now, does that make him right and her wrong? No. What it does mean is they make meaning differently.

So when he leads, particularly when he’s flooded and in that fight, flight or freeze and leads with wanting to talk about how this makes him feel, that does not make sense to her brain necessarily. That’s not at the forefront of this conflict for her. And if both people in the room are hyped up on adrenaline, you can’t tease that apart, but guess what you can do.

So he back to how this story ends. He advocated for himself and asked for a pause and got it. And then she came back and they were able to discuss. Now is that the end of the road? There never have a bumpy conversation again, of course not. I think to be in a relationship is to have bumps and bumpy conversations, but they’re dialoguing in this new way of, this is how I perceive this.

This is how my brain works. This is what works for me. This is what I need in these moments. Alright. So do you see how in advocating for himself and having some agency putting himself in the picture in that moment long enough to advocate for an ask for that pause that then created space for this conversation later, I would argue that’s a form of eloquent mode. That’s what my client was looking for. But what he thought he needed was to have eloquent mode. First, I need eloquent mode to activate for task. I need eloquent mode to navigate these difficult conversations. When it turns out sometimes activating for the hard thing, first will bring eloquent modal.

Sometimes it won’t sometimes the activates for the hard thing. And guess what? Emotional dysregulation enters the picture. There’s storytelling about that. And his. In capability or in competence there that we need to then pick apart and do some work around. But the more we do that, the more likely it is that he can activate for the hard thing.

The thing that doesn’t come easy to him, or he can activate for the difficult conversation, trying to show up in a new way, having agency and advocating for himself, an eloquent mode shows. As a product of having a different experience there.

Cam: This is, so this is such a rich start to this topic around emotional management and emotional dysregulation. And so listeners, think you also illustrated here. This recognition of emotion at work right back to acceptance owning that, okay, this is how this can play out. Feeling matters. I need to have a feeling of confidence and competence, and also that these are the things that take me offline. The sense of invalidation or hopelessness. So listeners start to think about emotion, and getting to that safe place in the pool first, to get to that safety place.

We’ve talked about getting some awareness on emotions that. And if you struggle to do this yourself to do it with someone else, be it professional or a spouse or a friend but also to look at it much like a lot of these other things we talk about, we started with procrastination to get curious about what’s at play there.

The same thing with. And your feelings of how they inform your narrative, how they inform, how you look at your day. There’s so much focus Shelly on time management and task management emotion. Is it play? This is the big thing. That’s an add land right now. And this is why we’re focusing on this. The next couple of episodes.

Shelly: And listeners, if you, like this client, feel your emotion acutely, but are maybe not aware of what stories are happening behind that emotion what’s causing this emotion. Why am I feeling this way? What am I believing about myself right now? Try articulating to someone else. In our self care coaching group, a couple of weeks ago, one of our participants was so surprised at the power of just articulating, just hearing the words out loud and getting them out of her head. So give that a shot. ‘ cause I can’t tell you in topics like these, where there’s big feelings, big emotions. When my client starts to articulate how surprised they are at some of the things that come out of their mouth and B oftentimes how absurd they find some of the things they’re saying, there’s this turning point where it turns from this big, heavy thing to laughter because. They hear this building stories, starting from this one event, all the way up to failure and in articulating it out loud, they can appreciate the absurdity in it. And that’s really powerful. So if you’re in our discord server, that’s a great place to try this on. Again, trusted friends, family member, somebody, that you can talk to who will just hold the space and let.

So listeners, if you like what we’re doing here on the show. A couple of big ways that you can help us out. The first is don’t keep us a secret, share us on social, share us with others. You know, who have ADHD. Number two, leave a rating or review wherever you listen. This helps other people find our show and lets other people know why we’re different than the other content.

And finally, you can financially support us by becoming a patron, visit the website, translating adhd.com, click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner. And for $5 a month, you are helping cam and I cover 100% of the costs of running the show, which means that we can keep bringing this content to you every week, because you are paying for editing and for our assistance so that we can focus on this good work in bringing you these episodes. You also gain access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own, understand, own and translate work. So until next week, I’m Shelly, and this was translating ADHD. Thanks for listening.

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