Big Signal Emotions with ADHD: Shame

Episode 109

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This week we return to our exploration of big signal emotions as we dig into shame. Shame is no stranger for those of us living with ADHD. Shame is often the root of many downstream emotional responses, like imposter syndrome and rejection sensitivity. As one walks through the world with an invisible disability like ADHD, one can see how shame can manifest. Cam and Shelly discuss how years of dismissal and rejection, deliberate and not, and years of struggling to explain or account for the unexplainable, plant the seeds of shame. Cam and Shelly share how factors like isolation, fear and trauma will contribute to the development of shame and how ADHD and emotional dysregulation heighten a shame response.

The First Barrier of ADHD is the barrier to new awareness. Emotions like shame, and blame in a previous episode, can cloud our judgment, disrupt our own agency and take us offline down some negative emotional rabbit hole (or one of our Valley experiences). When we explore emotions in a safe and curious way, locate a supportive community and bring new language to our emotional experiences we can start to dissolve the effects of emotions like shame.

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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 continue our series on emotions, talking about shame before we dive in a quick announcement that our agency group coaching class is now. But next week we will be announcing the next course, which will begin looking like early April. And that course will be our project X offering.

So stay tuned next week for more details on that or watch the website, translating adhd.com and click on group coaching. cam shame you and I know nothing about shame, right? never felt shameful. 

Cam: No, nothing at all. 

Shelly: Boy, do I wish that were true. So where are we jumping in around shame?

Cam: So two weeks ago, we were talking about blame, right? The blame sponge, or that Teflon of rejecting blame and looking at emotion and how they generate big signal responses. So we’re going to keep with that, right? We’re going to keep going in this direction of looking at these big negative emotions and how they can impact what we’re trying to do.

Right. And we’ve talked about how big emotional responses will impact our ability to create awareness. And it’s those three barriers especially barrier one and barrier, three of awareness and learning and how emotions can really disrupt that ability to come back to what’s going on and where can I create agency and an opportunity for positive change.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts on emotion and trauma and rejection sensitivity. And I just want to, I want to come back to something that we talked about in the last couple of episodes. I equated emotion like procrastination, and I want to be really clear with listeners.

I’m not putting them in the same category in the sense that the way that we avoid doing a task is much like our emotional experience and emotional regulation. What I meant by that is that it is often a stop sign phenomenon. We have this language that we’re given that we’re provided and.

For avoidance or getting into tasks, it’s like this current response. Well, I procrastinated. And what does that do for us? It doesn’t do much. It doesn’t allow for curiosity or keen observer move and explore around that. And so we’ve talked a lot about. Avoidance distractability missing behaviors in that damn acronym. And with emotional dysregulation, it’s another term that kind of doesn’t give us a lot of points forward, right? Oh I don’t manage emotions and I think it’s, it’s important that we recognize that emotional regulation is connected to ADHD. Absolutely. But what we’re doing here is really exploring emotion beyond just this challenge around regulation.

And as we do so, Shelly, we get to these nuanced signals. We’ve made distinctions about the big signal response and nuance signals. You know, what’s a fascinating thing is that I’ve been very interested in emotion over the last couple of years and so much. I presented at the bigly bigly ADHD conference, because I can’t tell you what it’s called, but it’s the big one on emotion for the last couple of years. And yet in the last year, my thinking around emotion has evolved tremendously. And so like, what’s that. What’s that about is that I’ve been overcoming those barriers around awareness and learning. There’s more there, The thing I think that listeners are appreciating. And when we look at ADHD and all the challenges associated with it is that as we dig in, there’s always more to be revealed.

And I think that’s this sort of. Oh, well, I have rejection sensitivity, or I have a lot of blame and it’s this sort of, it just stops us in our tracks. And we want to encourage you that, you know what, you can do some safe exploration here around emotion, around these other issues of add and find these, textures and the nuance that is there.

Because ATD strips that away with all or nothing. Big signal hyper-focus flooding. It’s really hard to see the nuance and the opportunity for change. So today we’re going to start, look at shame over the weekend. were going to look at rejection sensitivity, but then we thought, what contributes to rejection. And your statement, I think, was so profound. What you said a couple of weeks ago of to walk this world with ADHD is to walk through being misunderstood. And I think that that’s a place to really begin. You know, How do we get shame on board? So do you want to start there? Like, how do we get shame onboard?

Because shame is a really big emotion. It’s something that we with ADHD struggle with.

Shelly: Shame is something that we will come face to face with with every single client that I work with, whether it’s at the forefront and for a lot of my new clients, it is, or whether it’s somewhere in the background, it’s there and it’s informing.

And that’s a great question, cam. How do we develop shame? Is ADHD people. We start receiving negative messages from a young age, often from people who mean well, people who want to help people who are confused by our behavior. So let’s talk about my own experience there for me. My parents, both working class people, very high work ethics.

Both of them always would do what it took to put food on the table, even when that meant work, that they weren’t interested in, or didn’t like circumstances. They weren’t happy with. And I was a really confusing child to them because they saw this child that was so smart and who breezed through elementary school. It breeze through.

It was so easy. I got everything right away. I got good grades. I got a lot of notes on my report card for talking in class and being disruptive. So there starts the negative signals. I was punished a lot in class for that, but my schoolwork was good. It was consistent. I was learning. I was doing well. I had a lot of external support there.

Number one, back when I was in elementary school, there wasn’t that much homework. Number two, my parents had a homework routine for me. When I got home from school, it was homework first and then on to other things. But then I get to middle school and all of a sudden, instead of one class, I’ve got seven classes to keep track of.

And I’m responsible for knowing the due dates for assignments and each class, my grades go from A’s and the occasional bead to CS with the threat of DS. Oftentimes not because I don’t understand the material, but because I’m not turning in my work. No, my mom would look at me and say, you’re so smart, but so lazy.

You hear the value judgment there.

Cam: Oh, my goodness.

Shelly: And both of my parents are morning people. So my struggle to wake up in the morning. Oh man. I could have a whole conversation with someone first thing in the morning. If my mom woke me up. Oh yeah, I’m awake and we’d talk and I wouldn’t actually be awake. I’d go right back to sleep. I would fall right back asleep and into hard sleep. Not remembering that I had been awake at all. My mom used to call me lazy bones. Why can’t you get up? Come on. The early bird gets the worm, right? So can you see like how this starts to inform how I see myself and so cam I think this is a great point for you to talk about.

The dismissal that happens on the other side of these interactions. And I’m going to turn that over to you because that’s your noticing and concept. And it’s so, so brilliant. So on my side, I’m getting these messages from my parents, from my teachers. You’re so intelligent. If you just applied yourself, if you just wrote it down, if you were just a little more organized, if you just started sooner, if you just woke up earlier and meanwhile, I don’t know why.

I can’t just, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. I know. I can’t just, but I don’t know anything more than that.

Cam: Yeah, so, this is fascinating judgment on behavior.

And this dismissal, it’s a complex package I was doing some research around trauma around shame. And there’s some key elements that are at play. Number one is we’re social animals, right? Humans are social beings who need connection, who need valid. The sense of connection and belonging.

So it’s so interesting. And Shelly, something very similar happened with me too is again, I think it happens with a lot of people when you go from lower school where you’ve got one teacher, one place, one cubbyhole to, you know, six classes and six teachers. And, you know, I was, it was the late seventies in Baltimore and it was an open class.

Experimentation right. With three different classrooms and lots of different noise. Yeah. You talk about the, visual sensitivity, right? So I’m gifted in the auditory, but I’m also hypersensitive in the audio. And so just sounds are just pulling my attention. So I’m trying to cobble together attention and track things, and there’s just so many multiple inputs.

So it’s that dismissal number one, the dismissal of our experience. it’s a fascinating human phenomenon in that humans need to see direct debit. and it’s ADHD as it presents to a neuro-typical individual is a real stumper. I here as a bright individual. And why can’t you be bright and competent? All the time, it’s this judgment around consistency and performance. And so when we don’t have an answer for that, what we do is dismiss right back in the old days, ostracizing, like we’re just going to place you out over here, that dismissal, plus our inability to articulate our experience.

Those two together, create this seed of shame that builds over time.

And let’s just distinguish shame from guilt. I think we’ve said this before, right? Guilt is I made a mistake where shame is more of, I am the mistake and you can see how we can supersize any emotion supersize.

It opened up that emotional response, black and white thing. It’s that all thing like we did with the blame, it’s all of the blame. And so shame is a supersized form of guilt. I am the mistake. And that starts again with Just a little seed where we are being constantly dismissed. we’re hearing negative messages, and that’s the reporting, the negative messages, but what is it to be dismissed? Listener? What is it to be dismissed? How do you feel when you’re dismissed? Invalid? And you don’t have a way to articulate what is going on. It’s a double edge sword that lays the foundation for shame.

Shelly: Cam you talk about us being social creatures. So let’s double down on my middle school experience here. Not only was I experiencing trouble with my schooling, I was experiencing a lot of social trouble as well. I was made fun of for being too loud. Any other ADHD people out here, some of my clients find this to be true when you’re trying really hard to focus on something.

We’re watching TV. You turn the volume way up and you keep turning it up. And then all of a sudden you realize that the TV is a noxious really loud. I do that with my voice too. I get excited about something. I raise my voice. You all have heard my laugh a thousand times on this podcast. It’s loud. It’s praying it’s enthusiastic.

And I’ve always been that way. Plus I had some issues with skin picking. And other things that othered me in middle school. So not only was I being dismissed on an academic level, on a performance level, it was being dismissed on a social level as well. And again, no words to articulate this to anyone, my parents cared, they wanted to help.

They were concerned about the fact that I was being bullied to a pretty significant degree. But I didn’t have the words to articulate my experience nor did I really understand my experience. It’s like, if everybody else thinks I’m the weird one, I must be the weird one. That just must be true.

Cam: I love that language around other did myself. Because what is the middle school and high school experiences to be accepted is right about fitting in. And so you can see where rejection, right? The seeds of rejection and rejection sensitivity come from is this inability to articulate what is going on and constantly being dismissed. And I want to come to just human behavior for a second. We talk about collapsing of distinctions. There’s a collapsed distinction here that I see in the neuro-typical world is your experience is my observation. I see well-intended professionals who are in the field of ADHD, who come from this. And this is where I really get frustrated. This is, I was joking about emotional regulation. This is why I’m here with you. Shelly is to cut through, get to the truth of the matter. So back in 1991, I saw ADHD really for the first time. And that was when I took some kids on a 14 hour van. From Baltimore to Western, North Carolina for two weeks out in the woods. And two of the parents decided to give their kids a medication vacation. And I saw these kids unmedicated in the back of the van and they were the hyperactive disruptive kid. And so that’s easy because you can see it. I was observing it. It was easy to see that observation and the disruption and why there’s been such a lag around the entity tentative or again, considering what is the person’s experience. Could it be more than my own observation, right? Because you go to this observation and then there’s this prescription of You have emotional dysregulation. This is what you have. So again, coming back to humans, have a propensity for not being curious about what’s going on outside their observable world. They’re trying to make meaning. And so starting to separate that and trusting your own experience. Starting to be curious there.

So you can build awareness and language. As we talked about last week with Shelly’s client around eloquent mode, this is the opportunity to get curious about your experience. And don’t be too scared because emotions tend to be scary.

Shelly: Kim. I have a client who in a session, not too long ago, articulated a story about his third grade teacher dumping out his desk in front of the class. Like it happened yesterday and this man is in his late thirties. You would have thought it happened yesterday. So what we’re talking about here is where does shame come from?

Comes from an amalgam of these experiences over many years that are in the background informing. But we may not realize that’s what’s going on prior to my diagnosis cam, I was at one of my first NATO conferences, the national association of organizing and productivity professionals. And I went out to dinner with a group and it’s lively.

We’re drinking, we’re chatting. You know how rowdy organizers can get, believe it or not, organizers can get pretty rowdy. We’re we’re a fun crowd. And we’re talking. And I’m telling a story to a table of about 10 people and the person next to me, leans over and says, Hey, can you bring the volume down a little bit?

Whew. That was like a smack to the face here. I am a grown adult, married with my own business on a business trip, and I felt like I was in middle school all over again. Just that instant shame and rejection one, two punch. I couldn’t hold the emotion and I had to excuse myself from the table, go into the bathroom and cry.

Now that’s still a sensitive subject for me. However, I know a lot more about what’s going on there for me about what informs and I’m able to pause, remember our pause, disrupt pivot. I’m able to pause and distinct way. In that case, the person that leaned over was well-meaning. I was talking about something that had happened with another conference participant earlier.

So her concern was, there were a lot of other tables with people here at the conference. Let’s maybe bring her voice down so that they’re not overhearing this conversation. It was truly well-intentioned. And these days I’m able to pause and make that distinction. Somebody’s mentioning my loudness because they’re trying to help me out. And that’s really important, right? Because in those cases, that can be a form of service. It doesn’t need to have shame and rejection attached to it. That person was not rejecting or judging me. They were looking out for me. They were saying, okay you’re, talking about something that could become a source of gossip.

Let’s maybe bring the voice down a little bit and keep it at this table.

Cam: I love that. I love that because you’re giving the listeners a tool there. Blame is something we attach and with ADHD. And that emotional dysregulation, it gets attached very quickly. Lightning speed. There’s the attachment. There’s the narrative that goes with it. Let’s go back to wired for context and us making meaning, right?

The negative signal is much stronger than the positive signal and we will go down that negative rabbit hole. Much quicker than the curiosity of a positive rabbit hole.

So I want to come back to this. I want to come back to this idea of normalizing emotions and normalizing strong emotions. One of my mentors a long time ago, another code. Older gent. He was an executive coach. He said something that has stayed with me for years. And I was always scared of um, as I started out in coaching, I was a little, had some trepidation around going into emotional, emotional stuff, right.

That’s therapy. And he said to the group actually, emotional conversation. Need not be just in the realm of therapy. And I thought that was really appropriate right back to this idea that emotion informs emotion is something that drives motivation and that if we create more awareness here, that we can turn this into a tool that informs just as you shared with us, just then.

Of, instead of having a shame response that shut you down to come back and again, what’s mine, what’s theirs. What was the intention to challenge that automatic narrative filler inner right of, oh, they’re out to get me. So even though we’ve over the years, built up this package of shame. And had that shame response.

We can start to tinker and pick that apart. We’ll say if it is on the side of trauma, doing work with a trauma specialist is important.

Shelly: And Cam, the distinction that I like to make there is it safe for us to go there with curiosity and coaching or not? I have clients who have trauma on board who are able to go to periods in their life, in coaching where trauma was happening and stay curious. Because they’ve done their trauma work. We can go there safely.

I’ve had other clients where we go there and we discover it’s not safe. We can’t stay curious. That is the distinguisher for me as a coach, what I’ve learned is can we go there safely and with curiosity and stay in this coaching space, or we’re going there to look at how the emotion is informing the situation or the behavior or the pattern or not.

And if not, then some other work is likely called for there.

Cam: So, Listeners, what can you do about this back to this idea of us being social animals? We’ve talked about the value of community. The significance of community and being able to articulate and share and be vulnerable in a community of support.

So finding a community of support and to share your story can have a healing effect. One of the things we do on our discord is when people come in and the introduction channel, we invite them to share a little bit about themselves and their story. And it goes along with. Right To come into a place that they feel comfortable and safe and to share their own ADHD experience, right experience, which is a lifetime of being misunderstood, dismissed, and an inability to articulate what is going on. But when you start to articulate and share in a safe place, and you’re not judged, you can do healing.

Shelly: So cam I kind of want to take us out on a positive note because this is a tough topic. You. And I had very difficult lived experiences through childhood adolescence and early adulthood as a gen X-er and a millennial respectively. However, I’m noticing that zoomers gen Z and the generation behind them.

Society itself is starting to shift here. And you know what, the biggest indicator of that was to me, a, I’ve had a couple of clients that are zoomers on the older side. So think, you know, early to mid twenties and the way that they’re able to interface with me about these things is so different than for my older clients.

But even more than that, Looking at my daughter, my daughter has this friend, or they’ve been struggling with conflict. They kept running into this situation where they blew up at each other and they wouldn’t talk for a couple of days, but rather than doing what my best friend did, I would do it in those days, which is just not talk and eventually get bored because we didn’t have each other to play with.

And so decide to let it go and move on. The two of them have been working at it together. They’ve cultivated some language. My daughter has this thing where she gets overwhelmed very easily and then is prone to strong emotion. And she articulated that to her friend when she was able to find some words for it.

And she was able to find some words for it because here they are being curious together. And while yes, she is my kid. No, she’s 11. I haven’t spent a ton of time talking to her about coaching and about how to do this work. This did not come from me and me alone. There might be some influence there in terms of how I’m helping her navigate these experiences when she brings them to me.

But this is something that her and her friend did on their own. And so I just want to leave our listeners with that Ray of hope, because I honestly, the more I do this work cam, the more I come to believe that there is no neuro-typical, there is maybe closer to the average experience and farther away.

But everybody’s unique lived experience in their own brains is theirs and theirs alone. And I just think it’s really cool that the upcoming generations are learning how to have conversations like this. They have tools innately onboard that you and I never had. You You know, Conformity is no longer the goal.

It’s about the individual and tapping into that individuality. And it’s just. Really awesome to see. Society does move slow, but we are moving in more positive directions when it comes to being a neurodivergent. And I just wanted to throw that Ray of hope on the end of this show, especially since this is our first show of the new year.

On that note, happy new year listeners. We’re excited to bring you another year of this podcast and rather than doing our normal outro, I will just ask that if you have a moment in this new year to celebrate with us our third calendar year of doing this show, please leave a rating or review wherever you listen or shoot cam and I, your feedback privately either way.

We really enjoy hearing from you hearing what’s resonating. That is the positive outcome that we attached to that even when things get tough for us, otherwise, even when it’s stressful, even when this starts to feel like a bit of a grind, connecting back to that, the difference that we’re making is everything for us.

So until next week, I’m Shelly.

Cam: I’m Cam.

Shelly: And this was the translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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