Emotions and Stories: Getting to What is Real with ADHD

Episode 130

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As a part of our trusting my brain theme, Shelly and Cam explore two client scenarios to illustrate the difference between the stories we tell ourselves and our emotional responses to those stories. The emotions we feel at any time are very real and dictate how we move forward in both thought and action. Stories that we tell ourselves are both real and not necessarily real. They can be informed by a past traumatic event as illustrated in our first client scenario or they can be based in a false belief as illustrated in the second one.

ADHD makes it very difficult to distinguish what is real and what is conjecture. They share how the mindfulness practice of getting present and curious introduced in episode 129 can be used to explore stories aided by ADHD that can elevate or ratchet up the meaning of an event or belief and conversely stories that can downplay or dismiss a specific need. Developing a sense of agency in the face of strong emotions and the compelling stories we tell ourselves is possible with the right support.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: And I’m Cam. 

Shelly: And this is translating ADHD. Real quick, an update on our two current coaching offerings. Our resilience class begins Wednesday, June 22nd at 8:30 PM Eastern. There are a couple of slots left in that course. And then Cam is offering a course called equanimity, and that begins Tuesday, July 12th at 9:00 PM Eastern. Pricing information about both courses and how to apply is available on the website translatingadhd.com/group coaching.

So this week, we’re going to go back to something we’ve already touched on and expand on it in the realm of trusting the brain, which is kind of the theme we’ve been on here. And the thing we’ve already touched on is stories that maybe aren’t real. We talked about this a little bit in the contextual Madlibs episode, but there’s more here and we’re going to dive into that today.

Cam: There’s a popular phrase that I’ve been thinking about here is you know, there’s, what’s going on. And then our response to what’s going on and that, people will say, or practitioners of mindfulness will say, we can only really control how we respond to what’s going on.

So it’s helpful to distinguish what’s going on and that response to what’s going on. And with ADHD, that can be a challenge, right? With our lightning-fast response to that, making those mad libs to creating meaning around an experience. We can be off to the races in our response with a story or some kind of active. And not really seeing that as an opportunity to distinguish what’s happening and our response to what is happening, what is real and what is not necessarily real. And this is a great place to actually practice that mindfulness exercise we talked about last week, have to get present and curious here in that gap between. What is real and what is not real.

Shelly: Before we continue, I think it’s important to say that the examples we’re going to be sharing today are linked with trauma. And so two things about that. Number one, cam and I are not therapists. We are not qualified to do trauma work, but number two, as coaches, we believe our clients know themselves better than we ever could and they have their own answers.

And so when we talk about trauma being resolved enough, To be able to go and look at the trauma and look at the response that’s going on around the trauma. What we’re really talking about is a dialogue that has happened between coach and client that has established some trust there. And that’s really important.

Cam: And that the client has already done their work there.

Shelly: Ah, well, in one case has, in one case hasn’t in the examples we’re going to be talking about today, but both equally important check-ins.

So the first class. I somebody in one of our project X courses. And for those of you who either haven’t listened to the project at or may not remember what that is, project X is that thing that is uniquely important to you? It will never be urgent, but it’s at the core of who you are.

It’s in the realm of your bigger why. And so this clients, like all of the clients that we have in a project X course is uniquely qualified to do this thing. And what we were coaching about is her avoiding taking further steps on this thing. There was a real avoidance behavior happening there, and we were trying to learn something new about what was going on with avoiding.

And this is where individual manifestation and individual context matters because the answer to that question could be anything. It’s not something that is easily predictable. It’s usually something highly individual. And that was certainly the case with this client. This client did have some trauma in her past related to humiliation and being humiliated.

 And when we started talking about the barrier between her and her project decks, she said she was afraid. And when we started dipping into what are you afraid might happen? She said, I’m afraid I will be humiliated. And she started sharing about her past and her history with humiliation.

Now here’s where things got really interesting. This client was already known to both cam and myself has done extensive work around her own trunk. And because that was known to me, I felt safe in asking some very pointed questions about humiliation. what was really funny as I started to ask her, are you humiliated?

And she asked that question first. Because what was coming out about where she was then versus where she is now, two vastly different people. And so she came to this question, am I humiliated? Will? And I said, well, I don’t know, are you, she said, no, I do not think that I am, I am not humiliated. And so what’s the moral of this story.

Is that here, this client was avoiding taking further steps on her project. X out of fear of humiliation. What she wasn’t connecting back to is what she knew about herself, her history, her relationship with her trauma, the work that she’s done, the sheer amount of resilience that she’s built. And the fact that at the end of the day here today, she’s not humiliated.

So here is this emotion of humiliation preventing her from taking steps when humiliation isn’t even a concern. But the emotion, when that comes up, when that fear comes up, when that anticipation of humiliation, when the body starts to respond in a humiliated way, when we’re in our limbic brain, when that story starts to build, it’s so compelling because while the story isn’t real, I’m not humiliated that part’s not real the feeling.

 Is incredibly real. And that is where until we coached about it. And we were able to step back and really get curious. She wasn’t able to distinguish between the two. And in doing that distinguishing work broke down a huge barrier for her, between her and her project decks, because here’s this thing I was most afraid of. And it’s not real. And not only is it not real, I’m not even afraid of it.

Cam: It’s such a, it’s a great story to illustrate these different levels or layers. Right that as she came into the coaching and again, what was real for her was the avoidance I’m avoiding. That’s how she started. And as you started to explore with her seeing her as resourceful and capable that she got to this fear of humiliation, right?

So it’s the next level of beyond avoidance is really a basic. But almost as quickly as she realized that she realized, oh, wait a second, that’s an old story. That’s an old story. That’s regaining its its footing just because I’m not really, you know, I’m, I’m responding to the fear and not really digging into okay.

What’s real here and what’s not real. There’s the question. As you get in and you feel some discomfort to just start to distinguish, what do I know to be real? And what do I know that is not real. And that I think that Shelly and I had this realization a couple of weeks ago is emotion that’s real because we’re feeling it in our body, that emotional response to whatever we’re telling ourselves. Is real, but the story that’s where we can start to play around with things be curious and present. And that’s what this client did in that coaching session. She got present. She got curious as opposed to what do we do often in the face of fears, we’re vigilant. We’re fearful. We have to be on guard. So this is vulnerable. This is trust, trusting that if I stay here for a moment and just look at this for a second, with this coach in this very safe and trusting environment, I’m going to get some answers.

Shelly: This is one of the things that distinguishes ADHD coaching from other forms of coaching. So often new coaches are told don’t go negative. Don’t get into the negative with your clients. And that is actually really Sage advice. Cam, if we talk about the limbic system as a poll, going back to your pool metaphor as a coach, what we never want to do is jump in the pool. With our clients, because that doesn’t serve anyone and it doesn’t serve the coaching process. However, where a lot of coaches who are not uniquely experienced with ADHD might miss step is looking at the negative with some curiosity, because had we not discover that, story of humiliation. And the fact that it wasn’t real had, we tried to kind of say, let’s not go there.

Let’s instead focus on getting traction, moving forward. We would have missed the holding point. Which was the story of humiliation. That’s what was keeping her from action. And so it’s not that we went negative it’s that we went and examined the negative and examine this story and got down in her valley just enough to see what was really happening and to make that really important distinction.

Cam: And so, you know, ADHD is kind of like a where’s Waldo picture,

Shelly: ADHD coaching is that’s for sure.

Cam: Yeah. And it’s like, where’s the ADHD, right? Where’s the ADHD here. And so as you. Work with a client or again, in this coaching realm of going down in the valley, right? Avoidance. There’s where the ADHD kind of gets four to five. the ADHD.

Doesn’t act alone. It’s acting in concert with this fear. There’s the emotional aspect. So that fear elevates. And then freezes the prefrontal cortex and we’re frozen or right. Some other response in that situation. So the ADHD and kind of look and see how does it inform and influence and come into play and in doing so again, more important distinguishing.

Oh, it’s not because of just my ADHD. It’s because of. These feelings and yet, right. You know, it’s interesting. Shelley’s that the other thing about going into the valley is to go in there and replace the challenge and discomfort with agency. Oh, okay. I see you. I see the fear. I see the ADHD, and I can be at choice here. I have some. Mobility, some sense of control and that’s powerful, right? That’s resilience. We talk about emotional resilience or just resilience in general.

Shelly: I love how you put that cam going into the valley. And having some agency. And that brings us to the other example I’d like to bring in, because I think this one is so important for everyone listening and particularly for the practitioners who might be listening, maladaptive responses and trauma response can look really similar.

And what we were able to do in this first example is we were able to safely go and be curious about some old trauma. The client was able to have agency there to be at choice and to let go of humiliation as a story because she had done her other work and another group coaching course. Very similar setup, actually another client who had a project X on the table who had some things that she was really striving for and who was unable to get traction.

And when we started to coach again, very similarly, this trauma comes into the coaching conversation. Here’s the difference in checking in on that trauma? Here’s where the false story was. I should be over this by now. I should be over this by now. This client’s trauma was more recent and she had told herself a story that it’s time, it’s time for me to pick myself up by the bootstraps and get going. And so we coached about, I should be over this by now and what that client realized is. Is needed right now is trauma work and cam, when she realized that it was like somebody lifted a 10,000 pound weight off of her shoulders, you could just see visibly, see the lightness in her body that was not there.

Moments before, because for her the false story wasn’t about the emotion. The emotion was actually very real tied to some very real trauma that she wasn’t ready to be over. The false story was I should be over this by now. And so in that case, our coaching conclusion was doing trauma work and letting go.

Oh, of expectations around everything else for now putting this as the priority was really a priority shift that said, yes, this future stuff, this project X stuff, this bigger, why stuff is important, but to get there, this is the work that needs to happen here in now. First.

Cam: What strikes me about both of these client examples? Shelly is the power of story and that uh, emotion and our response to the emotion can make that story or, or give it weight. But if we just. Take this mindful practice, right? What we’re calling mindfulness in the sense of getting present and getting curious, kind of pause for a second to consider the story.

What’s the story, you know, when you say, you know, that, that story right there, I should be over at this. So again, it’s a mix of the person. It’s also a mix of their ADHD. The sense of. Time, the sense of process and measurement of progress. I should be over this by now, by what parameters, right. It’s like to get kind of curious about that.

And as she did that in the coaching, she started to poke holes in the story. Its stories may or may not be. Based in reality, our response to them are the emotions that are around them are very real. We feel them in our body, but it’s the story where we can get curious and make really important distinctions. It reminds me of clean slate, Shelly, right? Like just, just do over. Let’s just wipe it away and start over again. Do over, clean slate. Right. 

Shelly: It’s so interesting that you said that because I was going to talk next about the dichotomy of these two stories. One was about stuckness and elevating a story that wasn’t real, keeping that client in stuckness. The other was about dismissal of the story or just missile of the emotion, dismissal of the impact.

So in the first story, we have this client playing up fear and not even really getting to humiliation beyond fear until we started coaching about it, just playing up fear. That fear response is like just a hard stop. I can’t engage with this turning away. I feel repelled. From this thing, it’s too scary.

So playing that up, which was causing an impact, the second story, exact opposite. There’s this massive downplaying. This, I just want to pick this up instead of it, aside now, so that I can move on and do the things that I want to do. And that’s. Makes ADHD. So confounding. It’s the reason why I expect, every client I work with at some point to get frustrated with this process.

Because it’s not always clear, what’s in the way, what are we playing? What are we playing up? What’s having too much impact that we can let go of. Where are we dragging in context that doesn’t belong in this situation, playing that contextual Madlibs or where we downplay. Going back to my client from a couple of weeks ago, who was in the toxic marriage for the first month or so of our coaching relationship.

She was downplaying that not intentionally, but she just wasn’t aware. Of the impact it had until we got far enough in the coaching that she could see that this part of her context was not something that she was going to be able to just set aside. She wasn’t going to be able to just put that off to the side and do her other work. She had to acknowledge that it was there and that it was having an impact. And guess what? Once we did that and we started to frame the coaching in that context, in this big, massive context she had in the idea of trusting my brain and strengthening myself. That’s when we started to make massive progress. Consider what you might be up playing, but also consider I think the trickier thing sometimes is what you might be downplaying, what you might be dismissing or what you might be telling yourself. If I fix myself first, then I can address these things. If I address my ADHD first, then I can deal with this other stuff.

Cam: And there’s the ADHD in part coming into play in the sense of ratcheting up or turning it down, right. that distorts. Our experience, both of these examples though, illustrate. the effectiveness of our model, the Mount Rainier model, because this is work around that barrier, right? We call it the lunch counter.

You can call it whatever you want to call it, listener. It’s a barrier between cause and effect. And this is the clients doing important work, making these distinctions of what is real and what is not real. What is story? What is an emotional wreck? You were saying earlier, Shelly, like what’s habitual, right?

The first example of this sort of habitual response to an old story. But when we get clear on this stuff, we’re getting to causation, we’re getting a better picture. And we’re orienting to the dilemma when we orient to the dilemma and we see these pieces and how they fit together at causing. It quiets down our limbic response and we can, again, have agency in difficult moments gives us perspective, gives us the ability to be present, even when it doesn’t feel good.

Shelly: I’m so glad you brought that word habitual into this conversation, because I certainly meant to, because that was another really key moment with a client, another client who had some trauma in her past and who came to a coaching session. With such great insight about what was going on for her. She had already done the awareness work prior to the session and she opened the session with here’s the behavior that’s not serving me. And here’s where he used to come from. It used to come from this traumatic place. This is behavior that started when I was in my trauma a few years ago. But at this point, it doesn’t feel connected to anything real anymore. It doesn’t feel connected to that trauma. It just feels like habit. It just feels habitual for me to show up this way around these things.

And given that language, it was so interesting to then dive in because it, it kind of was a habitual. Again, ADHD, maladaptive behaviors and trauma response look really similar because they are. And the biggest distinguisher between the two is one is connected to something real. And if you haven’t done the work with your trauma on that, something real, we as coaches generally, can’t go there safely with you and be curious about it.

But the other isn’t connected to something real, whether it’s connected to something that we’ve let go of or we’ve resolved enough, like trauma. Or past stories or past experiences, my contextual Madlibs client and his past job and his evolving understanding of what was real in that role or that emotion wasn’t connected to anything real in the first place. It was just connected to the story that we’ve created for ourselves. And figuring that part out is critical. You know, What is this still connected to? If it’s still connected to something, what was it connected to, or is it connected to anything at all? Those are three very different manifestations that all present in the same way. This maladaptive behavior.

Cam: So this reminds me of the emotional health ladder that we introduced here. And I presented with Timur Rozier at one of the conferences. It’s also in our book, your brain’s not broken and difference between autopilot and attending to, right. so when you say habitual, I’m thinking.

I think that many of us, we have an assumption that we’re going to kind of set our dials and kind of go through our day at autopilot. And a lot of it is habitual. And then the response is we have two inputs to stimulus are going to be habitual. And so this is a place to exercise that mindfulness practice of getting present and curious, and how it shows up is often in your body people, right?

The stress comes in your body and just to attend to it, not to run away from it, but to just be present with it. That’s that next level up of attending to the story. And your response to it, she’s make these important distinctions between the story, the emotional response to it. And if you’re having a habitual response or not, are you turning it up? Are you turning it down just to pay attention there and get killed?

Shelly: Well said, Cameron, I think that is a great place for us to wrap today. We’re going to try something different on the outro because I’m sure you all have long since quit listening to me repeat the same stuff over and over again.

So let’s try one ask at a time. If you have not yet done so, and if you have the bandwidth to do so, please leave a rating or review wherever you listen. That is the number one thing that you can do to help us out here on the show. And we appreciate each and every one of you who have taken the time to do so. not just because it helps boost the show a little bit and boost our numbers, but more importantly, we really do love hearing your feedback, whether it’s in that format, on Twitter, via email or any other way that we’ve gotten to interact with all of you. 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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