ADHD and Relationships: Identifying Our Inner Saboteurs

Episode 157

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Ash and Cam continue to explore the roles and other factors that contribute to the dynamic that can create dysfunction and associated drama in our relationships. Cam distinguishes dysfunctional moments from the more serious dysfunctional people and relationships. If we can pause, disrupt and pivot around these moments, we can lessen the dramatic outcome.

Asher introduces the idea of the executive function tax when confronted with new environmental factors. Cam brings Positive Intelligence, a new tool to the podcast, to explore more roles that can contribute to dysfunction. When we are more aware and more curious of these patterns, we can have agency to alter our outcomes. Cam and Ash explore several examples to illustrate how these saboteurs can play off each other. 

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:08] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:09] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. This week we’re continuing our theme of relationships. Cam, how are we doing that?

[00:00:19] Cam: Ash, we’re doing that by continuing to look at these dynamics that inform the dysfunction that produces the drama. Right where we started a couple weeks ago was around the big signal of drama, and that just just sucks us in. It pulls us in. It’s that big signal that we attend to. It takes all of our attention, so we hyperfocus on the drama, but if we start to work our way backwards to the dysfunction in that moment and then look at the dynamics, the factors, right?

I was talking about going shopping, and there was a certain environmental factors my history there that contributed to the dynamic, that informed the dysfunction, that produced the drama. And as we do here with understand, own to kind of get back to causation, what is actually going on here?

So last week we talked about the Karpman Drama Triangle and those, those roles of persecutor, victim and rescuer, and how we can cycle through them ourselves. There’s also the parent, child that we see often in relationships where the person with ADHD will hitch their wagon to the other partner who has that executive function system that’s working. And so this week we’re just gonna continue down that road of looking at more roles that we can fall into. When we’re stressed, we resort to certain roles, these old, familiar friends that are not exactly friends, but it gets us back up to this dynamic. The factors, and if we can start to see that and develop awareness here, Ash, then we can start to change course and maybe not have that big emotional dysfunction. That, again, big explosion that happens with the drama.

[00:02:25] Ash: Cam, like almost everything we do on this show, this is pause, disrupt, pivot. And what we’re doing today is giving you some more language or some more tools to cultivate awareness to help with that pause. And I’m just gonna tell on myself a little bit in my own situation right now, my partner is in the process of moving in and we’re in the process of clearing out an apartment that he’s lived in for over a decade.

His two cats have moved in, and they are not getting along with one another. And we’re still trying to finish this basement. So in my own household, listeners, if you ever think that Cam and I are not still doing our own work, make no mistake, we are. We’re kind of getting a crash course in not letting the big signal of the drama be what drives what happens next.

[00:03:22] Cam: That’s great. And before we jump in, I just want to point listeners in a direction here, because, again, so much is out there about toxic people and toxic relationships and dysfunctional relationships. I’m gonna say that most of us really have dysfunctional moments. We wake up in the morning and we’re really, we’re not thinking, okay, I’m gonna throw a wrench in my partner’s plans.

It happens, right? Drama happens because we come to something and there are two people who are seeing a situation and they have their own stories there. They have their own values system, and we look at the dilemma and they’re not really maybe appreciating the other person’s perspective that we’re not pausing and having respect for the other person’s perspective, what might they be thinking about this? We’re just going through our day, and we’re just trying to get stuff done. And it’s like, oh, here’s this thing. And we either will, and this is often what happens, is we will jump into conflict or we will run away from conflict. And this is sort of informs these roles that I’m gonna share in a couple.

[00:04:43] Ash: I just wanna give an example to what you said, because I think it’s so important. So back to my current situation, particularly with these two cats who are not getting along at the moment. We have one cat that is closed in the bedroom during the day and the other cat has run of the house. The bedroom is between my home office and the rest of the house.

[00:05:07] Cam: Oh.

[00:05:08] Ash: Yes. So every time I get up to get a cup of coffee to go to the bathroom, I have to open and close one door. And open and close the other door.

[00:05:19] Cam: Like an airlock

[00:05:21] Ash: It is. And meanwhile, with both cats, I’ll walk into the first room and the one cat gives me this accusatory look. And then I walk into the other room and the other cat gives me an accusatory look. Right? That’s neither here nor there.

[00:05:33] Cam: That’s why I don’t have cats, Ash.

[00:05:36] Ash: Well, that’s why I didn’t either, but that’s not the moral of the story.

[00:05:40] Cam: It’s besides the point.

[00:05:42] Ash: So, you know, it’s a small thing, but we talk about supportive environment and here’s this disruption to my environment and this extra executive function tax where I have to remember to do something that I typically did not have to do before in making sure that doors are closed behind me as I move through my house. And I was voicing some frustration about that to my partner because it is frustrating, and it is an executive function tax. However, because they’re his cats and because we’re struggling to make progress with them, he heard the persecutor and fell into the victim role. And under different circumstances, that is a dynamic that could have perpetuated if we weren’t able to pause and see, okay, I see how you hear my comments, and I see why you hear them that way.

So now let me tell you what my perspective really is. And then I’m just blowing off a little steam about all of the extra executive function taxes that our lives have right now because of these, this converging of major life events with this move and moving cats in, and a major home renovation and starting transition. Throw that into the mix too. We’ve got quite the convergence of things happening here, and so just wanted to toss out how that could have gone very differently had we not been able to pause and come together and understand each other’s perspective.

And so the language today, the additional roles is really about, it’s not necessarily that you have to subscribe to this particular theory that Cam is presenting. It’s looking for more language to translate your experience to the other person involved in this drama. To add some context, add some awareness, add some understanding, so that there’s an opportunity there to have a different experience.

[00:07:52] Cam: And I love how you brought in that term of executive function tax because you’re bringing in the ADHD into the situation that way. I’m giving a talk tonight and one of my main points that I’m gonna be giving about the three barriers of ADHD, right? The first barrier of awareness, the second barrier of action and the third barrier of learning is that it’s so hard to pin down the actual ADHD that in the moment of the drama, we’re not thinking about our executive functioning, we’re having our emotional experience, right? And I’m right. And you gotta pay, right? Whether it’s persecutor, victim, rescuer, parent, child.

So here are these others that I’m gonna share. So I’m gonna use an example from my home front. Ash, we just, it’s a share all today. I didn’t know you lived in a biosphere, by the way.

[00:08:50] Ash: Wait, what?

[00:08:51] Cam: A biosphere. You’re, you’re, You’re airlocked.

[00:08:53] Ash: Oh yeah. We’re airlocked.

[00:08:55] Cam: Air locking. It’s the biosphere – was something they did in Arizona like years ago.

[00:09:00] Ash: Well, you see, Cam, I didn’t live in a biosphere until about a month ago, so they, he hence the whole opportunity for drama. So enough about me and my potential dramas. Let’s hear some more about you.

[00:09:14] Cam: Yeah. Well, what I’m doing is I’m avoiding, and that’s sort of my avoider, and this is one of the roles. So I have these three roles that when I’m stressed, right, and the stressful situation, these are characters that show up. They’ve been showing up much of my life and they are ADHD informed, so mine are victim, avoider, pleaser.

It’s this wicked cocktail of the three of these that work together that undermine my big agenda, Ash. So here am I presenting what we call saboteurs, and my spouse has her kind of go-to roles when she’s stressed and they are more like stickler, hypervigilant and hyper-achiever.

[00:10:11] Ash: Ooh. How does that interact with your avoider, pleaser?

[00:10:16] Cam: And victim. Don’t forget the victim. Right? So you can imagine people when, when my victim, avoider, pleaser and her stickler, hyper-vigilant, hyper-achiever come together. If we’re not, if we’re coming in and we’re assuming those roles and the narratives and stories that go with those roles, it can create a tremendous amount of drama, and then we’re there to pick up the pieces.

The thing is, though, the last several years we’ve been doing a lot of work and sort of being able to look at this and this dynamic and seeing this dynamic and oh, how these roles are not that. So, Ash, it’s like, here are these terms, right? We’ve already talked about the Karpman Triangle. We’ve talked about parent, child, and like What is this? This victim, avoider, pleaser and stickler, hypervigilant, hyper-achiever. These are six of the nine characters or roles that are called Saboteurs, that are part of positive intelligence. So positive intelligence, it’s a book, it’s also a program. And in that program it’s about identifying these saboteurs, kind of doing a pause, disrupt, pivot with them, and being able to go and access better emotions than these emotions that are based in our fear center of the brain.

So this is a program alert here, is that this is, as Ash was saying, this is just a tool that I use. We’re gonna give you in the program notes a link to a free assessment of your saboteurs, but we’re not subscribing or suggesting that you have to do this. I choose to use this with my clients because with ADHD, it’s difficult to get to our emotional expression to have that emotional awareness.

So I use this in a boosting emotional intelligence. I subscribe to Susan David’s work of this sort of full emotional expression that all emotions are good, and so positive intelligence is the tool. There’s an assessment there, but again, this is not built for people with ADHD. This is something that’s out there and you can use it, too. And so there are these ways in which this interweaves with ADHD, and I’m gonna share that going forward. But let me go ahead and spell out the other three roles. Okay. So those with the six that I shared, the other three that are in play are restless, controller and hyper.

So again, there are other tools out there. You look up, there’s the five dysfunctions of teams, I believe. Right? If you look up dysfunctions and roles, you’ll find all kinds of information out there. What’s interesting about this one, again, I’m really curious about how ADHD informs these roles that we step into.

Like the stickler is kind of like black and white thinking and perfectionism. The restless is that hyperactive, right? The hypervigilant, I work with a lot of business owners who they feel they have to be responsive. They gotta be. And what’s happening there is they’re vigilant and monitoring all the time, and you know what that’s doing, Ash? It’s burning bandwidth, it’s burning that executive function battery. Just having that awareness of, oh, okay, you know, maybe can I take a breath here and let things lie versus being fully on all the time or rationalizing every moment of the day.

[00:14:19] Ash: I, if I could ask, I would like to hear how you think your ADHD informs your trifecta.

[00:14:27] Cam: Oh, wow. Yeah, so I have inattentive ADHD, and I thought I was a sensitive kid. I thought I was overly sensitive. I procrastinated the hell out of everything.

[00:14:40] Ash: Everything. I have that avoider, too, so I understand that.

[00:14:44] Cam: Right. So, super sensitive kid. Big avoidance, procrastination, and a desire to seek validation because I had that bucket that had so many holes in it, you know. Fill that bucket that just drains out. I go and externally seek validation. Seeking acceptance, seeking validation is that story of going to find a mentor in Asheville in 2000. Like, you know, the puppy like, God just, just take me in. Please take me in. Where I was seeking structure, I was seeking support, and I didn’t know that, right? So here I am, like in full victim, avoider, pleaser mode, and I wasn’t aware, Ash, of how that seemed like just helpless and not confident. Not resourceful. And do I wanna work with this kid? I don’t think so.

[00:15:40] Ash: So, I heard avoider and pleaser for sure in there. Say a little bit more – where and how the victim is manifesting.

[00:15:51] Cam: Yeah. So each of these, these nine, according to the concept of positive intelligence, they’re all good things, right? Achievement’s good. Controller in the sense of taking control of a situation that’s not bad. What happens, though, is when we’re stressed, we go to these extremes. With ADHD, it’s about degree and intensity, and with emotional dysregulation, we take it too far, right.

So if you think about victim, there’s a sensitive soul. So I dial that back a bit to think about what’s the positive side of victim? The positive side is empathy. It’s intuition. It’s caring. It’s being sensitive. And I often say that those of us with ADHD are often the canaries in the coal. We pick up the vibe first. We pick up the energy in the room. That’s why when I went into that, you know, Christmas shopping situation, I was overstimulated with all of the externals coming in. Right?

So that victim is then that sense of, I’m feeling persecuted. We can go to this blame place. Oh, why is this happening to me? The world is against me. You know, taking out to, it’s the neurotypicals, as we said last time. It’s capitalism, right? My problems are because of this, this, and this. So that’s a great question, Ash, of like, again, how does this play out?

Notice, listeners, what we’re doing is, it’s very helpful for me to connect these dots. If I see this and recognize, okay, there’s reasons why these characters come out, and there’s certain situations when they come out. When I’m stressed, when I don’t have enough sleep, when I’m not really doing my own self-care work, I’m vulnerable to getting blindsided. And this is that DESR, this is emotional dysregulation. That’s that DESR, right? Deficient emotional deficient, emotional self-control that we see out there. 

[00:18:08] Ash: Cam, I so appreciate that articulation. I’m glad I asked because this positive intelligence model is a little bit different than the model we were using in the last couple of episodes, and I love this idea. Strength and challenge being two sides of the same coin. That is something I notice in myself and in my clients as almost a universal truth. Strength and challenge are two sides of the same coin, and so thank you for giving some breadth to what the victim is under this model because I think that that’s one that would be harder to see what is the positive side of the victim. But as soon as you started saying it, I’m like, yeah, that’s Cam, that is Cam. That’s where your strength as a person and a coach comes from. 

[00:19:02] Cam: Yeah, and that’s what’s interesting about the positive intelligence concept. It’s based in neuroscience. We talk about the limbic system, we talk about the fight flight center of the brain. These characters, these nine saboteurs plus the judge the inner critic live in your limbic system. They live in the fight flight. They feed on your fear. They feed on your stress. And so quieting that system, and we talk about being curious. Curiosity, it doesn’t live there. We’ve said before, when you’re curious, you cannot access that system. So we have these two systems in the brain, and because of that arc pony right adrenaline response cycle, we live in that urgent place.

And so we wanna be able to access empathy, curiosity. We wanna access the bigger agenda. Purpose, your class, Ash, to find out, again, positive neural networks to create possibility and opportunity.

[00:20:07] Ash: I don’t know. When you first said to me that curiosity and fear live in different parts of the brain, but it was such a light bulb moment in my own coaching because we see that play out in the work we do. Our clients show up, and often they are in their limbic brain, and the first order of business as a coach is bringing them to curiosity, which you can’t force. But when it happens, when that shift from limbic fear center to curiosity happens, there is a noticeable shift in how that person is showing up and the dynamics in the room. And all of a sudden this drama becomes a dilemma. It becomes something we can look at and can solve for, rather than this thing that is happening to the client.

[00:21:03] Cam: And it just points back to the work that we do as coaches with this strength-based, right? It’s leaning into strengths, leaning into curiosity and values, and seeing ourselves in the picture. So one more example, Ash, as we head out here. Again, how these show up and feed off each other like the Karpman Drama Triangle.

Last week I have a client who’s a writer and they have the same presentation as me – victim, avoider, pleaser – that are in the room. What was really fascinating, though, he was relaying a story of coming in and this sort of IRS stuff and work stuff, and he’s got his deadlines for his writing. So three different areas.

And he sees this thing, this old thing, taxation thing that he had already taken care of. And yet it’s coming up. And again, it’s gonna elicit this response of, oh my God, what’s this? And so it activates the avoider. So that avoider is like, you know, just gonna, we freeze. I don’t want to enter into that conflict. I don’t wanna know. I don’t want to jump. But what he noticed was the interplay of these three characters and how they fed off each other, that as he started with avoider and was not addressing the situation, he noticed that it kind of energizes the victim, right? Why is this happening to me? It always seems to happen to me.

And then he would go to pleaser to distract himself. To not address the issue, but to go over, and I’m gonna help someone else so I don’t have to think about this, but he saw this pattern playing out and could see down the road over his time horizon. You know what? I might spend the next two days in this cycle of victim, avoider, pleaser, and you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna stop, pause, and disrupt. And I’m gonna pivot around this avoidance because what I’m doing is avoiding.

And so where is a place to begin? Where is a place to start? What’s the thing that’s really creating stress here? And so he identified it was the taxation thing, and as he dug in, he realized it was the mistake on the IRS. And so it calmed down that nervous system, and it calmed down that victim and pleaser response. But the difference here for him was going in eyes open, having this awareness of these characters in play, and he was able to have a different outcome.

So listeners, as we, as we go forward here, think about. The roles that you step into when you’re stressed, you can go and take this assessment of the positive intelligence. You can look at something else, but go ahead. And, again, we get pulled into the drama, and we focus on the dysfunction or the toxicity of the other individual. Let’s just say that there’s dysfunctional moments, and can we isolate them and look at the different factors that contribute to those dysfunctional moments.

Ash, as you were saying earlier, with your partner around the cats and the airlock, right, to get back to, come back to the dynamics that. And can you pivot to this place of curiosity and empathy for others, and empathy for yourself. This is the sage side of this whole positive intelligence concept, curiosity and empathy. And start there.

[00:24:48] Ash: Wow, Cam, really well said. One of the things about doing this show that continues to be so much fun is how we learn from each other. Because you’ve been using this positive intelligence in your coaching for some time now, and it’s not a tool that I’ve explored. So I’ve really enjoyed today’s episode from that perspective.

As a reminder to listeners, we will put a link to an assessment to identify your own saboteurs if you found this language and this way of looking at drama and conflict helpful.

And I think it’s important to say that this is the foundation of the equanimity class that you do. So if this is feeling like it might be your next work, Cam’s next round of Equanimity might be the place for you.

[00:25:37] Cam: Which is in March

[00:25:39] Ash: Which is in March. So I have no idea where we’re at on the short intro, so I’m just gonna say we love you. Please leave us a review if you haven’t already. And until next week, I’m Asher.

[00:25:52] Cam: and I’m Cam.

[00:25:52] Ash: Why did I just say Asher? I’m not sure, but that’s okay. And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 157