ADHD and Relationships: Boundaries and the Performative Judge

Episode 158

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Asher and Cam revisit boundaries after their initial boundary discussion way back in episode 25 almost three years ago. The hosts discuss why it is so hard for those of us with ADHD to establish and maintain boundaries, and they share ways to create boundaries that can work for a brain wired for context.

Ash and Cam bring an inside/out approach to boundary development by asking the listener to think more about what they are defending than what they are defending against. The podcast concept of seeing oneself in the picture can be subjective and difficult to quantify. They introduce the concept of the ‘performative judge’, an inner critic character that focuses on everything related to doing and nothing to do with being. This performance judge along with one down can set us up for difficult boundary management.

Ash shares an example where a client uses metaphor concepts of saving money to illustrate effective time and boundary management. Both hosts discuss the power of perspective, and that pausing to create space can be helpful. Cam talks about creating space between ourselves and that performative judge, and Ash shares another example where the client creates space between the ask and the reply. Lastly the hosts discuss the vulnerable spot we can find ourselves between new awareness and new actions to change and how we can protect ourselves through boundaries.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash, 

[00:00:01] Cam: and I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. We’re gonna continue our theme of relationships today and go back to a topic we haven’t touched on in quite some time. And one that’s so important for ADHD people, and that is boundaries. Ooh, boundaries. My clients sometimes cringe when the word boundaries enter the room. I think there’s this kind of universal belief among ADHD people that we’re bad at boundaries.

[00:00:31] Cam: Yeah, we’re bad at boundaries. We’re bad at accountability. We’re bad at time. All of these things are structural in nature, and it’s really hard for us to create structure. Or something I’ve been playing around with, Ash, is partitions. We do the now, not. To be able to put a partition up in a way to look at time in a different way.

Boundaries are similar. We tend to go to the extremes here. We will build a fortress where we let no one in or like the pleaser or rescuer. We’ll have it open borders, wide open because it’s almost easier to do that. And yet there’s a great cost that comes with.

[00:01:15] Ash: I had a client who found it helpful to talk about time like money. In terms of budgeting, and she came to this realization that she values her time differently depending upon how much time she has. So when she’s busy, when she’s overwhelmed, when she’s stressed, there’s your fortress, right? Time has a high value. I have no time to give to anyone else for any reason, but when there is free time. All of a sudden it’s like, okay, time’s on a discount. It’s on wholesale. I’ve got time here. Take your time. What time do you need? And it becomes this cycle of being overwhelmed, putting up the fortress, getting over that, only to have free time and give it all away.

[00:02:04] Cam: Right. and this, goes to what we were talking about before the episode today of the interest around the arc cycle, right? Adrenaline response cycle, where it’s this feast famine. We value time in this way where it’s the most precious thing, and then it becomes worthless in that 11th hour we have to deliver.

Time is so important, but when we crash and recover, and we don’t have an impending. What happens is we tend to give it away, and so with boundaries, what we want to do is start to look at how can we make it more proactive and less reactive to our environment?

[00:02:47] Ash: And for my client who had time to money metaphorically, this became about interest in dividends. She started paying attention to when she was proactive, what were the dividends that we’re paying off in terms of time, and that’s what we’re getting at today, right? Is boundaries are one way to create some dividends on your own time.

[00:03:14] Cam: So I think a place to begin here around boundaries is, I think it’s a matter of perspective. We think of boundaries that we’re protecting ourselves from something because we’re externally wired, we are protecting ourself from big signal items, from a drama, from the chaos, from the outside, and we’re not really thinking about the inside. What actually are we protecting? It’s really hard to quantify what that is when it’s not necessarily a big signal.

[00:03:49] Ash: Throw one down into the mix, and it gets even more complicated, right? Because we’re protecting ourselves from while telling ourselves this story of we have to make up four. So boundaries can become this thing that we create immense guilt and shame around. I can’t create boundaries or I shouldn’t create boundaries because I have to make up for here.

[00:04:14] Cam: Yeah. And in self-care class, this is what we run into, right? It’s that we get people who are thinking, this feels indulgent. This feels so indulgent. To put myself first to practice some self-care, to say no, because who I am is someone who is in the service of others. It makes us feel good. It’s validating.

So this is not an either or situation. We wanna develop boundaries where there is some flexibility. How can we be available to others, but also be available to ourselves? And Ash, I so appreciate you bringing in the one down element because of this, again, this sense of, I’m not deserving. And this brings us to, I think, a formidable character that is internal to all of us.

So last week we were talking about the different saboteurs from the Positive Intelligence program and how they can kind of clash with each other and just noticing them at work can be very helpful. All of us have the inner critic. Or what we can often call the judge. I believe that those of us with ADHD have that judge, but also kind of an extra special kind of judge, which is really looking at performance. So this sort of performative judge of always nudging and cajoling and poking. Yeah you did okay here, but look over here, right?

It’s all about the do and what you haven’t done, and there’s nothing about the be. And so we talk about, you know, seeing yourself in the picture and the who and your why. These are elements of the Be Who You. that has very little to do with what you’ve done or what you’re about to do, and starting to distinguish your be from what you’ve done.

[00:06:13] Ash: Cam, I think it’s important to say that performative judge is completely disconnected from how much you’re doing or not doing already. I actually see this show up almost more strongly in my fast brain clients, the people who are doing, doing, doing a ton but have this belief that they should be able to do more, that they should be able to push harder, that they should be able to draw from an empty well.

[00:06:44] Cam: Right? And there are those shoulds. Based in, again, something that is a often a deep-seated fear, it’s hard for us to go back and collect the data on what we have done or to remember it in the moment when we need it most.

[00:07:00] Ash: Yeah. So how do we start to look at our who, our be, Cam?

[00:07:05] Cam: That’s a good question, Ash. And I think that, you know, we, listeners, you hear us say, you know, see yourself in the picture. This is what we’re talking about, is that again, as we develop boundaries to sort of think about in a creative and curious way, well, what actually am I defending? What am I circling the wagons around that is valuable to me, that I protect, that I don’t build some, you know, overwhelming fortress that no one can get into? But also at a moment’s notice, as you said about your client, where we just sort of drop the walls and let everybody, you know, run over the stuff that matters most to us.

And so starting to quantify that, I would suggest people start with bandwidth. So, bandwidth. What is bandwidth? Bandwidth is, it’s our attention, it’s our executive functioning, it’s what we have energy, attention, and time for. And starting to look at how do you give it away, just like how you give away time. So that creative way of looking at time, like money and interest and dividends is one. I like the acronym of tea.

I think I’ve shared it here before, tea as in time, energy, and attention, and there was a time when I didn’t consider that at all. There was just me and there were things to do and I wasn’t doing enough, and I was always behind, I wasn’t showing up enough. And again, that performative judge was loud in my ear. That would prompt that whole arc cycle, to jump into the fear center and to react my way through any activity. And so starting to think about time, attention, and energy as entities that are real and that they deplete over time. And to think about, you know, this goes back to needs that we’ve been talking about and what are your specific needs and how you might be able to quantify that.

Often what I do with my clients when I first get going, they talk about, I’m terrible with my time and I waste my time. And the question I ask them is like, well, what are you giving your time to? And that can be a little vulnerable when we stop to sort of think about where we are putting our time and attention.

And it can really activate that performative judge. To reveal them even more. But this is a necessary step. And if we come in with curiosity and self-compassion that you are deserving, it is what it is, and that as we reveal it, that awareness is the only way forward. We can’t go forward without generating this awareness.

But Ash, here’s the other dilemma that happens. You can’t create change without having the awareness of the change first. And this is one of the most vulnerable places for those of us with ADHD, is that we start to reveal and learn what the dilemma is and we see ourselves and we don’t like what we see and we haven’t developed the practices, the skills.

In order to create change there to take action, that is that second barrier. The second barrier of action, the first being awareness, the second being action, and the third being learning and pulling that learning forward. So first practice grace and self-compassion, and to be curious about how you are giving your time away to things, to activities, to your thoughts.

I just noticed how much, the seat that my performative judge had at my table and the power I gave him. Now, I would defer to him and just listen to him like know, well this is, it’s given me some information. It’s pretty helpful here, and I’m just not, doing my. And so with that comes this again, we talk about the big signals of emotions and blame and shame and guilt, and it just has a spiral down farther into that mourn, into that one down position.

[00:11:22] Ash: And Cam, isn’t that the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy, where the performative judge criticizes what we’re not doing and we feel guilt and shame over it, we spiral down. And what does that do? It certainly doesn’t fuel positive motivation or positive accountability. it makes it harder and harder to engage. I would say this is some core work that we do with every single person we work with as coaches is unpacking this type of self-judgment. and the impact that it has.

I’m thinking about my client in eloquent mode. Remember him? This idea that eloquent mode is a state that happens to him that he wants more of, but doesn’t know how to get more of it. and that shift, that maybe eloquent mode is something that I can generate. And guess how we’re generating eloquent mode? Well, in part, we’re letting go of the judge. We’re letting go of the shoulds. We are setting boundaries and we’re noting and celebrating what he has done. I think that’s another piece. That can mess with our sense of how to set boundaries or what boundaries we need to set is we simply don’t have a sense of where we are completing, where we are being successful, particularly when we’re in a head space like this.

[00:12:53] Cam: Right. And so it’s like taking that judge’s chair and moving it, giving some distance to it. He or she, they’re gonna continue to yell, but if we can just scoot their chair back a bit from the table, so close. They’re gonna like, yeah, that’s fine. You’re gonna yell. That’s what you do, that’s your job. But I’m gonna have you yell from the other side of the room. I’m gonna have you yell from the other side of the house. I’m gonna have you yell from out in the chicken coop. Sorry, I’m thinking about chickens. People, we got chickens over the weekend, but do you see embellishment here?

Silliness actually is something that I use to sort of see my performative judge sitting amongst these chickens, right, to put him in a different place and to really then open the space of what is at my table? Who do I want to invite to my table? And Ash, I so appreciate, you know that when that judge is yelling, there’s no space for the positive elements to come in, right? The recognition of all the completions we are doing, the people in our lives who do wanna support us, our areas of strengths and skills and values, and back to this sense of what is my who, what is my why? But it really begins. Okay, where’s all your attention going and starting to save some attention for yourself.

To not say yes so readily, so quickly, but to think about what are a couple questions I can ask myself if I want to commit to this endeavor, this thing, right? To see yourself and how you do get overdrawn. To use that money metaphor there and to think about, okay, I wanna my bank account and how do I protect this in some way so I can start to think how I want to distribute it the way I want to and have agency here. Right? Some sense of control and some.

[00:15:10] Ash: Cam we’ve talked a lot about this performative judge. I think it’s also important to recognize that’s not the only thing that can get in the way of boundaries. And I wanna share a client example here. I had a client who is an introvert, but who values social time. I understand that completely. I consider myself an ambivert. My alone time and my social time are equally important. And if I start skewing too far one direction or the other, neither is good for me. And this client kept finding herself overbooked socially with these obligations that she couldn’t figure out why she had said yes.

Why did I say yes to this? And when we looked under the hood a little bit, we found the answer, and the answer was, well, in the moment when she’s out having a good social time, she’s connecting to that positive emotion. And of course, yes, I would love to do that just came out so easily. And interestingly enough, the solve was to put a bit of space between the ask and the answer, so rather than responding right away, hey, will you right now shoot me a text message so that I can look at my calendar when I get home and I’ll let you know. That gave her the opportunity to pause and to get out of the social situation before making a decision.

[00:16:42] Cam: I love that example. This speaks to the experience of ADHD. Where we are is where we are, right? You’re in that situation, you feel good. And so it’s like that green light planning episode, just a feeling really good about things and yes, amen. Let’s say yes to everything here and not being able to really think about ourselves outside of this situation, right? Because we’re full in, we’re fully invested, we’re optimistic in this moment, but I love that. And as the key word there, Ash, was really about the space, giving space between, again, the ask and the reply, or what did you say?

[00:17:30] Ash: That’s a good question. I hate it when my clients do that to me. When I say something really good, they’re like, Ooh, what was that? What did you just say, Cam? You are gonna have to listen to the recording cuz I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it.

[00:17:43] Cam: Right? But the inquiry or that ask, and then our response to that to create some space there to come back out and look at it with perspective, I think that often this, again, the sense of, I have to say yes now. or it’s gonna go away and it could go away, right? With our sense of, again, working memory and forgetting.

So how do I capture that? So your client has this, again, a practice of inviting the other person to say, Hey, could you send me a text and I’ll get back to you, you know, in a timeframe to really remove themselves from that situation to then look at it from a different place. Another one that can happen here around boundaries, and again, back to this, vulnerable place of we’ve increased our awareness, but we haven’t developed the practices or the skillset to create the change. And that what can happen is that this performative coach is kind of co-opted by someone close to you. I see it in relationships where, okay, well we found out that ADHD is the culprit and that there has been a lot of hurt over the years, but that hurt is from this misunderstanding, right? That, oh, my partner, I’m talking to them and they just walk away or they interrupt me. do they care about me? Do they love me? I ask ’em to do something. They don’t do it well, do they not respect me? And so when ADHD is finally discovered, what can happen is people revert to these, again, very protected places, draw a line in the sand and say, okay, we found the culprit. It’s ADHD. You fix. and when you do, I’ll be here. Right.

So what is that? That is based on performance that person with ADHD in their time of need, right, of their most need to have someone who’s understanding and has some empathy is withdrawing that support. You’re on your own. Now that’s an extreme situation, but last week we talked about these dysfunctional moments, right? This is an extended dysfunctional moment that is not helping the person with ADHD. And so it’s an opportunity to really sort of look at, okay, ADHD is not like other things like a broken. You break your arm, you go get it x-rayed, you get a cast and it heals and your arm is back to what it was before.

With ADHD, there is no fix. It’s not like you take your meds and it’s gone and we’ve returned back to some normal. It’s a journey. It’s a process, and that. Part of the challenge of ADHD is being able to create effective change. So in this period of where you learn about it, but you’re unable to make change, listeners, you are not fully responsible for your partner’s pain and suffering. You might be partially, but you’re not fully responsible, right? So this is again where that performative judge can be co-opted by a partner of like, Hey, you’re fully responsible for all my pain and suffering.

And this is a case, Ash, where I would say when a relationship gets to this point is when you really want to bring in a professional that can help with that relationship. That is the definition of dysfunction right there. And to work and realize, okay, we’re not gonna get back to necessarily how it was or what we thought normal was, but moving through to a new place, a new understanding, a new appreciation of our wiring. What is possible. A sense of who and myself, but it all comes back to this idea of bandwidth and starting to protect it and see it and not just give it away.

[00:22:07] Ash: Cam, as I take us out here, I think it’s important to let our listeners know when you so strongly say, this is the point to bring in a professional, this is dysfunction in a relationship, that you’re speaking as somebody who’s done that work in your relationship. You’ve done that work.

So like everything else Cam and I do, right, this is not coming from a place where we’re sitting up above and casting judgment down. We’ve been there, both of us in our primary relationships, because ADHD is there having an impact and it’s not an easy thing to solve for.

[00:22:43] Cam: And when we circle our wagons and barriers so high, what we often do is think, okay, I got myself into this mess, I have to get myself out. Right? This whole idea of self-reliance. There are resources out there, there are skilled individuals, and especially now, Ash, it’s so exciting to see how counseling and therapy are really starting to see the impact of ADHD and consider that. And I know a number of professionals who specialize in marriage counseling and the impact of ADHD. It’s just starting, but it’s so imperative. It’s so needed. And that you don’t have to do this yourself. So just when you feel like you just want to crawl into your bed and pull the covers over your head and shut everything out, this is the time to open up and to let resources in.

[00:23:45] Ash: Shout out, by the way, to all of the mental health professionals listening to this show as a way to deepen your understanding of the impact of ADHD. I think it’s so awesome to hear from people in adjacent fields doing therapy work with ADHD clients using our show as a way to better understand the impact for their clients. I love that. Makes me so happy to hear every time we hear it.

So, listeners, the way you can help out the show this week is don’t keep us a secret. Share us with somebody you know, or share us on social media. We really appreciate it, and most of how we gain new listeners as a show is exactly that. So, until next week, I’m Ash,

[00:24:29] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:24:30] Ash: and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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