By Leslie Rouder, LCSW,CHt
It has long been known that circus elephants have historically been trained to stay tethered to a post by attaching heavy chains to their legs when they are very young so that when they yank or pull at these chains, they are unable to break free. Within a short amount of time, they give up trying, having learned that it is useless. From that moment on, they no longer need a heavy chain to hold them because anytime they feel any resistance, no matter how heavy or light the chain, they give up trying, having incorporated the belief that they cannot succeed in breaking free. This is regardless of the fact that, as they grow into adulthood, they have more than enough strength to pull out any restraint, break any chain and tear up the entire circus tent. Elephants are pretty smart animals, but learned helplessness and a self limiting belief system creates the exact outcome the trainers want. The elephants give up trying. Although individuals with ADHD are not elephants, we can easily draw the comparison and easily understand that the biggest obstacle to achieving success is our own self limiting beliefs. For anyone, especially those with ADHD, whose early life experiences were most likely fraught with frustration, disappointment, and perhaps failure, one can see how easy it would be to create multitudes of distortions around what is true and possible, while creating many self limiting beliefs. Therefore, breaking free from these negative beliefs, is probably the single most important step in reaching one's goals and achieving success in life. This article explores these self defeating thought patterns and provides insight into ways to change them.
The four most common self defeating thoughts that I notice when working with clients are;
Overgeneralizing and exaggerating. One of the ways that people with ADHD will distort reality is by over exaggerating, and then making sweeping statements which lead to negative conclusions. For example, someone makes a silly mistake while taking an exam, which causes them to either fail or do poorly enough not to proceed forward in their education or certification. Instead of the individual feeling disappointed and recognizing that they needed to slow down, take time to proofread their test questions more thoroughly before answering, and perhaps even study a bit harder or differently next time, they might make an internal decision that they are "stupid" and that they just can't handle taking tests. In addition, they may become so filled with frustration at "having messed up again", that they just give up altogether, never completing their education or certification. The tendency to over exaggerate the significance of any simple mistake and blow it way out of proportion becomes a negative self fulfilling prophecy. "I never get anything right, so why even try".