Why People With ADHD Shut Down When Making Friends, And How To Fix It

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Woman drained after going out with friends

Almost everyone is exhausted by reading social cues, trying to pay attention to conversations, coping with sensory bombardment, and managing situations that tax your brain.

When we want to make friends, there are often consequences to reaching out to new people. You might over-commit when you’re busy. You may say, “yes” to an event when you would rather stay home and veg on the couch. Or, the want for friends is so strong you agree to things you’re not interested in doing to please others.

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Here's why people with ADHD shut down when making friends — and how to fix it.

1. Not knowing what recharges their battery

The key here is knowing what charges and what drains your social battery.

Do you feel better after spending time alone with a treasured pet or in nature?

Do you feel more energized after listening to a quick podcast, reading a book, or binge-watching your favorite show?

Do you feel recharged after a few nights at home doing your “routine” or after spending some time exploring something new?

If you can answer these questions, they will show you what works well to recharge your battery and what drains your energy.

Remember, this isn’t about being an introvert or extrovert. It's about taking care of your emotional needs.

2. Not having a plan to recharge their battery.

Once you know what fuels you up, you want to build it into your routine to get back on track.

If being social is stressful, what can you do to feel energized before heading out to meet friends?

What can you do when you return to fill up your tank? Some ideas are exercise, a nap, listening to music, playing an audiobook, taking a walk outside, coloring, or meditation. Having a routine that respects your internal needs is a way to love yourself and recharge your battery so your social hibernation period isn’t longer.

3. Not having awareness of what is energizing and what is draining.

Pay attention to what environments, situations, and groups are challenging for you and provide less benefit of connection and belonging. As you work on making new friends, be in places and with people that are easier to feel empowered. Versus places more challenging and less likely to keep you motivated and engaged.

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4. Not setting realistic expectations of themselves.

It’s easy to say yes to everything and imagine you are different than you have been. But the fact is that some situations may be challenging for you. Rather than saying either yes or no to everything, it’s better to be realistic with yourself.

When you encounter something or someone new, ask yourself these three questions.

Does this interest you?

Do you want to do this?

Does this serve your personal goals?

When you answer “yes,” you know the person/activity matches your friendship goals.

5. Not offering an alternative to plans

Don’t feel you have to accept every social offer sent your way.

If you were to accept everything, it would likely be too draining. Rather than cocooning and not taking part at all, propose an alternative.

If you know an environment is challenging to navigate and that it will push all your sensory buttons, perhaps it is not the best place to be social. Where else can you go together? Is there another activity that works?

Weigh out the benefits and offer an alternative plan.

6. Not protecting themselves

If you must go somewhere that is challenging, have a plan to take care of your own needs.

Perhaps arrive with a buddy. Or, arrive later or earlier to make your presence known, but you’re not locked into the whole event. You can even plan to stay until things are too much for you.

When you’re bombarded with sensory stimuli, it can quickly lead to fight, flight, or freeze. This makes paying attention to social cues and reading the room difficult.

Take steps to protect yourself by lessening auditory triggers with earphones, choosing seats out of the fray, or going at times with less traffic, noise, and people to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

And one final suggestion.

Figure out your social & friendship goals

1. Know what you want from your friends

Some of us tend to say no to everything and then feel lonely and left out.

Ask yourself what you want from your friends.

Do you want people you can open up to and share your deepest secrets with?

Do you want friends to hang out with and have fun with?

Do you like being around a lot of people or just a few?

Knowing what you want from your friends helps you understand who is meant to be in your life. That little piece of information is what you need to set healthy expectations around your goals for finding new friends in your life.

2. Check yourself before you cancel plans

How does the activity fit into your relationship with the other person and your budding friendship?

If the activity is something special, like a wedding, you might consider attending.

It’s a one-time event and has a fixed start and end time. So, you know what you’re committing to and for how long.

3. Be true to yourself & honor your likes and dislikes

If you’re asked to join a hiking club and don't want to spend every Sunday morning hiking, it’s wise to say, "no". You won’t enjoy it or want to stay committed to an activity you dislike.

It’s a slippery slope to please other people without being a people pleaser when you’re trying to make friends. There’s nothing wrong with compromise, or trying new things. However, look at the details to be sure what you’re committing to is right for you.

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Making friends isn’t easy, especially as we get older.

The pull to make new friends is very strong, especially when you feel lonely, isolated, bored, or simply aware that you want to meet new people.

The desire to make new friends can be fueled by a burst of social frenzy followed by a period of social hibernation.

It can feel like a feast or famine.

Additionally, many neurodivergent individuals are prone to burnout and social exhaustion. Interacting with the world can be exhausting. Part of this is because the skills required to interact with new friends and in new social settings are often fast-paced. It requires various brain functions, which include memory and executive function skills.

When under the pull to make new friends, it’s vital to have a plan to handle things when your social battery hits empty. Knowing how making friends can be tiring and draining is critical to sustaining the process long enough to develop a genuine friendship.

People with neurodivergence/ADHD may have other considerations on their minds as they step into the friendship fray, so know yourself, respect your needs, and follow your plan. Making new friends is possible, I know. I’ve done it myself.

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Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them.

This article was originally published at Author Website. Reprinted with permission from the author.