How To Stop Being The Person Who Says All The Wrong Things (At All The Wrong Times)

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Black woman laughing in front of a brick wall

As a person with ADHD, you may find that you go down a wormhole when you’re talking and say things you meant to filter out.

Even if you don't have ADHD, you may find yourself in this situation. 

For instance, after observing someone's space, you made a comment that they're a hoarder. What you meant to say was that they are a clutter bug, but somehow your comment came out too harsh, too abrasive.

Now, you realize what you said was cringey and made people uncomfortable, so now no one will look you in the eye. If only you had a time machine that let you go back and fix it.

As you begin to think back, it reminds you of other times when you told a joke that turned out to be a zinger that landed wrong. Instead of making people laugh, you insulted and shamed the person when all you meant to do was make a joke.

You vow to stop saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But how? When will it end?

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Instead of ending the conversation, you go on and on about some personal detail and by the time you’re finished, the people listening have your bank account numbers and a history of the dysfunction in your family.  

Sometimes your tone is too strong, or you don’t read the room correctly. Despite the fact that you would never hurt anyone intentionally, your words offend and then you have to live with the regret and self-regulation hangover that sets in.

Why couldn’t you just control your mouth? If only this was the first time something like this happened to you, it would be an easier fix.

How people with ADHD can learn to 'think before you speak'

Telling neurodiverse people to “think before you speak” is a nice sentiment, but for most neurodivergent people thinking before speaking is quite tricky. Instead of mastering how to think, many simply stop speaking in crowds altogether or live with the vicious cycle of regret. 

For adults with ADHD, the challenges are many: 

    •    self-regulation

    •    missing social cues

    •    a deep desire to share with everyone

    •    intense emotions

    •    lack of situational awareness 

Each one leads to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  So, how do you avoid this pitfall?

Before we get into solutions, there’s one critical detail you have to hear. It’s a lot of pressure to get this right, so hear me when I tell you that no one is perfect. For most of us, well-meaning advice has not caused us to stop saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Because the truth is, we would have changed this and stopped saying the wrong thing at the wrong time a LONG time ago if we could have. 

The key is to have a game plan to help you avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time moving forward so you can change your life. Part of that process includes moving past previous mistakes and reinventing yourself along the way.

Recognize when you're over-stimulated 

When someone with ADHD is “overstimulated”, it means they are overtaken on many levels by what’s going on both around them (as experienced by their five senses) and inside of them (as experienced by their inner dialogue and internal bodily functions – heartbeat, blood pressure etc.). 

A person may find themselves simmering in their own emotions, bombarded by people talking, squinting because of the sunshine, churning about something that happened two minutes ago, while struggling to find their keys (that happen to be in their hand) all while walking into a social situation. 

Social situations can be stressful and emotional for people with ADHD. Whether that is parking your car five blocks away while you run to an event late. Or getting a call chiding you for missing a deadline earlier in the day. Being social can be stressful.  

When you become activated by stress, your arousal levels in your body and brain go up and up like an elevator climbing in a high rise. Losing your self-regulation occurs when those activation levels continue to rise and consequently, throw off your internal homeostasis. 

As a result, you are activated and then flooded with emotions and you enter fight, flight or freeze. In that state it can feel impossible to read social cues and feel prepared or in control of what you intend to say.

Given that people with ADHD also experience weak executive functioning, managing your daily social interactions takes work. 

Bring your body’s arousal levels down so you can return to homeostasis

    •    Take 5 minutes to become more centered, by engaging in a guided meditation, deep breathing, move a rock back and forth in your hands or other tactile stimulation that redirects your attention away from your heightened state of arousal to a calmer state

    •    Expel some of your energy by doing a short burst of exercise –  jumping jacks, running up stairs or doing push ups for 15-minutes will increase serotonin and dopamine and calm your mind down

    •    Take a walk outside or in the woods to experience a different canvas for your senses 

    •    Inhale a scent that calms you, breathing deeply and slowly until you reach a calmer state 

    •    Engage in "Havening" which can be CPR for the amygdala. Havening uses electromagnetic waves in the brain by using palm-havening = rubbing your palms together, face-havening rubbing the face and arm-havening self- soothing by rubbing the motion — the delta waves in the brain signal the amygdala that there is no threat and reduce anxiety and stress. 

RELATED: Social Anxiety & ADHD: How To Better Manage Anxiety With Supportive Planning And Preparation

How to build your confidence, so you can get back to confident socializing 

1. Shift your self-talk.

It’s easy to create a story about every social misstep. And then to come up with a story you tell yourself about how people feel about you. For example, “I’ll never get asked to go to another party because of how I behaved.”  Or, “I had to open up my big mouth and say way too much in that meeting. There’s no way I’m getting the contract now.”

Instead of just believing all of your negative inner self-talk, fact check your reasoning by asking yourself some powerful questions, including: 

    •    What is the story you are telling yourself? 

    •    What evidence is there that this story is true? 

    •    What else could be going on?

This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. The point is to not allow your reflexive or “instant” reactions to reinforce the story that you “always say the wrong thing at the wrong time.” Sometimes it is true, but certainly not always. When you have said the wrong thing, try to practice some self-compassion and self-forgiveness so you can move forward. 

Forgiveness starts with shifting your self-talk and the story you tell yourself about your past social faux pas. Forgiving yourself for past mistakes is key so you can move forward.  Ask yourself what is a replacement or different thought you can use instead of the negative story you have in your head. 

Instead of, “that gaff just cost me this friendship,” try something like “it’s one comment in a long relationship.”  Or, “It’s normal for recruiters to take time before following up from an interview. It doesn’t mean I’ve lost the job.”

RELATED: 5 Ways To Avoid Social Regrets When You Have ADHD — & Make The Most Of Your Superpower

2. Adopt a learning mindset

Rather than focusing on how you performed, try to focus on what you learned and how you can use that in the future. Look at each situation as a learning experience and build upon that. Tell yourself, “Everyone says the wrong thing sometimes.” Or, “I am a good person trying my best.”

Continually remind yourself that no one is perfect, and you are a work in progress just like everyone else.

3. Stop obsessing over things out of your control

The fancy word for mental obsessing is “rumination.” This is when thoughts run over and over in your mind like a hamster on a wheel. They are a mental poison to people who fixate on their character flaws and one of the chief ways you keep yourself stuck in old beliefs and habits. 

Stopping the rumination cycle is key to move from self- recrimination to self-compassion. You do this by focusing on “what” not “why” questions as you’re revisiting past behaviors in your mind. Research shows that “why” questions are ineffective because you are asking why without the data from other people, without your boss, your friend or other information you cannot solve the why. 

Why questions may come to you like this:

    •    Why did my boss look the other way? 

    •    Why didn’t my friend respond to my text?

    •    Why didn’t they call me back?

    •    Why was I picked last for the team?

    •    Why didn’t they like my status on Facebook?

RELATED: How To Overcome Being Self-Critical With 6 Powerful 'Reframes'

4.  Identify your emotional state in challenging situations.

When flooded with sensory information, lights feel brighter, sounds are louder and crowds seem to close in on us. Sensory overwhelm can make situations draining and anxiety-provoking. The sharp tone we employ in the moment can come from our emotional state, feeling of overwhelm, ghosts of the past and fear of failure. 

Start by diagnosing your emotional state as you enter a social situation. Check in with yourself about what has triggered you in the past and led to you losing control and saying the wrong things before. It’s hard to pay attention to social cues, think about who you are speaking to and adjust your tone when you are struggling emotionally.  

Challenging situations may include:

    •    environment

    •    people

    •    sensory experience

    •    crowds

    •    topic of conversation

    •    what happened earlier that day

    •    triggers from the past

    •    something else

Do some self-diagnosis.  Ask yourself, "When I (insert experience) then I (tend to do)…"  

Knowing what might raise your stress levels or flood you with emotions is critical to gaining control over your reactions. It may not change how you react right away, but it’s a vital clue to figuring out what triggers your reactions. And knowing what triggers you will get you a lot closer to understanding why you do what you do in various situations.

5. Work on self-regulation.

Self-regulation involves having the forethought, insight,  and choice to behave in calm or stressful situations the way you want to behave. It’s owning that the responsibility to “be different” lies in your hands and accepting that you have the choice to learn how to be the person you want.

It isn't easy or simple, but it absolutely works.

RELATED: 15 Ways To Improve Your Social Skills (And Be Less Awkward Around People You Like)

6. Learn how to be a social spy.

If you are talking to someone, entering a social situation or realizing you are not sure what to do next — start with becoming a "social spy".  

Social spy is one of my absolute go-tos when someone needs to learn how to manage their social behavior but they’re not sure how to do it.

It looks like this: Scan the situation and watch people’s body language, facial expressions and social cues. If you struggle to manage conversation and spy, then zoom-in on their face and then zoom-out on the room conversation and the bigger picture. 

Finally, listen and observe what they talk about with others, what they read, what clubs they are members of and what sports they play. 

7. Know Your Audience

When you enter a social situation it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say. Unless you consider the situation and what the situation requires, it’s easy to respond incorrectly.

Not sure what the appropriate response should be? You can take your lead from observations you have made, including who is there and what they are about.

For example:

    •    Do they like to joke around? 

    •    Are there topics they prefer not to talk about? 

    •    Do they speak loudly or quietly?

    •    Are they a small group or do they include lots of people?

    •    Do they use slang, curse words, other jargon or language that’s inclusive of a specific group or interest?

When you know your audience, you have the greatest chance of reading the situation correctly. Then, what you say is adjusted depending on the situation, the people who are there, your relationship with them and your comfort level with them.  

Not sure what to do? Ask yourself what you do know to give you clues including, what you know about this person, their background, and their values? 

It’s best to stay away from few sensitive topics including:

    •    raw emotion

    •    religion

    •    politics

    •    money

    •    hygiene

    •    sexual history

    •    medical history

    •    body fluids and

    •    childhood trauma

Knowing your audience is one of those super-skills that acts as a gatekeeper on your behavior. By putting certain topics “off limits” and adjusting your words to align better with your audience, the stress of saying the wrong thing will wane.

Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is all too common for people with any of the neurotypical profiles. When you learn and practice these skills, they act as the antidote to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. They are also the stepping stones for reducing the stress and anxiety you feel thinking about new social situations.

The reality is as a person with ADHD you have very likely had your fair share of “whoops” and “oops” and moments you wish you could erase from your mind.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine to transport you back. But, you can learn how to adjust your behavior such that in the future when you’re compelled to speak out of turn, or say more than you intend, your muscle memory will have a chance to step in and remind you of these skills and a different way of being.

RELATED: How To Deal With People Who Think You're Arguing Every Time You Try To Express Yourself

Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL methodology for adults,parents, clinicians, and academic professionals. She specializes in teaching development of critical social, emotional, and behavioral skills.

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