The Feminine Side of ADHD: ADHD Life for Women
Precisely what ADHD looks like in any given individual can be quite different, and often surprising, from how it looks in another. I’m hoping this look at ADHD Life for Women will give you some more insight.
No matter your gender, you may see some of you in the characteristics and challenges I’m talking about below, you may not. But I guarantee you’ll see some of the people around you a little differently if you look a little more closely at what may be behind their behavior.
These characteristics are not universal. You are already a wonderful, beautiful, divine creation in your own right! ADHD is just a piece of who you are. It’s not ALL of who you are. Just like you were born to a certain hair color, eye color, and height,
Your ADHD is just one more piece of the whole, capable, wonderful person you already are!
Don’t worry guys. I’m not talking about getting in touch with your inner diva! (Not that there’s anything wrong with it …)
I’m talking about ADHD life for women — the ways that ADHD may manifest differently in women than in men, but… as I often say:
“Your ADHD is as Unique as your Thumb Print!”
Precisely what ADHD looks like in any given individual can be quite different, and often surprising, from how it looks in another. I’m hoping this look at some generalities and commonalities in how adult ADD can show up in females will give you some more insight.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” In addition to being a catchy title for the book by Dr. John Gray, this phrase also holds true when it comes to ADD. As far back as 1844, Heinrich Hoffman wrote the poem entitled Fidgety Phil about a hyperactive little boy who, because he couldn’t sit like “a proper gentleman” at the dinner table, accidentally pulled down with him the tablecloth and dishes as he tumbled from his chair. It has always been the little energizer bunnies like poor Phil who typify the stereotype of ADD. Although modern research is finding that the prevalence rate of ADHD to be about the same for males as for females, even in this day and age this strong stereotype still prevails among the general public and even among many medical professionals. We still hear things like, “She can’t have ADD. Look how still she sits / well she does in school / quiet she is”? Now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Because the hyperactivity component of ADD tends to be more pronounced in boys than in girls, boys tend to be more readily identified earlier in their school careers. The symptoms of an inattentive child with ADD are much more subtle, and often don’t result in the outwardly disruptive behaviors that a child with more pronounced hyperactivity and impulsivity might display. These subtle symptoms often leave the child alone to struggle without being identified for treatment and intervention. And, of course, because current research shows that most kids with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD and that females with ADHD tend to be diagnosed much later in life than males, it is also believed that more females are believed to be undiagnosed overall.
Suffering in Silence
Sadly, many adult women with ADHD will suffer much of their lives in silence, which can result in difficulties with self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Many women who seek help do so only after they find out about their own brain wiring during the process of having a child or other family member diagnosed. I’ve heard many women report a sort of “light bulb moment” when they read about their child’s condition and the traits that correspond. Whether or not they pursue a formal diagnosis themselves, I almost invariably hear something to the effect of, “I didn’t know women could have ADHD/ADD.” Of course, we know better now!
Because women with ADHD often display less overt characteristics of physical hyperactivity, some women with ADHD are seen as chatty, peppy, spunky, or extroverted, while others may come across as scatterbrained, spacey, dreamy, or flaky. Inside, they may be plagued by feelings of ineptitude, incompetence, frustration and even worthlessness.
The demands society places on women can make ADHD Life for Women different than for men, even in the “enlightened” 21stcentury, and many of these demands can be difficult for those with ADD. The days of “Ozzie and Harriet” may be behind us (Thank Heaven!), but women in our society may still tend to have greater responsibility for things related to home and family, like scheduling, remembering birthdays and holidays, entertaining, gift-giving, record-keeping and general “life-management” activities. Because many of these activities rely strongly on our executive functioning, difficulties in these and other areas of life such as keeping up with laundry, work and family schedules, meal planning, etc. can sometimes leave women feeling “less-than” and incompetent, suffering with stress, anxiety, moodiness, over-eating, and worse.
Women are also often taught to be “pleasers,” wanting to keep everyone around them happy, often at their own expense. We tend to have unrealistic expectations of what we “should” be capable of and how our lives “should” look. (And, of course, ADHD Life for Women can look much different!) We believe we should be able to “have it all and do it all,” balancing the demands of a career, family, social expectations, and home. The way we see ourselves can take quite a beating!
I grew up as a child in the 80s hearing the Enjoli perfume jingle that went… “I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. And never ever let you forget you’re a man. ‘Cause I’m a woman…” No pressure there, right?!
So, What’s a Girl to do?
Here are a few simple ADHD Coaching Strategies to get you moving toward a better life:
Knowledge is truly power!
If you suspect that you or a woman in your life may be suffering from challenges related to ADHD, educate yourself. Learn as much as you can from reputable sources about ADHD and how it can manifest in women. Get an accurate diagnosis from someone who understands how ADHD shows up in women. Understanding how your brain works and why you do things the way you do (or don’t’ do) them is essential to learning to work with your own areas of strengths.
Next, look for areas of challenge that could be ADHD-related: Are you constantly late? Forgetful? Misplacing the same things over and over (keys, glasses, etc)? Are you chronically over-scheduled? Understanding the basis for such challenges can allow you to stop beating yourself up about your shortcomings!
Keep an eye out for perfectionism!
Are you a closet perfectionist, allowing unrealistic expectations of how you should “be” in this world to put undue pressure and demands on yourself? I’ve heard more time than I can count, “How can I possibly be a perfectionist when my life is such a mess?!” My bet is that it’s in there somewhere! If you think that you “should” be doing/being different than what/who you are, and you feel less-than compared to those around you, you’ve probably got some perfectionism working against you. Be vigilant! Perfectionism is NOT your friend!
Learn to say no.
If you have trouble saying no, tell those asking for your help that you’ll check your calendar or think about it and get back to them. Give yourself permission to put your hands back in your pockets instead of raising them every single time someone needs a volunteer. How can you learn what your limits are if you have none?
Try to eliminate the clutter from your life. By this, I mean physical clutter in your home, office, and car, as well schedule clutter (things we do that we don’t really want to do or don’t really have time to do). Clutter in your life begets clutter in your brain.
Delegate what you can, when you can.
I know it’s hard to take off your Superwoman cape sometimes (believe me, I have trouble with that sometimes myself), but it really isn’t helping you to try to do be everything to everyone, all the time. If someone offering to help you makes you feel weak or incompetent, change that mindset! If someone you trust offers to help you de-clutter your house, don’t be proud or embarrassed—take them up on it! If there is someone else in your house who can be responsible for paper management (mail, filing, record-keeping, etc.) or some other area where you struggle, hand it over! Hire help with house work if you can afford it. A woman read a quote to me from a book (with a title I can’t remember to give proper credit) that went something like, “Hiring a housekeeper is cheaper than hiring a divorce attorney.” Now there’s a thought!
Last but not least, keep your sense of humor!
If you can’t laugh at yourself and the things your ADHD brings out in you, you’re making life much harder than it has to be! If you forgot to take out the trash, it’s not an indication of a character flaw. It’s trash! If you misplace your keys, it doesn’t make you a bad person! It just means you haven’t come up with the best system for dealing with your keys yet. Seriously, dealing with my ADHD quirks with humor may just have saved my own sanity (not to mention my 32-year marriage)!
Diagnosed or not, working with a well-trained ADHD Coach can be a life-saver if you’re having difficulty managing your ADD traits. You can use this link to my Online Calendar to schedule a complimentary, confidential phone consultation to find out how I can help you live your best life .
Thank you for reading!
Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach