How to Deal with Shame and ADHD when You Run a Business

shameIt seems crazy to think, with all the other things on your plate, that you might also be dealing with feelings of shame when running a business.

But you may—especially if you’re running a business and you have ADHD.

Feelings of shame are something Jacqui and I run into a lot with our ADHD business clients. In fact, Jacqui posted a terrific video by TED speaker Brene Brown about the difference between shame and guilt in a previous blog post. You can read what Jacqui has to say about how shame affects your business and find the TED video here.

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior.

Shame says, “I’m not good enough,” and “Who do you think you are?

Shame can paralyze us.

This is what shame in business looks like

Take a look at how shame can creep in with a hypothetical business owner I’ll call Gary:

1.)   Gary’s business has many moving parts. It is growing, he has a lot on his plate, and he is overwhelmed.

2.)   Gary has been following our Working with ADHD articles or podcasts, and he contacts us for support or attends one of our programs for entrepreneurs with ADHD.

3.)   We begin to work together in an individually customized program, or in a group program, or at a retreat. We start to get our arms around Gary’s individual challenges, and map out a plan.

4.)   Gary is inspired and excited by the practical information we provide, and looks forward to implementing some of the simple strategies.

5.)   Back at work, procrastination or overwhelm or both set in, and Gary gets off track, losing focus. Somehow the simple strategies get lost in the weeds.

6.)   Gary feels he is breaking promises to himself and others, and is not getting the value out of his coaching investment by not following through with assignments promised to us. He begins to feel shame.

7.)   Shame builds on shame, pushing the simple strategies further and further away, until what seemed so easy to do grows into an insurmountable task.

8.)   Unable to accomplish the work, Gary feels intensified shame at the thought of disappointing us, or others in their group.

9.)   Not knowing how to crawl out from under the weight of the shame (and drawing on past experience where breaking promises, not following through, and disappointing others has been met with disapproval, anger, and accusations), Gary withdraws. This, of course, adds more shame.

10.)   If Gary doesn’t reach out, a state we call “hibernation” can follow, where Gary cuts off contact with those supporting him (and sometimes, with everyone in his life), in an effort to avoid the intense feelings of shame. Hibernation can last for days, weeks, or even months.

How to stop the cycle of shame

First, realize that you are not the only person this happens to. It can feel so personal and horrible and so absolutely exposed, that it’s hard to believe anyone else can let this happen, like you do. It’s easy to beat yourself up that way.

But it’s true—it happens to most of us. In fact, it’s common with smart, creative, high-achieving business owners, especially those with ADHD. (It’s just not talked about, which is why we’re talking about it.) So know you are not alone.

Second, know that help is available for this. If you are in a program with a coach or a group to work on your business and ADHD challenges, it’s okay to tell the truth about this. In fact, it’s really critical.

It’s okay to admit your feelings of shame when you’re in a safe environment. (But do make sure you’re in a safe environment with someone you trust.) It’s okay to say you are paralyzed. It’s okay to say you procrastinate and don’t know why.

It’s true—the truth will set you free

Try it. Try telling the truth. This is the best way to stop the downward spiral into more shame. So you can get back to work on the things that are important.

Somewhere around #5 or #6 above, as soon as you begin to notice you’re getting stuck, or you’re off track, and you’re feeling shame, reach out. Say something to someone you trust.

Be honest with those who support you. If your coach knows you’re stuck or spiraling down, she can reach out and grab on. She can give you something new to try. She can give you a touchpoint to slow the downward momentum. She can help you walk yourself through your own truths.

If your shame holds you back from making contact, from being honest, you risk closing the door on other things that could help.

No judgment

And if you fear negativity from your coach—if you think she won’t understand or will judge or will tell you to “just pull yourself up by your bootstraps”—you’ve got the wrong coach. The right coach will listen and give you new strategies. The right coach will always be on your side, ready to throw you a lifeline.

If shame is a roadblock for you in your business and you don’t have a coach, you might want to consider getting one. The powerful hold shame has on you can keep you from accomplishing the wonderful, creative things you know you can do. The things you want to do to grow your business.

Shame is not bad. It just is. As Brene Brown says in the TED video, it needs secrecy, silence, and judgment to grow. But if we can look shame in the eye, acknowledge it, talk about it, and go about our business, it looses its power.

You have the power to keep shame from holding you back. You just have to use it.


*Read Jacqui’s post on shame here.

**Find Brene Brown’s TED video here.





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