As a young child, I remember believing life was a wonderful adventure. To make the most of it I was always on the move: exploring, dancing, singing, or climbing. I talked a million miles an hour and asked a trillion questions. And I loved the thrill of new experiences, constantly sought stimulation and always wanted more and more.
I also remember being so completely lost in my imagination or absorbed in my latest interest, that I didn’t notice how my endless energy, over-enthusiasm, and constant chatter was affecting others. Nor did I notice when I said something inappropriate or breached someone’s personal space or privacy. Instead, my thoughts happily raced ahead of me in blissful abandonment.
I was carefree, preoccupied in a world of my own oblivious to any damage I caused or signs of possible danger.
On the flip side, I remember struggling with the frustration I felt when asked to wait or to delay gratification, and that being bored felt like ‘hell on earth.’ – A mind-numbing excruciating pain, accompanied by restless agitation.
But even worse was the debilitating pain I experienced when I was in trouble or on the receiving end of rejection, criticism or anger. This pain was crippling. It would surge through my body and flood my senses. And with it my chest would tighten, I’d get a lump in my throat and tears would well in my eyes.
I always tried so damn hard to prevent this pain but, due to my self-regulation challenges, couldn’t seem to avoid it.
As I grew older my emotional challenges intensified. I began to experience what mum called ‘high highs and low lows,’ there was no in between. And due to my extreme sensitivity, could shift between the two in the blink of an eye.
I imagine living with me must have felt like being on a rollercoaster. My family was involuntarily dragged along for the turbulent ride by my emotions. Hanging on for dear life, I experienced my ups and downs with unnerving uncertainty.
How Mum coped through my teenage years I’ll never know. Needing constant stimulation I became rebellious and argumentative – anything to escape the mundane. Yet I remained ever so fragile, in need of love and understanding, and never-ending reassurance: Ruled by my emotions and the opinion of others. – A confusing, misunderstood mix of teenage angst, on steroids.
Even when my Dad stopped coming home until I was asleep, my Mum stayed by my side, persistently trying every strategy she could think of to help me – in the hope that I would change or possibly grow out of it.
But I didn’t. And never will.
For although maturity has greatly decreased their intensity, my emotional dysregulation challenges and rejection sensitivity, along with my inhibition challenges, are here to stay. They are part of who I am: A manifestation of my genetic make-up – An expression of my ADHD traits. – And something I’ve had to accept and learn to live with.
Coming to peace with this realization, however, took time and was only possible once I found out I had ADHD. As before my diagnosis at 47, like an unfinished jigsaw, I was missing part of my puzzle, which made it impossible to really understand and accept myself. However, with all the pieces in place, this changed. For I finally had the self-awareness I required to develop the strategies I needed to maintain a sense of control.
So now it’s my son’s turn. As without his ADHD medication, my Mini Me displays the same traits I did as a child. He’s highly sensitive, emotionally reactive and prone to frustration. At lightning speed, he can flick between being blissfully happy or hurting with frustration, and his big emotions frequently overwhelm him.
As his Mum, it’s heart-breaking to watch and difficult to manage. As although his medication stabilizes the rollercoaster during the day, in the evening I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I have to tread ever so gently, hoping he won’t break.
But that’s okay. My job is to keep him safe whilst he is young. And to do all that I can to help reduce the impact of his ADHD symptoms, thus ensuring he has a bright future. And he will, for I’ve already begun fostering in him the self-awareness and self-understanding, along with the skills and strategies, he will need to one day manage his emotional challenges independently, so he can thrive and enjoy all life has to offer.
Tips For Adults
If you’d like to work on better managing your emotional regulation challenges and rejection sensitivity, here are some tips that may help:
- Knowledge is power: to help you develop a deep understanding of your emotional dysregulation challenges read this: Emotional Dysregulation
- Forewarned is forearmed: the most effective way of managing the emotional challenges associated with ADHD is to pre-empt them in the first place as this enables you to put in place strategies to:
- Mitigate or avoid your triggers altogether.
- Reduce your triggers sensitivity. For example, medication (stimulants plus or minus antidepressants), sleep, diet, exercise, meditation, all reduce trigger sensitivity. As can planning what you could say to yourself prior to entering a potentially challenging situation so you’re better able to use speech to self (your verbal working memory) to self-soothe and maintain control.
- Help you rein in your emotions if you find yourself triggered and experience emotional flooding. For example, planning and practicing ahead of time strategies such as deep breathing, meditation, mantras, and speech to self.
- Bring your loved ones on board: explaining to your family why you struggle with your emotions, what makes it harder to cope and how they can communicate with you to reduce your challenges, can also greatly reduce emotional regulation challenges.
Tips for Parents
If you’re looking to foster self-regulation skills in your child with ADHD, the tips in these posts found on Thrive with ADHD may be of assistance to you:
Originally published as Rollercoasters and Eggshells: Emotional Dysregulation and Rejection Sensitivity by Lou Brown of Thriving with ADD, Lou is an ADHD coach, advocate and author from Australia. Follow her on Facebook.