Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Out of sight, out of mind and forgetting to talk to or message friends. Agreeing to go out but canceling at the last minute. Boredom from the inanity of people. Not knowing what to talk about. Not understanding social cues. Not able to deal with crowds. Fear of being a burden. Feeling out of place. Fear of rejection. Needing alone time. Fear of betrayal. Afraid of over-sharing. Forgetting names. No confidence. Feeling overwhelmed. Social Anxiety. Depression.
These are just some of the thoughts, fears, and issues that people who have ADHD deal with when we think about making friends, much less keeping friends. Since we have ADHD, our brains think too fast, feel too much, and fear the unknown. These feelings can become crippling and overwhelming feelings of hopelessness.
Many of us have dealt with a society that has taught us many painful lessons. Many of us feel that people should be feared because we have been too easily betrayed, too easily hurt, and too easily cast aside. This causes us to become withdrawn, insular, and depressed. It seems like every time we stick our head out to be friendly, we get burned once again.
Most of the time, we will need help from a psychiatrist for medications to help us with those things that cause us to isolate. ADHD medications may help a bit with social issues, but we may need other medications that can help us with mental health comorbidities common with ADHD:
Fear of rejection, fear of being a burden, fear of betrayal—all of these can be laid at the feet of our Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, a part of Emotional Dysregulation that stems from the constant negativity and trauma that we’ve dealt with in the past due to past experiences.
Imposter Syndrome—those insidious thoughts that we do not deserve friendships, that we do not deserve to love or be loved—the fears of inadequacy, of not being good enough to be around people, the defense mechanisms that we’ve put around ourselves to keep the fear of being seen as frauds. This can lead to crippling cases of depression and cause us to isolate even more.
Feeling out of place, feeling bored with the inanity, and not knowing what to talk about tends to come from people criticizing us for what they consider “weird behavior". We are often judged for our various social difficulties, and we may have a natural tendency to not feel as if we fit in. These tend to lead to certain types of anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders. However, this may even be a sign of Autism Spectrum related issues, which require a completely different set of solutions, mainly therapy.
There are a myriad of reasons why we have such a hard time making or keeping friends, some of which may be based on the trauma many of us have experienced in our lives.
However, we can’t hide alone in our houses, because that will not help us. In fact, it will actually cause more harm to us. As much as we talk about just wanting to be left alone, this can cause our ADHD symptoms to get progressively worse, along with many other health issues.
A study authored by psychologist Louise Hawkley, PhD, a senior research scientist at the research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, provided evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences, including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function, and impaired immunity at every stage of life.
In addition, a 2019 study led by Kassandra Alcaraz, PhD, MPH, a public health researcher with the American Cancer Society, analyzed data from more than 580,000 adults and found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race (American Journal of Epidemiology , Vol. 188, No. 1, 2019). According to Alcaraz, among black participants, social isolation doubled the risk of early death, while it increased the risk among white participants by 60 to 84 percent.
A 2016 study led by Newcastle University epidemiologist Nicole Valtorta, PhD, for example, linked loneliness to a 30 percent increase in risk of stroke or the development of coronary heart disease (Heart , Vol. 102, No. 13). Valtorta notes that a lonely individual’s higher risk of ill health likely stems from several combined factors: behavioral, biological, and psychological. "Lacking encouragement from family or friends, those who are lonely may slide into unhealthy habits," Valtorta says. "In addition, loneliness has been found to raise levels of stress, impede sleep and, in turn, harm the body. "Loneliness can also augment depression or anxiety."
However, psychiatry is just part of the solution when it comes to ADHD and mental health concerns. In many cases, we need practical answers and support. As stated above, there is a huge need for support groups and therapy support.
But another need is having supportive family members and friends to be there for us. They should be learning with you about ADHD, how it affects you, and offering the support that you need to open up and find ways to spend time with those who you enjoy being around.
If you are an introvert, it is understandable that you may need to recharge, but it is still important to do your best to be as social as you are able when you can.
Sometimes people have been burned too many times or have burned too many bridges due to their untreated ADHD and do not have access to any support system. This is where a Life Coach or Therapist can help. Through working with a coach or therapist, we can start forming healthy habits for learning about ourselves and what we truly need from our friends, both old and new.
We see a lot of times in this group where people talk about how their symptoms seem to be getting worse, and invariably, when people ask about their lives, we see that they have isolated themselves.
It can not be stressed enough that, regardless of your past, it is vitally important to find ways that you can be social and spend time with other people.
Now we have ideas on the dangers of isolation and the why of it with those who struggle with ADHD. What do we do next?
First off, we have to spend time learning about our ADHD and how it affects us. Learning about ourselves can also help us set up boundaries so that we aren’t putting ourselves in situations that we know we will not be comfortable with. We can also learn from a coach or therapist how to self-advocate for ourselves. We need to be able to explain to our friends what may trigger our anxieties and emotional dysregulation, which, in turn, allows them to provide support for you when you take those chances to come out into the world.
Once we have a firmer understanding of ourselves, we can reach out and take time to connect with our friends and family that we haven’t talked to in a while. Be honest with them. Let them know what you’ve been going through. Apologize if you’ve been inconsistent with keeping your promises to go out with them. Let them know what you can and can not do, and take baby steps.
Try to mend those relationships that may have been destroyed when you were going through the worst parts of your life with undiagnosed ADHD. Don't let shame and fear hold you back here. It's vitally important that we do what we can to show this vulnerability. In many cases, we will find those in our lives dealing with many of the same issues.
However, if people do not respect the struggles we face in our lives, we shouldn't shrink back and hide. We must advocate for ourselves and hold on to what we know will help us. Unwarranted negativity is not something that we can put up with, and nobody should put up with it, regardless of who it is from.
This is where firm boundaries must be put in place, and realistic expectations of what you expect from those who you allow around you. Hold true to yourself, and this journey you're going through. You deserve happiness, not abuse and negativity.
This is the hardest part, because any setback can cause us to retreat, especially if we are naturally introverted. But the alternative is much, much worse. Remember, being alone hurts us in so many ways. Not just mentally, but physically as well.
The most important aspect of this for people with ADHD?
How do we make friends? Where do we start?
First off, start small. Don't throw yourself into a giant rave at the nearest stadium or the nearest frat-house party.
Talk to your friends and family members! Remember when they asked you to try that new thing and your brain said,
Well, now it's time to take that chance.
As we said earlier, talk to your friends and let them know your triggers and your fears. If they care about you, then they will understand, and they will have your back. Give them the benefit of the doubt and do your best to trust them, but remember the boundaries we referred to as well. They must be respected.
If that may be too much at first, then consider finding online communities that you can join, Discord Chat servers that are specific to hobbies and interests, and other social communities that exist out there. Start there and connect with people. Have video/audio chats and build those relationships, and once you're comfortable there, maybe take the next steps.
Explore some other tools to use if you want to find people who are into those myriad other hobbies that you may have stuck with over the course of your life:
Meetup.com is a great tool to find local groups that you may have things in common with. Looking for that local Dungeons & Dragons group? The local hiking group? This is the place to find it.
Facebook Local Groups & Events can help you find local groups that you can identify with, and Events lets you see the various things going on around you that may pique a new interest, or intrigue that long-lasting hyper-focus.
Share other tools in the comments below that you have found useful to get back into being social with people!
So talk to a therapist, Work with an ADHD Life Coach. Get out of the house. Talk to your old friends. Try to make new friends. Make plans to explore your local world with groups or even alone. It’s OK to have your own safe space, and it’s OK to take breaks from people every now and then. But take the small steps to find those who will accept you for who you are. The alternative is to live a nightmare of loneliness, and I don’t know about you, but I believe life can be more than that.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to take these first steps, then reach out to me, as an ADHD Life Coach I can help guide you to find your tribe and to build those friendships that you need to keep the loneliness at bay.