Women with ADD often feel socially disconnected and unable to ask for help or assert needs. Here's what you can do to change this.
Feeling Socially Weak? Build Your Strength
by Michele Novotni, Ph.D.
Although both sexes can and do struggle in the area of social relationships, a double standard often exists. Whereas a man may be excused for violating one of the many social rules, a woman is often not– even when violating the exact same social rule. After all, women are supposed to know more about appropriate social behaviors, right?
Wrong – especially when the woman in question is contending with social impairment sometimes caused by AD/HD. There are some common areas where many women with AD/HD feel their social skills are weak: feeling socially "connected" with friends, acquaintances and business associates, mastering the multi-tasking switch between work, home and family, being unable to ask for help or assert needs, and feeling isolated and depressed due to lack of positive social interaction. Why is this, and what can you do to build your social "strength"?
Social skills are all the things we should say and do (or not say and do) when we interact with other people. They aren't officially taught in school, but it's expected that we all know the mysterious social rules that govern our relationships. If you don't, you often end up dismissed, rejected, and lonely without knowing exactly what it is that you did wrong, and no one usually tells you. Without feedback you rarely have a chance to improve your social behavior. What a vicious cycle!
What to do: Ask people you trust to help you understand what social skill areas you need to improve and be receptive to feedback. Others can help you with your "blind spots."
At-home help: Identify your areas of strengths and areas that could benefit from improvement by using a social skills assessment such as The Novotni Social Skills Checklist (2000, Specialty Press).
Many men focus on only one task at a time. However, women often don't have the luxury of a singular focus, especially in their assumed role as social coordinator and household manager.
With AD/HD, multi-tasking responsibilities of household management often creates multi-problems. Failure to accomplish these "normal" tasks may leave many women exhausted and with poor self-esteem. This emotional and physical energy drain leaves little energy to work on social relationships or complex social coordinating tasks. Many women just shut down socially to avoid embarrassment.
What to do: If disorganization is a barrier to your social life, consider seeking support from a coach to help you develop effective strategies, structure and support to remove or minimize this obstacle in your life.
At-home help: Forgive and forget the idea that women should "be it all" and "do it all" for their spouse and family, and delegate! Everyone can help with household tasks in some way – older children may enjoy making dinner or preparing school lunches, younger kids can fold laundry or pick things up off the floor; hubby can pick up groceries on his way home. Also, try home management systems like "Flylady.net" to help keep clutter in check.
It should be no surprise that women often have difficulty expressing their needs. Many women hope for change but are afraid to request changes or to take risks. This often leaves a void in social relationships and the ability to connect with others.
What to do: Consider taking a class in assertiveness training. Night schools or counseling centers offer such classes to help improve your ability to state your wishes and needs more clearly and effectively.
At-home help: Start small if you're shy about asking for what you want, and build up to bigger requests. Ask your husband for a shoulder rub. Invite a friend for lunch at your favorite restaurant. Take control of the family remote. Taking the initiative helps control anxiety about the outcome of a situation.
Women are usually more aware of the social connections of others around them, and therefore more aware of their isolation or failure to live up to the social expectations. This can often lead to loneliness and sometimes even depression.
What to do: If identification and expression of feelings are causing you difficulties interacting with others, you are struggling in the areas of self-esteem or depression. Consider the possible benefits of counseling to help improve your social life.
At home help: Log on to the world wide web and sign up for one of the hundreds of forums, chat and support groups available for women coping with ADD, and realize that you're not alone. Try ADDmirable Women (groups.yahoo.com/group/ADDmirableWomen) or the online community at additudemag.com. Live support groups for adults are also available in most metropolitan areas through ADDA (add.org) or CHADD (chadd.org). Check online for listings.
You can learn to interact with others in a way that enhances your social life. There are rules, which once identified can be learned, and even traits you can develop which increase your "likability" factor. I encourage you to learn more about social skills and begin to nurture the relationships that can bring that sense of connection to your life.
Michele Novotni, Ph.D., is the author of several bestselling books on AD/HD as well as a psychologist and coach in private practice in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.