How To Know If You Have Undiagnosed ADHD

Getting an ADHD diagnosis can help curb the downward spiral of shame and low self worth associated with ADHD.
Low self-worth and extreme emotion in ADHD adults
Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Do you believe that you are an angry person and suffer from an extreme temper?

Do you find people accuse you of lying or being full of excuses?

Do people label you as overly sensitive or reactive? 

Do you suffer from low self-worth and have a constant tape of negative self-talk running through your mind?

Do you struggle with maintaining happiness?

If you answered yes to any of these questions it is possible that you may have been a child with undetected ADHD. Adults with undiagnosed ADHD are more at risk of suffering from low self-worth and living in a life riddled with shame.

ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder in the brain causing it to lack the proper connections in the prefrontal cortex. It affects both emotions and behavior.

There are many different types of ADHD and people may exhibit one or a combination of these types. It is important to note this isn't a blanket diagnosis, any combination of these things is unique to each person, It is a spectrum.

People with ADHD may exhibit a few or all of these symptoms: 

  • Impulsive behavior
  • The inability to focus or stay on task
  • Hyperactivity in our bodies making it difficult to stay still 
  • Hyperactivity in our thought processing. This exhibits itself in ways such as overactive daydreaming, question asking, storytelling, or switching topics at random.
  • Hyperactivity in the five senses
  • Troubles regulating emotions
  • Lack of executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills include the ability to manage time, organizing, planning,  transitions from one thought or activity to another, and even memory, These skills do not come naturally to an ADHD brain. They need to be taught and practiced.

I worked in the Education field in my 20s and was taught quite a bit about ADHD. enough for me to suspect I might have it. However, it wasn't until my 40s when my daughter was diagnosed that I received my diagnosis as well.  It was for my daughter that I started to dig deeper into understanding ADHD and I was amazed at how much I wasn't taught. Even with my Education background and working with ADHD children for the last 20 years I was unaware of most of what it entailed. 

I have learned so much over the last year that has made me rethink my understanding of myself as well as my child. An early diagnosis for my daughter will help her avoid the self-worth spiral that I experienced as a result of undiagnosed ADHD. So much of what I believed was my personality actually has to do with my brain chemistry. 

I believed I was angry by nature.

I believed that I was in the wrong and was stupid because I responded to things with self-shaming.

I believed I was full of Excuses and was unable to accept responsibility for things.

I believed I was sensitive and overreactive. 

I believed I would never truly feel happy.

I believed I turned into the worst version of myself each month with my changes in hormones.

Because of these beliefs, I  thought  I wasn't easy to love and I struggled with loving myself. I  was so relieved to find out none of that was actually me, but a response due to my ADHD brain. Getting a diagnosis is the first step in understanding and curbing these responses that can lead to low self-worth and shame.

These 6 behavioral responses can indicate you may have ADHD.  Anyone can have these responses but when you have a diagnosis to go with them; it becomes clearer as to how they contribute to the increased low self-worth and constant overwhelm of shame that occurs as a result of the ADHD brain.

Here are 6 ways to figure out if you have undiagnosed ADHD:

1. Overwhelming bursts of Anger

Impulsivity is a key factor in the ADHD brain. This applies to emotions too. Even though the anger may appear to be out of nowhere it isn't. Their thoughts are on hyperdrive, there isn't a way for them to stop one flying in before the previous one has even left. Whatever is in the mind at that moment causes an emotional reaction of some kind, and impulsivity is what causes it to be expressed instantly and intensely.

The ADHD brain is driven by feelings not logic. This is crucial to understand in order to decode the intense feelings. Because the executive functioning skills most people utilize to get things done are not connecting for them, ADHD draws on the one thing that it is really good at, feeling and sensing.

As a child I would get so angry I would slam doors and throw things. When I'm tired or I've lost my patience I was still doing this as an adult. My father would react by getting angry with me. Getting angry at ADHD children for being angry or telling them to stop and calm down will never work. It only exacerbates the anger they are experiencing. You have to help them travel through it. Remember they can only see what they are experiencing at the moment. The brain can not regulate emotions. 

Those with a functioning prefrontal cortex can let those emotions pass by unnoticed quite often, or in the next day or two things can roll off their backs.  The ADHD brain cannot. They have to feel and express what seems like every emotion they are having at that moment. Some are able to pass through the anger quite easily, others get focused on the anger and can not pass through it.

2. Self Shaming and Negative Self-talk

Shame is tool ADHD brains utilize to protect and motivate them. When they are impulsive and unregulated many do not have the tools to know how to fix that problem. Shaming self-talk such as "That is bad I shouldn't do that" or "I need to stop that" is a way of reminding themselves of what is acceptable and what is not appropriate, it is used to motivate better actions. Undetected this constant self-shaming increases and inevitably leads to low self-esteem and self-worth. 

Many know as children they are different and don't fit in. This contributes to shaming as well. There is a constant feeling of disappointment over the failure to successfully follow instructions, complete assignments and daily tasks, and be on time, etc. Especially in schools, they are expected to conform to a system designed for normal functioning brains.

In school, I was labeled as a kid who daydreamed. My second-grade teacher called me Prissy from 'Gone with the Wind'. Prissy was an African American slave who was sent to fetch the doctor when Ms. Melanie went into labor. She came back hours later running a stick along a picket fence doctorless. This was me, focused when I left the door and completely in a daydream minutes later.

My family said I talked too much and had an overabundance of energy but at school, I was quiet and still. I would repeat to myself in my head things like "You messed up again." and "What's wrong with me, why can't I do this?" after being called out on the many mistakes I was constantly making. 

Sometimes you will hear the self-shaming out loud. Many however do it in their heads and it becomes undetectable. If we can learn coping skills to manage their impulsivity and tools to teach them to self-regulate this will greatly reduce the need to shame being used as a response.

There are certified ADHD coaches that can help with this. Supportive connections with loved ones are imperative in feeling a sense of acceptance and belonging in order to curb the shaming. Encourage and highlight their strength and talents and commend successes over commenting on failures.

3. Lying and making excuses

In order to avoid shame people with ADHD may resort to lying, making excuses, trying to switch the subject, use inappropriate humor, or point fingers elsewhere. These are all tactics to avoid further shame.  Lying or making excuses are not intentionally used, instead, they are simply strategies for protecting their hearts. It is like trying to backpedal out of something because it is uncomfortable.

The ADHD  hyperactive brain will have ten rather unpleasant outcomes after a single event all of which they will do their best to avoid because they have already started the shaming dialogue in their head that the event was 'bad'.

My daughter is so good at lying, sneaking, and hiding things to avoid getting in trouble. Her impulsivity causes her to take things and do things even though she knows she isn't allowed to. She got to the point where I didn't know what was real and what was a story anymore.

I accused her of often being a liar. Often as parents, we immediately want to correct these behaviors in our children. Correcting this, as I have learned, will only lead to further shame. I have gone down the road of consequences such as taking things away from her, and other smaller directly unrelated punishments for lying. I even went as far as explaining how the breakdown of trust can cause a breakdown in our relationship, the biggest mistake on my part which led to more shaming for her.

As soon as I learned her lying was a means of protecting her heart, I sat her down and apologized for thinking she was doing it on purpose. I explained I now understood she was hurting on the inside and together we would build her back up. Since giving her the connection, lying at least with me has decreased significantly.

I have learned since my diagnosis that I use excuses in the same way she uses lies. When I catch myself in the midst of an excuse, I can step back and ask myself, what do I feel threatened by right now. 

4. Increased sensitivity and anxiety

Hypersensitivity goes hand in hand with ADHD. The stimulus in the brain and the body is without a filter, so it gets overwhelmed and overloaded constantly backlogging our nervous systems. If not addressed and ultimately causing anxiety in our children.

Here are the ways in which hypersensitivity can present itself in our thoughts, our senses, and the internalization of things:

Hyperactivity of the mind can be an ongoing dialogue of random thoughts.

These racing thoughts can get jammed and clogged in there all at once and they don't know what to do or focus on first creating a pretty overwhelming situation.  The lack of planning and organizing in an ADHD brain doesn't help them make sense of these thoughts or be able to put them in a comprehensible order.  They don't know which thoughts need to be acted on or felt, and which ones can just pass through unattended. 

Hypersensitivity in the senses can be affected by light, sounds, smells, touch, or taste.

These are often referred to as sensory issues. Many people with ADHD can also identify an oversensitivity in one of their five senses.  I personally can't handle too many loud noises in the same room and I can smell when someone is smoking in their car five cars back and two lanes over. The older I got the more anxious I became.

Any loud noise I heard, the slightest unexpected touch made me jump. Any strong smell made me sick to my stomach or so overwhelming I had to leave the room. I still personally can't handle too many loud noises in the same room and I can smell when someone is smoking in their car five cars back and two lanes over. I now also love the sunshine but I feel safer and more warm and cozy in a dark room.

Hypersensitivity to people's comments is hearing only criticism and hurt in conversations.

We tend to describe this as being overdramatic. Sometimes it doesn't matter how intentionally kind, and loving you say something to an ADHD person, they are instantly hurt by it. They are also notorious for, as my mother used to say, "Making a mountain out of a molehill" An event might happen that appears to be trivial, but an ADHD brain may respond as if their whole world has been shaken.

These sensitivities are a sign of overwhelm. To the normal functioning brain, you can move from one event to the other rather smoothly, letting things slide down your back as you move through the day. The ADHD brain can't move from one to the next.

To illustrate something like stubbing our toe should just take a second to grimace and recover from but instead its not just the toe being stubbed but the bump on my head from earlier and the time the door slammed on my fingers six months ago, now it is enormous and hard to overcome because the whole body is suddenly aching. 

The impulsivity causes the emotion to be expressed immediately, and the inability to regulate sends every time we felt that emotion come rushing back. One event causes the ADHD brain to recall every event in quick succession it associates with it. 

As a child I often heard comments such as "Stop reacting, you react to everything" or "Stop taking everything so personally." I was constantly being told to stop, but I was never told how. This always bothered me. I would think to myself If someone could just tell me how to "Stop" maybe I would.

Now I understand this is part of my ADHD brain as an adult I can actually catch myself and I thank my ADHD brain for protecting my heart. All it takes is acknowledging this is my brain's way of processing things and I curb the negative cycle. You need to devise a strategy that resonates with you.

Something to ponder regarding Hypersensitivity and the ADHD brain that you may find affects you that are not talked about or have yet to be studied fully are,

Sensitivity is caused by the weather, specifically the changes in barometric pressure and the amount of daylight.

My daughter and I both suffer from headaches often, and when we started using a migraine app we noticed a distinct correlation between our headaches and the weather. Being in the bright sunlight too long can also give me headaches and hurt my eyes. I always have sunglasses. I wonder too if ADHD brains aren't more susceptible to the effects of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) during the long periods of darkness during winter.

Sensitivity to the effects of Technology.

In terms of technology, the overload of having information right at your fingertips, in combination with blue light exposure, and the need for instant gratification from social media sites (including being exposed to negative feedback and cyberbullying) is worth looking at too.

There have been several studies on how blue light can affect us. Reducing screen time before bed is at the top of the list of recommendations given by doctors to children with ADHD, especially if they have trouble getting to sleep at night. The more time my kids and I spend on a screen the more cranky we get. I know cannot play a game on my phone without emerging off my device an absolute bear. 

These are both just theories on my part and things I have noticed, but you may find them helpful when you are investigating your triggers.

5. Inability to maintain a consistent level of Happiness

The emotional regulation struggles, the difficulties of separating one incident from another, the constant self-shaming, as well as the overstimulation all contribute to the struggle to stay happy. ADHD brains focus on what is happening at that moment. When they are happy, they can easily be bumped out of that state with whatever catches their attention in the next moment. Many ADHD people are labeled as moody or melancholic because they can't maintain a consistent level of happiness.

My husband's main frustration with me is that I tend to complain a lot. We have re-occurring arguments about what he hears as complaining, I hear as explaining. I love to outline in great lengths the events of the day while he was at work. It turns out my over-explanatory habit is not a habit at all, but my ADHD brain's way of processing.

The time in which my husband comes in the door is usually the most stressful time in my day. Everything is happening all at once from getting the kids in, cleaning lunch kits, the puppy is going crazy over everyone being home again, and I'm trying to get them settled into homework as well as dinner on the table. That is a lot to process for someone whose executive functioning brain is asleep. 

In other words, there is a lot to overcome in the heart and emotions of these overwhelmed beings and as children, they need a safe space to release sometimes. It is also good to try and remember the ADHD brain only knows what it feels in the moment, and it will apply this to the past and the future as well. It is hard to have a happy outcome of what tomorrow will look like if you are struggling to be happy at the moment now.

As Adults, if they do not learn coping strategies many compensate for this by looking for happiness externally, giving into their impulsivity, and buying things or use stimulants such as alcohol or drugs to numb the emotional waves.

Happiness is overall a choice and one that can be taught. Adults with ADHD brains still need to be taught and shown to do things that help them feel happy Some are still needing to figure out exactly what makes them happy. Practicing gratitude and modeling ways to be happy is an important teaching tool ADHD coaches can potentially help with too.

6. Symptoms may increase with changes in Hormones

This is still being studied so the information found on it is vague and inconclusive. Many women with ADHD diagnoses are finding it helpful to increase their medications right before their cycles start because of the increase of symptoms occurring for them at this time. This suggests estrogen may have an effect on their ability to manage the condition with the changes in hormones that occur within their body. 

I know I get headaches at ovulation and a few days before my cycle starts. Also at this time, I suffer from extreme emotions and a super fuzzy foggy brain. Looking back I can almost pinpoint my outrageous anger and downhill spiral of self-esteem with the onset of puberty. I will be watching my daughter very closely with this in mind as we navigate through it when it is her time.

All in all, If any of the behaviors resonate with you, they may be signs you are suffering from the effects of shame and low self-worth and perhaps should consider the possibility that you may be someone with undiagnosed ADHD. The diagnosis was key in understanding the difference in my reaction to things being internalized causing me to feel unloveable. Early diagnosis for children is key to curbing these consequences from spiral as a result.

Just by being aware we can start to curb it and stop the downward spiral so many children with ADHD fall into as I did. Awareness is the crucial first step to learning that the condition is not who they are. Educating and connecting with those we love can shed light on areas where we need the most support in regaining what has been lost over the years and give you a better understanding of how to best advocate for yourself. 

It will require consistency, a lot of patience, and love to raise that self-worth. There are supports available whether it be talking to your doctor about starting medication, finding a support group for an ADHD coach to help you build yourself back up.

Mother of four. Nature lover, Gardener, crafter, and certified soul coach.

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.

Start Writing