Friday, September 26, 2014

ADHD and the Automatic No—or Yes


Have you heard of the "Automatic No"? It's one of those phrases that describes a phenomenon among some people with ADHD that is so obvious, so clear, that no doubt a multitude of people have come up with the term, assuming they were the first. I count myself in that group.

My husband used to be the Master of the Automatic No. Once he was diagnosed with ADHD (in 1999), I started understanding how he developed this habit.  When I interviewed him, a few years ago, for an article on his best tips for slowing his own ADHD roller coaster, I asked him about the Automatic No. Here is his response:


“What’s the Automatic No? I would routinely say no when my wife would propose an outing or a different way of doing things at home. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t opposed to most of her suggestions.

“Looking back, I suspect I didn’t want to think about and remember something else, possibly resulting in another failure. Most of you know what I mean by this: You grow so accustomed to falling flat when attempting new things that you avoid trying them. I found it easier to say no and go watch Star Trek instead!

“I’ve learned to listen with an open mind before rejecting an idea. Now we have this shtick, in which my wife will suggest something and I’ll say ‘no.’ She’ll repeat it, and I’ll say ‘no.’ She tries one more time, and I often say ‘OK.’ It helps to get the no’s out of my system, and it allows me to assess how I feel about the idea.”

Sort of like this guy, from the BBC show The Vicar of Dibley.



It made such a difference when my husband started saying "yes" or "let me think about it" or "I'd say yes, but" instead of the Automatic No.

The other day, I was talking to a friend who has ADHD and wrestles with the opposite problem: The Automatic Yes. Whether it's concerning events at her children's school or her sister always asking her to babysit, she has trouble saying no.  Trouble is, she over-commits, thus disappointing others and herself.

For all of us, but especially for people with ADHD, it can be hard finding the middle ground in life. Between the Automatic No and the Automatic Yes.

Have you grappled with this issue? Have you made peace with it? What was your strategy?  We'd love to know. Just leave a comment!

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Gina Pera




33 comments:

  1. I am curious if this is related to how my ADHD partner will take the opposite view of any topic than the one I take. It seems that if I say it is black she will say it is white. She says she is just being the devils advocate as her only explanaination and continues regardless of what i do or dont do or say. Honestly, it feels like I am dealing with an oppositional adolescent who argues or tries to be contrary on just about everything. She wasnt this way 20 years ago and this has gotten much worse the last 5 years. I would love to know if this is ADHD related.

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    1. hi there,

      Well, there is a good chance that what you describe IS related to your partner's ADHD. Consider this excerpt from my book:

      “I say the opposite of what you say”
      You could call this a subcategory of oppositionality. Or, you could call it
      the weather report. That’s because even the safest of topics, like the
      weather, can unleash a storm. “If I just casually mentioned it’s hot outside,my husband would insist it’s not hot outside,” Madeleine says. “Then for hours he would attempt to prove me wrong.” A friend once commented that Madeleine’s husband would argue with a brick wall. “Thank God that this self-medicating behavior went away when he started legitimate medication,” she says. “He even has actual conversations now; you know, the back-and-forth kind, instead of delivering monologues.”

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    2. I can relate. My husband does this. The constant agitating/aggravating seems to be stimulating and amusing to him. Sometimes he'll take a position that I know he doesn't agree with at all just to get a good discussion going.

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    3. Yep, just goes to show what some people consider a "good discussion." :-)

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    4. Hi Gina. I am an automatic no when my husband asks me to do something because I feel overwhelmed and think I'm not going to have time. Can you explain again how it relates to ADHD?

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    5. Hi there,

      Yes, my husband used to do the same thing. It took too much "brain energy" to figure out if he could pull off whatever it was I was asking him to do. So, the "safe" answer was NO.

      Of course it wasn't "safe" at all, because who wants to be in partnership with someone who always says no?

      One strategy for you might be really working on time-management strategies.

      Here is a guest post from Dr. Russell Barkley that might help get you started.

      http://adultadhdrelationships.blogspot.com/2010/09/adhd-and-time-blindness-dr-russell.html

      good luck!
      g

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    6. Hi Gina and (other) Anonymous,

      I do this unwittingly too, but I do it because I like to analyse, discuss, and vet an issue thoroughly before making any decision. I suspect that it's part of my ADHD-indecisiveness, and not any kind of oppositional-defiant trait or (I think) fear of failure. Like so many other things with this condition, it has a downside - indecisiveness and negativity - but also an upside: it seems connected to one of the benefits of my ADHD, namely that my hyperactive brain typically just goes all over the place when considering a problem, enabling me to see it from all angles.

      I do it to myself as well - "On one hand... but then again, on the other hand..." - so it's not something aimed at my spouse. Still, I know that it is hurtful when I do it to her and that she feels that I drain her of her enthusiasm when I do it. I do a double-take as soon as I catch myself and when I see her reaction, but the damage has already been done and it doesn't help if I apologise and ask her to try again. The "Vicar" ploy sounds great and I think that it truly is brilliant advice for most, but in our case she has no reservoirs of patience or goodwill left, so she'd never go along with it.

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    7. Oh yes, I don't think it often has to do with oppositional-defiance. I think there are many other reasons. as other comments have suggested.

      Sometimes, folks with ADHD can "over-think" something, though. Dr. Charles Parker called it "Thinking ADHD" (thinking without acting).

      Not every decision needs to be plumbed to the depths, which might account in part for your wife's frustration.

      You might want to try an experiment, and the next time she suggests something, just say "yes" and see what happens. :-)

      best,
      g

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    8. "thinking without acting" describes my whole life. I've been told uncountable times that I think too much. Is this described anywhere in greater detail? "Stop thinking so much!" has thus far failed to help.

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    9. Oh boy, being told to "stop thinking so much" hasn't helped? Fancy that! :-)

      Check out these videos, including "thinking without acting," from Dr. Chuck Parker.

      http://adhdrollercoaster.org/tools-and-strategies/lose-the-labels-find-answers-on-dr-parker-tv/

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  3. Here's what my ADHD DH does. I say, as I walk to the kitchen, "what should we have for dinner?". DH will say, "did you say you are a sinner?" And I'll say, "now why would I say something like that when I'm obviously looking for something to make for us to eat?".

    And it will go on like that ALL THE TIME.

    I think he purposely changes what I say to something he thinks is the funniest and most unlikely thing I would ever say in the world. I don't know if his brain is just entertaining him or if he really hears these things. I used to think he had some kind of hearing loss!

    He also has a touch of Aspergers, so I'm not sure if that plays in anywhere here. Sigh.

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    1. haha! Penny, you two sound like the couple in this post (on ADHD and "miscommunications"):

      http://adultadhdrelationships.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-it-miscommunications-or-adhd.html

      My husband used to do the same thing. He likes to tell me of the signs he's misread in amusing ways.

      I think the key in what you relate is that you are saying something as you walk into the kitchen. Perhaps your husband hasn't had time to full transition to whatever you're saying, so he hears only half. Then his brain tries to make sense of it, and the answer is so ridiculous it's funny!

      Best,
      Gina

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    2. As a newly diagnosed adult with ADHD who has a similar "hearing" problem, let me assure you it's not deliberate. I've read that there is some audio processing problems related to ADHD, so it's mental, not a problem with the ear and related structures. Our brains only "catch" a portion of what's said, and try to make a complete sentence out of it, without doing a proper analysis of the circumstances. What's obvious to you simply does not occur to us. It's not that we don't care, it's that we're simply missing a part of the big picture, and it's not apparent to us that something is missing in the first place. By the time we become aware of it, the conversation has probably already taken a turn for the worse.

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    3. HI there,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Indeed, I wrote on that subject in one of my first posts:

      http://adultadhdrelationships.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-it-miscommunications-or-adhd.html

      best,
      g

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  4. Hi Gina,
    Thanks for this topic. For me my automatic no as a child, turned into an automatic yes for a very long period of time. This morphed into an "I can do that" both internally and externally. This created a very odd situation where I kept doing more and more and more, often succeeding. A side benefit, when things worked out, was that if I did everything possible I could reduced the chance that something would be missed, which made prioritizing less important. Unfortunately, when you do more and more, the odds are greater that you are more likely to miss something, and worse, you are more likely to be expected to do more, and be chastised by others, among other social issues. To make the whole story more succinct I went from "I don't want to", (and was called "selfish"), to "I'll do it", and being called a "show off", (implying that I was putting others down) where any mistake I made was more highlighted (by others and myself), even when minor. I still can't seem to find the middle ground. The H in ADHD also applies to me.

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    1. Wow, that make so much sense!! Poor you!!!

      But thank you for explaining that so that others might better understand the internal struggle. It sounds like metaphorically banging yourself from pillar to post, trying to meet expectations, keep your motivation up, etc. Exhausting!

      Good luck in finding that middle ground.

      Gina

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    2. The "pillar to post" sentence sums it up perfectly. It is exhausting, and their are many times I struggle with my own persistence knowing that I have to keep trying, though, each time I fall (or get knocked down) when I do pick myself up, it seems to get harder, and the rewards seem to be fewer. It's similar, for me, as I move to the later end of middle age, to each time I stop exercising, it's ever harder to get back into shape. But the choice of the former never seems to be my own.

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    3. And this is what many people don't understand: the enormous, ENORMOUS energy many people with ADHD put into these efforts.

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    4. I'm pillar to post trying to be "normal" ... I literally do not know what it takes to be part of "people"...I watch as woman gracefully befriend each other, socialize, talk small talk....and I try and eventually got some reason end up NOT a part of "people". I try to be aloof and decide I'll be a loner.... but when I do try again to be "people" eventually I'll frig it all up. I'm done trying cuz I just don't know how our what to do to be THEM. Sorry if I am ranting about stuff that had nothing to do with no no no lol....ADHD Sux....

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    5. HI there, You're not ranting. You're frustrated, and in a way that does relate to this post.

      Some people with ADHD excel at friendship, and some are the opposite.

      I recall, when I was growing up, trying to "figure out people." I didn't understand why people reacted so differently when I was the same way. Should I change? Should I find different people? Who do I try to be friends with and who to avoid?

      The bottom line: There's no "normal," in my opinion. "People" are a bunch of individuals, each with their own idiosyncracies, preferences, and "requirements" for friendship. You can't fit with everyone, and it's no use trying.

      But there are some basics to sustaining friendships.

      You might be interested in Michele Novotni's classic book, What Does Everyone Else Know that I Don't. Here's the link to Amazon.

      http://www.amazon.com/What-Does-Everybody-Else-Know/dp/1886941343

      take care,
      g

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  5. Bangs head against the wall in utter frustration....

    This is so helpful, because I'm the yes, and he's the no. Gosh, how could I have not seen it before? Either one is such a destructive pattern to get into--but when they collide????? A black hole appears & sucks us both in. Eject the core, dangit!

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  6. I'm predicting that will require crawling around in the Jefferies tube. :-)

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  7. OK, yes. And yes again- and again. Thanks once again, Gina, for putting words to the struggle so we can identify and talk it out. And maybe, just maybe, start working toward change!

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    1. You're most welcome, Shannon. It's the first and most important step, I think: naming the darn thing. :-)

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  8. I think I do this with my husband and my younger siblings, although it's more of an automatic "not right now". It especially happens when my siblings want to play a game with me. I think I got into the habit of saying "not right now" instead of "no" because it was more non-committal.

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    1. Makes perfect sense, Jenalyn.

      And as the youngest of seven children who ALWAYS wanted to be doing something with one of my siblings, I understand how it must feel from the other side, being always in demand. :-)

      As I wrote above, this was a positive change in my husband from the "automatic no" or even "not right now" (which he also did a lot...with "not right now" usually meaning "never"):
      -----
      It made such a difference when my husband started saying "yes" or "let me think about it" or "I'd say yes, but" instead of the Automatic No.

      g

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  9. Dear Gina,

    While I have you "on the line" (I posted the over-thinking comment above), my wife has read your book and visited a lot of online ADHD-relationship forums, and she feels that she is essentially being asked to treat me like a child by lowering her expectations as to what I can reasonably be expected to be able to accomplish around the house etc. And she doesn't feel like she can do that and maintain her respect for me at the same time. Any advice?

    Thanks

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    1. Hi there,

      Yes, I've read some of that "advice," too.

      Let's just say.....much of what is written about ADHD is written by people who market themselves as experts but their opinions are often self-styled. It is also more aimed at web traffic than true service or enlightenment.

      I get really annoyed reading some of the simplistic "advice" from these non-experts (who are truly more expert at self-promotion than ADHD).

      My entire mission for 16 years has been elevating the lives of people affected by ADHD, not "dumbing things down" for them. And certainly not admonishing their partners to be their "managers" or "executive assistants."

      I work to help adults maximize their functioning, through physical strategies (often medication but also lifestyle habits such as diet, sleep, and exercise) and environmental strategies.

      I help their partners to understand ADHD, not to "lower expectations" but to better work within certain parameters and to develop cooperative strategies that help each partner feel they are "part of the team" -- not the boss or the underling.

      I encourage you and your wife to read my book, focusing on the Third Section: Success Strategies. The book is called "Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

      I hope that helps.
      g

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  10. Hi Gina. I became aware of two things shortly after our marriage. When my wife would ask me to do something for her, I would feel a reaction almost like a degree of emotional pain. I never really figured out where it came from. I would not want to do it. It felt like a "take" from me. I prayed about it and realized that whenever my wife asks me to do something for her, I am being given an opportunity to bless her and to meet her needs. It's not a "take". It's an opportunity (my own choice) to "give" to her. That change in attitude made a huge difference, and with time, the feeling of emotional pain diminished - or perhaps is completely gone.
    I still struggle with wanting to automatically say "no", however. For me, there are at least two reasons. The first is that my ADD causes me to have a hard time thinking things through. I feel pressure if I don't have time to think more, and I would relieve the pressure by saying "no". Second, a common symptom of ADD is discomfort when there is a sudden, unexpected change in plans. Many times, the question/request brings with it a sudden and unexpected change in plans, often coupled with resulting disappointment/grief (over leaving what I'm currently doing) and frustration.
    I have now learned how to say, "I need some time to think about that." I can even say it kindly now, such as, "Please forgive me, but I need some time to think about that", or "I'm really sorry, but I need some time to think about that". I have the attitude that this is MY need, and the other person has no issue - it helps to not say anything that would dump guilt or responsibility for the inconvenience on the person asking the question. This gives me about the same relief as saying "no", but it leaves the requester with at least a good measure of hope. It's also a very true and honest answer. This has been extremely helpful with my children as well. It is more loving for them, and it gives me time to think things through, to evaluate the changes that may be necessary and begin to prepare for them, and the freedom of knowing that this is my own choice. If I "give in" when I'm not sure it was really my true choice, it often leads to feelings of resentment because it feels as if it's the requester's fault for the discomfort I'm feeling because I didn't take full ownership of my response (this is my true response and it is my true choice, therefore I am responsible for it), Sometimes it takes five minutes to think things through and take ownership of my response. Sometimes it takes a day, or maybe a few days for really difficult decisions. But it works. It works beautifully and lovingly. It also builds patience in my children as they wait for my answer!

    Don

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    1. Dear Don,

      What an incredibly thoughtful comment. The time and effort you've placed into analyzing this phenomenon—and figuring out solutions that work for you and your loved ones.

      Positively triumphant.

      I salute you and thank you for sharing your thought process and resolution with others.

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  11. This online world we live in today really doesn't help adult ADHD. There is so much information everywhere online. Just today I was googling backpacks for hiking when all of a sudden, there on Facebook, was an Amazon ad for backpacks. The internet is getting to know the users and has the power to captivate us better than we know.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Gena F | Vantaggio HR

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