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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