This problem is the missing link of adult ADHD…
BUT, believe it or not, it’s not included in the official diagnostic criteria… even though new research suggests that it might have serious negative effects.
In a recent study, conducted by Russell Barkley and Mariellen Fischer (co-authors of ADHD in Adults, What The Science Says), this “symptom” is more frequent than hyperactivity in adults with ADHD.
And the worst is that if you have this problem, it can exacerbate the other symptoms of ADHD.
So, what is this mysterious symptom?
Here it is…
Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation (DESR)
That’s right, the researchers already have a name for this phenomemon.
And, in this study they found that those people that had a higher level of DESR, had worse negative outcomes in theri lives
- There’s an direct between the level of DESR and the intensity of ADHD symptoms (the higher the DESR, the worse and more generalized the symptoms of ADHD)
- Those who had DESR had a higher likelihood of never have married or to have divorced.
- Higher risk of car accidents and of having been arrested.
According to the researchers:
We found DESR in adults with ADHD to be significantly associated with lower quality of life, worse social adjustment, and elevated traffic accidents and arrests, suggesting that DESR may be an important aspect of the clinical picture of ADHD that is important to identify and remedy
What do you think?
Well… if you’ve ever felt stuck because of your ADD, then you have to read what’s next, because you’re going to discover the crucial role emotions play in ADDD… and also a really effective tool you can use to avoid emotional problems.
Smart But Stuck
In his last book, Smart But Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD, Dr. Thomas Brown highlights the crucial role that emotions play in ADHD…
…which is directly connected with the all-important executive functions (EFs).
If you read my 10 Minute Guide to Mindfulness for Adults with ADHD, you know that EFs are key to understand the real cause of ADHD struggles.
I’m not going to repeat here what I wrote in the eBook, but suffice it to say that EFs are a set of highly evolved mental abilities that underlie our capacity for self-regulation.
EFs are something like the CEO or the orchestra director of the brain, that coordinate the acitivity and particpation of other components and brain systems to help us respond in the best possible manner to the demands of daily life…
And we know that in ADD, EFs tend to work in a less than optimal way (actually there are several theories that posit that EF problems are the “real culprit” in most cases of ADHD).
What’s interesting in Dr. Brown’s book is a new and unexpected insight:
Until now, in the majority of EFs lists, the capacity for emotional regulation was listed as a just one more of the EFs.
Here’s the list Dr. Brown himself put together in the past:
- The ability to organize and start a task
- Focus the attention in the task and switch the focus from one task to the other when necessary (not getting stuck)
- Regulate the alertness, sustain the effort and process information effcienlty
- Emotional regulation: manage the frsutarion and modulate emotions
- Using working memory and accessing relevant memories
- Monitor and self-regulate action
Did you see that emotional regulation is listed as a separate function… as if attention, and the other functions were deployed independent of emotion?
Well, here’s the new insight:
All Information Processing is Emotional
To begin, Dr. Brown quotes neuroscientist Kenneth Dodge:
“I propose that all information processing is emotional, in that emotion is the energy level that drives, organizes, amplifies, and attenuates cognitive activity and in turn is the experience and expression of this activity. There is no such act that is nonemotional”
So, according to this new model, ALL EFs (being cognitive functions) are influenced by emotions.
Then, if emotional regulation fails, ALL EFs can wobble.
Here are some of the consequences:
- Emotions like anger, fear, shame, or hopelessness can take over the mind of a person with ADHD, much like a computer virus takes over a hard drive. This flooding of negative emotion makes it difficult for the person to keep any other feelings in mind–feelings that would help them to deal with the situation at hand, such as remembering that the person they are so frustrated with is also someone they love and don’t really want to hurt.
- ADHD often looks like a simple lack of willpower because those with the disorder can focus well on a few specific activities that strongly interest them, yet have chronic difficulty focusing on other important tasks and activities. Evidence shows clearly that ADHD is not due to a lack of willpower–it’s a problem in the dynamics of brain chemistry.
- Persons with ADHD not only have problems managing negative emotions like anger; they also struggle to manage positive emotions like excitement and intense interest. An inability to manage positive emotions can be just as problematic.
- Some extremely bright students with ADHD fail in high school or college not due to a lack of intelligence, but because unrecognized emotional problems with fear, shame, or depression lead them to avoid going to classes, getting their work done, and sustaining friendships.
- As some women approach menopause they develop ADHD-like symptoms of inattention and memory problems. These symptoms–which often cause fears of Alzheimer’s–are sometimes improved with ADHD medications.
- Emotional problems of those with ADHD involve not only “putting the brakes on” emotions like anger or frustration. They also involve problems with “stepping on the gas” or ignition–the ability to overcome lethargy and procrastination to get started on necessary tasks.
- It’s often difficult for teens and adults with ADHD to feel strong enough motivation and feel it consistently enough to perform tasks where the payoff is further down the road (i. e. , where gratification is delayed)
If you recognize some of these problems in your life, you now might be asking:
What can we do about this?
There are many options to deal with these problems.
One of the most studied is pharmacological treatment, which can be very useful for may, but that is not exempt of problems:
- Not everybody respond to medication
- There might be unwanted side effects
- There are contraindications
And, from my own professional experience, the majority of my clients just DON’T WANT to depend on a prescription drug to be able to function for the rest of their lives.
These are some of the reasons why I have looked for alternatives (or complements, for those who benefit from medical treatment, but want to go beyond the transitory effects of meds).
One of these alternatives is the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a particularly powerful alternative for what we’re discussing here, because this special type of mental training can help you develop your emotional self-regulation, as shown in many scientific studies.
But I don’t want to go deeper into the research now… better than that, I want to provide you with something more practical…
In this brief segment of an interview I did with Marv Belzer, PhD (UCLA), you’ll be able to know a little bit more about mindfulness and it’s benefits for emotional regulation.
Marv is one of the best mindfulness teachers I know, so hit play now and then let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂
Want to learn more?
If you want to learn more and haven’t downloaded my introductory guide to mindfulness for adults with ADD, go ahead and get it now!