I’ve been listening to the 4th Annual ADHD Women’s Palooza (which I conveniently forgot to post about on here, and now you have to pay for. It’s worth it, though, if you have ADHD or care about someone who does). it came to me that a bunch of the issues being discussed can seriously affect our victim profile with regards to creeps, sexual-predators, and intimate-partner abusers, either by making us lower-risk targets or by making it harder for us to deal with the situation. I thought I’d try to list the main points.
Bear in mind that I’m ADHD, but that’s not all I’ve got going on. I was diagnosed very late, brought up by an emotionally abusive and anti-feminist family, and exposed to sexual predation from the age of 11. It is very difficult for me to disentangle what issues are caused by the ADHD per se, and which by the intersection of other factors. You could have ADHD and not have any of these issues, or you could not have ADHD and find that some still apply to you. If no part of this sounds remotely relatable to you, congrats. Seriously.
1. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.
Discovering the existence of RSD was my main ADHD revelation. It’s not that I didn’t know that I had it; it’s a bit too obvious for me to ignore. I just assumed that everyone felt the same, and that they could handle it better.
RSD can impact our ability to deal with creeps and predators for two main reasons. Firstly, we can be incredibly frightened of any kind of upheaval in our social group. Given how badly whistleblowers are often treated, being wary of putting ourselves in that position when we know how crushing the resulting RSD will be is a reasonable concern. Secondly, we have a tendency to assume that other people will be equally crushed by rejection. We may resist giving out negative responses in order to spare people’s feelings, or soft-pedal our rejection to the point that it’s wholly ineffective, particularly against those who have no interest in respecting our consent.
2. We are trained to suppress or discount our feelings.
ADHDers may struggle with their emotional self-regulation. They may suffer from low frustration tolerance, temper outbursts, emotional impulsivity, and mood lability (rapid, often exaggerated changes in mood). In a nutshell, we tend to have a lot of feelings and struggle to hide them.
While learning to manage one’s emotions is an essential part of being a functional human being, there is a difference between learning to feel a feeling without acting upon it, and learning to suppress or to discount the feeling. Suppressing feelings may make our lives smoother and simpler, but it cuts us off from a very important source of information. In the context of creeps and sexual predators, suppressing our feelings can make us slow to react to bad situations, both in the short- and long-term. We may not respond to the fear we feel when a predator approaches us, or the icky feeling of dealing with a creep. We may also remain in an unhealthy relationship because we have lost access to the markers that would inform us that the relationship is unhealthy.
Doubting our feelings also makes us very susceptible to gaslighting – “a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth.” In a very real sense, by ignoring or suppressing our feelings, we’re gaslighting ourselves: we’re teaching ourselves that our perception of reality is wonky, and should be ignored. When someone who purports to love us does the same, we can fall for it without a moment’s hesitation.
3. We’re scared of all things awkward.
ADHDers are accustomed to fucking up in public. We’re emotional, we’re impulsive, we’re often loud, and words have a tendency to fall out of our mouths (or keyboards) before we have had a chance to apply any kind of filter. We know all about Foot-in-Mouth disease, and we know how much it hurts. This can make us way too tolerant both of people who fuck up “just like us.”
Unfortunately, some people fuck up on purpose, because they enjoy making us feel uncomfortable (i.e., predators). Other people don’t fuck up on purpose, but still fuck up in ways that can be very harmful (i.e., people who don’t fully understand consent, or who have been brought up to think that “no means maybe”, etc.). Both these groups don’t respond to subtle hints; if we want their behavior to change , we need to set clear boundaries and enforce them as needed.
But what if it turns out that this person that we pegged as a creep was just awkward? What if they never meant to upset us at all, and our reaction triggers their RSD? What if we do set those boundaries, and the person gets upset at us, and everyone finds out, and the whole situation degenerates into a giant social clusterfuck? Just thinking about that can trigger our RSD!
Being reluctant to put our foot in it until we’re absolutely sure that we are really dealing with a problem person can put us in grave danger. If we’re dealing with a physical predator, we might find ourselves having to fight ourselves out of a situation we could have avoided. Alternatively, if we’re dealing with a non-physical predator such as a creep, we might find ourselves suffering in silence for extremely long periods of time, never quite feeling safe but never giving ourselves permission to ensure our safety.
4. We’re dopamine fiends.
ADHD has been linked to low dopamine levels. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone: it is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, and allows us to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific rewards.
Dopamine levels shoot up in the early parts of a relationship, and peter off over time as the relationship stabilizes. Alas, dopamine levels also increase in response to stress. Now, this is purely my hypothesis, but I think that when you have a crush on a Bad Boy/Girl/Person, you risk getting a greater dose of dopamine than you would by falling for someone who makes you feel safe and secure. Even if that’s not the case, in the early stages of a relationship it can be hard to tell whether you’re getting the lovestruck dopamine, the stress variety, or a bit of both. To me, at least, they “taste” the same, which means that I may actually remain infatuated in someone for longer if they stress the heck outta me; i.e., I sometimes feel better in a relationship because that relationship is stressful.
5. Whirlwind romance or love bombing?
Love bombing is the practice of “overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber.” Basically, it’s setting off on a relationship way too fast and too intensely with the specific purpose of getting someone hooked on you before they really know you well enough to realize that actually you’re a manipulative douche.
Thing is, for a lot of ADHDers falling head over heels is the normal way to start a relationship. We’re fast, we’re impulsive, we can hyperfocus on people just as much as we do on anything else, and we looove that sweet, sweet dopamine that a new relationship gives us. For us, though, that’s not a tactic: it’s just the way our head/heart works. It’s not something we’re doing; it’s the way we are.
When an ADHDer crosses romantic paths with a manipulative love-bomber, they may fail to realize that there’s a problem because the two behaviors are, on the outside, quite similar. It’s only the motivations that vary. By the time those motivations are uncovered, the ADHDer may find themself in a very bad situation.
6. We’re accustomed to being punished in the name of love.
On average, children with ADHD receive a full 20,000 more “negative messages” in their lifetimes. On one hand, that makes sense: ADHDers can be utterly aggravating, because we just can’t behave properly. On the other hand… we just can’t behave properly. We don’t choose to be distracted, easily bored, forgetful, impulsive, fidgety, hyperfocused on the wrong things, perennially late, and so on and so forth. Those aren’t things we choose to do: they’re just how our brain works, and all we can do is learn how to work with it. Scolding a child with ADHD for spacing out is not unlike scolding a short-sighted child for failing to read something on the board. You’re punishing someone for the way they are. This is particularly fun for those kids with RSD, for whom the knowledge of having done wrong is in itself a terrible punishment.
When this punishment is routinely presented as “for our own good”, we may end up buying into that. We may learn to believe that being cared for means being hurt, that the people who love us and look after us will also punish us for being ourselves. If that doesn’t prime us for intimate partner abuse, nothing else will.
7. We believe there’s something inherently wrong with us.
This is connected to the above point, but it’s its own thing. Being constantly told that there is something wrong with us can, unsurprisingly, lead us to believe that there is something wrong with us. This is particularly true for those of us who are diagnosed later on in life, because we don’t even have the comfort of a diagnosis to explain to us what’s going on, and to help us work around it.
Being constantly exposed to a barrage of negative comments can turn us into people-pleasers. We try to make up for our perceived shortcomings by doing whatever it takes for people to like us, even when it has a negative impact on our life. When other people’s behavior hurts us, we ignore that hurt and accept it as the price of admission in the relationship. In a nutshell, when our world is hurting us, we try to change ourselves instead of trying to change the world. If part of that hurt is caused by being in a relationship with an abuser, that can take us to very bad places.
8. We have unsupportive support networks.
ADHDers are more emotional than the average person. That doesn’t mean that we feel the wrong emotions! We may just feel them more intensely, or struggle to modulate our reaction to them. Unfortunately, our emotionality can lead to the people in our lives discounting not only our feelings about our problems, but the problems themselves. We are probably making a mountain out of a molehill. It can’t really be that bad. It probably wasn’t that bad to start with, and we made it worse by panicking. Hell, it’s probably our fault: if we could just chill out and act normal…
The result is that if we find ourselves in a difficult or even dangerous situation, we might find ourselves unable to get any help from our social network. By the time we’ve accumulated enough evidence to support our concerns, we may have gotten needlessly hurt.
Please note that this list is NOT comprehensive – it’s just some stuff I thought about today. I’ll add to it if anything else occurs to me. Feel free to add your bits in the comments.
2 thoughts on “Creepology & ADHD”
Owwww…. This is my story… I couldn’t have voiced it better myself… I don’t know how your experiences could be so similar to mine (read several of your blog post the last couple of hours, hyperfocusing of course).
Read this blog, felt the above and wanted to express it as a comment. Scrolled down and saw I already had, a year ago. Yay for my memory….