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The Connection between ADHD and Loneliness

By Maria Romaszkan

Our modern society seems to be a lonely one. But that can be a problem.

People are social creatures — we need others to thrive. So much, in fact, that isolation can pose an actual risk to your physical and mental health.

“Loneliness reminds us how much we value relationships,” says Vassia Sarantopoulou, psychologist and the founder of the AntiLoneliness project. “It’s the message our body sends us that we are important and need to become friends with ourselves again.”

Why ADHD can make you lonely

Anyone can feel lonely, of course. But some people can be more susceptible to loneliness — due to discrimination, lack of understanding or how they relate to the world. That includes people with ADHD, who sometimes relate to the world differently than others.

Here are ways that ADHD can contribute to loneliness:

• You feel like you don’t belong

People with ADHD often struggle with challenges that others don’t. Impulsivity, forgetfulness or problems with focus are only some of those challenges. They can all contribute to you feeling like you’re somehow different from others or you don’t belong.

• Rejection sensitive dysphoria

Those with ADHD can be especially sensitive to rejection, which can mean great pain and grief.

The problem is so widespread that it has its own name — rejection sensitive dysphoria, or RSD. You can learn more in our article about RSD.

If you have some symptoms of RSD, you may subconsciously try to avoid situations where rejection can happen — like meeting new people. That often leads to isolating yourself.

• Trouble with social skills

Another hurdle in being more sociable is social norms. You may struggle with small talk or break social rules, for example, by frequently interrupting others.

Difficulties with concentration, zoning out of conversations and even auditory processing difficulties that can coexist with ADHD may pose yet another barrier to proper communication and catching social cues.

We learn social skills from interacting with others. But as a person with ADHD, you may have struggled to connect with other children or even experienced bullying. Such experiences may heavily limit your opportunities to acquire social skills.

• Difficulties with making friends

All of these challenges mean that creating and maintaining friendships or romantic relationships can be complicated and overwhelming.

You might regularly arrive late to meetings, forget important dates, reply to messages days or even weeks later and look like you’re not listening to what the other person is saying. All of these behaviors can give people the wrong impression that you don’t care. They may distance themselves without understanding how you function.

After several rejections, it’s possible to start isolating yourself to avoid further pain and disappointment. Fear of rejection and abandonment may creep in.

Your self-esteem also plays a significant role in whether you reach out to others and in maintaining your current relationships.

• Low self-esteem

People with ADHD often struggle with low self-esteem. That can be exacerbated by trauma — especially childhood trauma — or serious mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

You may think you don’t deserve love and support. “We’re afraid of imposing on someone by sharing our struggle and that they won’t have the space to support us,” says Sarantopoulou. “But when we hide our challenges, our loneliness peaks even more.”

Remember: You have inherent self-worth and deserve love, respect and support.

• Coexisting conditions

Finally, if you have any coexisting mental health conditions along with your ADHD, they can result in a loss of energy and motivation or make the prospect of social interaction extremely stressful. As mentioned above, that can heavily impact your self-esteem.

Depression, anxiety, trauma — all these conditions increase the urge to isolate and make you even lonelier.

How to deal with loneliness?

Experts say there are ways you can fight against loneliness:

• Learn healthy coping skills

While this won’t eliminate loneliness, it can help you better deal with it.

Feeling lonely and isolated can be devastating. You may feel the urge to reach for unhealthy coping strategies to suppress these feelings, like binge-watching tv shows, impulsive buying or using alcohol or drugs.

Instead, try to stay with this discomfort, says Sarantopoulou.

Find healthy ways to cope and allow yourself to experience this emotion. They will help you stay present and better manage your reactions. Try exercising, taking a walk in a park or forest, listening to music, meditating, painting or writing.

• Try journaling

Writing down your emotions and thoughts is a great way to understand what you want and are afraid of. You can try to define your fears and barriers when it comes to meeting other people.

Putting all these feelings into words can also help you figure out your next steps.

• Ask for help

Reach out to people you trust and ask them to identify which social skills you could improve. Maybe you could work on your active listening skills, ask more questions or initiate contact more often.

Try not to take these suggestions as criticism but as an opportunity to grow.

You could also brainstorm together ways to train those skills. “Practice empathetic listening and getting into other people’s shoes,” suggests Sarantopoulou.

You can also try role-playing or creating a plan of action for different situations.

• Let people understand you better

Explain to your friends and loved ones how forgetfulness or poor focus are elements of your ADHD, not your lack of care or affection. This is not about finding excuses or making things harder for others. You’re helping them understand you better. And being understood is something you absolutely deserve.

• Find ways to spend more time with your loved ones

Think of ways you could spend more time with people important to you. You don’t need to schedule an outing in advance. Quick meetings or doing mundane things together are also fantastic ways to stay in touch and nurture your relationships.

If your friends live close by, how about inviting them on short walks? Or maybe you could tag along as they run errands?

• Find new ways to connect with people

There are many ways to meet new people while doing something fun or fulfilling. You can check out your local community center or upcoming events in your area. Look for group activities or workshops connected to your interests or that may be an opportunity to try something new.

Consider volunteering. You meet new people, but it can also give you a sense of purpose.

You could also try attending a support group for people with ADHD. Meeting those with similar experiences can make you feel like you belong.

• Organize your time

If you struggle with maintaining your friendships or finding time to meet, you can try to come up with a regular meetup, like monthly coffee dates or hiking trips.

Don’t hesitate to set reminders to contact people if you feel you could talk to them more often but often forget to do that.

An ADHD coach can help you develop strategies for better time management and prioritizing to make nurturing your social connections easier.

• Consider therapy

A therapist can help you work through issues impacting your ability to connect with others and maintain relationships with people. A therapist can help with rejection sensitivity, low self-esteem, unresolved trauma and many other issues.

You can learn to be authentic and honest around others, says Sarantopoulou. It’s an invaluable skill that allows you to go out and meet others without self-criticism or fear of rejection.

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