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ADHD and Empathy: Identifying and Resolving the Disconnect

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ADHD and empathy are important topics to cover together. For many reading this blog and visiting us here at FastBraiin, ADHD impacts your life. Perhaps you have ADHD yourself, or your child does, or your spouse.

Empathy, on the other hand, impacts 100% of all of our lives. Whether we think about it or not, empathy has a large impact on our interactions with others. Also, to some extent, most all of us crave empathy from those we love and admire most.

Empathy plays a significant role in many aspects of lives. It possesses an importance in our workplaces. If practiced well, empathy can drive better relationships at home. In short, we need empathy, and we all need to understand its impact and use.

For those of us living with ADHD, we need to understand the connection between ADHD and empathy. In this post, we look at empathy, how ADHD and empathy impact one another, and what you can do about it.

What is Empathy?

If empathy plays such an important role, what is it exactly? Helpfully, Psychology Today defines empathy as “the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective.” Put another way, you could say empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling.

Instead of just listening or hearing about someone’s day, you identify with their feelings with what occurred. This takes you from just a mere listener to someone who participates with someone else.

We all want this in our lives. We don’t just want to be heard. Everyone wants and needs to be understood.

The Opposite of Empathy

On the other side of the coin from empathy exists narcissism. Narcissism and empathy typically operate as opposites of one another. You can spot a narcissist when you find someone completely preoccupied with himself or herself.

Narcissists typically lack the ability to feel the feelings of others. They focus too much on themselves. They don’t have the skills to identify with other's feelings.

Why do you need to know about narcissism? Because in order to build empathy, you need to work against the behaviors and characteristics opposed to it. Additionally, in talking about ADHD and empathy, narcissism or its appearance plays a part.

Connection Between ADHD and Empathy

So now we have a firm grasp of empathy and its opposite narcissism, but where does that leave us with ADHD and empathy?

Good question.

Individuals with ADHD possess many notable characteristics. They tend to act impulsively, get bored easily, and become quickly distracted. One of the side effects of the combination of many of these symptoms can result in a lack of empathy.

ADHD related behaviors in some respects mirror traits associated with narcissistic individuals. In fact, some researchers believe that some cases of ADHD could rather be instances of childhood narcissism. Such instances, though, most likely are not very common. We, here at FastBraiin, would recommend seeing a qualified professional to correctly identify ADHD.

The core issue remains the same, though: some ADHD behaviors can look similar to narcissism or a lack of empathy or awareness. For instance, the impulsivity seen in ADHD can appear as an indifference to others. Similarly, bursts of hyperactivity or tantrums related to ADHD could appear as an infatuation with oneself and lack of perception of others. Short attention spans can appear that ADHD individuals just don’t identify or care about others.

All these things do not have to be the case, but unfortunately the connection between ADHD and empathy often is negative. As a result, this can lead to larger problems in relationships for individuals with ADHD.

Problems from ADHD and Empathy

To some extent, we all have relationships that we struggle with. This could be relationships with family members, siblings, spouses, or friends. In terms of ADHD and empathy, a lack of empathy can make things even more challenging, sometimes unbearable.

One big relationship that ADHD and empathy impacts can be a marriage. Unfortunately, ADHD ruins marriages in multiple ways. An appearance of a lack of empathy, though, can have the largest impact. A lack of empathy creates distance and bitterness in relationships.

This goes beyond marriage, too. A lack of empathy can drive a wedge in any relationship. Many children with ADHD have difficulty making and keeping friends. Some parents wonder if their child will ever have a best friend.

The good news is that ADHD and empathy don’t have to always be a negative relationship. Marriages do not have to end because of a lack of empathy. You can do something to address a disconnect between ADHD and empathy.

What to do about ADHD and Empathy

As it turns out, many coaching professionals and therapists believe that one can learn empathy. Experts agree that parents can raise their children to be more compassionate and empathetic. Much of teaching empathy lies with demonstrating what it looks like.

To teach your child compassion and empathy, show them empathy. Show them appreciation and attention and care. All children can pick up on compassion showed to them by their parents.

Other ways to teach empathy to children with ADHD include celebrating other’s successes with your child or talking about feelings with your child. Many ADHD children find it difficult to understand feelings in general. As a result, you should label feelings and identify feelings as they are expressed. This will help make the connection for your child of the feelings and expressions of others.

Don’t worry, teaching empathy applies to adults, too. In a marriage or long term dating relationship, couples should talk about ADHD symptoms and how they effect the relationship. This might include a lack of empathy, but also may include effects from mood swings and hyperactivity and lack of focus.

Most importantly, couples need to acknowledge ADHD’s effect on marriage. Talking and seeking to understand can provide many avenues to positive resolutions.

ADHD can destroy marriages. With patience and communication, though, ADHD and empathy can be overcome and resolved.

Turning ADHD and Empathy into a Strength

ADHD and empathy doesn’t have to be a relationship killer. As we’ve discussed, unfortunately, many people with ADHD tend to have a lack of empathy. This can be addressed, though, through identifying and communicating about each other’s feelings.

If you see a disconnect between ADHD and empathy in your child or in your spouse, don’t give up hope. Seek help for the ADHD symptoms. Be patient, and show compassion.

Most importantly, though, work together to help build empathy in your loved one with ADHD. Ultimately, you too can turn ADHD and empathy into a strength.