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How to deal with dual perspectives?

My ADHD spouse will over-react to situations and people can get hurt via outbursts of anger or overly strong reactions. However, because of very little self-awareness, she can be cheery the next moment while those affected remain stunned. When this happens to me, it takes me a while to recover. When there are big blow ups, it can take me days to recover. Meanwhile she has no clue as to why I’m still wounded.
I’m learning that ADHD lives in the “now,” and so cannot access past experience in the moment, nor has the capacity to understand what future consequences will follow. So similar incidents occur over and over as a result. Yes, this is my experience.
I’ve learned that ADHD has a Now perspective while non-ADHD perceives past, now and future consequences. I’ve learned to let go of how this affects others, but when it happens to me I can feel depressed.
What do you do to cope with this dual perspective situation? Does this even make sense?

Replies

I don’t think this is purely an AD/HD thing. It certainly isn’t the way my AD/HD works. I’m more likely to be the one with bruised feelings for days if I have an upset with someone I care about or those I don’t like but have to deal with.

It might have more to do with the degree of symptoms. Mine are low to moderate but enough to be a burden.  I certainly don’t live completely in the now, am very aware of the mood of my partner and can access plenty of memories of social interactions for outcomes. I don’t believe it can be completely true that any adult who can tie his or her own shoes much less get a driver’s license, doesn’t remember the past or think of the future. There would be no learning what so ever. It might be easier for her to put upsets out of mind but she may simply have developed this as a habit that has worked well enough to be reinforced if she hasn’t been held accountable.

My sweetheart’s adult daughter I think has un dx’d ADD. I think her mother and brother also have some degree of ADD but with her it shows more as she had brain damage shortly after birth from a heart problem. She recovered very well, graduated from college, does well in her work but her personal life lacks maturity. I think family members have let her get away with saying horribly rude things and never having to own up to it, apologize and make amends. Her work history is stable enough I doubt she blows up at co-workers or clients and few friends would put up with this crap. At other times she simply has histrionic dramatic scenes that seem only to get her attention with people trying to calm her fears and tears. She has been very accepting of me and I’m grateful overall. Some time ago I was admitted to the ‘family’ category and first shared in the histrionics. No big deal. About a year ago she first threw some of the rude crap at me. Against my better judgement, when I asked her parents’ about it, they told me not to take it personally, she’ll forget about it and just ignore it. As a long time dog trainer, my instinct was to sharply say don’t treat me this way. I have too much experience with letting small disrespectful behavior escalate to dangerous disrespectful behavior. A few months later she had asked me for some info on hormones and possibly ADD. I sent it at the wrong time of her cycle and she blew up with threats to put a restraining order on me. I didn’t take it personally but chose to refuse to tolerate it. Flat out told her she was out of line, incredibly rude, immature and also that I expected she would try to forget about it the next time she wanted to visit—I knew she wanted something from us in the next 2 weeks. And that if she wanted to visit as planned, she had jolly well better apologize first. I didn’t mention this to either parent until she did try to visit. Then told them what happened and that no apology had yet arrived. They accepted my position and we dropped the subject. Not only did she not subject me to the histrionics but stopped pestering her father with them also. She still has not apologized but has changed her behavior towards us both. Was briefly cordial during the holidays when we went to dinner with some other relatives. Did drop by for a short and polite visit. She’s minding her manners better. If she ever tries to blow up at me again in this way, I will flat out tell her she will not set foot in the house again unless she admits what she said was out of line, apologizes and realizes that if she tries it again I will respond in a manner that is crude enough to make her forever flinchy about being around me—I’ve had some friends who taught me how to make some very effective insults.

While she does have some impulse control issues, I think she was permitted to slide by with her mother and brother—parents had divorced about the time puberty hit and her histrionics increased. Dad doesn’t buy into the she can’t help herself stuff. She can control it enough that she doesn’t randomly insult strangers or have road rage.

I’d say hold your wife accountable. But in a different manner. Try the love letter technique. http://billherring.info/atlanta_counseling/john-grays-love-letter-technique
Don’t wait for days to write it. As soon as you can after the fight, while details are fresh in your mind, write down what happened. Use the method to go through your emotions and what you want from her.
If she doesn’t believe she did what she did, it might be useful to get at least a voice recording of her screaming. That’s a tricky thing. While it can prove people are doing stuff they don’t remember, being recorded can also cause a fight. There is one case with a friend who would not face up to how much she was drinking regularly where I considered video taping her but did not. I regret not doing so, she destroyed her life. She was still responsible enough at that point to hold a job. It might have gotten through. Later she was too far gone.
There may be other issues with her such as some degree of bipolar or hormone swings that do indeed make it hard for her to remember what she did. But if she doesn’t blow up at authority figures or dangerous seeming people it might well be a learned behavior reinforced by people who put up with it. Any adult the state considers sane enough not to need a keeper needs to be held accountable for his/her actions. She’s treating people like doormats and needs to be aware of it, apologize and the shame of having to do so might be uncomfortable enough to prevent her from being quite so nasty in the future. My smack upside the head has had a significant effect that has lasted for almost 9 months.

Posted by Gadfly on May 18, 2014 at 4:05am

Gadfly:

I love your reference to dog training.  I swear that my own dog training experience had something to do with the fact that my two ADHD kids do not have nearly the same sorts of behavior problems that other kids with ADHD seem to have.  When they were young I was the most consistent parent about setting clear boundaries & consistently enforcing them.  Despite having ADHD they learned from past mistakes & were some of the best behaved kids you ever met!

It was only by the time that they were about 7 (twins) that I started to think something was very “wrong” because some of the things they completely understood and never, ever “forgot” (like never ever think about being loud & obnoxious in a restaurant because one of your parents will immediately escort you to the car) were now getting a bit, well, loud & obnoxious (and the moment they were made aware of this you could tell that they were just as CLUELESS about HOW that just happened as we, their parents, were).

The “moral” of the story is that ADHD has, IMO, only so much effect on impulsive behaviors starting to occur (blowing up at someone and over-reacting).  Once children OR adults are made aware of a transgression (due to a momentary lack of self-awareness or other-awareness) they *should* feel bad & be apologetic.  If they aren’t and/or they can just “move-on” like something never happened or like they are so “living in the now” that they’ve forgotten about it then there’s something else going on besides *just* ADHD. 

Can be as simple as defense mechanisms from a lifetime of screwing up (hurting other people from over-reacting & blowing up)—and they are self-protecting from feeling the full impact of what they’ve done.  They feel less horrible about themselves for being so hurtful (based on impulsively reacting to their own emotions getting hurt), but that self-protective defense mechanism to numb themselves from the pain of their own actions also makes them less able to try to learn some self-control in the future.

And once that happens, like the drama queen Gadfly referenced, they can start to play on this over-reacting to their own feelings getting hurt.  And they will continue to play on anybody who puts up with it.  At that point some ADHD traits now get converted into a personality disorder.

Posted by BC on May 18, 2014 at 4:47am

BC
Some high drive dogs like Malinois, Belgian/Dutch shepherds and even your namesake smile BC’s Border Collies can act like AD/HD with emphasis on the hyperactive aspect.
I raised Dobermans, not the cop, Schutzhund or sport type nor the show lines but family/personal protection and companion types. Not as high drive as the other breeds but not dogs for couch potatoes either.
Some of those high drive dogs NEED Vitamin E-exercise, as well as a lot of mental and sensory stimulation or they will go crazy and take you with them. If bored, their ways to entertain themselves are going to be noisy and destructive.
I’ve heard of a few truly remarkable performing dogs that their handlers take out for a 5 mile run before training or going to work. These dogs may be top notch search and rescue, drug/bomb/street patrol dogs, high scoring in the protection sports, capable of long down stays with the handler out of sight—at least 20 minutes with distractions around them, but if not getting their exercise and other needs met and not having strong boundaries set, will become out of control, aggressive pains in the backside. And can also show the hyperfocus aspect as well as the super fast thinking and responses of AD/HD.
But if you don’t get the issue of who is in charge and respect set early, you will have battles of will that persist.
The hyperfocus can also get the dogs into trouble. Teaching them to keep a small bit of attention reserved for danger is an important life lesson. In one case, a male was flirting with a female starting to go into season. We were walking past a pond when he sniffed her backside, she turned and snapped at him. He gracefully jumped to the side and landed in the pond. That shock snapped him out of his brain lock for at least half an hour. The next time he sniffed, he jumped again and crashed into my late husband’s knee—he saw it coming and braced. The dog richoceted off with a grunt and next time paid more attention to his landing zone.
Fear, pain, shame, guilt, regret, these emotions are there to keep us safe and motivate us to learn from experience. ADD’ers may need more than the usual shot of adrenaline to get the lesson. But adrenaline is required for much/most? memory retention in emotionally charged situations. Too much can wipe memory but not enough and the lesson won’t take.
Life has consequences and not all those are positive. The purely positive approach to learning ignores this. In any skill needed for safety, from running a chain saw, driving a car in snow, mud, rain, heavy traffic, self defense, escaping a burning building, practicing the basics in a calm situation to start with is good BUT if the practice never goes up in intensity, you probably won’t use it when you need it. And why too many karate black belts can get the crap beat out of them in street fights. They didn’t practice real life scenarios.
I recall my driver’s ed teacher yelling at us that in snow, if we started to skid to turn into the skid. The days of rear wheel drive. My class was in summer. The first time in winter that I did start to skid, his voice came back, against my instinct I turned into the skid and got safely out of it. The next day I found a large empty parking lot with quite a bit of snow and practiced panic stops, getting into and out of skids at different speeds.
Footnote to my suggestion on the Love letter technique. Make notes on what happened ASAP to keep it clear yourself but wait probably until the next day to deliver it. There’s no point in talking when no one is listening or capable of listening.  Don’t wait too long either or it may seem like a grudge digging up old stuff.

Posted by Gadfly on May 18, 2014 at 6:53am

My spouse is EXACTLY like you described! We’ve been married almost 11 years and it’s gotten better only because I have yelled and screamed, threatened to leave, etc. All this while taking care of child who went through years and years of a condition that required multiple surgeries. IT WAS EXHAUSTING.

I understand what you mean about the blowing up then doing a 180. You look at them like what just happened and how are you telling me you love me when I’m still angry as heck. And how can someone who loves you say all those terrible things. It’s almost as if he was in a drunk black out situation and can’t remember just how horrible the things he said were.

But, on the other hand, if I said something or some minute incidence happened, he would sulk for DAYS….. and we run a business together so guess who got stuck holding the fort down.

Its rough but our situation has improved and I think it’s because he DOES really want to improve so I see it’s a constant struggle with him daily to keep “it” under control. But I just came to the conclusion I couldn’t live like that anymore and told him I’m not taking it and I WILL leave if I have to. I believe all of it took a toll on my health and I just won’t have it anymore.

So, there you go. I think they can control it but it takes a lot of effort. And I do think they only see for today mostly.

Posted by JK on May 18, 2014 at 3:12pm

I agree that it isn’t all ADHD. Her family communication style is very volatile—manic highs turned quickly to anger to yucking it up like nothing happened, all within a few minutes. But then again, all her family members are either ADHD or bipolar or a combination of both.
The dog analogy is interesting. She fights to be the alpha. When called for inappropriate behavior she howls and growls and it is very effective to cause people to back off. She’s not afraid to go nuclear in public either, which totally shocked me the first time I experienced it!
Honestly, I’m tired. I’ve tried fighting nukes with nukes, but her arsenal is limitless. I used to try to stop her from ruining social gatherings etc but now I let it happen since it’s not my responsibility to fix everything. This has brought me more sanity as I try to just take care of myself in those situations. But when this stuff happens at home with me and the kids…
I’m looking for an ADHD specialist for some specific techniques to help. I agree that she needs to be responsible for her behavior but what I’ve tried so far doesn’t work

Posted by Blues on May 19, 2014 at 1:42am

A local specialist is a good idea.
If she throws such a tantrum in public, she’s going to have a big one when it becomes clear she has to change and you won’t tolerate it any longer. Discussing it with a counselor who is familiar with AD/HD may get her to realize that indeed you will not tolerate it or permit her to subject the children to it any longer. Are you ready to file for separation and take custody of the children for some period if she doesn’t show some significant and stable improvement? If you are not ready to make a stand, and I don’t mean a fight, I mean some clear statements of I won’t tolerate this and if you do it, the children and I are leaving for 3 days. Checking with an attorney first to see what the odds are she could have the cops called on your with some threat of kidnapping the kids and such. If you are not ready to make a stand, continue to cope best you can as if you do say I won’t put up with this and then cave in, she’ll try harder each time.
If there is anyone in her family that is stable enough and willing plus anyone in your family or mutual friends who would be willing to join you in an intervention? A bigger and united front with others besides you stating her behavior is unacceptable may stack the odds your way a bit.
Using the dog analogy, when a behavior that has worked in the past is no longer tolerated, the dog/person/horse/cat/parakeet that used it will try harder for a while. This is called an extinction burst.
Throwing such a tantrum in public goes beyond simply acting like a spoiled child. This is bullying, plain and simple. It is aggression and abuse. I’m surprised the cops haven’t been called. If someone started acting like a rabid dog towards me in public, I’d be calling 911 and taking video.
More than AD/HD the extreme mood swings you describe sound like the bipolar parts of the family. I had one local guy I run into at some music events I think is bipolar. He has tried the tantrum in public with me and it didn’t work. I’ve seen him try it on 2 other people. One backed off and he dominates the events she organizes. She has rewarded him for being a bully. The other got in his face much the way I did and he also backed down. He hasn’t tried it again with me and is careful to keep the dang cowbell away from me after I blew up publicly and asked if he was a slow learner as I was tired of telling him I have acute hearing and want to keep it so keep the cowbell, wood blocks and other loud, piercing sound effects away from me. He CAN and WILL learn when publically embarrassed. He uses the fact that most people don’t like to make public scenes and tolerate bullying to get his way. Since he has a valid driver’s license, he’s sane enough to held to the same standards of civilized behavior as others.

With children exposed to this just as she was, they will be learning by example that sh!t fits and abusing others gets people what they want. A lesson she learned too well.  And also to put up with being abused by people they should be able to trust. Neither lesson seems healthy.

Good luck

Posted by Gadfly on May 19, 2014 at 2:35am

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