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How do people with ADHD handle criticism?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. For people with ADHD, handling criticism can be challenging due to the symptoms associated with the condition.

Difficulty regulating emotions

People with ADHD often have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may have strong emotional reactions to criticism, feeling hurt, frustrated, angry, or rejected. This makes it hard for them to respond calmly and rationally. Impulsivity can also cause them to react defensively without thinking.

Rejection sensitivity

Many people with ADHD experience rejection sensitivity. They have a heightened emotional response to perceived rejection or criticism. Even constructive criticism can feel like a personal attack. This can elicit feelings of shame, humiliation, and self-doubt.

Problems with working memory

Working memory allows us to hold information in our minds while using it to complete tasks. People with ADHD commonly have impaired working memory. This makes it hard for them to keep criticism in perspective. They may fixate on the negative feedback and have trouble seeing the big picture.

Low frustration tolerance

ADHD is linked to low frustration tolerance. Dealing with criticism requires patience, restraint, and self-control—skills that can be difficult for those with ADHD. They may feel quickly overwhelmed by negative feedback and lash out or shut down.

Trouble sustaining attention

Inattention makes it hard for people with ADHD to stay focused on criticism long enough to process it fully. They may tune out during negative performance reviews or only hear part of what is said. This causes key points to be missed or forgotten.

Poor organization and planning

Many people with ADHD struggle with disorganization and difficulty planning ahead. This affects their ability to implement changes based on criticism. They may intend to use the feedback to improve but lack the skills to break down goals into steps and follow through.

Low self-esteem

The challenges of ADHD can contribute to low self-esteem. When already feeling bad about oneself, criticism often hurts more. People with ADHD may have more negative self-talk and feel defined by their shortcomings when criticized.

Tips for handling criticism with ADHD

  • Ask for feedback to be specific and solution-oriented.
  • Have an accountability partner help process criticisms objectively.
  • Write down feedback to review once intense emotions have passed.
  • Give yourself time and space before responding to criticism.
  • Ask clarifying questions rather than reacting defensively.
  • Focus on the progress you have made rather than just setbacks.
  • Make a plan of actionable steps rather than getting overwhelmed.
  • Talk to a therapist if criticism is emotionally paralyzing.

Creating a supportive environment

It takes empathy, patience and guidance from others to help people with ADHD handle criticism in a constructive way. Here are some tips:

  • Offer feedback in multiple formats like written and verbal since distraction can be an issue.
  • Balance constructive criticism with positive reinforcement.
  • Ask the person how they would like to receive performance reviews.
  • Provide concrete examples of behaviors to change rather than general criticisms.
  • Check for understanding and allow time for processing before moving on.
  • Focus on strengths first before addressing improvement areas.
  • Collaborate on an improvement plan with incremental goals.

Professional strategies and treatment

In addition to a supportive environment, people with ADHD can benefit from professional help in handling criticism and improving their self-regulation skills:

  • Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy focusing on emotional regulation, communication tactics, and reframing negative thoughts can help in managing reactions to criticism.
  • Coaching: ADHD coaches use strategies like role-playing to practice handling criticism and controlling impulsive responses.
  • Skills training: Dialectical behavior therapy and mindfulness teach distress tolerance and self-soothing skills for regulating emotions.
  • Medication: Stimulants improve impulse control, working memory, and focusing. This allows better processing of feedback.
  • Organization/planning help: ADHD-experienced professional organizers can assist with implementing plans and changes from criticism.


Due to symptoms like poor emotional regulation, rejection sensitivity, and inattention, people with ADHD often struggle with handling criticism. Creating a supportive environment with positive feedback, concrete examples, empathetic communication, and collaboration can help. Professional treatment like therapy, coaching, skills training, medication, and organization support also benefits management of criticism. With structure, strategies, and increased self-awareness, those with ADHD can develop the flexibility and objectivity needed to utilize criticism for growth and success.