ADHD and Friendships: How to Make and Keep Friends
For many people, ADHD can interfere in friendships. Even for adults, ADHD and friendships often go together like Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders pointing gigantic magnets at each other. They’re enemies who repel each other.
This is a problem when you live with ADHD and want to have friends. By adulthood, people who have lived with ADHD for years, even decades, can feel rejected and lonely because of ADHD and friendship problems. Friendships that do form often fall apart. Because people with ADHD are sensitive to their difficulties, they often take rejection personally, suffer ADHD meltdowns, and their self-esteem suffers blow after blow.
Just because you have ADHD doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of loneliness. Understanding yourself and your own problems with making and maintaining friendships, you can work to build social skills and find friendships that fit you.
What’s the Problem with ADHD and Friendships?
How ADHD Impacts Social Relationships
As you read about the different ways ADHD gets in the way of your friendships, see if you can identify some of these frustrations in yourself. Make a list of the specific problems you can relate to, and keep it handy. It will become a tool for you to use as you work on your friendships.
ADHD and friendship problems can be categorized into different areas:
- Difficulties in interpreting self and others. It’s difficult for people with ADHD to predict the consequences of their actions, such as telling a rude joke or blurting out something negative about a friend. Reading and understanding facial expressions is an issue, too. Because so much of our interactions with others involve non-verbal communication, and the ADHD brain doesn’t process non-verbal signals well, friendships are frequently a struggle.
- Difficulties with actions/behaviors. People with ADHD can have great difficulties maintaining friendships. Friends turn away, leaving someone with ADHD hurt and baffled. Take a look at these three categories that cause friendship problems:
Inattention involves not listening to someone closely, failure to maintain attentive eye contact, and “spacing out” or letting thoughts and gaze wander rather than tuning into your friend.
Communication problems include such things as talking too much and too fast, interrupting others, violating others’ personal space, obsessing over a single topic and refusing to let it go, and having angry outbursts that drive people away.
Active behaviors like impulsivity, rudeness, restlessness, bully-like/demanding behavior cause someone with ADHD to come on too strong, overwhelming and alienating others.
ADHD and Friendship Skills
Alienating others is what leads to those feelings of rejection and loneliness. The foundation of building friendship skills and avoiding alienating others is to realize, to fully internalize this basic truth: you and your ADHD are two separate things. ADHD is something you’re experiencing, but it’s not who you are at your core.
ADHD causes the above difficulties in interpretations and actions. You’re not purposely choosing them. You can, however, notice them in yourself and choose to learn new skills in order to make and maintain friendships.
You know what is going wrong with friendships and what ADHD symptoms you want to work on. It’s also helpful to know what successful friendships are like. The National Resource on ADHD, or CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) provides these traits of likable people:
You know what ADHD traits don’t work, and you’ve written down the ones that are problematic for you. You have an idea of the qualities of successful friendships. You can begin replacing your problematic, ADHD-induced traits with the positive traits above by learning ADHD friendship skills. Here are some tips:
- Think in terms of what you can bring to the friendship.
- Practice observing wherever you go; observe rather than act for a while.
- Pay attention to non-verbal communication to learn how to interpret it.
- Emulate the behaviors of others; follow the examples of people with good social skills.
- Remove yourself from negative people and groups.
- Find and join positive groups where you’re accepted; look for groups that match your interests, skills, and energy levels such as hiking, biking, or other active groups as well as volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
- Intentionally schedule time with friends and adhere to the schedule; otherwise, it’s too easy to forget about making plans or following through with plans.
- Be attentive to others by complementing them, listening to them, asking questions, etc.
- Keep a sense of humor; being able to laugh at yourself is healthy and good for friendships.
ADHD and Friendships Provide Social Wellness
Having friends is healthy and an important part of mental and emotional health. Learning ADHD friendship skills will help you develop and maintain friendships. Rather than rejection and frustration, you can have a much-deserved sense of belonging.
Peterson, T. (2021, December 20). ADHD and Friendships: How to Make and Keep Friends, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/adhd/adhd-and-friendships-how-to-make-and-keep-friends