People with ADHD tend to have issues with anger for several reasons, said clinical psychologist Ari Tuckman, PsyD, and author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Successful Strategies for Adults with ADHD. One contributing factor is neurology. “People with ADHD tend to feel and express their emotions more strongly,” he said.
Comorbidity with depression and anxiety also is common, and, as a result, leaves individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) feeling “more irritable, emotional and angry.” Plus, the intrusive symptoms of ADHD don’t exactly lend themselves to a relaxed disposition. Problems with planning, for instance, make people feel overwhelmed, and, in turn, triggers negative emotions, Tuckman said.
This constant state of overwhelm just fuels the fire. “Feeling chronically overwhelmed can certainly shorten someone’s fuse,” he said. Also, “people with ADHD may feel like they need to defend themselves or justify their actions too often and thereby react more angrily than they otherwise would.”
How to Resolve Anger in ADHD
According to Tuckman, there are various ways individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can resolve their anger problems and “lengthen their fuse.” He helps clients create and stick to strategies and systems that let them stay on top of their responsibilities. This way, “they feel overwhelmed less often.” (Check out these ADHD-friendly tips for help: ways to get more organized, solutions for common symptoms and overcoming financial pitfalls.)
He also works with clients to establish healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting enough sleep and participating in physical activities regularly. “This brings down their baseline stress level which means that it takes more pressure for them to reach that threshold of anger.”
To target anger directly, Tuckman helps clients “identify the situations or triggers that spark their anger.” Then they brainstorm different interpretations for these events. This gives clients “more options about how to respond, rather than simply responding automatically.”
Take the following example: Your wife keeps asking whether you mailed out the water bill. Your automatic interpretation is that she’s trying to control you. But there could be many explanations for her actions, which have little to do with you. For instance, she might be trying to alleviate her own anxiety about the bill, Tuckman said. “By seeing it this way, he doesn’t necessarily need to defend his honor and can therefore respond to her more calmly.”
In other situations, avoidance is advantageous. When you know what fuels your fury, you can simply avoid it. For instance, for you, potentially triggering situations might be political discussions with people who hold different perspectives. So you wouldn’t engage in such conversations.
Finally, he said that medication helps people with ADHD “…lengthen their fuse before reacting.”
Using Anger for “Good”
We typically think of anger as a bad emotion. Of course, it has all the potential to be absolutely destructive. But as Tuckman said, “Like all emotions, anger can be both good and bad, depending on how we use it.” That’s because “we don’t get into trouble by having feelings; we get into trouble by how and when we express those feelings.”
Instead of using anger to fuel impulsive and regrettable behaviors, use anger to supply information. Indeed, anger can be useful to us. For example, “Anger can tell us that someone is pushing our boundaries or treating us unfairly,” Tuckman said.
The key is to “listen to what your anger is telling you,” he said, “but don’t always take what it says as gospel.”
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Sep 2011
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). Anger in ADHD and Temper-Reducing Tools to Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 7, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/09/02/anger-in-adhd-and-temper-reducing-tools-to-help/