ADHD and Permission to Make Mistakes

Gifts of Imperfection and Adult ADHD

Permission: “the right or ability to do something that is given by someone who has the power to decide if it will be allowed or permitted” (Webster’s Dictionary) or in simpler terms, “the approval of a person in authority” (Webster’s Dictionary).

I’m still working through the book and O-Course, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown. This book study continues through to the beginning of May 2016. I’m thankful the schedule allows us to work our way through her writings and insights slowly, one week at a time.

In the first 48 pages Brene Brown covers the topic of shame and her first art journaling assignment is to have participants create their own permission slips.

In relation to having adult ADHD, I began to think about the amount of shame this disorder has helped to create in my mind. I wasn’t diagnosed until later into adulthood, and by then I had excelled in a number of failures and mistakes resulting in shame becoming a constant part of my identity. My list of shames included constantly being late, forgetting things I had agreed to do, unintentionally blurting out words that ended up causing others hurt feelings, struggling in the workplace, over eating to the point of morbid obesity, and struggling to get through my undergraduate degree which took me much longer to complete than the average student. In addition to ADHD induced shame, I also struggled with an anxiety disorder that prevented me from perceiving my mistakes and failures in a healthy manner.

What I’ve finally learned is that we cannot manage our ADHD properly if we do not give ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Shame is a powerful emotion. It is powerful enough to prevent us from living a more successful life as persons with ADHD. Shame can cause the following problems:

  • An inability to accept responsibility for the hurts we have caused others due to embarrassment
  • Fear of trying new things due to a fear of not being “good enough” or worthy
  • Anger towards our self and others; this sometimes presents itself by blaming others for our mistakes or perceived failure
  • Symptoms of depression or increased depression for those who already have it
  • Anxiety or increased anxiety in those who have this disorder
  • Self imposed isolation because of not wanting to be around others due to moodiness, blame, fear, or embarrassment

This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly shows the emotional harm caused by shame.

I am still adding to my list of permission slips as I increasingly realize the areas of my life where I haven’t given myself permission to be a flawed person. Even if you haven’t read Brown’s book I encourage you to try her assignment where you create your own permission slips. It doesn’t have to be specifically ADHD related, that was my decision after realizing the strong connection, impact, and association   shame had on this disorder. However, I do think it would be a great learning experience for you to write some slips that are specific to your experiences with ADHD.

For further information on shame and adult ADHD, I recommend reading the following links:

Remember, you are God’s creation. He loves you exactly as you are and where you are in life. His love is not influenced or determined by our earthly achievements; as He has reminded us, His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We have been given the ability to search our hearts and minds to know when we have wronged others and have been wronged. Embrace God’s daily grace and mercy knowing we always have the opportunity to get back up, dust ourselves off, and carry on stronger and wiser than before.

No Failure, Just Postponing Success

Below is a generic permission slip for you to print and sign, granting yourself permission to make mistakes without it leading to self-sabotage and self defeat.

Here is the permission slip assignment from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection O-Course

“What do you have to give yourself permission to do when you’re doing something scary? Draw permission slips in your journal or simply write them down as a list. I give myself permission to __________.
Decorate the page by using colored pens or markers and watercolors to create the permission slips or list.”



ADHD and Lessons from The Gifts of Imperfection


Gifts of Imperfection and Adult ADHD

A few weeks ago I joined a small group book club where we are going through The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. I had originally read the book on my own over a year ago. I signed up for the OCourse on and lasted less than a week. I read through the book, but skipped the videos and the art journaling assignments. I had decided it wasn’t for me because I wasn’t ‘an artist’. I now know I missed out on a lot of learning and potential for personal growth.

This week’s Guidepost #3 is “Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting God of Numbing and Powerlessness”. Resilience is, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Webster’s Dictionary).

Levels of pain

Brown defines numbing as behaviours that we engage in to take, “the edge off of vulnerability, pain, and discomfort”. Numbing behaviour differs from person to person and can include doing things such as substance abuse, watching t.v., spending a lot of time on Facebook or other forms of social media, shopping, spending money, exercise, sex, and many other things.

As I was reading through this chapter, watching Brene’s video, and beginning the corresponding assignment, I began to wonder if some of the habits and behaviours we attribute exclusively to ADHD, might actually be a form of numbing. I wouldn’t say that this has to be either or, but sometimes it is easy to attribute certain emotionally based behaviours to ADHD when it might not actually be the case. Is watching hours of television per day a habit of ADHD, or could it be a result of numbing? I don’t have a medical answer, but I am curious about how numbing and ADHD effect our lives.

adhd and comorbid disorders

If you have a co-morbid diagnosis such as ADHD and an anxiety disorder or ADHD and depression, I think it is important to learn about and recognize which symptoms can be attributed to each disorder.

I personally know that when I procrastinate it is usually a combination of anxiety and ADHD. Thankfully, the anxiety increases enough to give me the kick in the pants that I need to do what needs to be done. Nothing gets me going more than a tight deadline. Of course, the down side to this is the depleted energy, the crash, the damaging self-criticism, and whatever numbing behaviour I am engaging in.

Brisk walking has always been a numbing activity for me, but I was not always conscious of this. Brisk walking gets my heart pumping, provides cardio exercise, and helps me to physically release built up tension. Numbing is not considered healthy, at least not according to Brene Brown, but for right now, I’m not ready to give that up. My doctor has stressed the importance of getting exercise for helping to manage anxiety, and so far it has been working. I look forward to the end of winter and the darkness that it brings so I can return to my daily 5k brisk walks free of ice and snow.

I’ll share with you the questions Brene Brown gave students for Guidepost 3. I think these are important things to consider and evaluate in your life. Take these questions a bit further by seeing how ADHD plays a role in these behaviours. Which of your behaviours are ADHD, which are numbing, and which may be both?

Part 1: Lesson 4/Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

We can’t selectively numb just the bad and feel the joy at the same time. Think about the things you use to numb yourself when you’re feeling pain or sadness.” Brene Brown.

  • What leads you to numbing?
  • How do you numb?
  • Know the difference between numbing and comfort.
  • What brings you comfort (refuels you)?