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After an ADHD Diagnosis: Common Emotional Reactions

Reacting after an ADHD diagnosisAfter an ADHD diagnosis, particularly as an adult, there are several common emotional reactions that you might experience. We've talked before about the eagerness that many individuals experience post-diagnosis to move forward as quickly as possible, but there are other more complex reactions, such as:

      • Relief. There is often a huge sense of relief in finally understanding why things have been challenging for you, and validating that you're not "crazy" - there is something very real (and manageable) that has been getting in your way. Many individuals also describe experiencing feelings of relief related worries they had about not getting a diagnosis - in anticipation of a potential diagnosis they often worry that "if it isn't ADHD then what is it? What if there is no explanation for this and I really am [insert negative self-criticism]?"

      • Grief. Particularly with older adults, we often hear about a sense of loss experienced after a diagnosis. It is a completely normal and common part of the process to grieve the "what ifs" of having picked up on this diagnosis earlier in your life. There is a feeling that things could have been easier, that things might have turned out better in life, and so on. No, dwelling on the past is not necessarily helpful, but it also does you a disservice to say that this doesn't happen, and that this isn't a process you might have to work through.

      • Anger. After having processed the reality of an ADHD diagnosis, many individuals report feeling angry or resentful toward their parents or their teachers who didn't pick up on things earlier. Or, they may feel angry at themselves for putting off getting support, or ignoring 'red flags' that may have popped up earlier in their lives. If you experience this, it's important to remember how easy it is to look back in hindsight and see things more clearly. Not only that, it's not uncommon for adults to have not been 'flagged' as a concern when they were younger because they were bright, or because there was not as much understanding of ADHD at the time. Also, symptoms of ADHD often don't become obvious until later in life when our responsibilities increase, and our resources get taxed.

      • Stress or overwhelm. Sometimes, individuals get so caught up in the assessment process and focusing on "figuring things out" that they're somewhat blindsided by the "now what" after being diagnosed. An ADHD diagnosis makes things more tangible and real, and it can be stressful thinking about what it means to "move forward" and how to go about that. The good news is any step is a good first step, so take it easy on yourself! And, if possible, get some support (like an ADHD coach) to help you sort through your potential next steps and help you get the process started.

The above scenarios are common ones we hear about from our clients, but they by no means cover the whole spectrum of possible emotional reactions to an ADHD diagnosis. Interestingly, when we were doing a bit of research on this topic (e.g. googling) to make sure we weren't missing anything, most of what we found likened getting an ADHD diagnosis to going through Kubler-Ross's stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). But we don't necessarily agree with this (for grief or for an ADHD diagnosis) - this implies that there's a set process, with clear cut stages to go through. In reality, you might experience one of the above emotions, all of them, or none, and in no particular order - everybody is unique.

One thing we do agree on - whatever you go through in the initial stages of a diagnosis, ultimately, the goal is to work toward acceptance. Acceptance of the diagnosis, acceptance that the past is the past, and acceptance that now is the time to move forward with a new understanding of your world and how you experience it. This isn't easy, but it is attainable!


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