I HAVE ADHD PODCAST - Episode #252

February 20, 2024

How to Apologize (When You Have ADHD)

This week, I blew up at my son. At the time, I felt justified (don’t cross mama’s boundaries) but the more I sat with the situation, I knew I was in the wrong.

The whole thing made me feel ick and got me thinking about the “right way” to apologize.

Note: These are tips for apologizing in a perfect world. If you’re activated, feeling defensive, or in self-judgment mode, it’s going to be way harder to put these into action.

Here’s the thing: Being human is hard. We all want safe, connected relationships. But every relationship in our lives will rupture at some point.

Fortunately, it is possible to repair even when we’re in the wrong.

Because at the end of the day, apologies aren’t enough. (I know, if you grew up in a home where “sorry” was used as a power play to silence you, this is probably shocking.)

But being sorry doesn’t fix everything. 🙅🏻‍♀️ We need to do the work of repair, and people need time before they can recalibrate and trust us again. That’s NORMAL.

In this episode on How to Apologize, I’m sharing 3 steps you need to take the next time you apologize – plus what you need to do to repair the relationship and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.



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Kristen Carder

Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B.

Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you are listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am not medicated. I am mildly caffeinated. I’ve only eaten a frosted Strawberry Pop Tart today. I’m totally emotionally hung over from my week of single parenting. But I am ready to roll. I am ready to roll.

Hello, how are you? Welcome to the show. I have Starbucks DoorDash on the way, so do not worry. I’ve got my medicine, sitting right here next to me on my desk. And hopefully, very, very soon, I will be realigned and good to go. It is a beautiful sunny day here in eastern Pennsylvania. And I’ve got to admit it was going to be winter, it might as well snow, I would so much rather it’d be white and beautiful and gorgeous outside, then gray and rainy, and windy and freezing cold. So the sunshine makes me happy and it’s warming my soul. So many of you resonated with my stream of consciousness episode a few weeks ago. And I am really glad because I felt pretty vulnerable. And I wasn’t sure how you were going to enjoy it. But I’m glad that you did. And I appreciate a couple of you have reached out to me for some recommendations of apps on which to find friends. Gosh, that’s so nice. Apparently one of them is called peanut. And Bumble apparently has like a find friends feature.

So I will be checking those out. I can’t imagine that anyone in my area uses them. But maybe maybe we are going to chat today about how to apologize, which is slightly ironic because I literally just put on an episode on like stop saying sorry. But I had a big huge thing, a big thing with my kiddo a couple days ago. And honestly, it’s all I can think about when I was processing like what I wanted to talk about today, all I could think about was how to apologize. Because when we heard that people that we love, it’s important that we have a plan for how to apologize and repair. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. Before we get started, I really want to encourage you to like, subscribe, share, follow, do all of the things so that all of the ADHD ears around the world can find this podcast. I’m so glad you love it. I’m so glad you enjoy it. If you could hit that five star rating button, if you could share it with a friend posted on your social, do the things it’d be really helpful. Like that would be so helpful. Okay, all right. Should we talk about it? Should we talk about how to apologize?

Okay, so I had a thing with my son, it’s so bad that I don’t even want to talk about it. So let’s just start there. It was so bad. I messed up big time. I did not lay hands on him. So don’t be worried about that. But I was passive aggressive until I exploded. And then I was a very aggressive and it had a really big impact on him. I really, really, really big impact on him. And it had a really big impact on our relationship. Instead of just being a calm, assertive mother, who holds boundaries in a loving but firm way. I let things go let things go let things go when boundaries were crossed. I was passive aggressive, I was yucky. And then eventually I exploded. And when I exploded, it was it was a terrible time. It was just a really bad time to explode. So like, I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to explode. But I chose the worst time ever. It was right beforehand to go and do something else. And it had a huge impact on his ability to function on his nervous system, etc.

Okay, so, gosh, it’s just it sucks so much when we hurt the people that we love. It sucks so much to be human. This is what I was talking about a couple weeks ago like being human is so hard. And I want to be really good at it. But sometimes I suck. I don’t know what else to say about that. Like sometimes I’m just really bad at it and I hope that’s relatable. I think that we’re all probably bad at it from time to time. But I think that if you are a perfectionistic person If you struggle with shame, and self blame and self judgment, it can be particularly difficult to grapple with the fact that you are not perfect that you can only show up kindly, you know, and well adjusted and assertively and empathetically to a certain extent, but your humanity will always catch up with you. And what’s annoying about this is that I’ve had this inkling that I should go back into therapy, and I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like it, it’s hard. I don’t want to do it. But this really showed me that my healing journey is not done. And I need to go to therapy for my kids. So I don’t explode on them. So I’m gonna, but that’s not the point. The point is, we’re going to talk about how to apologize.

And the tips that I’m going to give you today are the tips of like how to apologize in a perfect world. These are all of the wonderful, beautiful steps that we can go through to apologize and repair. And we’re going to talk a lot about repair. But I want to preface all of this by saying, Listen, this is not going to go in sequential order. When you are activated when you are feeling defensive when you are feeling shame, when you are in blame or self judgment, or you’re in judgment of the other person, because you don’t want to look at your own actions. So we’re going to talk about it today. And hopefully, you’re not activated, and I’m not activated, and we can just have a very calm civil conversation about it. But this conversation is theoretical, until we start putting it into practice in real time. And that’s the hard part. And so I just want you to understand that, listening to one podcast about how to apologize and being like, Oh, that’s a, that’s a great tip. That’s a great idea I’m definitely going to do that is very different from actually putting it into practice when you are activated. When your emotions are skyrocketed when the person standing in front of you is someone that you love deeply, but also want to choke. Does that mean? I’m allowed to say that? I’m not sure. But do you know what I mean? Like with your kid or with your spouse, or your like, I would die for you. I don’t love anybody more than you. But also, I’m so angry. I would like to cause harm. Yes, anyone? Is it just me lean. So me, it’s not just me, because I really do love my people. But also nobody angers me more than my people. Right?

Okay. So again, this is never going to happen in like the perfect sequence, it’s never going to happen, exactly the way that I lay it out. But if you can listen to this while you’re calm, and you can think about it and practice it, and take the pieces that you like, and then try to apply it to your conversations when you are feeling very activated when there is somebody standing in front of you telling you what you did wrong or whatever. So just know that you can always come back to this episode, and and listen and re listen all of the things. So how to apologize and repair. And we’ll talk about repair in just a minute. In a perfect world, the first step would be to slow down. And ADHD brain is often moving at the speed of light, especially if you are hyperactive.

Contrary to that, if you are inattentive, your brain might feel like concrete, you might feel like sludge, you might just not really get what’s happening in that moment, because you haven’t been able to process it yet. And so I really want to encourage you to slow down. You are allowed to take time to process, you’re allowed to take a breath, stop, breathe. Don’t just say sorry to like, end the conversation. A fake sorry, is not going to repair anything. So just stop and breathe. Really try to assess what’s going on here. What’s happening. And if you need a minute to say to your person, we’re talking about a conversation with somebody that you really care about. Okay, if you need a minute, it’s okay to say I can tell you’re so upset. I need just a second to process what’s happening.

I just need a second. I just need to breathe and I just need a second to process what’s happening. Okay. The next thing that you’re going to do after you’ve slow down, you’re taking a breath you’re really trying to assess like what’s going on here. I want you in that moment to consider the power dynamic. There This is what really helped me with my son. Because let me tell you, I was so angry, and I felt so justified in my behavior. I did not think I was wrong, which is shocking to me. But it’s true. I didn’t think I was wrong. He had crossed several lines, and I had had it. And in my head, my brain was like, You have every right to be angry, and moms yell at their kids. That’s not a big deal. Which might be true, if you have a kid who can handle that. He is not a kid who can handle that. And it was not okay. And I know that, you know, I’m saying, like, I already know that I’m smart. And I already know that he can’t handle it. And I did it anyway. And so what helps me to actually see my part and to actually admit that I was wrong, was to understand the power dynamic. When you’re thinking about the power dynamic, you have to consider are we equals, is this my partner? Are we in a mutual relationship? Is this my best friend? Or is this my boss? Or is this my employee, because the power dynamic in a boss employee relationship is going to be very different than a power dynamic of two besties.

Also, very similarly, the power dynamic of a parent and a child, the parent will always hold more power, always, forever and ever and ever until the end of time. And so we have to consider the power dynamic, as we are thinking through and as we’re just like, slowing down. Again, this is in a perfect world, this took me hours, okay, this is not going to happen, most likely, in the matter of 30 seconds, five minutes, or whatever. So for me, this took me hours, I had to like, rage a little bit on the inside. And I really had to think through the power dynamic. Alright, the next step is, if you did something wrong, apologize for it. I acknowledge that you were wrong, take ownership for it. Some of the things that I said to my son were I did not handle myself appropriately. You did not deserve to be treated this way. I am so sorry. You deserve better than this. I messed up. So this is all on me. Yes, he crossed a bunch of boundaries. Yes, we do need to address that, eventually. And we’re going to work on that. And I think that therapy will come into that. But the truth of the matter is, I exploded on him. I was in the wrong, no one deserves to be screamed at, especially people with sensitive nervous systems cannot handle it. It had a huge impact on him. I want to take responsibility for that. He deserves an apology for that.

Yes, we’re going to circle back to those boundaries. Because Gosh, darn it, did he cross them. But in the moment, I had to put aside feeling justified. I had to I had to acknowledge, like, yes, you crossed some boundaries. But you did not deserve for me to explode on you. I should have held those boundaries in real time, without letting them build up, build up, build up, build up and then explode.

Okay. So I am able to see that in this scenario. I was completely wrong. And so I apologized, I took ownership for that I didn’t want to because what I wanted to do was blame him and make him the reason that I exploded. I wanted to be like, it’s your fault that I exploded, because you pushed me to my limit. But that’s not actually true. Which is really annoying, because I’m a grown up. And I should have the self regulation to be able to handle this and to be able to have a calm conversation. And yes, he should be held accountable for his actions. But screaming and yelling, does not equal holding someone accountable. That’s not the same. Right? Screaming yelling is just screaming and yelling. Holding someone accountable. Sounds like hey, you crossed the line. Here’s what the consequences. Right? It’s pretty simple. Okay. Sometimes you didn’t actually do something wrong. But you did impact someone in a negative way. So it’s okay to acknowledge the negative impact that you had. Without saying like, I’m a terrible person, you know, I’m sorry, whatever. But you could say something like, Hey, I I tried so hard to get here on time, but everything went wrong. And I’m super late. And I know this is so annoying, because either you had to wait here for me or maybe I made us late for this appointment. I’m really sorry about that. I see it, I own it. I’m sorry.

Okay. So we’re either apologizing for what we did, or we’re apologizing for negative impact, and both are valid. I guess sometimes it’s both right. I’m apologizing for what I did. And I’m apologizing for the negative impact that it had, which is me in the case of my son. Okay, so we apologize, we say I am sorry. But here’s the thing. And we’re going to talk about repair now, because apologies are not enough. We really need to talk about this. Apologies are not enough. So many of us have grown up in families or have been in relationships where things get swept under the rug. And in my experience, this is because Sorry, I’m doing air quotes here, sorry, or I’m sorry, was used as a power play, or as like a trump card to dismiss actions and to not actually have the ability to hold someone accountable, because they said they were sorry. So why aren’t you over it? I said it was sorry. Why are you so upset? I said it was sorry. Why aren’t you over it yet? Okay, so this is not this is not recommended for authentic connection and relationship building. This is not what we want. Understand my friend, that saying sorry, doesn’t fix everything. Being sorry, does not fix everything. People are allowed to still be activated, or sad or upset or feel like they need a second before they can trust you. Again. This is normal and natural. And if you are the one in the wrong, it’s your job to kind of hold that tension. Okay. Now, I had to learn this from Greg because in my family, like I said, Sorry, was a powerplay it was a trump card. If someone said sorry, then the other person had no choice but to accept the apology, dismiss the behavior, and move on, there was no accountability that was allowed to be had. So I wasn’t allowed to still be upset about something.

It was like I said, it was sorry, you got to get over it. When I married Greg, and we started having fights because like, that’s what married people do, especially newly married people. He would like not be fine. The second I said I was sorry. And I was like, What in the world is wrong with you? I said it was sorry, right? Because that’s the learned behavior. That was the pattern that I knew. And so he’s the one that taught me like, Okay, I accept your apology, but I’m still activated. It’s gonna take me a minute, to recalibrate, to get my body back in order. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, that makes so much sense. I mean, in the moment, it doesn’t feel good, because I do want just someone to get over it right, for my own sake. But logically, I understand like, yeah, that makes sense. And actually, for my own body sake, when someone has wronged me, it’s really nice to just let myself slowly recalibrate without having to be quote unquote, fine. Right away. So Greg, and I have started saying to each other, I accept your apology. We’re good. There’s nothing else I need from you. But I am going to need some time before I feel totally normal. So I just need some time to recalibrate. I don’t need anything else from you. But like, give me some time to readjust.

Okay. The day after, I apologize to my son took responsibility. I apologized. But the day after I pulled him aside for a comvo and I said, just really briefly, listen, it’s okay. If you don’t feel like we’re good. Yeah, it’s totally fine. You might need some time to feel better to rebuild trust with me. And that’s normal and natural, and you can take as much time as you need. Now, this is different from letting people punish you for your behavior.

Do you understand? So if someone if you’ve apologized, and you have had the conversation, and the other person has accepted your apology, but they continue to punish you, with their passive aggressive behavior, or giving you the silent treatment or something that just feels really, really off? That’s inappropriate. That’s very different from just being like, I’m just not really okay. But I am going to circle back I am going to get over it. I just need some time and space. That’s different than like, covertly secretly punishing you. Does that make sense? And, gosh, I mean, that’s kind of like an individual. You got to kind of figure it out individually. And that’s probably a job for you and your therapist. But using Greg and me as an example, He’s not someone who punishes or is like, covertly manipulative or anything like that. And he does always, like, come back around after a couple hours. And we’re like, Okay, again, if that makes sense. So, I do want to put that caveat in that I’m not like, Hey, let people punish you for your behavior, and you should be treated poorly. After you apologize. It’s not what I mean. But sometimes people do need space to recover. And that’s normal. Now, another part of repair that’s very important, is to think through, and then tell your person, your plan to ensure that this does not happen. Again, this goes along the lines of like, holding yourself accountable for your own behavior and making sure that it’s not something that you repeatedly do to the people that you love.

Okay. And again, if you grew up in a family that was just like I said, I was sorry, what’s the big deal, get over it, there was probably likely very little changed behavior. And so that probably were hertz that occurred multiple times, many times over and over and over. And then you were just expected to get over it and move on, get over it and move on. That’s not healthy. What is healthy is to acknowledge what you did, to apologize to give your person grace and space as they like, recalibrate, and then to make a plan for changing your behavior. Now, this can be really hard for an ADHD or because our self reflection is deficient. This is an executive function that for most of us, is quite deficient. So this means that we often will make the same mistakes over and over, which is why you need to be treating your ADHD, you need to be taking it seriously. Are you medicated? If not my friend? Why not? Are you seeing a therapist? And or do you have a coach? If not, my friend? Why not? Or are you in a group therapy? Or do you have someone holding you accountable? If not, you will likely make the same relational mistakes, and be kind of trapped in the same patterns of hurting people over and over, you are going to need help with this because self reflection is not something that will come naturally to you.

Untreated, ADHD, unsupported ADHD will always mean repeating mistakes. And this will continue to rupture relationships. So one of the ways that you can tell if your ADHD is under supported, is if you do notice that you’re making the same mistakes over and over. That is a really big red flag that your ADHD is under supported. Now, this, again, does not have to all happen within an hour or within a 30 minute conversation. This is something that can happen over time, and really is, I think, best to happen over time for you to go away and think about the impact that you had, think about the hurt that was caused and think about what in what ways can I make sure to the best of my ability that this doesn’t happen again, not that I’m never gonna yell at my kid again, you know, I’m saying like, him only human. But how can I make sure that I don’t explode at him? How can I make sure that I don’t ignore a trigger? Because that’s what I did. I ignored a trigger. I was completely triggered. I knew I was triggered. I ignored it. And I allowed myself to explode on him. And anyway, that’s not cute. That is not cute. So when I spoke to my son, about this 24 hours after apologizing, I said to him, hey, I want you to know that there’s a couple of things that I’m going to do to make sure that I do my best to never do this to you again. I plan to go back to therapy. I’ve been avoiding therapy. I’m sick of therapy. I don’t want to do there anymore. It’s too hard. It’s too vulnerable. It’s too painful. But I know that me not going is impacting you. And that’s not okay. So I will be going back to therapy.

And I also said that I did notice that I was triggered the night before, but I woke up. I woke up at like 4am That’s how triggered I was. Because looking back in retrospect, it’s so obvious. It’s so obvious, but in the moment it felt so justified my whole nervous system was in fight or flight. And I was just like he is the cause of this. And it just felt so justified. But in retrospect, obviously I ignored a trigger. And so that is something that I can then never do again, I have to take my trigger seriously. And not sleeping is a beautiful alarm, warning signal WARNING WARNING WARNING that there is something going on with me that’s, that’s one of my personal tells, if that makes sense to you the next step, and this can come really at any time and it can happen multiple times.

I think it’s really beautiful to ask your person, is there anything else that you need from me? Maybe you’ve already apologized, maybe you’ve already done the work of repair, maybe you’ve already told them how you plan to change your behavior moving forward? Or maybe you haven’t done all of that yet. But asking your person, is there anything else you need from me? Is there anything else you need to hear from me? Those two questions can be really helpful, because it allows your person to have some autonomy and to be able to express themselves. When we aren’t just constantly saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It can put people in a position to take care of us. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. But asking the question, hey, is there anything else you need to hear me say? I know I’ve already apologized. But is there anything else that you feel like would be useful or helpful to repair this?

Is there anything else that I can say? Or do this gives your person the opportunity to be vulnerable to express themselves? And it is another opportunity for you to just check in and see like, is there anything that I missed here? Lastly, you’re just going to need to do the work. This part sucks. I don’t want to do the work. But you’re just gonna have to do the work to be different. And the reason why it’s called work is because this work, doesn’t feel good. It’s not what we want. It’s not really even for us necessarily, it’s for the people that we love. And doing that work, the work of self reflection, the work of understanding and gaining clarity around why we hurt our person, why we took those actions, why we said those words why we allowed ourselves to get to that point. For me, the work I think is going to be understanding why I was so triggered, I don’t actually know yet, which is a really good indicator that it will happen again. Because I don’t have clarity around why I was so triggered, understanding why I wasn’t able to hold boundaries in real time. And really working on that, letting someone cross your boundaries over and over and over and over. I just I was feeling so resentful. And I just allowed that to build and build and build until it exploded. That’s not appropriate. That’s on me. That’s not on my kid. Because you’re supposed to cross our boundaries. It’s literally their job, which is so annoying. I know I’ve said that before. And I was trying to tell myself that but it did not feel true. But doing the work to be different is what is going to help you to be a safe person for the people that you love, relational, and emotional safety, for ourselves and for the people that we are around is so important.

And again, this is deep. This is not really just for like those relationships that you don’t care very much about that. These are for your best friends, your partners, your kids, maybe your parents, the people that you care deeply about. That’s what this conversation is for. Because we want to have safe, secure, connected relationships, and every relationship has rupture. That’s normal. It’s hard for me to be the cause of the rupture. I would so much rather be on the receiving end so that I can feel a little bit self righteous. Oh, that’s so gross. I can’t believe I said it out loud.

So that I can feel a little self righteous and just know like I was in the right you are in the wrong I accept your apology. But when it is me in the wrong that’s very hard for me. I don’t like it. I don’t like it that feels more uncomfortable for me because I have to come face to face with my own humanity with my own what I believe to be a sinful nature with my own selfishness. Oh, it’s so yucky. Owning that can bring up so much shame. Especially for those of us who grew up in shame based families. I just read an amazing book called Healing the shame that binds you by John Bradshaw. Highly recommend to you nerds who love to read like me. It was really helpful in processing this because I did feel so Almost shame for the way that I treated my son. And knowing that that shame was passed down to me through generations was really helpful.

But yeah, being human is hard. The moral of the story is being human is hard. We all want safe, connected relationships, they will always inevitably rupture and repair is possible. So slow down, take a breath. Consider the power dynamic of the relationship. Apologize and take responsibility for your part and your impact. And then do the work of repair. Understand that I’m sorry, doesn’t fix everything, give your person space to recalibrate. Check in with them. Let them know that you you are there for them. Think through what you’re going to do to be different. And express that to them. And then do that work. Ask them if there’s anything else they need. Check in with them to see if there’s anything you missed. And then just do the work to be different. I say just like it’s easy, just do the work to be different. It’s so hard. It’s so hard. Oh, okay, my friends. This was heavy. But this was literally all I could talk about today. So I hope that it is super helpful to you. I adore you.

A few years ago I went looking for help. I wanted to find someone to teach me how to feel better about myself and to help me improve my organization productivity, time management, emotional regulation. You know, all the things that we adults with ADHD struggle with, couldn’t find anything. So I researched and I studied and I hired coaches and I figured it out. Then I created focused for you. Focus is my monthly coaching membership where I teach educated professional adults how to accept their ADHD brain and hijack their ability to get stuff done. Hundreds of people from all over the world are already benefiting from this program and I’m confident that you will to go to Ihaveadhd.com/focus for all details.

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