Why do People with ADD and ADHD Have Trouble Taking Responsibility?

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Having ADD and ADHD isn’t exactly a piece of cake. Those of us that deal with it have many daily struggles and challenges. So when we do something wrong or aren’t living up to our potential (a word I strongly dislike…much prefer ability), it slowly wears on the person with ADD/ADHD.

That being said, the unfortunate part of having ADD/ADHD is that we learn bad habits. One habit I see regularly are clients pawning his/her issues upon someone else. Why does this happen? Well, let’s go back to my first paragraph. We feel defeated on a regular basis. So when we can give our problem to someone else, it becomes one less worry for us.

We regularly find the family member, boss or teacher to blame for our failures. And why not? The less things we need to accept responsibility for the happier we become. When that particular person acts out, we feel even better. Seeing someone else take ownership of our problem and act out reinforces our detachment from it. It is amazing how many times I see clients and family members engaging in arguments over the smallest of things.

So as a loved one of a person with ADD/ADHD, what can you do? It starts with not engaging the person with ADD/ADHD in the argument. As I’ve discussed, a person with ADD/ADHD likes handing off his/her problems, so don’t accept it. When you’re blamed, just walk away. Once you engage in the argument, you lose. But if you hold the line, the ADD/ADHD will be more likely to take responsibility for his or her actions. Now I totally understand that this will not be easy, but it takes time and practice.

What if you have ADD/ADHD? I think there’s two things you should do. The first is write down the issue and journal about it. Be honest and see what your role is in the whole process. The other thing is to work with a qualified professional. You need someone fair and unbiased to help you see your role in things. A loved one is not the best source for this role. He or she is too involved in the game.

For more helpful tips an suggestions, please check out my ADHD Guru podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio. You can also find me on Twitter (@adhdguru) and Instagram (@adhdguru). Feel free to email me at [email protected] or call 877.398.ADHD (2343) with any additional questions.

13 Comments. Leave new

  • Jonathan-
    I really like this piece. I like the idea of not engaging in the argument and I also like the idea about journaling. If you get a chance, I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about ADHD and taking responsibility that you might enjoy (http://bsabian.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/adhd-anonymous/). Keep up the good work!


  • Jonathon,
    WOW! This makes total sense and I have been engaging and losing for three years! My nephew who was recently diagnosed ADHD who also has Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus and is shunted on the right side fits this to a T. I have been trying to figure out how to get my nephew to be more responsible for himself especially with his medical needs/hygiene. When he has accidents his response is it’s not my fault. But yet he constantly forgets to cath or even take his meds then yells at me for reminding him. I have no idea how to get through to him. I am in the process of reading all of your articles.


    • Thanks for the kind words. Glad I could help

    • In every relationship I have had I have had a point in the beginning where I will recognize the tone or the way something is said as the exact way my mother yelled and bagged me constantly and when I hear that I know what happens if I let that behavior continue. It hits me and for a change I don’t react but rather reflect for a second as I see the future and know how I respond in certain situations especially long term. So what do I do. I quietly go up to these ladies I’m with and explain to them (in a nice way by first giving them a hug and then just explaining matter of factly) that if they ever talk like that to me again I will not be part of this relationship. It sounds a touch extreme, but I go into the why, the pattern of behavior I’m trying to avoid and I also make a point to explain, I want to hear any complaint or grievance you have with me, but first understand that if you don’t get that I want to do well in your eyes and approach me with love first, odds are you wont get much out of me. I basically draw a firm line and do not tolerate any sort of tone as inevitably I’ve not met a person who won’t accidentally slip into it with us. When it happens it’s not on purpose that they react that way to me but to tolerate it I’m basically signing us up for a dysfunctional relationship. The basic trend is use a tone of anything but love and understanding and I opt out, because that’s when resentment sets in, chronic frustration etc.

      Also, never ever get frustrated that we get told something and we don’t do it. I explain, if you really want to break my hyperfocus – say I some how vegged our on the tv or something at night or need to get ready for bed- or You just need me to do something important and then what you do is —— you give us a HUG first, look us in the eye and all will work when approached from this perspective.

  • I have a 12 year old son with ADD. He does so good,most the time, controlling his ADD. The one major issue we are having is responsibility. Doing homework. Remembering to turn in completed homework. Leaving the milk out. Just general things that make a person responsible. What are some tips you can give us to help him. Reminding him often isn’t working. Punishing isn’t working. We are at our wits end. HELP!!!

  • I have an issue with this article.
    I have ADHD and have had it since the mid to late 70’s when I was officially diagnosed.

    I just today had an issue that is an example of where “taking responsibility” makes no sense.

    I rely on my wonderful “smart” phone (they are actually potentially great tools for folks with ADHD) for my morning alarm.

    However, the way my phone used to work until last week was that I could MUTE the phone (something I have to do each night so as not to wake up myself or my partner in bed with random notifications sounds and potential phone calls) but the alarm would still come on in the morning. WORKED FINE!.

    But a system upgrade last week changed that . I noticed over the past week my volume controls were managed completely differently now. It is confusing and now when I mute my phone my alarm is muted as well.

    Today I overslept because of this.

    NOW . Is it MY responsibility or fault that this happened?

    I do go to bed at a healthy time.
    I do have good sleep hygiene but I have struggled with staying asleep so my sleep is messed up and I can wake for several hours and end up going back to sleep an hour before I wake up and then I really need that alarm!.

    I feel completely frustrated becaue this is just ONE example of how our environment is constantly changing and the tricks we have to keep us on track are constantly being challenged and messed with due to forces really outside of our control. I may have updated the system (cause it would have kept bugging me to do so) but I had NO idea it was going to mess with the alarm function.

    So yeah.. I am going to BLAME my phone. Why should I bear the shame and judgment for something someone else really messed with and that cascaded into MY Life?

    NOW, I have to take time out.. figure out the problem (exhausting) or find a NEW system (exhausting).. But that is how society constantly is.. and it is one that is increasing with severity.

    It doesn’t help to feel judgment and blame from others. Sometimes it is nicer to say “yeah.. I can totally relate and that sucks” instead of “well take responsibility and figure out a solution”. NO compassion there.. because apparently in this reality that is a character flaw. Sometimes we just need a hug not self blame .. we get that all the time!!!

    How come when someone steps on MY feet it is somehow MY fault that my feet where there? “pay attention”.. well what if the other person wasn’t paying attention? Why is the impetus on the person with ADHD?.. I am hyper vigilant and yes it does make me exhausted and I am tired of blaming myself for everything when maybe in fact it IS the other person or the system!.

  • Rachel Newman
    July 10, 2015 12:07 pm

    Blame vs. Responsibility

    Blame is defeating.

    Responsibility is empowering.

    People with ADHD have been conditioned to feel SHAME constantly from constantly BEING WRONG. It’s a type of learned helplessness with a neurological basis, a schema developed over time.

    WRONG = BAD = WORTHLESS. This is paralyzing for us.

    Responsibility is something that is empowering. What has helped me the most is metacognitive strategies in which I reflect on what I’ve done (with effort NOT TO FEEL BLAME) and create strategies that help me combat what is not working.

    I empathize with non-ADHD partners; we ADHD-ers are just as PISSED and FRUSTRATED at ourselves as you are with us. I understand that I make my partner’s life difficult. But that doesn’t mean I can JUST stop (I can’t JUST “do” anything…except be IMPULSIVE…very GOOD at that).

    What doesn’t work is when my partner is when BLAMES me, when he JUDGES my worth as person for it. However, when he IGNORES what I do incorrectly, I feel similarly defeated. Instead, as with any partnership, I feel that I need support from him to help me as I take responsibility.

    On my end, I need to also be more actively empathetic and acknowledge the strain that he is under, the frustration that he feels.

    It’s a two-way street. Empathize with each other. Support each other; empower each other. 🙂

    • Kristine Bingham Ellis
      November 16, 2018 11:26 am

      Rachel Newman,
      Thank you so much for this comment. I feel I have twisted myself into a pretzel to understand my ADHD partner, and I don’t get much if any empathy or appreciation for my experience or efforts. Your comment is much needed validation. And I agree with you, empowerment is the goal.

      I don’t want anyone to feel worthless, ever. And, sometimes being with my ADHD spouse feels like death by 1000 papercuts. I am responsible for increasing my self-care and doing what I need to do for me. I am not making excuses. I am acknowledging the struggle.

      I believe I am forgetting to acknowledge and give support when he takes responsibility. I wasn’t understanding that was necessary. I’m grateful that you pointed that out. I have felt before that he wanted extra credit for doing things that weren’t deserving of anything extra — meaning expecting credit for not messing up the status quo. You’ve given me a new perspective. Thank you.

  • Having this cr4p as disorder IS NOT our fault. Doing what we do IS NOT our fault.

    When something is “our fault” it is something people do intentionally.

    Its just so wrong to tell us that everything is our fault, it IS NOT OUR FAULT.

    You may think I’m just blaming ADHD and not taking responsability. But sorry, did I blame the cripple for being unable to walk? Its that cripples fault that they can’t walk! They have to take responsability for their inability to walk! Nobody says that to people who are paralzyed.

    But sure, its ok with us, who have ADHD.

    Just because its not our fault DOESN’T mean we are powerless to change things in our lives for the better. But if all you do is blame us, then the only result is for us to mentally beat ourselves up. Whats wrong with us, we think, that we can’t do this thing that others can?

    IT IS NOT OUR FAULT THAT WE DO WHAT WE DO. That being said there are things we can do to make things better, if we have the KNOWLEDGE that we can’t change our ADHD symptoms,.

    But I’m just SO TIRED of taking on the responsibility all the time, and the blame/fault. Its extremely depressing. I’m not doing it anymore.

    • Well Rachel and Cindy, if you won’t take the responsibility for your actions in a way society requires from an adult, you will be judged by your actions and as irresponsible. The mystery is why you won’t take any responsibility for this. This is classic narcissism and my main beef with this disorder – you are totally and utterly unreasonable people, and will not put even the slightest effort into being sorry for the mess you make and do the most disgusting, dishonest and dishonourable acts of blaming and lying to your innocent partners. Be single, live alone and don’t for God’s sake breed more of yourselves.


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