How To Overcome Intrusive Thoughts When You Have ADHD

Releasing intrusive thoughts and practicing self-compassion… sure, it sounds like a lovely idea in theory. But does anyone actually do it?⁣

I often hear different iterations of this question from my clients when I bring up the topic, and it’s a concept that I grapple with, too.⁣

You see, those of us with ADHD brains tend to navigate a lot of perfectionist tendencies.⁣

We hold ourselves to rather unrealistic standards.⁣

And we have a hard time letting situations go when we’ve “messed up” or “dropped the ball.”⁣

woman with intrusive thoughts looking worried

Interestingly, I’ve found this is especially true if we have an “off day” after we’ve learned strategies and had success in supporting our brain. We can end up having intrusive thoughts that don’t serve us.

Our perfectionism comes out even stronger, thinking, “you should know better by now! How could this happen again?”

In Episode 145: How To Overcome Intrusive Thoughts When You Have ADHD, You Will Discover… 

✨ What this negative self-talk sounds like and why we slip into negative self-talk.
✨ How to recognize the sneaky ways negative self-talk shows up.
✨ One powerful tool to help you release judgment and embrace self-compassion.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

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Episode #145: How To Overcome Intrusive Thoughts When You Have ADHD (Transcript) 

how to overcome intrusive thoughts with ADHD

Before we dive into the episode today, I want to pause and give a shout-out to a new listener of the podcast. I am always SO appreciative of those of you who take the time out of your day to leave a rating and a review, and I want to say thank you to the username “just recently discovered podcasts”. 

They left a 5-star review and wrote:

If you have adult diagnosed ADHD this is a LIFE SAVER I listened to a few podcasts and found myself in tears. As a woman with ADHD diagnosed as an adult, I have struggled tremendously with imposter syndrome, self doubt, and also anger/shame at how much of my life felt wasted or even stolen by an undiagnosed struggle.

These podcasts give you a strong sense of support, and uplifting comfort, in addition to the very real and practical information for overcoming/managing the more negative symptoms and maximizing the more positive symptoms. Thank you SO much for such a needed tool. Thank you for making it so accessible. I honestly feel this has changed my life.”

Reading this actually makes me emotional because this is literally why I create this podcast each week and it means the world to me. So thank you to this listener, “just recently discovered podcasts” and thanks to all of you who have been with me on this podcasting journey tuning in each week.  You’re the reason I do this.

Today I am bringing to you an important topic that, I think, is often easily overlooked when it comes to thought work and the different tools that I teach on the podcast.

What I want to talk about today is this experience that sometimes happens when we start using the tools against ourselves. Now, what do I mean by that? 

This is something that often comes up for my clients – and I also notice in myself –  when they have been practicing thought work and the time management and productivity strategies for a bit of time – they’re not brand new to it anymore.  

I’ve noticed that some of us doing the work will get into the flow of these practices. We’ll lock in the strategies and start seeing positive shifts in our lives. And when this happens, we can occasionally slip into the practice of using the work against ourselves.

We might use the work to beat ourselves up and tell ourselves we should be farther along, we should know better, we should be doing better. And I’ll give some examples of what I mean in a minute.

But first, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again; the work that I share on the podcast and the tools and coaching I provide in my programs are only ever meant as a means of support for you.

It is never meant to be a tool to bring you down.

My ADHD coaching resources, tools and programs are meant to:

  • Raise awareness, empower and support you.
  • Create greater clarity for ourselves on what’s currently happening in our lives, and what we can do to make any shifts to keep us headed in the direction of our goals.
  • Support and help you navigate roadblocks as you keep becoming even more of the incredible human you are. Full stop. 

So today I want to call attention to the ways I see us using this work against ourselves when we’ve been at it for a while.

Then I want to offer a simple yet game-changing thought that I use all the time to help release this practice.

It’s made such a significant difference in allowing me to create much more self-acceptance on the challenging days when my executive functions don’t show up and my toddler brain is having a heyday.

4 Types of Intrusive Thoughts When You Have ADHD

women lost in thought

Let’s begin by talking about how I see this often showing up. I tend to see four sneaky ways that we can use this work against ourselves, or in a way that doesn’t support our overarching goals or long-term vision. 

1. Obtrusive Thoughts

The first way that I see this show up is hidden in some version of the thoughts,

  • “I should be doing better by now.”
  • “I shouldn’t have struggles anymore.” 
  • I shouldn’t have any more obstacles or challenges since I already know what to do.” 

We tend to think things like: I have the tools. I know how to coach my brain. I’ve learned the strategies that work for me.

Then we ask ourselves, why do I still have days…

  • When I don’t stick with it?
  • When I run late, or I don’t follow my schedule?
  • Where I still feel overwhelmed sometimes or struggle to prioritize? I have learned the tools. I’ve done the work. I have seen the shifts in my life.
  • Where it’s hard

In other words, because we’ve locked in the tools and have strategies that do work for us, we expect ourselves to become robots and don’t leave room for margin or any errors whatsoever.

We have unrealistic demands of perfection 24/7.

2. Blaming Ourselves For Having Uncomfortable Emotions

The second way I see us using this work against ourselves is blaming ourselves for having uncomfortable emotions and thought swapping to try and feel better.

What does this look like?

This might look like a client coming to me saying…

My boss made a comment in our team meaning and – in front of everyone said, “when will you get your act together?” And I’m super hurt. But…I know it’s just my thoughts – I know my thoughts create my feelings – so I need to find a different way to think about this.  

Yes. Our thoughts create our feelings 99.9% of the time.

When you think about those words your boss said, you think, “I can’t believe she thinks that about me” or “they have no idea how hard I’m working” or “now everyone knows.”

These intrusive thoughts cause you to feel hurt, embarrassed or humiliated.

Ee know this is true because someone else might hear their boss say those exact same words, “when will you get your act together?” and they might feel dismissive. They might think, “clearly this person has no idea what they’re talking about. I’m 100% on top of it right now.” 

And there is no right or wrong way to think. One isn’t better than the other. They just both create different emotional experiences.

Another Example of Blaming Ourselves

Your boss may say those same words to you, but what if they say them in a language you don’t understand. If that happened, you probably wouldn’t feel hurt because the words don’t have the same meaning.

You don’t have a thought about the words that make you feel hurt. Instead, you might feel curious or confused because you’re thinking, I wonder what they’re saying right now. 

Your thoughts are creating this experience, HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel hurt.

You may WANT to feel hurt in this situation.

You may WANT to respond that way.

We don’t need to use the ADHD work against you and make you wrong for having an emotion. You’re a human. You’re meant to experience the full spectrum of emotions – all the uncomfortable and the comfortable emotions. They’re all meant to be felt.  

How do I know? Because we’re able to feel them.

Overcoming Intrusive Thoughts – It’s Okay To Feel What You Need To Feel

Our body has evolved for thousands and thousands of years and it’s kept the things we need to survive. If we weren’t supposed to feel certain emotions, they likely wouldn’t have evolved with us.

So nothing has gone wrong that you feel this way. Also, we don’t want to thought swap to feel better. 

Now, what I mean by thought swapping is quickly changing your thought to feel better – to get out of the emotion. In this example I gave, we don’t want to try and paint a happy thought on top of an uncomfortable emotion like: “they probably meant well. They just want to see me improve.” 

I mean…maybe. But we do not need to use these tools to gaslight ourselves or make ourselves wrong. The truth is, your boss said something to you and you felt hurt. Before we try and change our thoughts about the experience,  let’s figure out what’s going on there first.

Let’s understand why your brain felt hurt AND how you want to think about this situation with intention. 

I also want to stress that you may have boundaries for yourself. You may have a belief that if someone is going to speak to you in that way, you will leave the room. You may have a rule for yourself that you will not tolerate that kind of treatment. Or if you’re in a situation that’s not supportive or unsafe, you go to HR or get outside support. 

In other words, we don’t want to just swap your negative thought to make you feel better or “fix” the situation when underneath you’re putting up with something that’s against your values or is not in the best service of who you truly are. 

We don’t want to use these tools to swap our thoughts just to feel better all the time.

There are situations where it makes sense to have an uncomfortable emotion.

It’s not something you want to feel good about and you want to have the full human experience and the space to allow that emotion to be in your body as you process sadness, anger, shame, grief, etc.

So, don’t use this work to turn yourself into a robot who never feels their emotions and stays up in their brain swapping thoughts all day long. 

3. We Wish Others Would Use These ADHD Tools (And Get Frustrated When They Don’t)

Now the third area is when we learn these helpful ADHD tools and then we wish that everyone else in our lives would think and feel the same way that we do.

We think things like,

  • “I wish that my partner would just learn these tools.”
  • “I wish that my son or my daughter would think about their homework in this way.”
  • “I wish they would just try this approach to scheduling or think about the situation this way or listen to this podcast episode. Don’t they know it will help them?”  

In addition to using the tools against ourselves and holding ourselves to these high expectations, we can also slip into holding these expectations for those we love. And believe me, I am speaking from personal experience. My hand is waving high in the air. I am the first to admit it doing this.  

It is so easy for our brains to Think

  • “I wish he would just understand that the way he’s thinking is really not helping right now.”
  • “I wish they would just try this approach when it comes to prioritizing; I know it works!”
  • “If they would only constrain their focus to one thing rather than jumping from one thing to the next, I know they’d make so much more progress.”
  • “I know this will help! Why won’t they try it?”

Especially when our heart is in a good place, it can feel really uncomfortable. 

So again, I promise you – I totally get it. Heck, I created this podcast so I could share my tools and ideas with people who actually wanted to hear them, rather than coaching friends and colleagues against their will.

Because the truth is this. People will do the work when they’re ready for it.  

Just think about your journey to learning how to work with your brain. If you think about learning how to coach yourself into taking the next step and living into the bigger version of yourself, you had to get to this point on your own. No amount of prodding and pushing from someone else likely got you here.  

As we know in nature, if an animal is chased, they run away.

The same is true here.

We can’t chase people, telling them what to do and wishing that they would change. Because that’s going to create the complete opposite effect.

It’s going to create a division and separation between you and those you love.

Instead, we need to press pause on using this work against our relationships, and instead focus on living the best life we can.

Because – at least in my experience – that’s when people start noticing what we’re doing.

That’s when they ask, “Hey! What are you doing differently? What’s working for you right now? Do you have any suggestions for me?” And that’s when they’re ready and open to receiving your ideas. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t make suggestions or share podcasts or books. As you know, I ask you to do this at the end of nearly every episode. But I’d suggest intentionally separating in your mind whether the other person follows your suggestions from what you’re thinking and feeling about it.  Because as I’ve mentioned before, we can’t control other humans. Sorry. 

4. Don’t Start Beating Yourself Up, For Beating Yourself Up

For those of you hearing me share these very, very typical tendencies for our brain. As you hear me say, make sure you’re not using these tools against yourself. Please do not start beating yourself up for beating yourself up.  

Meaning, some of your brains might be thinking:

  • “Ugh, I should know not to use these tools against myself.”
  • “Oh my gosh, I am totally pressing these concepts on my partner, what’s wrong with me?”
  • “I can’t believe I’ve been thought swapping like this and I didn’t know that I’m supposed to allow myself to have my feelings.” 

If your brain has gone down this rabbit hole, let’s gently bring it back.

We definitely don’t need to layer judgment on top of judgment. This is all part of the process. 

In fact, that’s why I’m creating this episode now. I’ve just seen it come up with so many clients and also with myself and I want to normalize it.

I’m bringing it out into the open so if you happen to be skipping over the feelings and just looking for a better thought. Or if you’re telling yourself you should be farther along, or you should never mistake a mistake, you can catch your intrusive thought in that moment.

You can notice it happen without judgment and know that it is so very common for our brains. There is no need to beat yourself up for it.  

So, what can we do?

Maybe you notice that your brain does slip into this thought process, and you may have times when you’re using the work against yourself. How can we shift out of this practice? 

Well, today I want to offer you one simple yet incredibly powerful thought to practice. It has been so freeing for me from the first time I heard it from a fellow life coach named Jody Moore. I think it’s absolute magic.

And the thought is, “there I go being human again.” 

The first time I heard her mention this thought I felt such an incredible relief in my body.

When I think it to myself after I’ve done something “wrong” or I’m noticing my inner critic come out to play, that thought absolutely dissolves the tension and the judgment in my body, and it brings in so much lightness.

In fact, it almost introduces playfulness and humor to the situation. To the reality that we are all humans, walking around doing the best we can.  

There is a teacher named Byron Katie who has a quote that I love, which is…

We only do three things in life: we sit, we stand, we lie horizontal. The rest is just a story.”

Whenever I hear this, I smile at the truth of it.  

There I go being human again.  There I go doing the best I can, with the energy and tools that I have, in this moment. 

So how might this play out?

If we think about the first example when we’re thinking to ourselves, “I should know better! I’ve learned how to follow my schedule. Why did I overschedule myself this week? Why did I think I could get this all done? I know better than to do this.” 

That’s when we can think… There I go being human again.

There I go having brilliant ideas and momentarily believing my toddler brain when it thought, “we can totally get this all done” and not pausing to assess the actual hours each project would take. What a perfectly human thing to do.

I’ll think to myself specifically, “there I go being human again. A human with ADHD, time blindness, and so many fun ideas. It’s okay. It happens sometimes. I’m a human.” So are you. 

Thought Swapping & Human Behavior

Let’s think about the desire to swap our negative thoughts to get out of an uncomfortable emotion.

Something happens and your brain immediately goes to, “I just need to think positive. I just need to think differently.”

Rather than beating yourself up for that, first of all – let’s celebrate that you are in the small group of people who understand that your outside circumstances don’t create your feelings. Instead, what you’re thinking is creating those emotions.

So – heck yeah, brain. Way to do the work. 

Of course, your brain wants to find a different thought that feels better. NO BRAIN wants to feel uncomfortable emotions. They’re UNCOMFORTABLE.

There I go being human again, trying to get out of this uncomfortable emotion. Just like every other human in the world.

Nothing has gone wrong. 

Or if you’re trying to get your partner or friend or child to take you up on your suggestion or use this new strategy or recognize that their thoughts are not helping their experience. There you go being human again – trying to help the person you love to feel better.

Of course, you’re doing this, you care about them. AND, your brain momentarily forgot that we can’t control the other humans. Not a problem. This is what humans do. 

Don’t Worry About ‘Beating Yourself Up’ – Recognize It & Take a Step Back

Finally, if you’re beating yourself up for beating yourself up.

Again, there I go being human again.

There I go…

  • Thinking that knowing more and doing better will make me more worthy.
  • Believing societal messaging that being busy and always achieving makes me better. I make myself better. That more means better.
  • Forgetting that the only busy I want to be is busy being awesome. There I go being human again. And that’s okay.  

So, the next time you notice you might be slipping into one of these tendencies. The next time you notice you may be using the work against yourself, I invite you to take a step back.

Step back and take a breath.

Shake out your body.

Remind yourself with love, there I go being human again. So now what?  

Final Thoughts

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week.

If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life without using them against yourself – if you’re ready to learn how to support your ADHD and work with your unique brain within a small, supportive community of busy awesome humans in We’re Busy Being Awesome, sign up below to learn more and get on the waitlist.

Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

Also,  if you know someone who would benefit from this new thought, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them? Each time you do, you help me get these tools to even more people, and I really appreciate it.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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