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  • Writer's pictureSari Solden and Dr. Frank

Healthy Communication for Neurodiverse Women -Psychology today

Sari Solden, MS and Michele Frank, PhD

How to protect yourself and still connect with other people.

Healthy communication for neurodiverse women involves (as in any healthy relationship), respect, acceptance of differences, and setting limits that protect you while still allowing you to connect. This is tricky for women with differences and a whole lifetime of feeling as if those differences and difficulties have cost you the right to maintain your hopes, dreams, and core sense of self. It is as if the price of having challenges is to forfeit those rights.

After you’ve done the work of diagnosis, medication, education, and learning, what you still need in order to live a fulfilling life with the differences of a neurodiverse brain, is to figure out how to honor who you are while at the same time staying in healthy connection with other important people in your life. 

Protect and Connect

It is one thing to know what you need and who you are, but quite another to maintain that view of yourself while translating that to your relationships with people you are close to who may have their own view of you and interpretation of your behaviors!

The question to ask yourself becomes: How do I protect myself and my own needs without cutting off from others?

It may feel demoralizing to have gone through a process of learning about and even accepting your challenges, just to lose your voice when you begin to express your needs to your husband, mother, sister, or best friend. It is crucial at this point to understand that even though we may have come to terms with our own differences, when faced with intimate or important relationships, the road becomes more slippery. It is akin to when we have been physically hurt or wounded. For a long time, that area that was injured might be a place that we will tend to over-protect, guard a little more, or tread a little bit more tenderly around. That’s normal and common and natural.

We encourage you to begin by just observing your interactions and experimenting with small new moves in relationships instead of feeling defeated and discouraged in your communication attempts. 

Relationships are Messy!

Luckily it turns out, for women with ADHD and executive functionchallenges, the world of relationships and the confusion it brings are unexpectedly right in the center of our area of expertise!

Think about it.

Relationships are messy, confusing, and often in disarray!

They are hard to manage and even harder to control.

We as women with ADHD or other types of neurodiverse brains, have a lot of experience operating in this kind of world. Now we just have to apply it to the world of communication and relationships. 

A New Yardstick 

We need a new way to measure success in our communication attempts.

Successfully communicating in close relationships as a woman with ADHD, means that you don’t silence yourself even when you meet resistance, receive messages to change back, back down, or when you are simply ignored. 

Success is continuing to practice making yourself clearer in order to have a greater impact even when you are not understood easily the first few times. 

Success is speaking or at least holding on to your truth, about your experience and your knowledge of your brain, even when the other person, doesn’t agree or has an attribution about you that doesn’t match your inner experience.

Success is refusing to engage, convince, or passively stand by as someone puts you down because of your brain wiring. The other person can feel hurt, irritated, annoyed or confused by your behavior, but success for you is not standing by as you absorb someone’s attack on your character. 

Essential Ideas to Remember 

When you feel your sense of self slipping, your space shrinking, or your voice dropping when communicating, remember this. No approach to effective healthy communication for neurodiverse women in relationships will work well or for long unless you believe these two basic, foundational ideas. 

1. You bring equal value into a relationship.

2. Equal doesn’t mean contributing the same things in the same ways.

This means:

Acknowledging that you are different.

Because everyone is!

Acknowledging that you have challenges and difficulties.

Because everyone does!

This is akin to taking a martial art approach to communication, like aikido. Instead of battling, attacking, over-explaining, and trying to convince, you just relax and stipulate that you have difficulties. This takes the wind out of the sails of an ADHD character attack. This kind of approach is only possible, ironically, when you feel strong enough and sure enough of the truth of your value. Only then will you be able to be this vulnerable.

Manifesting your new sense of self in the world will mean that your wounds of being misunderstood or feeling disrespected or unimportant will sometimes surface. People close to you may try (even unconsciously) to hook you with the message that you shouldn’t change (even in heathier ways). When you are assertive, or when your ADHD is on display, you may feel hooked by the message that you are becoming more difficult, self-centered, or selfish. If you are able to notice these hooks and your reactions, you can adjust and experiment with new ways to communicate that have an impact, maybe not all the time, maybe not always getting what you want. But what you will be developing is a growing and increasingly strong internal sense of your own power. You will then no longer be willing to sacrifice yourself in order to keep the peace at the expense of your own sense of self-worth.

Remember this is not a short term hit-and-miss approach. 

This is for the long term. 

The good news is … you have a lifetime to practice.

By Sari Solden MS and Michele Frank PhD

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