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 or 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 or 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 information on my ADD, ADHD and Executive Functioning coaching, please visit http://www.adhdefcoach.com. In addition to working with clients in-person, I also work with clients all over the United States and World online, so please visit www.onlineadhdcoach.com for more information. To learn more information about some of the other services I provide, please visit www.carrolleducationalgroup.com and www.iepexperts.com. I can be found on Twitter at ADHDEFCoach. You can also find me on FacebookGoogle Plus and Tumblr. My good friend and fellow ADD/ADHD Coach Tara McGillicuddy invites me as a regular guest onADD/ADHD Support Talk Radio. Feel free to email me at jonathan@adhdefcoach.com or call773.888.ADHD (2343) with any additional questions.


  1. 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!


  2. 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.


  3. Sharon Byars says:

    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!!!

  4. margaret says:

    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!.

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