Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Duality of ADHD: Finding a Path Forward

Embracing strengths and minimising negative impacts is essential.

There are many strengths of the problem-solving mind, including increased energy, creativity, innovative thinking, high motivation, and the ability to hyper-focus. Many celebrated innovators of past and present are known or thought to have had ADHD. People with ADHD tend to thrive in situations of rapid change, variety, and environments that reward creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

The problem-solving mind can lead to inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Adults who present with ADHD often describe their frustration with the mind leading them towards new topics of discussion and questions of great importance (which presents as the mind wandering, tangential thinking and disengaging), and a sense of not feeling satisfied (a craving for stimulation). Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and Emotional Hyper-Arousal precipitate clinically significant symptoms of distress. The ADHD mind has an interest-based nervous system that is not motivated by rewards and consequences and this can eventuate in motivational and time challenges, and achieving below potential (e.g., not finishing what one starts).

A strength-based perspective does not deny that ADHD carries potentially life-threatening risks and deficiencies, however, it also seeks to acknowledge the talents, interests, and skills upon which the person can build a life of success and joy. If a person is genuinely proud of who they are, it helps them to navigate the world better. In this way, expectations become more realistic and do not require the person to meet standards that are unreasonable. A supportive lifestyle (in the form of self-identify, accommodations, self-compassion, energy accounting, supporting an interest-based nervous system, creative flow, and connecting with your tribe), allows people to minimize any negatives and leverage on the positives.

Dr Kerry Chillemi
ADHD: Finding a Path Forward
Source: Dr Kerry Chillemi

Self-Identity (Integrating a Healthy Sense of Self): The Functional Legacy Mindset approach educates people on how different minds function (to embrace their strengths) and the legacy of such minds in terms of the benefits to society. The theory of the Functional Legacy Mindset approach is grounded by the therapeutic benefits of integrating a healthy sense of self, in which your cognitive capacity and emotional energy is directed towards growth and allows you to immerse yourself in what provides you with meaning, connection, and creativity. Blocking your emotions and masking (repression of emotion and camouflaging) can lead to burnout. You don’t grow out of the way your mind works, rather you grow into it. A great tragedy is going through life disconnected from our brilliant minds because we see the self as broken.

The theory of a Functional Legacy Mindset approach is grounded by the therapeutic benefits of embracing the authentic self, to promote a sense of purpose, in which clients feel empowered to embrace their unique strengths and abilities to contribute to society in ways that feel authentic and meaningful to them. The assumptions and narratives that dominate different minds play an important role in the mental health and wellbeing of our clients.

The Duality of ADHD: Out of all the minds I have had the privilege of working with, I have found the ADHD mind to be uniquely beautiful. The combination of intelligence, creativity, bravery, and authenticity holds remarkable energy. There are days in which individuals with ADHD feel confident, productive, inspired, and hyper-focus presents as a creative flow. Conversely, there is a duality in which individuals with ADHD feel lost, exhausted, insecure, and overwhelmed (e.g., choice paralysis and inaction). Energy accounting and creating a lifestyle that allows you to minimise the impact of any negatives is essential.

Accommodations: Ultimately, we want to empower neurodivergent individuals to feel comfortable to ask for the accommodations and support they need. By offering respect, support, and flexibility (accommodations in the workplace), we will encourage self-determination, empowerment, and innovations for the good of all. In addition to neurodivergent individuals developing new skills to promote their wellbeing, acceptance and understanding from others is needed. A curious approach that entails a desire to understand and see neurodivergent individuals as having equal rights, value, and worth is important. In order, to promote neurodiversity in society, we must move beyond seeing the challenges and start seeing the opportunities offered by difference. Inclusive workplaces celebrate neurological diversity, encourage neurodiverse individuals to embrace their authentic selves, and remain open and curious about how best to support the person.

The Therapeutic Benefits of a Self-Compassionate Mindset: Research has shown that self-compassion appears to be most helpful when one’s self-evaluation has been threatened, such as through instances of hurt or failure (Neff et al., 2005), negative life events, or perceived inadequacy (Leary, Tate, Adams, Allen & Hancock, 2007; Neff et al., 2007). A series of studies have explored the protective qualities of self-compassion and self-esteem in order to uncover cognitions that serve to protect self-compassionate individuals from self-evaluative anxiety when their self-evaluation is threatened.

One of the most prominent findings of the studies comparing self-compassion and self-esteem is that self-compassion is a stronger unique (negative) predictor of outcomes that are generally found to be correlates of self-esteem. In a regression analysis, Neff (2005) reported that self-compassion accounted for more of the unique variance in public self-consciousness, self-rumination, unstable and contingent self-worth, and need for closure than self-esteem did. It may be conceivably argued that a compassionate, objective, and mindful perspective enables self-compassionate individuals to cope with challenging circumstances that surpass their levels of self-esteem. Whilst self-esteem is conceptualised as a state of self-acceptance that is based on feelings of self-worth, self-compassion is a conceptually distinctive process that is based on feelings of kindness and non-judgmental understanding as opposed to positive self-evaluations (Neff et al., 2007).

Connecting with Your Tribe: There is nothing more therapeutic for a client than connecting with the ADHD community. It can feel understandably overwhelming when life becomes about therapies, routines, and research. The ADHD community can promote acceptance in ways that other people may not understand and can celebrate your wins like no other.


Leary, M., Tate, E., Adams, C., Allen, A., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The Implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(5), 887–904.

Neff, K. D. (2005). Self-compassion: Moving beyond the pitfalls of a separate self-concept. Chapter to appear in: J. Bauer & HA Wayment (Eds.) Transcending Self-Interest Psychological Explorations of the Quiet Ego. Washington DC: APA Books.

Neff, K. D., Hseih, Y., & Dejitthirat, K. (2005). Self-compassion, achievement goals, and coping with academic failure. Journal of Self and Identity, 4, 263-287.

Neff, K., Kirkpatrick, K.L., & Rude, S.S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41,139–154.

More from Kerry Chillemi Prof Doc Psych
More from Psychology Today