How ADHD Symptoms Appear to Loved Ones

How ADHD Symptoms Appear to Loved Ones

When you have a mental health condition, it’s sometimes difficult to gain insight into how it might affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This level of self-awareness often requires significant work and practice to achieve. 

Perhaps even more difficult is understanding how your thoughts and actions are interpreted by those you love. This can be especially true if you have ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) which might result in you lacking the focus needed to make these observations. 

Your mental health condition might be yours, but it can affect those around you. Being able to recognize in what ways this happens can allow for a deeper level of understanding of your condition. As a result, you can more easily approach conversations about potential misunderstandings with empathy for the other person. This can lead to self-improvement and healthier relationships.

Misinterpreting ADHD

ADHD is one mental health condition that can result in actions and behaviors that may be especially prone to misinterpretation by those you love. By the very nature of the condition, your ability to focus on and recognize these misunderstandings may be lacking. Unfortunately, in ADHD, the same can be true regardless of whether your condition is treated or untreated. 

Awareness of these potential misunderstandings can allow you to be more careful about your behaviors in the future. This increased awareness likely won’t completely prevent these misunderstandings from occurring. However, it can allow you to address them directly and provide reassurance to others as needed. 

General Disinterest

The inability to pay prolonged attention to anything is a significant aspect of ADHD. It’s even in the name (attention deficit). It may seem easy for others to give a short period of undivided attention to others; this same amount of time can feel indefinite for you. It may not even be possible without the assistance of medication.

Unfortunately, once on treatment, stimulants can cause the same issue by a different mechanism. You might become so hyperfocused on a single task that you ignore everything else, including your loved ones. Regardless of why it occurs, this can still result in your family members or friends feeling ignored or that you are uninterested in them.

Mistaken Anger

Friends and family members may commonly feel that you are angry with them if you are taking stimulants prescribed for your ADHD. Stimulants can be extremely useful in helping people with ADHD focus. However, they can also produce a flat affect, causing your facial expression to become void of all emotions. 

Your face may not necessarily have an angry scowl, but a focused expression can easily be misinterpreted as anger. You may also become relatively quiet when hyperfocused, causing loved ones to mistake your silence for anger. 


The inability to focus in ADHD can result in forgetting things if you don’t keep a checklist or a highly regimented schedule. This is usually because of how easily distracted you are rather than being forgetful. Everything you do consists of multiple smaller steps. Each step is another opportunity for you to get distracted and veer off track.

It’s not uncommon for someone with ADHD to start a task and never finish it. You may get distracted by something else and never complete the project you initially started. Unfortunately, loved ones can misconstrue this as being forgetful or even careless if the task that didn’t get finished was an important one.

Unorganized or Messy

Being organized requires a lot of consistent focus. Unfortunately, those with ADHD may not have the reserve necessary to focus long enough to organize things in their life. When treated with medications such as stimulants, this can improve significantly.

However, medications are not typically taken continuously throughout the day due to the potential risks. People usually take their ADHD medications when they need to focus most such as at work or school. When you are unmedicated and relaxing around loved ones, you may exhibit behaviors construed as being unorganized or messy. 

Rudeness or Impatience

If you have a diagnosis of ADHD, you might be prone to interrupt others or act without considering the thoughts or feelings of other people. In your inability to focus, you might not have heard what the other person was saying when you interrupted them. Due to the impulsivity of your ADHD, you may act without thinking or rush into things. 

You might not even be aware of these behaviors if others haven’t mentioned them. Unfortunately, some people in society without ADHD are overtly rude and impatient. Your loved ones might be more familiar with these character defects than they are with the symptoms of ADHD. As a result, they might misinterpret your inattention and impulsivity as rudeness and impatience. 

Disinterested in Food

Stimulants tend to cause appetite suppression to the point that you lose all interest in food. You can feel hungry and still have no desire to eat. This could come across in the wrong way to a friend or family member who doesn’t fully understand the side effects of stimulants. 

If they cooked or bought you something to eat, they might feel you don’t appreciate or like it. Others can misconstrue this as being rude in a public setting, such as a public get-together or a family dinner.

Moving Forward

Coping with a mental health condition can be difficult, especially a condition like ADHD, which can significantly impact your ability to focus and accomplish tasks. It’s easy to overlook how your actions and behaviors that result from your mental health condition can be misinterpreted by those you love. 

Being aware of these potential disconnects can be very helpful. With this knowledge, you can consciously work toward improving these behaviors and expressing empathy to those who they affect. 

A mental health condition like ADHD can make adjusting and thriving difficult for anyone. It’s easy to overlook how your condition might affect those you care about most. Understanding how loved ones can misinterpret the signs and symptoms of your ADHD can help you approach these situations with empathy. 

At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand ADHD and the importance of an approach that considers all aspects of your life, including relationships with loved ones. 

If you think a misunderstanding about your or a loved one’s ADHD symptoms is creating a division in your relationship, we would love to talk to you. Call us today at (949) 284-7325 to learn more.

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