Motivational and inspirational writer, Bryan Hutchinson is the author of several books about life with ADHD including the highly acclaimed, best selling "One Boy′s Struggle: A Memoir" and the author of the hilarious eBook that went viral "10 Things I Hate about ADHD"

People with ADHD Must Learn When to Say “No.”

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The ability to say “No.” and when to say it is very important and it can save you a lot of heartache and misunderstandings.

I’ve written that people with ADHD tend to be people pleasers and this “pleaser” part of us can cause a lot of unnecessary problems. It can, and yet it is often avoidable.

You want to be helpful and do favors for others.

That’s wonderful and admirable, but if you know you are not going to be able to stay committed because of your ADHD symptoms, then it might be best to pass and say “No.”

I’ve met too many people who take on situations that they are absolutely not suited for because those situations require them to rely on areas they are weak in, but for whatever reason they felt compelled to say “Yes.”

If you’re like me, you might be stubborn and absolutely want to prove to yourself that you can do something, and yet, the reality is, especially with ADHD, it can be like beating your head against a wall.

Don’t do that. Beating your head against a wall is unnecessary and besides, it hurts.

Diagnosis and therapy taught me that I am better than I think I am, because for too long I had only focused my attention on my weaknesses.

I always thought that I needed to improve my weaknesses, so much so that all I would do was only focus on improving them and this naturally led to frustration, anger and self-resentment.

I am sure you can imagine the constant disappointment I experienced.

Not to mention the people I let down by trying to do things that I shouldn’t have committed to.

Once I learned to refocus on my strengths and work towards improving them, I then realized what I should and shouldn’t commit to and when I should or shouldn’t say “Yes.”

I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of people out there who won’t take no for an answer and there are people who will ask you to do things even though, or because, they know those things are difficult for you.

That’s unfortunate, but it is reality.

When you say “No.” to those types of people you may be risking your friendship or create a very uncomfortable situation, but if you say “Yes.” and you are unable to follow through the results can be much worse.

You know that already, but it is still very difficult to say “No.” sometimes. Isn’t it?

Awareness is the key.

I think we are all innately aware of what we are and are not good at and that is vitally important for people with ADHD.

If you’re asked to do a favor for someone that requires a high level of ability in the areas of your weaknesses it is probably best to say “No.” You might hurt their feelings, true and a way to avoid that is to explain you’d like to help, but quite honestly, that’s not something you can help them with.

Here’s a tip:

Honesty is the best policy, instead of just saying “No.” follow it with the truth as to why you are turning him or her down. If the person understands your perspective perhaps he or she will be more understanding (not always).

No one is good at everything and we are not all capable of doing everything, even when ADHD is not a factor, so I think it is reasonable to be honest and turn down requests accordingly.

It might save a friendship in the long run.

Do you agree that this is important? Share in the comments.


Check out my latest post on Positive Writer: What I Learned about Being a Creative Person from Meeting Tom Cruise

Alicia December 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Love this, thanks! I fear I’m not always the greatest friend because I turn people down a lot, but I’ve learned through experience that if I say yes it may end up going very badly. We can only do what we can really do, not what someone else SHOULD be able to do!

Bryan Hutchinson December 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Very well said, Alicia.

lisa December 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Thanks, Bryan – this is a great reminder. I often wonder why people push someone (often someone they care about) into doing something difficult for them. I can see that they want you to feel like you’ve conquered a “demon” or a “mountain,” but i wish they would understand that sometimes pushing someone can damage their self esteem and complicate the relationship.

Also – not to be nitpicky – but I wish you provided concrete examples of what you have said yes to or have been pressured into. I am such a concrete thinker that it helps to have the details and visuals. Plus, I enjoy your stories and anecdotes. They are always full of humor and humanity.

Happy holidays,

Bryan Hutchinson December 20, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I’ll provide examples in a later post, Lisa. I totally agree with you that when someone pushes us it can complicate the relationship, even ruin it.

Anonymous December 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Really appreciate the article. I really can’t decline any requests. I try to squeeze in tasks in between other tasks known that it would hamper or delay the existing tasks I’ve at hand. I’ve faced these situations at work, home and with friends. But I feel very satisfied if I get to complete all the tasks and please everyone. more about self actualization rather than seeking gratitude of others. I feel that I’ve a lot of the symptoms of ADHD but really not sure. Don’t know if they have doctors here in Bahrain or Bangladesh who can identify and treat ADHD patients. Will seeing a psychiatrist do the trick? I guess I ought to master the art of saying NO but the very next day after reading the techniques, I am sure to forget and apply them in real life. Life is hard. Pls pray for me.

Melissa Orlov December 27, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Bryan – nice post! I see this a lot in my couples clients, too, for three different reasons:

First, the person with the ADD commits to doing something because he or she simply doesn’t wish to let their partner down but then doesn’t get around to what he/she committed to and ends up letting the partner down in a worse way (as in at the last minute, when it’s hard for the partner to compensate for the change in plans between them.) If this happens repeatedly, it sure is time to start learning to say “no…”

The second reason that partners agree to do things they either don’t have time for or don’t have the skills for is that they don’t wish to get an earful from a partner who is unhappy that the ADHD partner isn’t doing enough. So instead of engaging in conflict with their partner, the ADHD partner agrees. But then later doesn’t follow through (this only delays the earful, perhaps!) Non-ADHD or other ADHD partners can help minimize this dynamic by being aware of the impact their responses have and changing to “I would much rather know so I can plan” rather than “why didn’t you do this???”

The third reason issues may come up re: an ADHD person’s desire to please is simply that they genuinely think they can do it, but then don’t (perhaps distraction gets in their way, for example.) This is a GREAT time to learn to say “no”!

Lisa @ The Meaning of Me January 4, 2013 at 4:09 am

Hi, Melissa. Your third reason here made me sit up straight and laugh out loud becuase that is SO me – that genuine belief that it is somehow possible to take on anything and everything. That is a tough one to manage!

Sarah Gogstetter December 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm

What happened to me? Am I the only ADDer that isn’t a people pleaser?


Bryan Hutchinson January 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Oh, by far not, Sarah. I’ve met plenty of people with ADHD who are quite capable of saying “No”. I’m glad to hear you have an awareness for what you are willing to accept and what you will say no to.


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me January 4, 2013 at 4:07 am

It is most definitely important. I have actually learned to say no more in recent years (since ADHD diagnosis, come to think of it…how odd) as I realize that it is not humanly possible to do absolutely everything for everyone on the planet. And the next step (for me at least) is getting better at not feeling guilty when I do say no. :)

Teresa January 10, 2013 at 1:11 am

Hi Bryan,
Just found your blog. I’m ADHD and I believe my hubby is ADD. So our 5 kids got a double whammy from both of us.

I can’t say no! We took in my husband’s cousin’s kids for (what we thought) 6 months that turned into 13 years plus. We adopted 3 of the 5. That’s right….we had 10 in the house! We’ve all survived more or less.

My biggest problem now is getting anyone besides me to come to grips with the fact that this condition exists and is thriving in our family! Our youngest is 21, the oldest is 32 and we have watched them struggle over the years…….

Here’s the strange thing. My oldest boy, married a calm girl, lives in a calm atmosphere (she’s a University graduate) and once he had 2 kids….he was on fire to get an education. So working a full time job, going to school and raising a family…..he just graduated from UCR with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish! He needed the proper motivation.

My other son is passionate about music and has lived on the streets using substances for 4 years now. He is getting better slowly, using substances less but still….the true problems are not being faced or addressed.

I’m overwhelmed and depressed. Their dad has been in denial until he faced me finally leaving……then he went on wellbutrin. I’m also dealing with (from them) ODD and covert emotional abuse.

I feel that this is too much for 1 person to deal with and the system has no solution. We have medical insurance….but honestly….I’ve figured out most of it and pointed it out to the professionals! Then they switch your therapists and you have to convince a whole new set of “professionals” they you are not the crazy one! LOL That sounds exactly what a crazy person would say! Makes me feel crazy just to read what I just wrote!

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