ADHD is a condition that can cause problems in almost any aspect of everyday life.
As the DSM’s diagnostic criteria for ADHD put it, one of the requirements for an ADHD diagnosis is that symptoms “interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, academic, or occupational functioning.”
Right now, it’s the social part of that I want to focus on. ADHD symptoms can complicate interactions with other people in several ways. One of those ways, to be blunt, is that sometimes ADHD symptoms are annoying for other people.
Why is the irritating side of ADHD symptoms important to acknowledge, even if doing so isn’t necessarily comfortable?
First, so that those of us with ADHD can better understand the effect our symptoms sometimes have on our relationships with others. And second, so that people without ADHD who are in our lives can gain more insight into where some of these annoying behaviors we have might be coming from.
To that end, here are eight common ADHD-related behaviors that tend to annoy other people in social situations and can even wear down our relationships over time.
We all have those moments when we’re listening to someone in a conversation and suddenly something we want to say pops into our head. Of course, the appropriate thing to do in that situation is to wait until it’s our turn to talk and then share what we’re thinking.
But people with ADHD, more so than other people, have a penchant for saying what’s on their mind immediately, even if it means cutting the person we’re talking to off mid-sentence. This behavior is so common among people with ADHD that the DSM lists not one but two symptoms relating to it:
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others
Interrupting in ADHD comes back to the broader issue of impulsivity. In fact, interrupting other people seems to be a core impulsive symptom, along with hyperactive symptoms like fidgeting. The idea is that if you have a tendency to rush into action without planning, you’re more likely to interrupt people when something you want to say occurs to you, even if you know in theory that you shouldn’t interrupt others.
Another way to think of interrupting is in terms of a deficit in self-regulation or self-control. People with ADHD have a harder time monitoring our actions and carefully selecting what actions we really want to engage in and when they are appropriate. As a result, we’re apt to talk over people rather than selecting the appropriate moment for what we want to say.
Ultimately, no one likes to be interrupted. We all want to be able to finish what we’re saying, and we don’t want to feel like the person we’re talking to is ignoring our thoughts and simply waiting until they can say what’s on their mind. For that reason, interrupting is a behavior stemming from ADHD symptoms that tends to annoy other people, whether it occurs at home, at work, or in casual social situations.
2. Not listening
One of the most well-known ADHD symptoms is the “attention deficit” in the name of ADHD itself. People with ADHD do indeed tend to struggle with inattention in a variety of situations, whether that’s failing to sustain attention on a work task or having to reread a paragraph in a book repeatedly because our focus keeps drifting.
When we “zone out” in a conversation, inattention takes the form of not listening to someone who is talking to us. If you’ve ever asked someone a question they’ve just answered, or you’ve missed some essential piece of information that was relayed to you, you’ve seen how inattention can be a real obstacle toward efficient communication with other people.
For people with ADHD, missing what other people are saying due to inattention is one of those things that just happens even if we don’t want it to. Some other line of thought sidetracks our attention without us even realizing until it’s too late. Or, even if there isn’t a specific event that pulls our attention away, our alertness fades – we stop processing and actively thinking about the meaning of the words we’re hearing.
The DSM diagnostic criteria include an item for this aspect of ADHD too:
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
Needless to say, it’s irritating to other people when we don’t listen to what they have to say, and it can give the impression that we don’t care. When the core ADHD symptom of inattention strikes while we are trying to listen, it leads very directly to a behavior that wears on others’ patience.
An ADHDer with the hyperactive side of the condition is, in many situations, an ADHDer who fidgets.
Fidgeting seems to actually serve a productive purpose for people with ADHD. It may help our brains compensate for a sense of understimulation, and there’s some evidence that people with ADHD focus better when they fidget.
In other words, despite all the times people with ADHD are told they should just “sit still,” our fidgety nature isn’t necessarily “bad.” In fact, we might be instinctively doing what’s best for our brains and what will help us concentrate!
That doesn’t change the fact, though, that our constant moving around can be distracting and even downright annoying for the people around us.
The solution is to find forms of fidgeting that aren’t intrusive for other people who are trying to focus in our vicinity. Working at a standing desk, using a stress ball, or chewing gum, for example, can all provide outlets for fidgety ADHD energy while creating minimal bother in terms of noise or visual distraction for people nearby.
4. Forgetting important information
Inattentive failure to listen isn’t the only way ADHD can derail communication. Even if someone with ADHD does listen, it’s quite possible they’ll subsequently forget what you told them!
The DSM diagnostic criteria mention this symptom too:
- Is often forgetful in daily activities
Due in part to forgetfulness being a symptom of ADHD, some researchers have suggested that older adults with ADHD might risk being misdiagnosed with dementia, and there are indeed ADHDers who have had that experience.
There are several reasons people with ADHD can be forgetful, of which literally forgetting information is just one. Others are:
- They weren’t paying close attention when the information was relayed to them in the first place
- They haven’t forgotten the information itself, but they don’t think of it in the moment when they need it
To give an example of the second scenario, maybe I know I have an appointment scheduled at 9 AM on Thursday, but if I don’t actually think about the existence of that appointment when I wake up on Thursday morning, that knowledge won’t do me much good!
Forgetting important information gives rise to a variety of behaviors that annoy others. Whether we’re forgetting dates and times, asking for information we’ve already been told, our simply giving the impression that we don’t care enough to remember basic facts about other people, there’s plenty of room for forgetfulness to be an ADHD symptom that grates on the people in our lives.
5. Talking too much
Remember that thing I said about people with ADHD having a tendency to say whatever pops into their minds? Interrupting is one way it can manifest itself, but another is by talking too much. Again, there’s a DSM item for this symptom:
Part of what underlies this symptom is impulsivity and not having enough of a filter between brain and mouth. Then there’s the fact that people with ADHD tend to get bored easily and struggle with understimulating situations, so talking can be a way to cope with those feelings.
What’s sometimes also related to talking excessively is the ADHD brain’s tendency to go off on tangents. Some interesting new idea or direction occurs to you, and you feel the need to share it with whoever you’re with. This method of operating can lead not just to talking a lot, but to introducing new subjects of conversation in rapid succession that lead away from the main topic at hand.
There’s a time and a place where this way of interacting can be fun or even productive. It might lead to an interesting and unexpected conversational progression if you encounter someone with a similar style, or it could lead to a great brainstorming session! Of course, there are also plenty of situations where talking a lot and going off on tangents irritates other people, which is what gives this behavior the potential to be annoying.
6. Impulsively overreacting
We often talk about the cognitive symptoms of ADHD, such as those having to do with inattention and planning. However, it’s important to acknowledge that ADHD often comes with emotional symptoms too, including deficits in emotional regulation.
Previous research has suggested that emotional dysregulation in ADHD relates to the more general self-regulation deficits people with ADHD have as well as the impulsive side of ADHD. Those findings make a certain sense: the harder it is for someone to deliberately regulate their own behavior and plan based on the long-term consequences of their actions, the harder it’ll probably be for them to step back from their immediate emotional reactions to situations and dial down their feelings.
One way this tendency might show up is by impulsively reacting to situations strongly based on emotions. As we all know, there are situations in everyday where you have to keep your frustration with other people’s behavior in check and find a productive way of addressing disagreements. When ADHDers fail at that type of self-regulation, we’re more likely to react in ways that unnecessarily burn bridges or otherwise lead to lasting negative consequences.
This behavior can manifest itself in small ways. Being a little less able to step back and see things from someone else’s perspective. An irritated comment here. An unnecessary escalation of a quarrel there. Over time, these relatively minor acts of failing to exercise self-control add up. The irony here is that, ultimately, one of the ADHD-related behaviors that becomes annoying can be a tendency for ADHDers to get annoyed with others too easily!
7. Not following through on commitments
How do people with ADHD sometimes fail to follow through on commitments they’ve made? Let me count the ways.
We’ve already talked about one: forgetting. Someone with ADHD might say they’re going to complete a given task within a certain timeframe, and they might really mean it, but they’re going to have a hard time making good on that commitment if they don’t remember it. In fact, a study published in 2019 found that adults with ADHD are less likely to recall or follow through on their previous intentions in the course of everyday life.
Another reason someone with ADHD might not fulfill a commitment is if they’ve simply taken on more than they can handle. When committing becomes overcommitting, some of those commitments are going to get dropped.
In this case, overcommitting comes from the deficits in planning and time management that are part of ADHD. People with ADHD have a way of impulsively jumping into new projects without pausing to pencil out how they’re going to find the time to complete those projects. Or, even if they do come up with a schedule to follow, they might underestimate how much time they really need – especially since inattentive symptoms mean tasks can end up taking longer for someone with ADHD than they would for someone without the condition.
Then there’s the possibility that someone with ADHD drops a commitment due to lack of motivation. It’s worth keeping in mind that motivation deficits are part of ADHD. ADHDers often lack the self-regulation skills to force themselves to concentrate and make progress on tasks that aren’t inherently rewarding. One consequence is the tendency of people with ADHD to start projects but never finish them, or more generally to make commitments that then get left hanging.
ADHDers procrastinate for many of the same reasons they fail to follow through on commitments: lack of motivation, forgetfulness, problems with time management, and a focus on immediate rewards over long-term planning.
One study of 114 college students found that executive function deficits linked ADHD symptoms and procrastination, with those executive function deficits showing up specifically as problems with organization and management of time. To put it another way, procrastination may be common among people with ADHD precisely because ADHD symptoms directly contribute to difficulties with regulating one’s own behavior and use of time.
In some cases, people with ADHD use procrastination as a type of coping strategy. The pressure of an impending deadline and the panic of doing a task at the last possible minute can get the ADHD brain firing on all cylinders, focusing us and allowing us to finally summon cognitive resources for what we need to do.
Avoiding tasks until they become too urgent to avoid for a second longer can, paradoxically, give us the push to get those tasks done. In that way, we might use a little last-minute adrenaline to compensate for the fact that we struggle with forcing our brains to engage with understimulating tasks.
Of course, there are downsides to using the frantic rush toward deadlines as a way of motivating ourselves: stress, hurried work – and, most relevant to the topic of annoying behaviors, leaving tasks that affect other people’s lives incomplete for inconsiderate amounts of time.
From interrupting to procrastination, all eight of the behaviors mentioned above can be annoying for other people to deal with. Even those of us with ADHD recognize that fact – we don’t like to be interrupted or to have the people around us fail to follow through on commitments either! In that light, it’s not so hard to see why these behaviors can give rise negative consequences in social situations, in relationships, at work, at home, and in pretty much any sphere of everyday life.
This is a situation where awareness is important. The best way to address these behaviors is to understand how they stem from core symptoms of ADHD.
That knowledge is helpful both for people with and without ADHD. For people without ADHD, it can highlight the fact that when ADHDers behave in these frustrating ways, that behavior is not coming from a place of not caring or of intentional disregard, but from the different way the ADHD brain works. And for people with ADHD, knowledge of how these behaviors relate to ADHD symptoms is an opportunity for building insight into the everyday implications of our symptoms and into areas where managing our symptoms can potentially improve our quality of life.
Image: Flickr/Martin’s Pixels & Words & Resistance