When arguments create an ADHD “High”
The apparent desire to be angry and provoke an angry response in others can result from someone with ADHD having a biological need for stimulation! According to psychiatrist Daniel Amen “Being mad, upset, angry, negative, or even oppositional immediately stimulates the brain’s frontal lobes…These behaviors can produce increasing amounts of adrenaline in the body, stimulating not only heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension but also brain activity.”
The important point from the quote is that an argument can create an adrenaline rush and a resulting buzz or “high” in a person with ADHD. While that may not make sense to most of us, it can be a common occurrence for someone in a relationship involving ADHD. A person with ADHD will often initiate an argument just to get an adrenalin rush. Here’s a quote that describes how the person on the receiving end of the argument feels: “my husband gets his adrenaline kick but I just plain feel kicked.”
Dr. Robert Wilford and Dr. Sarah Ferman have many experiences with this type of activity. Shared below are a few examples of the situations that result when a person with ADHD desires this adrenalin rush. Being aware of the situations that cause these types of arguments, and the forces that are driving them, will hopefully prevent you from “taking the bait” and learn how to incorporate solutions that result in a more peaceful life with your ADHD partner.
It’s Kimberly’s Fault!
For Kimberly the hardest thing to understand about her husband was his apparent desire to be angry. He wanted to be angry and he would always find a way to make his anger her fault. He would provoke her incessantly and when she finally lost her temper he would accuse her of having an anger-management problem. The baffling part of the relationship was that no matter how accommodating she was, how hard she tried to avoid doing things that would make him angry, if he wanted to be angry, he would always find a reason. Kimberly would end up feeling ashamed yet defensive because “Most people have no idea how determined someone with ADHD can be at provoking others.”
For Lucy it was “Let’s have a problem”
Lucy operates a business with her husband who has ADHD. She sums up her situation in this way: “Every morning, it’s as if he can’t start work until he puts his mark on my day the same way a dog marks his territory.” Lucy’s husband would actually get energized by obsessing about imaginary business problems until Lucy’s energy would get ground down to nothing. It took years for Lucy to realize that her husband desired the negative focus and the resulting energy buzz. Unfortunately, by time she understood what was really taking place, her husband had sabotaged their best business opportunities and now they struggle to hold on.
Shelby’s Mr. No!
Shelby says her ex-husband frequently went into an automatic “No!” mode just to be contrary. “I could ask nicely or blow my stack and it made no difference. The whole point was that he refused to do anything I asked no matter how I asked. Take out the trash; come to dinner, or even the important things. I called him Mr. No.” Being disagreeable and constantly refusing your partners requests is also a tool to increase adrenaline in the brain for some with ADHD. For their partner it results in constant yet subtle stress.
Proving that Madeleine’s wrong!
Madeleine described her situation with this example: “If I just casually mentioned it’s hot outside, my husband would insist its not hot outside!” What made matters even worse was the fact that he would then spend hours attempting to prove her wrong. Even the safest of topics would unleash a verbal storm. A friend once commented that Madeleine’s husband would argue with a brick wall. “Thank God that the behavior went away when he started legitimate therapy!” Madeleine’s story ends on a happy note. She recently noted “He even has actual conversations now; you know, the back-and-forth kind, instead of delivering monologues.”
Randi’s request for help caused arguments!
Randi was simply asking her boyfriend for more help around the house. His response was way out of proportion to the request. “You just think I don’t do anything, but I do things that you don’t even notice.” When Randi asked him for specifics, he said that he “takes out the garbage and, oh, other things that he can’t think of right now.” Then he got very worked up, dramatically sighing in exasperation, before launching into a lengthy lecture that “It takes two people to run a household, you know.”
Randi’s boyfriend wanted to make the issue about her. While that may not seem very stimulating, the adrenaline kick comes with the challenge of mounting a good defense against the “accusation”. “It’s amazing” Randi noted, “he really thinks I’ll be fooled into believing him if he’s insistent enough, and darn it, for too long I was.”
ADHD Couples Success offers solutions
It’s hard to believe that arguments and fighting can actually make some people with ADHD feel calmer. Until you understand this type of behavior it’s easy to be baited into an activity that has perceived benefit on one side but harms the person on the opposing side who doesn’t understand what is really taking place.
“Until I really understood this need for an ADHD “high” Dr. Gail says, “my husband and I—and our therapists—had thought that much more than ADHD was going on here. Learning about this pattern of fighting and stimulation was our lifeline to sanity.”
The key take-away from these stories should be this. The more you understand these behaviors and begin to stop “taking the bait,” the better you’ll become at preventing the arguments and fighting that have nothing to do with legitimate issues. They have everything to do with subconsciously seeking stimulation or an ADHD “high”!