At a glance
Many people with ADHD feel very bad when they upset others.
People with ADHD often have trouble managing emotions.
There are strategies that can help with feelings of remorse.
Many people with ADHD have behaviors that get them in trouble. Some people might tell lies. Others may have angry outbursts. These actions or words can be hurtful to others. And when that happens, it can have lingering consequences — not just for the person who’s been hurt, but also for the person with ADHD.
Many people with ADHD feel very bad when they upset someone. They often have trouble managing emotions. Feelings of remorse can be deep and affect their self-esteem.
Here’s what you need to know about ADHD and remorse, and how to manage these feelings.
The difference between remorse and regret
To understand the connection between ADHD and remorse, it’s important to also understand the difference between remorse and regret.
Regret is when people wish they hadn’t taken the action they took or said the hurtful thing they said. This is often because their action had a consequence that upsets them. Maybe their actions got them into trouble, for instance.
Remorse, on the other hand, is feeling bad about having made someone else upset. It’s feeling empathy for others — and guilt that you’ve caused them pain. For example, remorse is feeling bad about having said something hurtful to a friend in an angry moment.
Watch this video to learn more about what remorse looks like in kids.
How executive function challenges can lead to remorse
People with ADHD often have difficulty with self-regulation and other executive function skills. They may say or do things impulsively without thinking through whether it will hurt someone’s feelings. When their impulsivity upsets others, they often feel bad, because the intent wasn’t to hurt anybody. In fact, many people with ADHD are very sensitive to the feelings of others.
Executive function challenges may cause people to do things that make them feel remorse. These challenges can include:
- Trouble connecting the “right now” to the future
- Difficulty thinking ahead to the consequences of actions
- Understanding how they got to the place of hurting somebody’s feelings
- Knowing how to slow down before acting or speaking
Trouble with apologizing
People with ADHD have the tendency to fixate on things. Instead of apologizing outright, they may spend far too much time trying to find a way to do it just right. They might dwell on what they’ve done, going over and over what they could have done differently or better. Or they may lie to try to get out of the situation, especially if they have social anxiety.
All this can lead to feelings of remorse. But it can also lead people to feel bad about themselves. They may even feel like it’s just “one more thing” about ADHD that makes them different or not “good enough.”
Ways to cope with remorse
While remorse may be more intense for people with ADHD, there are strategies that can make it easier to cope with the feelings.
- Put things in perspective. People with ADHD often have trouble shifting their perspective from one situation to another. It’s important to acknowledge when someone’s feelings have been hurt. But it’s also important to find ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
- Remove the guilt. Everyone does things they don’t feel good about, not just people with ADHD. Recognize that it’s OK to feel bad, and focus on finding ways to express those feelings.
- Give a genuine apology. Apologizing is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” It involves reflecting on your actions, taking responsibility for them, and coming up with a plan to respond differently next time. The SORRY method can help kids (and even adults) learn how to give genuine apologies.
The cycle of doing “bad” things and then feeling like a “bad” person can have a negative impact on both kids and adults. Knowing the challenges of ADHD can help people better handle feelings of remorse. Learn about other behaviors related to ADHD, like mood swings and trouble managing emotions.
People with ADHD can have great empathy for others.
ADHD challenges can make it especially hard for them to apologize.
Putting things in perspective can help people with ADHD let go of guilty feelings and move forward.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD is an ADHD/ASD expert and a best-selling author.