Now Presenting: ADHD

Justice Sensitivity

May 17, 2023 Jaye Lin Season 1 Episode 9
Justice Sensitivity
Now Presenting: ADHD
More Info
Now Presenting: ADHD
Justice Sensitivity
May 17, 2023 Season 1 Episode 9
Jaye Lin

Is this something you resonate with? Feeling so strongly about the injustices of the world, both toward you and toward others, that it feels overwhelming, and you feel a drive to do something? That it’s wild that people don’t care more about this subject, and that we aren’t collectively doing enough? That you feel so strongly about this injustice or atrocity that it can sometimes lead to heated arguments with others, and fractured relationships? If you do resonate with this, you’re not alone.

Now Presenting: ADHD, and Justice Sensitivity

If you have questions or would like to give suggestions for future episodes, send us an email at To listen to all episodes, view show notes and transcripts, or learn more about host Jaye Lin, visit our website at Follow us on Instagram @npadhdpodcast and @adhdjaye.

Show Notes Transcript

Is this something you resonate with? Feeling so strongly about the injustices of the world, both toward you and toward others, that it feels overwhelming, and you feel a drive to do something? That it’s wild that people don’t care more about this subject, and that we aren’t collectively doing enough? That you feel so strongly about this injustice or atrocity that it can sometimes lead to heated arguments with others, and fractured relationships? If you do resonate with this, you’re not alone.

Now Presenting: ADHD, and Justice Sensitivity

If you have questions or would like to give suggestions for future episodes, send us an email at To listen to all episodes, view show notes and transcripts, or learn more about host Jaye Lin, visit our website at Follow us on Instagram @npadhdpodcast and @adhdjaye.

Hi. This is Now Presenting ADHD, where we look at common ways Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can present in individuals, explain what the root causes can be, and connect the experience to real humans. I’m your host, Jaye Lin. I’m an ADHD coach, instructor, and generally nice person.

In the last year or so, I’ve been repeatedly told by organizations and figureheads that I’m pushing too hard for change toward making organizations and societies more inclusive, accessible, and just. These kinds of things take time, they say, and I need to be patient. Even when I try to take a compassionate view to their bandwidth and situation, and volunteer to lead a support group, provide the logistical work for what needs to be done, and otherwise do the work required to make the world a slightly better place, I’ve been told that I’m making someone feel bad about their lack of progress and their abilities, because they don’t have the capacity to do the work required in order to move things forward, but they are ultimately the ones that should, not me. After all, they’re important people, and I’m just a nobody.

While I know that the way toward systematic change is by garnering buy-in and changing perceptions slowly and steadily, it often feels like the hold-ups are unnecessary, and that people are continuing to suffer as a result of no action being taken. These feelings can drive me to push hard against those I see being the bottleneck to change, and I’ve found myself getting so heated about trying to convince them that this is important, that my delivery becomes forceful and counterproductive.

Is this something you resonate with? Feeling so strongly about the injustices of the world, both toward you and toward others, that it feels overwhelming, and you feel a drive to do something? That it’s wild that people don’t care more about this subject, and that we aren’t collectively doing enough? That you feel so strongly about this injustice or atrocity that it can sometimes lead to heated arguments with others, and fractured relationships? If you do resonate with this, you’re not alone.

Now Presenting, ADHD, and Justice Sensitivity

<brief theme music>

Injustice is something every human has a reaction to, albeit in different intensities, topics, and stances. This isn’t limited to hot button issues, like racial equality or abuse. We use what we see as fair to assess most of our stances in life, from what member of our extended family should host during the holidays, to whether or not we apologize to our partners after a fight. 

ADHD individuals commonly identify as being justice sensitive, with amplified emotional reactions, tendencies toward rumination, and a strong internal call to action. This can be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on the behavior and approach. Having someone feel strongly about the cause can translate to more action and change. But it can also create hostile environments and create an “us vs. them” dynamic that makes moving forward more difficult, especially when it’s paired with other ADHD qualities and presentations.

What is it that makes us ADHD individuals so justice sensitive? Let’s take a look.

Emotional dysregulation can cause the emotions we get to feel much more intense and overwhelming, which also applies to when we encounter injustice. We can feel emotions so intensely that we are driven to do something, convince someone, anything but sit around and just feel these bigs feelings, full of despair.

But these feelings are not the same for everyone. If the feelings of others echo ours at the same intensity, it can amplify our feelings of having to do something, because we are getting confirmation that what we are feeling is right, and noble. This can drive our justice sensitivity even further, at least until we encounter someone who doesn’t echo the same sentiment and intensity, which is inevitable.

When others don’t echo our intensity, or they have their emotional intensities in other places, it can feel isolating, and that’s where rejection sensitivity dysphoria, or RSD, comes into play. This misalignment of our emotional intensities, seeming values, and opinions with those of others can create deep feelings of pain, sometimes almost physically so. The intense pain of rejection can add fuel to the fire, especially for those with oppositional tendencies that can come with ADHD, like me, where that opposition causes me to really stand my ground, defend my points, and cement my views in what I believe.

When our emotional intensity goes up, the accompanying stress and discomfort can lead to other executive functions becoming more impaired, including cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the human ability to deliberately adjust our behaviors to become appropriate to changing environments. ADHD often presents as dysfunction in cognitive flexibility, which explains why we can have a harder time adapting or adjusting to unexpected changes in plans, or in this case, can make it harder for us to pivot our strategy when opposition or resistance is encountered.

So, to recap what I just said, when we encounter injustice, we have a higher intensity emotional response to what’s happening, which can make us have to do something about it. When we share this view with others and they echo our stance, that intensity is ratcheted up even more with their validation. When others don’t echo our stance, we can dig our heels in harder in defense, which also ratchets the intensity higher. It doesn’t really matter how people respond to us, the only direction the intensity can go is up.

So here we are, with a high intensity of emotions and do-something attitude, with a bunch of people on our side, and a bunch of other people… not on our side? Against us? But are they really against us? And is what we’re doing as activists in this situation an effective approach?

To answer this, we would have to break down what is happening within us, and look at it from multiple perspectives.

Unfair conditions and situations can happen in many ways, and we each play multiple roles depending on the injustice. Unique to each situation, we can be the victims, observers, beneficiaries, and perpetrators of injustice, and humans tend to have different reactions depending on what role we have in each particular injustice.

Let’s look at feelings when we are the victims and observers of injustice. What happens when you encounter feelings of injustice toward yourself and/or others? What are those feelings, exactly? Think about your initial reaction. Do you feel sad that it’s happening? Angry that it’s happening? Confused about why it has to happen? 

How do you feel about yourself and your ability to effect change when you think about this? Do you get frustrated that there’s not much you can do about it? Helpless that you can’t create change? Empowered to do something about it?

For example, I can feel a certain way if I’m a victim of injustice. I can feel helpless, mistreated, and angry. This is common with ADHD, and is how I feel about many ADHD organizations having a lack of support for women and Asians, two demographics I belong to. I can also feel a certain way if I’m an observer of injustice. I can feel empathetic, and angry about this injustice for others, even if I’m not directly affected by this injustice. This is how I feel about police brutality in communities of color, ageism, and the lack of long-term resources for the unhoused. 

How do those feelings change when you think about others and their inactivity? Does it change how you feel about their personal character, their skill sets, their effectiveness as leaders? Your trust in them to do what they say is important? Your belief and trust in organizations as a whole?

I’ll admit, I regularly fall into this trap, and have done so in the situation of ADHD organizations refusing to create spaces for women and Asians, or not wanting to create more inclusive ways for clients to find providers that come from similar cultural, occupational, and other backgrounds. They’ve said they cared a lot about inclusion and belonging, but didn’t seem to want to do anything to change existing infrastructures to make space for that inclusion. Yes, I did not think highly of them as organizations, and even more importantly, I did not think highly of each of the people I interacted with as individuals.

For those seemingly standing in the way of our quest to right injustice, it can be common for our views of them to start skewing more negatively. They could be helping to fix a broken system, but they’re not, so they’re (dot dot dot)... incompetent, lacking in moral values, lazy, liars when they say they care about the issues, so on and so forth.

Here’s something that happened to me a few months ago. In a meeting, someone had told me they were interested in my feedback and suggestions for an annual event I attended, that they are planning again this year. After I shared a few of my suggestions with them, they asked me to put together a cohesive document of all of my suggestions for a follow-up meeting. After I spent many volunteer hours putting together thoughtful suggestions on how to make their event more inclusive and effective, they ghosted my emails for follow up meetings, and did not respond to the email I sent two days later, two months later, and four months later.

When I shared with a friend and fellow ADHD coach that I thought it was really uncool how this person treated me, they basically did everything they could to tell me I was being unreasonable with being upset about doing work and being ghosted. They said that this person’s feelings of inadequacy could lead them to avoid the task entirely, that I should be compassionate about their inaction. This person has ADHD, they said, and they can sometimes be perfectionists to the point of being paralyzed. I’m being an asshole, they said, because I am being upset at them for being imperfect.

“No,” I told them. “I’m not upset at them for being imperfect. I’m upset at them for how they are treating me. There is a difference”. And there is. If this person had emailed me, even much later than I had initially emailed them, and told me they’re underwater and overwhelmed, and they just can’t manage meeting with me for my suggestions on top of what they’re dealing with right now, I would have understood and moved on. I probably would have even offered to give free labor to help them with whatever is overwhelming them. But they didn’t do that. They ghosted me entirely without any explanation or consideration.

The person I was discussing this with refused to see the experience from my perspective, and really doubled down that I was in the wrong here. I have since chosen not to continue my friendship with them, the first time I’ve done so in years.

But what was it that made this former friend react in such a defensive stance in that conversation? What made them validate the other person’s experience over mine?

Well, in this scenario, they identified with being the person who ghosts other people. Also, this person was friends with both me and the person who ghosted me, and when I said that the person treated me awfully, they couldn’t see their other friend being someone who was acting unjustly. Because in their mind, when someone is acting unjustly, they are a very bad person, and their friend isn’t a bad person! 

Here is how justice sensitivity divides us. The first step for a more just society is acknowledgement of injustice, who the perpetrators are, who the beneficiaries are, and who suffers as a result. In order for us to move forward, we all need to be honest about how that injustice is perpetuated.

But if we associate the perpetrators of injustice as being bad, and the people who seek justice as good, then when we or the people we love or identify with are accused of being the perpetrators of injustice, a deep shame can come up for us. That deep shame feels pretty awful, so a common coping mechanism is to avoid it, and resort to denial. I am not the bad guy here. The person I love is not the bad guy. The person who is like me is not the bad guy. We are good people!

The same thing can happen when we are beneficiaries of injustice. This same former friend has long been the beneficiary of an unjust system within the ADHD community. They often get opportunities that aren’t given to other people. But they often deny that the system is unjust, because it flares up their insecurities. When they think of how they’ve suffered at the hands of other injustice, their strong justice sensitivities lead them to view the beneficiaries of injustice as undeserving of what they’ve been given, so if they’re the beneficiaries of injustice in this situation, they don’t deserve their success.

But both of these are fallacies that come from our deep feelings of justice sensitivity. Perpetrators of injustice are often just people who are misinformed, clueless, or tunnel visioned. There often isn’t ill intent with their actions. Of course, there are cases where a person’s actions in supporting unjust systems are malicious, but most of the time, that’s not the reason. If anything, the reason why they continue to perpetrate unjust systems is because they are unable to acknowledge that they are perpetuating it. When perpetrators of unjust systems can’t acknowledge that they are part of an unjust system, it feels like gaslighting from the end of the victims and observers. And when those who are beneficiaries are unable to acknowledge that they are benefitting from an unjust system and double down on how they deserve what they have earned, it also accentuates the harm. There’s nothing quite as hurtful as being a victim of injustice than a perpetrator or beneficiary saying the injustice doesn’t exist, or that they aren’t privileged. It further widens the gap between us vs. them.

This is unfortunate, because most of the time, when I acknowledge how I’m a beneficiary or perpetrator of injustice, it is usually met with a positive response. If you haven’t heard this from me already, I will say it again. I have lived a hugely privileged life. I was born in California to two well educated, financially stable immigrant parents, and I lived in an upper middle class neighborhood. While my parents were extremely frugal, and I didn’t get a lot of shiny new toys or video games and things, we never had to worry about food or housing insecurity, and my parents provided me with unlimited opportunities. Classes to learn music, drama, art. I went to rich public schools with lots of enriching programs, and was able to participate in afterschool programs for gifted children. I was given every opportunity. And the privilege goes beyond financial means as well. I am a decently attractive Asian woman, and that means I’m often viewed by strangers as intelligent, hard working, and unthreatening. The perception others have of me is often a stark contrast from the perceptions people have of other people of color. I am aware of this.

Does that mean that I was given an opportunity that I wasn’t qualified for? Probably not. Does that mean my successes aren’t deserved? Not really. Does it mean I didn’t earn my biggest achievements? No. But does it mean that other people have been denied the chance to do what I do, even if they share a lot of my best qualities? Yes. Does it mean that someone else will not get the same opportunities despite working just as hard? Absolutely.

And, most importantly, does having privilege in many aspects of my life mean I am not also a victim of some unjust systems? No. In fact, while the perceptions of Asians being intelligent and hard working has worked in my favor, the perceptions of Asians being submissive and unfit for senior leadership has hurt my career success in many ways. And don’t even get me started on perceptions of Asians during the COVID pandemic. Being privileged does not exclude anyone from being a victim of injustice, because privilege encompasses hundreds, thousands of individual spectrums. It’s impossible to find someone who is privileged in every facet of their lives.

But here’s the thing about my privilege. People don’t give me shit about it, and I think part of the reason for that is because I acknowledge my privilege, and validate the experience of others as victims of unjust systems. At no point in my life so far have I said that I have been privileged, and someone responded that I’m undeserving of my success. And when I share an experience with someone and they say they wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done because of their life circumstances, I don’t disagree. It really isn’t my place to. I don’t tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I don’t tell them they could do it if they worked harder. I acknowledge that the system is unfair, and that they deserve the chance to thrive.

And then I try to make it more fair for them, because that’s a way I can use my privilege in a positive way. I do this by speaking up, especially in forums where I am privileged to be listened to over others. Afterward, I am able to bring unheard voices into the discussion using my networking and involvement. I do this by volunteering my time to create other organizations that will create opportunities for justice when existing organizations refuse. As a beneficiary of unjust systems, I have a lot of power to enact change. And yeah, the response from victims of those same unjust systems have been hugely positive. They don’t have a problem with me as a beneficiary. They have a problem with their experiences being invalidated, and a lack of desire from others to make the system more fair for them. If I am actively working to make the system more fair, we are on the same side. And when I’m a perpetrator of injustice, which I have been several times, unknowingly, when the issue is brought up with me, I can give a genuine apology, acknowledge their experience, then actively revise what I’m doing to become more fair.

So what can we do to close the gap, and be better seekers of justice?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that our emotional dysregulation is in play, and be aware of the ways that justice sensitivity gets amplified with other voices, both in agreement and disagreement, as I mentioned earlier. After that, we can adjust our views to see perpetrators and beneficiaries of injustice as exactly what they are, diverse and imperfect humans, and approach conversations with them with that in mind. We can do so while also validating our own experiences. I can say that the person who ghosted me is imperfect, and was probably not ghosting me to be malicious, while also saying that I was unfairly treated by them.

Then we can look inward at when we were beneficiaries and perpetrators. How would we have wanted the topic brought up if we were in their shoes? How have we felt when we were accused of being perpetrators of injustice, or beneficiaries?

We can see all sides as being on the same team, which, I admit, is very hard to do. I’m struggling with it everyday. But I’m trying. And when organizations refuse to budge? When they refuse to acknowledge their part in making the world less fair? Well, we can start our own movements, our own organizations, and our own progress. We are powerful people. We can do a lot. Don’t forget that.

You’ve made it to the end of the Justice Sensitivity episode. To recap, ADHD individuals experience high levels of justice sensitivity, because we have emotional dysregulation that intensifies the feelings we experience when we are victims or observers of injustice. That can lead to good outcomes, but can also lead to an “us vs. them” mentality, because our strong justice sensitivity can also view perpetrators and beneficiaries as bad people. Then, when we are the perpetrators or beneficiaries of unjust systems, we can often deny the experience of others because we don’t see ourselves or people we love or identify with as bad people. If we want to serve a more just society, we need to be able to see the issues clearly, without shame, without associating others as good or bad, and we can do so while still validating our experience. And if others don’t want to be on the same team with us to make things more just, well, we can try to do it without them.

If you found this episode enjoyable or informative, please tell your friends and family members with ADHD, and/or give us a review wherever you get your podcasts. If you want to read transcripts or show notes, find out more about me, Jaye Lin, or give suggestions on future episodes, please go to our website, That’s the acronym for Now Presenting: ADHD, Or you can follow us on Instagram, at NPADHD. Thanks for listening, and we hope to see you again soon!