Now Presenting: ADHD

When we do something embarrassing

June 27, 2023 Jaye Lin Season 1 Episode 12
Now Presenting: ADHD
When we do something embarrassing
Show Notes Transcript

Is this something you resonate with? Using hypervigilance and anxiety to prevent the feelings of embarrassment and shame? Having such strong responses to feeling embarrassed that you go out of your way to prevent it from happening? If you do resonate with this, you’re not alone.

Now Presenting, ADHD, and when we do something embarrassing.

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.

I started this podcast 8 months ago, and have since used the same intro and outro speech in all of the past 11 episodes. They were written before I recorded the very first episode on the Optimization Trap, and haven’t changed, despite reformulating this podcast into a solo podcast without guests. The outro informs everyone on how to get more information and follow us on an  Instagram account that was created shortly before the first recording.

So imagine how I was feeling a few nights ago, when I was laying in bed and checking our sparsely followed podcast Instagram account, and I suddenly realized that I had been giving the wrong Instagram handle on the outro of the podcast this entire time. Hah. Yeah, for eight months and 11 episodes, I’ve been telling you to go follow us on Instagram @npadhd, when the actual Instagram account for this podcast is @npadhdpodcast.

It hit me right in the face, all at once, and I responded by bursting out in laughter, which was so loud that it woke up my tiny dog curled up next to me. I was delightfully tickled with how stupid of a mistake I had made, especially since I’ve been ignorant about this mistake for so long.

Immediately after this sudden burst of laughter, I paused to evaluate what was going on, because that reaction was very strange coming out of me. Aside from the fact that I rarely laugh out loud when I’m alone, it was an unusual response for me to have after doing something embarrassing, especially with something so public.

Historically, I have not handled embarrassment well. After realizing something I did was embarrassing, I would typically be consumed with shame, both emotionally and physically. My face, neck, shoulders, and scalp would feel like they were burning. My stomach would churn. My brain would desperately try to change my thoughts away from these intrusive and shameful thoughts.

This led to a constant fear of doing something embarrassing, and would make me hypervigilant about what I was doing, which was very anxiety-inducing, as you can imagine. I completely flared up my rejection sensitivity dysphoria, or RSD, and made it so that I couldn’t be vulnerable around others, or they would know about how inept I was at all things. It made me both boast about my skills and abilities, and completely doubt myself at every turn.

Basically, the fear of being embarrassed made me anxious and isolated, and made almost every situation with others an unsafe environment.

Is this something you resonate with? Using hypervigilance and anxiety to prevent the feelings of embarrassment and shame? Having such strong responses to feeling embarrassed that you go out of your way to prevent it from happening? If you do resonate with this, you’re not alone.

Now Presenting, ADHD, and when we do something embarrassing.

<brief theme music>

All humans do embarrassing things, and all humans dislike being embarrassed, but with ADHD, both of those things are amplified. 

Those of us with ADHD tend to have higher instances of doing things that we will be embarrassed about, due to a variety of factors. We have working memory issues, so it’s harder to hold everything in our heads, and follow multiple streams all at once without losing the thread. We have time blindness, which can make it harder to finish and show up to things on time. We have issues with zoning out and inattention, which makes asking a question that was already covered much more likely than our neurotypical counterparts. We can do things impulsively, then regret how it turned out. And we are commonly fueled by adrenaline, which allows us to barrel toward the finish line, but maybe not be fully aware of all the mitigating factors when we do. All of these difficulties with ADHD mean that it is more likely that we will make a mistake when we go about our days, which can often lead to more opportunities to feel embarrassment than our neurotypical peers.

But we also have stronger emotional responses to embarrassment. A lot of us can use the terms embarrassment and shame interchangeably, because embarrassment is often felt to the same degree as shame. Emotional dysregulation means we have a heightened response to emotional stimuli, which often means when we feel good, we feel really good, and when we feel bad, we feel really, really bad. Embarrassment is felt much harder with us than it is for others. Emotional dysregulation also means we have greater difficulty with interpreting our emotions, which often leads to emotional binaries. A common takeaway from an emotional episode is that we feel bad, without any of the nuance that comes from emotions.

Without the innate tools for us to process these huge emotions, it’s common to avoid confronting them, and instead, creating elaborate plans on how to never feel this way again. This is where RSD thrives. Our embarrassment is often interpreted by us as rejection by our peers, especially when they tease or bring up our shortcomings. We can become intensely focused on never making mistakes, never looking stupid, never allowing others to see our shortcomings, and never doing anything that will make us feel embarrassed.

This is where anxiety and overcorrection come in. This hypervigilance of what we say and do can create a constant state of anxiety, fear, and psychological danger. We did something embarrassing, and rather than learn from it, we will never do that thing again. We will never do that hobby that made us look stupid. We will never again talk to that person we made a fool of ourselves around. And sometimes, we will never allow others to see into who we are, for fear that we can be embarrassed.

I don’t have to tell you that living a life of heightened anxiety, psychological danger, and isolation is not fun or fulfilling. It’s pretty obvious. But that’s the state I used to live in, and one that many others with ADHD live in as well. After all, what is the alternative? A life with shame and deeply felt negative emotions?

Actually, no. There are other alternatives.

This is what I love about coaching. It’s often uncomfortable to be coached, because it pushes us to look directly at the things we’ve been so afraid of looking at. But after each coaching session, usually, the person being coached looks and feels a lot lighter, because looking directly at the thing they were afraid of tends to uncover so much, and often, the thing itself isn’t worthy of their fear to begin with. The alternative to a life of anxious isolation is one where we give ourselves the tools and muscle memory to approach and process our emotions more effectively. This will lower our emotional reaction to the embarrassment, and has an added bonus. When we’re able to process our emotions in a more effective way, we can also start employing useful strategies to circumvent the things we want to change, so the embarrassment is less likely to happen in the first place.

Here are the steps I tend to take when I’m evaluating my embarrassment. 

First, I identify the actual consequences of the mistake against the backdrop of initial reactions. My initial reaction was that telling listeners the wrong Instagram handle made me look completely incompetent. 11 episodes and 8 months of not realizing my mistake? They must think I’m really stupid. But the actual consequences? I don’t actually know how many people listened to the podcast, then went to Instagram to add npadhd as the account. It could have been nobody. It could have been a zero consequence action. And as for this mistake making others think I’m incompetent? I don’t know, it’s such a small mistake compared to the information I’m actually releasing on the podcast. It’s more likely that listeners would decide on my value based on actual podcast content and not this one embarrassing detail.

Second, I ask myself what is actually embarrassing about it. I got the podcast handle wrong in my recordings. What is embarrassing about that? I made a careless mistake, and then kept making it without realizing. Ok. When saying that out loud, it doesn’t feel so intense.

Then, I ask what good can come from me being embarrassed. Nothing, really. My knee jerk reaction to being embarrassed would probably be to stop making episodes and focus my time on correcting past podcast episodes. Or, in a more extreme knee jerk, pulling everything off of the hosting platform and disappearing forever. Crawling into a hole and refusing to come out.

Ok, but what good can come from me not being embarrassed? You’re listening to it. That embarrassing detail quickly became this podcast episode that explores what we can do when we are embarrassed. Aside from this, whenever we do embarrassing things, we are being human, just like all other humans. Whenever we do something embarrassing and embrace it, it signals to others that it’s safe to make mistakes or do things that could be seen as embarrassing. A lot of good can come from not being embarrassed of our mistakes, really. Instead of embarrassment being given the power to isolate us, being vulnerable has the opposite effect, and has the power to connect us.

When I shared about this goof with a few of my friends, they shared some of their goofs, too. We laughed at our ridiculous mistakes, and felt more closely bonded together than if I hid my mistakes from them. In short, my friends and I are humans who feel safe to be human around other humans. Talk about psychological safety.

Knowing this, it is much easier for me to own up to my mistakes and not feel so embarrassed about them. It’s much easier to be deliberate when we know what the results will be. Who do you want to be for yourself and others? Someone fueled by anxiety and fear, who doesn’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, and likely projects an environment where others aren’t safe to be vulnerable around you? Or someone who others can be psychologically safe to be themselves around, flaws and all, in an environment where it’s safe for anyone to fuck up, knowing it will be a funny story that connects us closer to each other? You are able to decide who you want to be, and then take small steps toward being that person.

So, this is me announcing to the world that I made a very public mistake, and it’s ok for you all to see it. After all, I’m not an idol, I’m a human, and it’s ok for me to act like one.

You’ve made it to the end of the episode on when we do something embarrassing. To recap, ADHD can amplify both the frequency of our mistakes and the emotional response we get when we make mistakes. This can lead to avoidance and fear of feeling embarrassment and shame. Hypervigilance and anxiety are common methods to overcorrect and prevent mistakes, but often lead to high strung and isolated lives full of psychological danger. An alternative to this is to ask ourselves questions that allow us to look directly at the mistake we are embarrassed about, then decide who we want to be to ourselves and others. After all, being open about our mistakes and choosing not to be embarrassed leads to greater connection with others, especially since every human makes mistakes and does embarrassing things. When we project an environment where it’s safe to fuck up and be human, we create a better environment for everyone, including ourselves.

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 NPADHDPodcast. Thanks for listening, and we hope to see you again soon!