One of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD is impulsivity which can manifest in many ways, including talking too much. This can cause people with ADHD feel distant from the type of relationships they are longing for.
One of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD is impulsivity, which can manifest in many different ways. There are a ton of strategies for working with children with ADHD and improving their ability to regulate impulsivity but this often falls off by the time teens hit high school and beyond. Most adults don't discuss how difficult managing social impulsivity can be in their day-to-day lives because of the deep shame associated with struggling socially.
Talking out of habit, going on and on (and on), talking out of nervousness, talking as a way to think, interrupting others, speaking out of turn, overtaking the conversation are all traits of ADHD that manifest in social settings. These impulsive behaviors are particularly challenging in adulthood where appropriate behavior and social norms are important for acceptance.
Talking a lot is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, one sign of a healthy friendship is that it can stand up to the shifting needs of each friend. At times, the relationship and conversation is all about supporting one person, especially in the face of hardships. But one-way relationships are hard to sustain for long. If you struggle with over-talking, it may become a barrier to your ability to make friends and date in the ways you want to.
Research shows that, in general, we are our favorite topic of conversation and tend to talk about ourselves in 60% of in-person interactions, and 80% of online interactions. One Harvard study looked at the neurobiological effects of self-disclosure, which they found to be intrinsically rewarding. When we answer questions about ourselves, our brains release dopamine. When we talk about ourselves to a person we know, these dopamine spikes are even greater.
Dopamine is the potent pleasure hormone (also associated with sex, drug use, and sugar) that the ADHD brain is constantly searching for! When you talk about yourself you are immediately rewarded for doing so because it is (as research says),"inherently pleasurable." This makes us want to seek out more of these good feelings and increases the likelihood that we will talk about ourselves more often. While this illustrates only one example of social impulsivity, it helps us understand the biological complexity of why it can be so difficult for folks with ADHD to manage their socially impulsive behaviors.
Picking up one or two strategies that work for you has the ability to transform how you relate to others. Here are some of my best tips as a certified ADHD coach for managing social impulsivity for teens and adults:
Tip #1 - Sit on your hands
This sounds weird but is, without a doubt, my #1 tip for curbing the urge to speak! I use this all the time in coaching sessions when I have a strong reaction to respond to what my client is saying but they are not yet finished talking!
While sitting in a chair, tuck your hands under your outer thighs. Let the pressure remind you to stay quiet until the other person has finished speaking. I also use variations of this such as: clasping my hands, pressing my fingers together, and closing my hands into fists. Something about feeling the pressure lessens the grip of the urge to speak and reminds you to wait until it's the right time.
Tip #2 - Count to 5
The best tools are the simplest. If you notice that you keep missing social cues, take a breath and count to five. Counting to 5 works well when you are in a conversation with someone and you feel unsure if it's okay for you to start talking or to change the subject. It can give you the space to notice the facial expressions and emotions of the other person you are conversing with.
It's easy to want to share a connection or association you are making in the moment, that relates to the conversation you're having but ultimately does not add value to that conversation. Oftentimes, doing so turns into a tangent story and disrupts the conversation, changing the topic altogether and possibly leaves your company feeling uncared for.
Counting up, (in ascending order) psychologically prepares ourselves to be patient because we intuitively know that the numbers can keep going. 1-2-3-4-5 is followed by 6-7- and so on. If you begin counting in your mind and the other person speaks before you finish, their impression will be that you value what they are sharing with you and the conversation you are having.
“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.”
Tip #3 - Ask Permission
While attending the CHADD conference in 2021, one neuroscientist explained that for many people with ADHD "to talk is to think." That is, talking through something out loud is often the most effective way to process information and make meaning. If this describes you, ask for permission before launching in. Asking for permission can sound like:
"Is it okay if I talk through this with you?" or "I haven't made a decision but it will help me to talk it out, do you have time?"
Take it one step further and reach out to a friend when you are struggling with understanding:
"Hey are you available to help me talk through [this issue I'm having]? I think it would really help me."
This will send the message that you value your friendship and will strengthen your connections. Partner with your people and invite them to understand how to love and support you better.
Tip #4 - Plan Ahead
If you know that you tend to struggle with social impulsivity, take some time to visualize the situation before you go to the social event. Think of the people you will be with and plan for a couple of good topics that both of you can engage around.
Are you meeting up with a group that has a shared common goal? Does the person you're meeting have a new interest in house plants? What is something you are both looking forward to right now?
Consider what conversations you might have and how you can contribute to them in a positive way. Look for ways that you can relate and share common ground. Planning ahead can make you feel more confident and in control of your impulses.
Tip #5 - Listen Actively
Active listening is a crucial skill for managing impulsivity in social situations. Rather than listening to form a response, try listening to understand. Instead of interrupting others, show interest and engage with them by asking questions or summarizing their points.
How did you end up handling the situation? Wow you handled that situation so well! I wouldn't have known how to bring everyone together like that.
Active listening can help you to regulate your impulse to interrupt others or change the subject or focus of the conversation at an inappropriate time.
It's Not About Being a Different Person
It's About Trying a Different Approach
ADHD is not your fault but it is your responsibility. You don't have to apologize for your ADHD but you do need to be willing to try a new approach and learn what works for you. You deserve the healthy and loving relationships you are longing for. Placing more intention into your friendships, dating life, and general social interactions will deepen your relationships, increase your feelings of belonging and community, improve confidence, and wellbeing.