A.D.D. and Parent’s High Expectations

Having received this email from one of us who has come to understand that her brainstyle primarily walks the A.D.D. path, I want to share her question about high expectations. I’ve learned that many of us have similar questions, interests, and concerns. And, never being one to eternally “reinvent the wheel,” I  hope you’ll join me by responding to Crystal T’s query by sharing your perspective.

Let me introduce Crystal T. who gave me permission to print her question about expectations

“If you got some time, I got something I’m not understanding. I just was talking to somebody about understand(ing) other people’s behaviors, and the one thing I keep thinking about is the high expectations that my family members have when it comes to living life, which I have been program(med) with. So my question is having high expectations, is it a good or bad thing?

“Isn’t (it) hard for an adult ADD to make a change from learning the high expectation from parents as a child?”

Here’s my response:

There’s only one person in the world who can genuinely set expectations for you, and that is YOU. And the expectations you set must relate to the True You that lives and grows within you from your natural talents, gifts and creativity, styles, and desires that are innate. They will not be workable if they come from another person.

True, someone, a parent, a teacher, a mentor, boss or friend may see interests, skills, and talents in you that you haven’t seen in yourself, much less befriended. But that person outside of you is only reflecting back as a mirror to you what is already there.

True, too, you may not see the wonderfulness that inhabits you if you struggled as a child either from neglect, abuse, or lack of opportunity. Maybe you weren’t reinforced for what you could do so you grew feeling inadequate and one who does not feel your own value. The result you experience is low self-worth—a feeling that you can not do much. As a result, you probably won’t expect much of yourself. Your self-expectations may be low.

Another enormous source of low self-esteem comes about when the way you are made doesn’t fit the popular cultural model of “how people should be.” We folks with an A.D.D. brainstyle often suffer from this wounding. Our way, too often, may not have been the culturally acceptable way of doing things, even when we get the job done.

One of my favorite examples is the way in which we simply don’t write outlines before we begin working toward a goal. Instead, we see the big picture of the goal in our minds and put the pieces together a bit at a time, as we discover the inherent patterns and function of the goal we see. If an outline is required, we usually wait until the goal is reached so we can write the outline by looking back and seeing what we have included after the fact. 

It is true that many well-meaning mentors, parents, and others try to motivate us by setting high expectations for us. But if the expectations come from the culture or from the person speaking, they are not likely to fit you or me. And there is nothing worse than slogging around in an overcoat three sizes too big or three sizes too small.

To the well-meaning helpers, say “Thank you for your interest in me, but I have my own ideas about what I want to accomplish” or  “I have my own way of accomplishing what I am assigned.

If you’ve had a lot of high expectations laid upon you by others, including from loving others, you will need to re-frame your situation, that is, look at your situation in a different way.

To reframe expectations and your response to expectations laid upon you, visualize the younger you who was expected to be or do things that simply weren’t right for you. There may be nothing wrong with the expectations,  but they don’t belong to you. That’s all.

But, if those expectations were a large part of your life, you’ll need to spend some time releasing them and replacing them with your own set of preferences.

By the way, I would avoid using the word “expectations,” because it’s probably contaminated by past wounding, guilt, and fear. Instead you need to tell that younger you that you are going to help her (him) to discover and grow her or his own preferences.

These new preferences belong to you. And you will discover that gently, you’ll come to really love and value yourself as you are now, expecting the right responses from yourself.

So, Crystal, to your question about whether other’s expectations are good or bad, I would say that they may be frequently non-constructive when laid upon you by others. If they are gently supported by others because of what they see in you, that may more likely be fine. And having someone believe in us is quite wonderful. But the work “expectation” has the ring of a power play or intrusive judgment, and that generally doesn’t feel good and is not healthy for our well – being.


“What kind of expectations can work for you?  Your own. Not the ones you learned from someone else. But the ones that you have within yourself that simply won’t go away.

Crystal, I hope that others respond to this blog with helpful thoughts. It’s been a pleasure dialoguing with you. Lynn


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6 Responses to A.D.D. and Parent’s High Expectations

  1. cary says:

    One thing I love about Lynn’s findings on the ADD brain style is that it is just that…a brain style. In my words, a different way of interpreting and processing the world. Different does not make it better or worse, higher or lower. It is simply different. For many years, I have set expectations for myself by comparing myself to my mother, who has a linear brain style. In listening to her as any child should listen to their mother, I learned her way, which was the only way she knew.

    But in attempting to use her fine example for accomplishing things in her life as a standard for how I should, I failed. I failed over and over and over again. For years, I blamed her my failure. I fell into a trap of criticizing her success, and shoving it into bucket full of the kinds of lives I had decided I didn’t want. What I was actually doing, was lowering my own expectations for myself.

    Thankfully, I’ve figured out it wasn’t true. I do want what my mother has. She has a successful life she created in her own way. I want that. I want everything, and I deserve to have everything. In fact, that’s ultimately what most mothers want for their children…for them to know that they deserve everything and have the wherewithal to get it.

    I’m not undeserving because I have ADD…because of the way I interpret and process the world. True, I have to adjust the standard methods for achieving what I want. However, this is not an excuse to lower my expectations for myself.

    ADD is not a crutch to keep us sitting on the sidelines of life. We have to play the game. We have to take a shot and miss. Then come up with a new strategy. And slam dunk it the next time. The key is new strategy. Lynn is most certainly our help with that! Thank you Lynn.

  2. Crystal says:


    Thank you for sharing your story with Lynn’s post on A.D.D. and High Expectation. So I was wondering if I can copy and paste your respone along with Lynn’s post to my online support group on my Facebook page. If you are interested in looking it up if you are on Facebook check: https://www.facebook.com/groups/308373789206837/

    I would love to share with my support group of all the replies on this blog.

    Crystal T.

  3. Nichole Ortberg says:

    Support group ??? On Facebook? Interested

  4. Lynn Weiss says:

    I think it is great idea.
    Let me gather my social media supporters as my range of talents do not flow into the techie regions. I’ll be back Nichole Ortberg asap.

  5. Nichole Ortberg says:

    My parents have taken my car privileges away “I’m a 30 yr old mother” does this sound a little ridiculous to anyone else?? I do tend to get off track when I go some where because other things come up, I stop at a store I run in to a friend or I want to get something else down while I’m out an about and close to it. My parents see this as not doing what I said I was going to do, and if I ask to meet a friend it’s no we can’t trust you. I don’t understand why they think treating me like a child in front of my child is ok. Im not using drugs which I had to prove to them, I know I can be a little scatter Bain at times or get distracted but I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 9 yrs,no wrecks, I just can understand this and it’s affecting me so negatively.

  6. Lynn Weiss says:


    I am sorry for your stressful challenges. I realize that you are seeking direction, but this is not the format to work on it and I am not practicing any longer as a psychotherapist who can help you tackle these stresses.

    I do not know the reason for your living with your mother and that and other history would be the first step to tackle with regard to your stresses. I recommend that you seek help by either consulting with your family doctor or through a local counseling center that deals with personal and family living and emotional stress challenges.

    Once you’ve identified the limitations you face with housing(which might also get sorted out through a social service agency) or one that you’ve discovered on your own, then you can tackle issues that are particularly influenced by ADD/ADHD.

    I wish you all the best and laud you on seeking assistance.
    Lynn Weiss, PhD

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