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Questions and Answers

I believe that I may have Attention Deficit Disorder and am wondering what your thoughts are on this. I couldn’t find any mention of it on your website unlike other mental disorders. I have been previously diagnosed as having Bipolar II and clinical depression, though I never followed up with my doctors or medications because I did not believe these diagnoses to be accurate. Although, I do feel something is amiss with me and I feel that ADD most accurately describes my experiences.
     I will briefly explain why. Starting in childhood my mother would often comment that I needed to “pay attention/be more aware of my surroundings.” I never understood what she meant, but I have gotten similar comments from others as an adult amounting to me being forgetful, not paying attention, “in my own world” etc. I also often had the problem of misplacing/forgetting my house keys as a child and adult. Locking myself out of my apartment quite frequently when I lived by myself for a year. Which I remember my father would also do consistently. In fact, I think if ADD is real that I would have “inherited it” from him. He is similarly forgetful, has chronically changed jobs/occupations, and generally been very unstable most of his life.
     The most concerning thing is not being able to stay at any job / build occupational stability. I have had 20+ jobs and am only just approaching the age of 29. Essentially I would feel like I was going to have a heart attack almost everyday when I was going to work. I thought it was maybe just that job/work environment in particular, but I seem to reach that point of intense anxiety at every job and eventually I can’t muster up the energy anymore to push myself through it and so I give up.
     I always seem to reach a point where I feel trapped at any given job and it is like my brain shuts down. I start to make little mistakes. I get in trouble. I can’t seem to force myself to continue with the work. I start to feel like the stress and anxiety is no longer worth the money. But why can’t I just suck it up since I need money to survive? I end up quitting anyway. Other people can suck it up at their crappy jobs but I can’t seem to. I just become overwhelmed and pretty much reach a point where I figure I have to leave and can never return to whatever job it is. . . . I feel I am not living up to my potential.
     The only thing I have been able to maintain pretty consistently was being in school. I believe the reason I was successful in school and specifically in college is because I enjoy learning, researching, thinking. Unfortunately, my school was heavily steeped in Marxism as it was a private, very liberal arts school. So I have been having to unlearn a lot of things I learned there. I converted to Catholicism in 2018, thanks be to God. Since then I have been trying to discern how to live rightly and what is God’s will for me.
     I guess I am wondering, do you believe that ADD is a real disorder? Might I have it or something else? Or am I simply just lazy/disorganized/inattentive? I don’t think that I am lazy. I live with my sister and a roommate and I do pretty much all of the house hold cleaning and maintenance. I don’t mind doing housework, dishes, etc. If someone asks for my help I will help them. I just can’t seem to stick to a job though. I feel i can’t quite get a proper grasp on adult life because of this. I feel embarrassed and I feel like a failure.
     I hope that by returning to education I will have a better vision for my life. But if I do have ADD or something else, I want to get that under control and stop causing myself such problems.

Outline of the Answer
• Is ADD Real?
• A Preliminary Note
• Two Themes from Childhood
• So What Can You Do?

Is ADD real? Well Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the related Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are a collection of psychological symptoms that in themselves are actual (i.e., “real”). But neither of these collections of symptoms (which can be called a “disorder”) is real in the way that cancer, for example, is a real illness that results in real biological damage. In contrast, the symptoms of ADD (such as difficulty concentrating, difficulty paying attention, and difficulty learning) and ADHD (essentially ADD with added hyperactivity) cause psychological distress rather than physical damage.

Consequently, the causes of ADD and ADHD are psychological—and when looking for psychological causes the first place to look is at a person’s childhood.

A Preliminary Note

As a preliminary note, let’s be honest here and admit that the childhood causes of any disorder cannot be easily established with scientific research. Most parents not only are loath to admit any responsibility for their children’s dysfunctions, but they also tend to be ignorant of such responsibility. Thus a researcher cannot determine the truth just by asking about it. Nevertheless, when talking to individuals in psychotherapy, their memories of their childhood experiences and their parents’ behavior can be discovered. Hence the evidence is there, even if it cannot be established through controlled scientific experimentation and observation.


Note carefully that when ADD or ADHD occur in childhood, the treatment for children should not be medication; instead, the parents must do psychotherapy to overcome their own anxieties so that they can demonstrate to their children a life of quiet, attentive, prayerful trust in God.


Two Themes from Childhood


Now, in your case, I perceive two themes related to your childhood. First is the theme of anger at your father. As I have explained on my webpage about The Role of a Father, a father’s failures in his responsibility as a father often leads to problems in learning and in failures to achieve life success. With the pain of a failed father working in them, many children learn nothing, engage with nothing, and accomplish nothing—just as you have described about yourself. Here, then, the issue in not about some disorder called ADD but about unconscious anger at your father.

Ignoring the Truth

The second theme is your lack of attention to what is occurring around you in the present. Locking yourself out of your home is a good example. In this case, while you are locking the door you are not focused directly on the task of locking the door; instead you are preoccupied with thinking about something else. This illustrates that the problem is not about “ADD” as a disorder but with the psychological tendency to do one thing while thinking of something else. This points to the likelihood that your childhood lacked a calm atmosphere of peace and security necessary to develop clear, focused thinking; that is, your parents must have had their own disturbing “nervous” issues (i.e., anxiety about their own unresolved childhood emotional traumas) such that you suffered the emotional pain of being ignored and misunderstood by your parents. Thus, to survive emotionally, you learned to ignore the truth of your painful and frightening experiences in the moment. In essence, you learned to ignore the truth of your emotional pain in order to hide the truth that your parents failed to live honest, spiritual lives.


Why would any child be disposed to “ignoring the truth”? Well, in the most basic sense, the truth about the parents of an ADD child is that the parents have failed the child somehow. But with ADD the truth goes deeper than ordinary parental failure. For example, it can be asked why a child of an alcoholic parent does not develop ADD issues. The answer is that an alcoholic parent is simply and clearly dysfunctional, whereas the parents of an ADD child appear to be normal but are really driven by irrational behavior. Thus the ADD child gets caught in the distress of a pretense; that is, the child wants to put trust in the parents but at the same time knows that the parents who pretend to be so normal are really so irrational that they cannot be trusted. Consequently, the child, in encountering the pretense of the family environment, finds it too terrifying to accept that the parents cannot be trusted, and so the child learns to ignore the truth of the environment altogether. From then on, the child fails to pay attention to most everything—and there the ADD begins.


So What Can You Do?


In regard to your anger at your father, it will be necessary to use psychotherapy or deep spiritual scrutiny to work through and heal the emotional pain of your parents’ failures. You will know that you have healed when you can state the facts of your childhood emotional wounds and yet not get angry about it all. For more explanation, see my webpage Healing.


In regard to your lack of attention, it will be necessary to train yourself to focus on what you are doing while you are doing it. The best and most simple Catholic technique to use here is to train yourself to say the Jesus Prayer constantly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. It may sound odd, but when you do anything while praying the Jesus Prayer “in the background,” the prayer will assist you in maintaining clear focus on whatever task you are doing. Two reasons can explain this. First, the prayer will protect your mind from wandering into extraneous and unnecessary distractions (especially thoughts of resentment and anger), and second, the prayer will help to keep thoughts of God in your mind and on your lips so that you will be gracefully attuned to the presence of God in your life. Learning this process is not difficult; it just takes resolute determination and perseverance to stay with it, even though the beginning of the learning will be filled with inevitable lapses.

Another technique for acquiring mental focus is called Autogenics. This technique requires some specialized self-training practices, but I have described it all very clearly on that webpage.


In regard to your mental paralysis (e.g., inability to continue with the work to be done), it will be necessary to use constant prayer to call upon divine help when you feel stuck. Use short prayers such as, Lord, I’m stuck and don’t know what to do. Help me find my way through this task. This type of prayer can counteract the helplessness you felt as a child when you “knew,” but were too terrified to admit, that your parents were of no help in guiding you.


In summary, then, your problems are not really about ADD as a disorder but about the emotional wounds from your parents’ failures in your childhood. The cure is not medical, and it’s not about medications; the cure is about working psychologically through the emotional pain of your childhood wounds.


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