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The Beginners Guide to DBT with ADHD, Part 5b: Mindfulness of Others

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

Mindfulness of Others

For those of us with ADHD, it’s easy to get stuck in our own heads. Because of this, it can seem like we don’t care about other people or that we are selfish or self-absorbed. This, however, is not the reality. In fact, people with ADHD tend to be much more empathetic and caring toward other people. We really do care a lot about other people and will often put others' needs before our own. But our racing thoughts and tendency to act on impulse tend to be a constant problem for us because they make us lose track of the other person's social cues in the present. One way we can rein our racing thoughts in is to combine our mindfulness skills, which we learned in Part 2, with the GIVE skill which we learned about in the last article.

Because mindfulness is about bringing us back into the present moment, we can use the “what” and “how” skills in order to get us out of our racing thoughts and be more present in our relationships.


We can use the observe skills to help us pay attention to people with interest and curiosity. Because it is hard for us ADHDers to stay focused on something we are not interested in, we can use the observe skill as a way to trick our minds into “thinking” they are interested in what the person is saying by turning it into a learning experience. This opens our minds up to learning new information about a person.

When we are interested in and curious about people, it helps us be open to changing our minds about them when we find out we were wrong. It also helps us not hold people to their past beliefs. People often change their minds and beliefs about what they want. When we are stuck in our own thoughts, we often can't or won't notice that someone has changed, even if we want them to.

When you are too focused on yourself, you might miss a lot of what the other person says or does. Even though you should be aware of yourself when talking to other people, it can be a problem if you are too focused on yourself. When you're not focused on the other person, it's hard to understand what they're going through or agree with what they're saying or doing. When we overfocus on ourselves, it can lead to us talking mostly about ourselves. Even though some of this is good, too much of it makes other people feel like they don't matter. Most of the time, this doesn't lead to very positive interactions. Also, focusing on ourselves during interactions can make us worry about how we're doing and what other people are thinking. Anxiety can make us avoid people or keep us very quiet when we are around them. We can't make or keep friends if we stay away from people and don't talk when we're around them.

By staying in the present moment, we can keep our minds from wandering about how we are doing in a conversation. This means not constantly trying to think of the next thing we are going to say. It also means trying to keep yourself from thinking about the consequences down the road of what the person is currently saying. Those of us with ADHD know all too well how easy it is to get caught up in instantly playing out every possible scenario in our heads when someone tells us something, only to realize 5 minutes later that we haven’t been listening to anything they said because we’ve been too busy thinking about how adding a bit of cinnamon to their peach cobbler recipe was going to somehow bring about the apocalypse.

When you're talking to someone, it's important not to start doing other things at the same time. This can be nearly impossible for those of us with ADHD, as it’s easy for our attention to get pulled away. We can, however, take steps to limit distractions when we are having face-to-face conversations. Doing things such as turning your phone on silent and intentionally maintaining eye contact can keep us from looking like we are losing interest in what they are saying. It is difficult for other people to feel that they are important to you or that you care about them when you frequently turn their attention away from them.


When interacting with people, observing and listening are only part of the equation. We also have to be able to hold our half of the conversation. This is where the describe skill comes in. Obviously, we can’t communicate our observations without first describing them. A key thing to note when we are describing things to people is to only describe what we have observed. One important part of this is being able to tell the difference between what we notice about our own thoughts and feelings and what we notice about things outside of ourselves. Remember that when we talk about something that isn't our own thoughts, feelings, or sensations, we must do so without making any judgments. That means we shouldn't label things as good or bad or think our opinions are the "right" ones. Also, keep in mind that you can only describe what you see and hear (touch, taste, smell, hearing, and seeing). No one has ever seen another person's thoughts, intentions, feelings, emotions, desires, or personal experiences. People who are very sensitive to other people and their feelings are often very good at figuring out what is going on with a person just by observing their non-verbal communication, even if the person doesn’t say anything. This is because they have become very good at being able to “read” people. But even if we are able to learn this skill, we must still be willing to admit that we may be wrong. We can “check the facts” by asking questions and by watching how people react to what we say and do.

Questioning other people's motives or intentions is something else that can be very bad for relationships. When we question people's motives, they feel like we're pushing them away. The most common mistake is thinking that if words or actions have a certain effect, then that effect must have been intended. Mistrusting certain people for no good reason makes it more difficult to make friends and keeps people from getting close.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a great way to keep relationships going. Even if you have some reason to think that someone has bad intentions, there is usually at least a small chance of another possibility. If you remember to give people the benefit of the doubt, it can be easier to check the facts afterward. This means that you should really be open to the idea that your assumptions about the other person's intentions could be wrong and that they could have other good reasons.

People learn to trust each other when they take risks with them and give them chances to show they can be trusted. Trust is earned when these people do things that show they can be trusted. People can choose to give others a chance to earn their trust. People lose your trust when they do things that don't make them trustworthy, like taking purposeful advantage of you.

Letting Down our Barriers

For many of us with ADHD, we have spent most of our lives hiding behind our own masks and walls which we have put in place to try and blend in with a neurotypical world. Because of this, we may find it hard to trust that people really do have good intentions. In reality, most people are too concerned with whether or not you are judging them for them to even consider judging you. Sometimes it's okay to let down those barriers and allow ourselves to see the best in people. And, as we are doing this, we can use this as a time to really start to observe other people and open up to them about the way we see the world. And, if at some point it comes down to just needing to rid ourselves of the bad relationships in our lives, DBT has some skills for that as well, which we will discuss in the next article. See you there!

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