Sari Solden – Part Seven of the Unwrapping the Gift of ADD series

Guest of the seventh lecture in the Unwrapping the Gift of ADD series was Sari Solden.

Sari Solden has a Masters Degree in clinical counseling from California State University and is also licensed as a marriage and family therapist (LMFT). She currently serves on the professional advisory board of the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association and has a private practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In addition, she’s the author of Journeys Through ADDulthood: Discover a New Sense of Identity and Meaning with Attention Deficit Disorder, published in 2002 by Walker & Company and Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life, published in 1995 by Underwood Books (second, revised edition was published in 2005).

In short, she said that it’s okay to be disorganized and messy. Well, no… Not quite. At least not exactly in these words.

Solden’s message was aimed primarily (but not only) at women with ADHD – she emphasized how crucial it is for women to move “from perfection to fullness” which (if I understood her point correctly) means to let go of the idea of trying to achieve the impossible and unattainable ideal of perfection in life and instead find strength from embracing one’s differences and learning how to respect oneself and expecting respect from others.

Women, according to Solden, have a harder time getting diagnosed with ADHD because they are not as hyperactive as men and instead frequently are given the diagnosis of depression, which of course is present, because women, more than men, feel more ashamed of themselves if they cannot meet the prevalent cultural expectations of women as being good organizers, housekeepers, and caretakers. There’s more acceptance in the society for men who are disorganized — the absent-minded professor type.

Women are also more likely to overfocus on their deficits than men and have a harder time to seek help. Once they do look for help they also have a harder time with healing and improving their condition because they continue being so critical of themselves.

Solden says that instead of trying to attain the lofty goal of trying to live up the ideal stereotype, women need to redefine their idea of success and learn to build on their strengths and their unique traits, concentrate what they’re good at while not obsessing about but acknowledging and coming to terms with their weaknesses.

(At that point I was thinking that Solden has been saying also applies to children –parents need to help children “experience success” – find an activity that the kids are good at and then teach them to concentrate on the feeling of being successful to understand that they have both strengths and weaknesses.)

Solden also “warned” that once women seek and receive help and get better, they may need to know how to renegotiate relationships, because they frequently become more outspoken and less intimidated by those around them, which might lead to conflicts, because their family members, friends and co-workers may not know how to “deal” with this “new” person, so confident and full of wonderful ideas and energy.

I liked the story that Solden told at that point – at one time when she was getting ready to go to a conference, she kept losing her conference ID (I believe), and her daughter was getting frustrated to the point that she finally said “Mom, you’re a very messy person.” In response Solden asked her “How big a problem is it for you? How important is it whether I’m messy or organized,” explaining that at the conference she will be talking to other women with ADHD who are probably just as disorganized and messy as she is. And the daughter responded “Tell them it’s not important, what you feel inside is important.”

That also seems to be a pattern in women – to concentrate so much on the external and conforming to the perception and expectations of others to the point that it overshadows their own feelings, desires, and ambitions.

Ultimately, Solden said, women need to learn how to let go of the ideal, allow themselves some slack and acknowledge that it’s okay to get help with housekeeping, laundry, babysitting, paying bills, organizing, whatever it takes. And get social support from family, friends, or even virtual friends on the Internet.

I hope it is all right to quote here an excerpt from her book that is posted to her web site. “I said I’ve learned to live successfully with ADD as a woman. The definition of the word successful is very important, because women very often get locked into a fruitless search for an unachievable goal. When I say I’m living successfully, it doesn’t mean that I’m living stress-free. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfectly organized. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to constantly strategize and struggle. And it doesn’t mean I’m never overwhelmed or that I don’t sometimes still hide.

What it does mean, for me, to live successfully with ADD, is that I’ve found a way to move the focus of my life onto my strengths, my talents and my abilities, to increase my choices and options. […] It means that I’ve learned to separate out my strengths and my weaknesses and to embrace both of those as part of myself, even though it’s a long stretch. I’ve come to accept the fact that I do have deficits out of proportion with the rest of my abilities, and that these do severely impact my life. I’ve learned to separate out the shame, embarrassment, and guilt surrounding these difficulties from my core sense of self.”

If that peaked your interest, you can see more excerpts from Solden’s books on her web site.

Solden also announced that pretty soon she will be launching a new web site and encouraged everyone interested to contact her to become part of its “special pre-launch group.”

As a sidenote, I also found on her web site a link to “National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.” Turns out, there exists “a non-profit organization serving professional organizers and related professionals who are interested in the study and methods of serving chronically disorganized people.” I had no idea someone might be interested in studying chronically disorganized people. They even have a clutter hoarding scale.

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