Relationships and Executive Functions


There is so many topics and emotion’s that need to be involved when we are talking and assessing relationships; and it will take me many blogs to cover them all, but I thought I would start with an example we just experienced.
We have just recently moved overseas for the purpose of work commitments. There is a lot of change that goes into moving and when given time we generally process this change as we go…. So, although it was a quick decision and process to move, we had one school term to (9 weeks) pack up our house, say goodbye to our friends and family, organise a new house and schools etc. Now my son who has ADHD was completely fine with the move and came across as unemotional and even cruel to his friends as he kept saying he is excited as he gets to move and go be with his dad, I get to go on a holiday and a plane but his friends kept saying I’m going to miss you, I’m sad you’re going… but he just couldn’t relate to their sadness. Until the point of performance hits! Once we had moved and settled in, he started to feel lonely as his friend was having a birthday party and he couldn’t go. That’s when his emotions hit him. But that was not early enough for his friend to feel important and wanted. This is where the trouble starts for an ADHDer, they lose relationships as the timeline they live in is different to non-ADHDers. This makes both parties in the relationship feel pain and exclusion. It isn’t deliberate, sometimes this time gap becomes so large it just makes it too hard to reengage as shame and worries set in as they become aware of how they left the other person feeling.
Below is a list of the executive functions that are impaired in an ADHDer. I’m going to use the above experience to show you how it fits into the “when executive functions malfunction”. Once we understand executive functions, we start to truly understand our kids and ourselves, this is where the change can be implemented, and we start to have better behavioural outcomes.

• THE MINDS MIRROR – self-awareness: it’s our ability to direct our attention at ourselves and the environment around us so we can monitor and control how we behave. My son couldn’t see how his actions were hurting his friends. He couldn’t see their feelings and understand why they were feeling and hurting as they were, as he wasn’t able to put those feelings in the now…point of performance. He couldn’t feel the pain as his focus was on what he had to do and was going through now.

•  THE MINDS BRAKES – inhibition: is the ability to take direct action on ourselves so we can change ourselves in order to alter our future for the better. ADHD effects the ability to self-regulate internal motivation to drive our behaviour towards our goals. His goals weren’t on preserving and maintain his relationships, he was focussed on moving and all that goes into making that happen. To act in relation to the feelings of others was hard for him to realise he had to do to make sure it kept his relationships thriving.

• THE MINDS EYE – visual imagery: our past learnings informs our current behaviour. This is the ability to recall our past and from it to imagine our future. To be fair he hadn’t moved before so had no prior learning that he could pull from memory and be able to use to judge how to move forward in his actions as he would be using pass learning from the memory to alter and guide his actions moving forward BUT this normally doesn’t happen.

• THE MINDS VOICE – internal speech: self-speech is a tool we use to guide and control our behaviour through self-directed instructions. This helps us to stay on track to accomplish goals and to perform better next time we encounter the same task. This is a task that is continually happening in one’s mind, well most people but not always ADHDers, and if it is happening in their minds it is often like their thoughts; constantly changing and wavering from topic or the complete opposite where they are over analysing and hyper focused on one part of the task and unable to recognise the whole picture of the situation. This was true in the fact he was only able to concentrate on the actions required to make the move happen not how his actions were affecting others.

• THE MINDS HEART– emotional control: this is the ability to inhibit our urges long enough to allow our brain time to process information into two parts- the personal meaning (feeling/emotional reactions) and the context of the event. ADHD does not allow this pause to occur, so they have difficulty separating feelings from facts as efficiently. Imagine if he was able to stop and feel exactly what his friends were feeling and how it was going to make him feel later? Would the outcome of been different with preserving his relationships? Could he of made his friends feel loved wanted. And would it have prevented how intense and heartbreaking the pain he felt was once he had moved.

• THE MINDS PLAYGROUND– planning/problem solving: this is our ability to break down information and messages we receive THEN to reconstruct outgoing messages and behaviours that will be the most beneficial and successful outcome of the situation or information So my son could of stopped and said to his friend ‘why are you sad? because we won’t be able to play together anymore, yes that makes me sad too” but unfortunately that the part of an ADHDers brain is interfered with. Granted my son is 9 so let’s give him a little accommodation for his inability to take charge of his emotions and that of others and be able to choose the right actions that will improve his outcomes. Especially as it is a new experience and has an age restriction on development. But think about an experience you have lived through? Do you do this process? Do you use this executive function? Do others you are in a situation with do this? Can you Imagine the outcome if you did?

As you can see there is a lot of emotion happening all at once and their executive functions are malfunctioning when it comes to relationships. This happens in all types of relationships and interaction they have, and we have living in an ADHD world. From childhood to adolescent to adulthood, all these areas of interaction are interfered with and have a deep impact on the outcomes of our emotions within all our relationships.

Most of my information is gained from Russell Barkley including the above information from his page, I have just added my story to his work.

I have provided links below

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