Why do adults with ADD have difficulty focusing?

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

One reason adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD) often have difficulty focusing, and overlook details as a result, is because they are more interested in highly stimulating, big ideas. A constant need for stimulation makes slowing down to review work—work you're probably now very familiar with—feel like torture. In order to build your attention-to-detail muscles, you have to first understand the value of details. You probably feel that creating something new is more important than going over or perfecting something that is old. In short, new is stimulating and old is boring; attention to details means spending time with material that is "old."

Many ADD adults report that when they focus, it actually feels like they're cutting a part of themselves off—their emotional sensitivity. In speaking of ADHD, psychologist James Hillman writes, "Children so categorized, and adults too, are often those with above-average intelligence, given to daydreams, and with such widely open sensitive souls that their 'ego' behavior is noncompliant and disorganized". Mike, a student of mine with ADD, spoke to me about what it feels like for such a widely open, sensitive soul to focus and narrow his range of awareness by following rules or paying attention to details.

For Mike, having to focus on a single task is to be cut off from his emotional sensitivity. To pay attention he must deaden and numb his vibrant inner world, he must shove his emotions under a rug. For Mike, the process of narrow focus causes an uncomfortable loss of an expansive state of consciousness. When Mike focuses, he loses both his emotional world and the way it connects him to the "whole boundaryless universe out there."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.