The "Wall of Awful"

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

What is the "Wall of Awful", and why is it important in understanding the ADHD Brain?

The "Wall of Awful" is a metaphor, created by Brendan Mahan, to describe the feelings of dread and anxiety that people create around tasks that we have failed in the past. It's built in the middle of our pathway to success and is built from the times that we felt we failed to complete something, or that we didn't do it well enough. The key difference in ADHDers and neurotypicals (AKA, people who have not been diagnosed with brain differences) is that ADHDers build their walls a lot faster and a lot higher than neurotypicals for the same failures.

Building the Wall of Awful 

There are three types of bricks that make up the wall of awful; Failure bricks, Guilt bricks, and Rejection bricks.

Failure Bricks

The first brick is the failure brick. Everyone receives a failure brick if they fail a task, but it's one brick. If you're coming up to a "wall" but it's one brick tall, it's very easily stepped over, though you'll watch your step to make sure you don't stub your toe. This brick by itself isn't the problem, but the cascading effect of the other bricks makes ADHDers much less likely to do an important task.

Guilt Bricks

The second brick, the guilt brick, everyone can get, but ADHDers tend to give themselves much more them. A neurotypical may receive one or two bricks like this if they fail a presentation for their team at work. One for the team, and maybe one for their boss. An ADHDer would receive a brick for each member of the team personally, one for their boss, one for themselves, and one for their spouse when they came home and told them about how it went. So now, we're looking at a wall with 3 bricks, versus a wall with 7 bricks. That 3 brick wall is going to be easier to step over, but the 7 brick wall may need to be sat on the climb over. Not the end of the world, but it will require real effort and a plan to pull off.

Rejection Bricks

The last brick, the rejection brick, is usually reserved for ADHDers or some sort of major failures such as forgetting your wedding day or being caught in a big lie. On our wall, we're going to count the number of guilt bricks we earned from the people in our lives, and give ourselves an extra brick for each one of those bricks. If you're still keeping score, that's neurotypicals with a 3 brick high wall, and ADHDers with and 11 brick high wall. At this point, we may need help getting over the wall.

The End Result

Take this wall, and add to it any time you failed at the same task. People make walls around all types of tasks, whether it's going to the gym, doing the dishes, finishing a homework assignment, or even asking someone on a date. Each time we fail, we add new bricks to our wall of awful and it gets harder for us to overcome them.

What can slow the build of these walls and make it easier?

Walls of Awful can be overwhelming and stop us from moving forward on our path to success, but by showing compassion to others and ourselves we can stop adding as many bricks to the wall. When we learn coping mechanisms to help us climb the wall, it gets easier for us ADHDers to climb it the next time. Successes and encouragement along the way can carve niches for us to use to help ourselves up.

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