• It takes three primary colors – red, green, blue -  to create every type of color.
  • Each primary color is differentiated from the others based on where it falls within the spectrum (the scale) of electromagnetic radiation.
  • It takes four ADHD archetypes to create every type of ADHDer.
  • Each ADHD archetype is differentiated from the others based on where it falls within two scales: Delusional/Realistic and Pessimistic/Optimistic.

Delusional/Realistic Scale: this scale is a measure of an ADHDer’s attitude towards ADHD. Those at the extreme “delusional” end of the scale see no downside to ADHD. For them, it is like manna from heaven. ADHDers at the “realistic” end of the scale acknowledge that it has a downside and is likely not the source of any magical powers or gifts.  

Optimistic/Pessimistic Scale: this scale is a measure of perceived likelihood of success in life. “Perception” is the key term here since it is the perception of success – or perception of the likelihood of success – that is being measured.

Taking these two scales and putting them on a grid, we get the four ADHD archetypes.

  • Delusional Optimist (DO): views ADHD as a gift (or special power) and believes it will help them achieve amazing success in their life (they will be the next Richard Branson or Leonardo da Vinci).
  • Realistic Optimist (RO) : views ADHD as a problem that can be controlled and is generally optimistic about their life even though they may never be a Branson or Da Vinci.
  • Delusional Pessimist (DP) : views ADHD as a gift (or special power) and is pessimistic about their likelihood of success in life. Often believes the world is against them, blocking them from their true potential.
  • Realistic Pessimist (RP) :  views ADHD as a problem that can be controlled but is not very optimistic about achieving much in their life.

It is important to keep in mind that the archetypes are not meant to be scientifically measurable. They will likely never appear in the DSM. They are more of a rhetorical device that makes it possible to classify ADHDer viewpoints and an ADHDer’s feelings about oneself. Despite the connotations implied by the terminology used (see Nota Bene below), one archetype is not necessarily better than another. In fact, ADHDers embody all of these archetypes but not at the same time. Keep reading for more explanation.

About The Archetypes: The archetypes are not rigid categories but are highly fluid. Though displayed two-dimensionally, they should be thought of as being three dimensional and in continuous motion. Perhaps the best visual analogy would be a lava lamp with four different colors.

Morphing ADHD Archetypes: One archetype can morph into another. This can occur over a long period of time but more often it can happen within short periods of time (see Archetype Oscillation below). During the course of a day – even during a ten minute period – one can morph from one archetype to another with each shift being of various “degrees” of an archetype, e.g., RO (Realistic Optimist) tending towards DO (Delusional Optimist).

Archetype Oscillation: There can be a rapid switch from one archetype to another. You can be RO (Realistic Optimist) during your work day and then, in the middle of a project, you rapidly switch to DP (Delusional Pessimist), then minutes later, you are RO (Realistic Optimist) again.

Archetype Dominance: Perception of color is dependent on the quality of light and what is reflected back to the observer. As a result, a particular color may be perceived to be dominant in one type of lighting and not dominant in another type of lighting. The dominance of any one archetype can change, in an analogous way, depending on shifts in social context. For example, you may be seen to be more RO (Realistic Optimist) during your work day but more DP (Delusional Pessimist) in your personal relationships.

Archetype Tension: Internal tensions can occur when a situation requires that the ADHDer be more RO (Realistic Optimist) or DO (Delusional Optimist) but seems only capable of being DP (Delusional Pessimist). For example, a pressing deadline may require RO (Realistic Optimist) or DO (Delusional Optimist) in order to succeed but DP (Delusional Pessimist) becomes the dominant type. The ADHDer can overcome this tension but overcoming it may come along with a price: angry outburst; carbohydrate overload, or some other action that releases the inner tension. This can, of course, be overcome in a positive way, such as taking a twenty-minute “mental health” walk outside of one’s office or home. Whether the tension is overcome in a negative or positive way is dependent on one’s position – at that particular moment – along the Optimist/Pessimist scale.

The Archetypes “In Action”

Example 1: You are coming to the end of your school semester. The number of projects to be completed is so overwhelming that you are frozen, unsure as to what to do next. You gnaw at your fingernails as you oscillate between DP (Delusional Pessimist) and RP (Realistic Pessimist), though neither of these archetypes helps to solve the problem. You know that to complete these projects you REALLY need to be somewhere between DO (Delusional Optimist) and RO (Realistic Optimist). An internal tension occurs as you try to switch degrees/levels of archetype prevalence to the one that is required to complete the tasks. You finally make that switch but that comes at a price – you lose your patience with person(s) X and have an outburst of anger.

Example 2: You have a new household project to tackle: installing a wood floor. You research the techniques needed to complete this project and conclude that it is not very difficult. [note 1] DO (Delusional Optimist) becomes the predominant archetype as you enthusiastically begin this project. However, as you get further along in the project you encounter unanticipated problems: a problem with the subflooring (unevenness or a moisture problem). As you go further along in the project you feel yourself sliding toward the pessimistic end of the Optimistic/Pessimistic scale. Eventually your enthusiasm for the project fades as you become more pessimistic. You walk away from the project.

Example 3:  You have written a blog post that is so brilliant it will go viral. You remain in a state of DO (Delusional Optimist) for several days as you bask in its brilliance. (Of course, only YOU see it as brilliant.) As you carefully monitor the hit statistics for that particular blog post you realize it is not going viral. You slide towards DP (Delusional Pessimist) and oscillate between that archetype and RP (Realistic Pessimist).


Nota Bene


The term “delusional” was selected as the opposite of “realistic” as opposed to using a word such as “unrealistic.” (Some antonyms of realistic are chimerical, delusive, kafkaesque, phantasmagorical, surreal, surrealistic. (Source: http://www.synonym.com/antonym/realistic)) Unrealistic has an Orwellian Newspeak sound to it, much like an untruth which, of course, is a lie. But when the word truth remains a part of the word, we think, on some level, that there is some truth in there. I selected the word “delusional” to really portray the complete absence of anything that is realistic. However, the word delusional also has a pejorative connotation and I want to back away from that pejorative tone to some degree.

G ift

My use of the word “gift” in this context is meant, in part, to convey the sense that others use this word when speaking about ADHD or other disorders. The intent is to see it as something special that has been given to them, a special challenge. However, there is a tendency to take the word “gift” in its literal sense and it is at that point when “gift” – as something resolutely positive – drifts into the world of delusional. I am also implying this sense of the word “gift” though, I must admit, I may be one of the few who interpret “gift” in this context in this way.

  1. You find something like this – http://www.hometips.com/diy-how-to/installing-hardwood-floors.html – and think to yourself: “How hard can this be if the person in a drawing can do it?”
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  • m

    Not sure what kind of work you do but I think you’d make a good teacher. You make your points in creative and engaging ways. Actually, come to think of it, isn’t that one of the “gifts” of ADD? ;)

    • Jeff

      Yup…it’s another one of those “gifts.” And I’m not a teacher…but I once was.

  • http://www.ADHDRollerCoaster.org Gina Pera

    RO, RO, RO your boat!

    Love what you keep cooking up, Chef Jeff.

    • Jeff

      Thanks!! I actually started the post using a different metaphor (“flavors”) but somehow it evolved to colors. The genesis of the post was really something I read on Bryan’s blog ( http://adderworld.com/ for those unfamiliar with it). I noticed that the tone of some of the posts had shifted…as if it were two different people writing….which I knew was not the case. As I teased out the idea further, I then realized how within a space of hours I myself could flip from optimism to pessimism and back.

      Anyway…I thought the metaphor may help to spark some interesting discussion. At the minimum, I think every ADHDer can see themselves as embodying one of the combinations (DO or RO….etc.) as their dominant mode (mood?).

      • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

        So Jeff, you noticed that two different persons being the same guy also? I see that guy every morning when he’s shaving ;) Well… on the days he dose’nt forget to shave anyway. The RO switches to DP pretty quick on those days when he realizes he forgot to shave.

        But he has friends that know him and let him know he’s not alone. That is the best gift he has.

        • Jeff

          Yes…the gift of friendship. Where would we be without it? And I’ve had my “forgotten to shave” days too.

  • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

    A professional carpenter,electrictrician,tile/carpet/floor person,computer wizard or whatever does make it look easy…..and it is for that person. But it takes allot of mistakes/screw-ups, and hard work to get there. Not only that, but a few “tricks of the trade” learned on the way.

    I like your 3 primary colors way of describing….ADHD mentality. We later diagnosed ADD’ers have many years of experience “Mixing Colors”. Sometimes our “Tricks of the Trade” (mixing colors) are learned the hard way. An “Old Dog” like me CAN learn new tricks. Still learning Jeff….Great Post!

    • Jeff

      Thanks! I felt I hit the right metaphor.

      Though I’m not a religious person, a part of me prays for those who are diagnosed early that they do not have the experiences we had. Maybe they won’t have 40 different careers like us. Maybe they won’t spend much of their life in a fog, wondering how people manage to pay their bills on time and so on.

      But let this be a warning to those who have been diagnosed early and especially those who believe that Zeus has bestowed upon them a special gift. As you get older, and I think, Scott, you can attest to this, you start to become weary of the daily fight with the multi-headed Hydra of ADHD. Perhaps early diagnosis and treatment will make the ADHD life easier to bear and, therefore, you won’t suffer this fate. I truly hope that is the case.

      But if anyone figures out which god (was it Zeus?) gave us this gift, please tell him we are sorry. Also, please find out if he will take back the gift if we promise to sacrifice 100 virgins.

      -verizon wireless

      • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

        Thats the best we can hope for I think, Jeff. That parents,teachers,…etc…will see it now that ADHD is getting more publicity and children with ADHD can get help. Now the problem I see is getting the right Dr. who will be honest with the parents, and tell them ADHD is not a good thing. Everyone wants they’re kids to be “Gifted” ,but these so called “Gifts” we have come with a price that can never be paid. The “Highs” don’t outweigh the lows. To know that early in life may at least avoid some suffering.

        If there is a God, and we can find 100 virgins..He will most likely not only take back the gift, but beg us to tell him how the F”” did we find 100 virgins.

        • Jeff

          Here’s another view on “these gifts.” You’ll laugh your sides off when you read this. http://www.babble.com.au/2009/09/11/is-aspergers-the-new-black/

          And we’ll never, ever reveal the secret of how we found those 100 virgins. ;)

          • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

            I read it, and your right Jeff. I read the whole thing, but I started nodding my head and smiling after reading just a few sentence’s. You pretty much saw what I was referring to in my comment.

            It reminds of hearing mommy’s with ugly babies, talking about how cute they’re Lil chubby looks when they are poopin there’re little diapies. They don’t mention the the wonderful fragrance that they are gifted with.

  • Paul

    Many alcoholics I’ve know view their life and experiences through the lens of their disability and most everything they experience is filtered through their shortcomings. I see ex drinkers getting so involved with the past and the reasons why they drank they forget about just moving on with their lives and releasing the past and forgiving themselves.

    Upon first read I find your theory of the Colors of ADHD is interesting, involving and seems to have some similar machinations that focus on the disorder instead of freedom from this disorder.

    But interesting!

    • Jeff


      As I noted in the post, the “Colors” were meant more as a rhetorical device than as a full blown theory.

      I’m familiar with a number of recovered alcoholics too and, yes, there is certainly a tendency for them to see things through the lens of their disability. While I agree there is nothing to be gained, per se, by doing this, nonetheless, in the case of alcoholism and ADHD and many other disorders, there is no such thing as ” freedom from this disorder.” You are never free of the disorder. You might become more optimistic about your life; you might try not to judge future performance based on past mistakes; you might try to deemphasize your ADHDness, etc., but you are NEVER free of the disorder. It is always there.

    • http://www.ADHDRollerCoaster.org Gina Pera

      I think there are plenty of alcoholics who’ve given up the booze but, thanks to never receiving a proper intake for underlying disorders, they are still stuck with the “brain issues” that led them to drink the first place! Including anxiety, ADHD, bi-polar disorder, and so forth.

      Moreover, given all the dogma and fanciful narrative theories in the Recovery Movement and among substance-use counselors, they are stuck with the only narratives they know and the ones that helped them to stop drinking.

      Unfortunately, in some Recovery circles, the dogma includes shunning medications, putting all substances in the same bucket as “mind-altering” and therefore against recovery.

      • http://addmsorboth.blogspot.com/ Scott Hutson

        Gina, that is so true about the dogma and shunning all medications,that some people believe and preach. It’s only another example of some people who think only in black and white. “Pigments” of they’re own imagination’s. ;)

  • Sharon

    This is a very interesting, I guess I’m pessimistic because I actually cry when I get overwealmed. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it often frighten my boss. I personally think it’s funny and will often laugh at myself afterwards. I guess it is fluid. huh…

    • Jeff

      ” I guess it is fluid” Yes…that’s really the point. And welcome to the blog.

  • betsy davenport, phd

    Don’t like to mention it, but the three primary colors are Red, Blue and Yellow.
    Green is made from combining Blue and Yellow.

  • Mary Kay

    Yes, I can see and relate to the shifting from one into the other. A very interesting way to portray it all. And yes, it is indeed very fluid! I have personally never occupied the DO archetype, however.

    • Jeff

      For extraordinarily brief moments I can, admittedly, fall into the DO category. Of course, reality then has to rear its ugly head and I shift back to one of the more “realistic” categories.

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