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5 Practical Tips for Dealing With Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

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I’ve always found that the hardest part of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which is an intense or heightened sensitivity towards perceived rejection. It’s not the executive dysfunction, the lack of memory, or the susceptibility to distraction — it’s the overwhelming reaction and fixation on something that may or may not even exist.

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Because I know RSD is “all in my head” — meaning that I can logically recognize that my friends or loved ones don’t actually hate me or want nothing to do with me — I find that I have to get creative with ways to reassure myself that I’m not being rejected since what I feel and what I logically know to be true don’t match up. The challenge with RSD is that from an objective, outside perspective, there is probably no reason to suspect rejection, but it’s so easy to be convinced that you’re being pushed away when you aren’t.

Over the years, I’ve cultivated some tips that occasionally help me, or ease the overwhelming intensity of rejection sensitive dysphoria. Full disclosure, I’ll admit that even though I know these tips can help, it’s sometimes hard to use them and they don’t always work. Such is the nature of RSD — you just have to roll with the punches (even when you aren’t being punched).

1. Talk about it.

OK, so I definitely struggle with this one because it’s hard to be vulnerable and tell your friends, “Hey, I feel like you always hate me,” when they’ve done nothing to deserve that assumption. But telling people you have rejection sensitive dysphoria can be helpful because it can make them understand you better and make them more open to reassure you. While it is not your friends’ job to deal with your RSD for you or walk on eggshells around you, I’ve found that simply letting my friends know can remind them that I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, but rather that I’m dealing with something that makes it harder for me to think they still love me.

2. Know your triggers.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria can be triggered by different things, so if you can notice any patterns regarding what makes you perceive rejection the most, it can help you identify an RSD pattern versus true rejection. For example, if one of my triggers is people showing up late, when I start to feel intense rejection when a friend is running late I can tell myself “hey, a friend running late is an RSD trigger. This doesn’t mean they’re not coming or that they don’t want to spend time with you.” Knowing your triggers and recognizing when one is being activated can cut into that cycle of telling yourself stories based on the idea of rejection.

3. Track the moments you don’t feel rejected.

When a friend says something nice to me, sends me a cute present, or texts to tell me they love me and are thinking of me, I try to memorialize it in some way. I’ll take a picture or a screenshot so that I can keep it for when I feel rejected. That way, when something inevitably happens that makes me feel rejected (i.e., an unanswered text, or a seemingly short reply), I can reference back to those images and remember “oh yeah, maybe I am loved after all.” I have countless screenshots of little things — a friend texting “I love you,” or “you made me laugh so hard,” or “I can’t wait to see you” — that seem so small but actually make such a big difference. In the moments my RSD is going off the rails, I use my arsenal of evidence to show myself I’m not being rejected and calm myself down.

4. Don’t deny or minimize your emotions.

With RSD, it’s so easy to fall into patterns of telling myself I’m “stupid” or silly for feeling the way I feel, and I end up being really hard on myself. RSD is a real thing, and just because I may not truly be rejected by someone doesn’t minimize the validity of what I’m feeling. It’s important for me to acknowledge what I’m feeling and work with it in order to move through it, rather than deny my emotions and stuff them down because the rejection isn’t real. In short, the rejection may not be real, but my feelings still are, and I deserve compassion and grace to work through that.

5. Ask someone else for their opinion.

I know that sometimes I can’t rely on myself as a good judge of whether someone is rejecting me or not because RSD can skew my reality, so in order to cope with this, I sometimes rely on others’ judgment. I might reach out to another friend — either someone who knows the person I feel rejected by, or a more objective third party, and ask them if what that person did was out of line and my feelings of rejection make sense, or if it’s RSD acting up. Having their understanding and explanation can help in two ways:

1. If I am being rejected, it helps me recognize that I’m not making it up and there is something happening that may need to be looked at more seriously.

2. If I’m not being rejected and it’s more so a manifestation of rejection sensitive dysphoria, I have another voice telling me I’m not being rejected versus having to rely on myself for that reassurance.

At the end of the day, RSD can be really hard to deal with, and it can feel isolating if you’re constantly having these internal arguments with yourself about what is true rejection and what is all in your head. I’ve found that when friends are more conscious of my RSD and considerate of it but don’t feel like they have to watch everything they do or say, it actually makes for much healthier relationships. When they are aware of my RSD, I am more resilient to those RSD triggers because I know they’re generally thoughtful about my needs.

I often feel like I have to cope with my RSD alone because I don’t want to “burden” others with how sensitive I can be, but when I do that, I actually feel rejected more. So, if this is something you deal with (or something someone you love deals with), talk about it. Talk about how you can help each other out and share the love because that’s what really matters. There will always be RSD noise, but if you can get to a place where you feel safe and secure, your relationships will be that much stronger and less susceptible to the RSD rollercoaster.

Getty Images photo via “We Are”

Originally published: May 6, 2022
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