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Is My Trauma Response RSD, C-PTSD, or Both

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As someone with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) I have long been aware of the ways it’s impacted my relationships. Trauma triggers are everywhere, and having interpersonal trauma means that a lot of my triggers are relational. It’s hard for me to extend trust to people and I find that I’m more sensitive to off-hand comments than most people around me.

Long after my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, however, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and started learning more about rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD) as a result. So many things about RSD rang true for me: I anticipate rejection over even the smallest things, I people please constantly, and at times, social situations feel debilitating. What I realized, though, is that these symptoms that resonated with RSD were things I had always attributed to my C-PTSD.

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As I continued my research, I stumbled upon a different theory entirely — that RSD is indeed a trauma response, but a trauma response to being a neurodiverse individual constantly being expected to fit into a neurotypical society. As I reflected on this, I saw where people were coming from. I thought about how often I’ve felt ostracized over things that I now realize were my own neurodivergence and how that led to shifts in behavior patterns.

Were some of the things that made me feel ostracized initiated by the people who abused me, thus causing my C-PTSD? Absolutely. The starkest example that comes to mind was when as a teenager, I was criticized for being “too much” when I made silly faces for pictures at a dance, being sat down and forced to look through every other photo from that night, and then being asked, “Why can’t you just be more normal?”

Still, other times that come to mind are far more innocent. Knowing that I was always the odd one out in social settings as a child, the last one picked for teams, the one no one chose to partner with for group projects, the one who never seemed to know the inside joke that everyone else was laughing at, and even finding out that sometimes that the joke was me. Especially as a child, those things hit me hard.

Maybe I’ll never know what’s RSD and what’s my C-PTSD. Maybe some of it is both. I doubt that anyone with ADHD hasn’t had experiences like the ones I described above, and if we’re being honest, nothing solidly differentiates the first example I gave from the second other than the fact that the first was done by someone who was also abusive. Still, I clearly have a trauma response when something triggers me in a way that relates to that experience, and I don’t know that it’s fair to say that the fact that an abuser is the one who said that to me is the only thing that made that traumatic.

Either way, there are certainly more similarities to RSD and C-PTSD than one would initially assume, and I hope more research is done to look into this further.

Lead image via Getty Images

Originally published: June 11, 2021
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