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8 Ways I Experience Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria in Everyday Life

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria, or RSD, is a common symptom for those of us who experience attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I find rejection sensitive dysphoria the hardest part of ADHD, and I experience it almost every day in a number of subtle ways. Rejection sensitive dysphoria is essentially a hypersensitivity to rejection, or perceived rejection, and can result in highly emotional responses. RSD can show up in different ways depending on the person, but here are the most common ones I experience.

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1. I’m hypercritical of myself.

I never let myself make small mistakes, and feel like I do things wrong all the time. Minor errors, such as copying the wrong email address or forgetting to include an agenda for a meeting, make me feel like an absolute failure, even though I can easily fix it. It leads to negative thought patterns around never being able to do anything right or feeling useless for silly, careless mistakes.

2. I push others away and isolate myself.

When I feel rejected, even if I’m not actually being rejected, I pull away from the closest people to me. I ignore messages, or answer with one-word answers when I have to answer. Sometimes I ignore my phone entirely and watch YouTube videos or Netflix all day.

3. I have low self-esteem.

Most of the time, I feel really bad about myself and don’t have a lot of confidence. Part of that comes from consistently experiencing intense feelings of rejection that make me feel like I’m not worth very much. This seeps into my self-esteem because I find it hard to feel like I’m good enough when I feel rejected all the time. I often feel like people don’t like me or don’t want me around, and then I start to not like myself either.

4. I set impossibly high standards for myself.

Whenever I accomplish something, I pick apart the ways I didn’t do it perfectly. I can be a bit of a perfectionist because in order to avoid any feelings of rejection and avoid the intensity of rejection sensitive dysphoria, I convince myself that if I have really high standards and don’t mess up then I won’t feel that way. I also set higher standards for myself than anyone else does, so I over-deliver their expectations. This can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction for me because nothing I do is ever really good enough for the standards I’ve set out for myself.

5. I struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

Because I perceive rejection even when I haven’t been rejected, I get really insecure in my friendships and often feel like something is wrong — read: often feel like I’ve done something wrong — so I end up creating problems that don’t really exist. I need a lot of reassurance from my friends and struggle with taking constructive feedback when I’ve done something to hurt them. At the same time, I also feel hurt and rejected by them even if they haven’t really done anything to make me feel that way.

6. I overthink social interactions and experience social anxiety.

Since I’m constantly on the lookout for any signs of rejection and feel it around every corner, I find social interactions a minefield to navigate both online and in person. With online or virtual social interactions. I notice slight changes in text messages and think people are angry with me when they don’t answer, send short messages, or add a period instead of an exclamation point. I reread text conversations, scouring for any places I may have gone wrong, and rerun in-person interactions in my head to make sure I didn’t mess up. In-person, I find myself getting really quiet and reserved whenever I sense the slightest hint of rejection and often have awkward silences, which increases my social anxiety.

7. I experience suicidal ideation.

When I feel the intense emotions associated with rejection sensitive dysphoria, I often think about suicide because I just want it all to stop. It’s like the colloquial phrase, “I could literally die of embarrassment” — I feel like I could die from the rejection, that’s how strong it feels. When I feel rejected, I feel like there’s no place for me in the world because no one wants me anyways and the world would be better off without me. It makes it hard to cope in the moment because the ideation can be quite strong.

8. I can have really strong emotions around shame, hopelessness, anger, or sadness.

Everything about rejection sensitive dysphoria is intense — emotions are more intense, thoughts are more intense, situations seem more intense, and with that, I feel some really deep emotions. Sometimes when I feel rejected, I get really defensive and angry — irrationally angry and have angry outbursts — while other times, I get really sad or hopeless, like when I experience suicidal ideation. Other times I feel really ashamed, especially if I feel like I’ve let someone down or failed at something. In those moments, I don’t feel like there’s any hope for me.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria manifests in different ways every day, so I find it is important to have some coping mechanisms to deal with this. Whether it’s keeping caring messages from friends and going back to them when I’m sad, or reaching out to a friend and letting them know how I feel. I also find that rejection sensitive dysphoria is really intense but then can dissipate quickly so, depending on the situation, I either try to breathe through it and ride the wave or distract myself with funny videos or memes. I always try to remind myself that it’s often the rejection sensitive dysphoria speaking, not me, and to just try and let the moment pass without reading much into it. I hope that with time and practice, I can override some of the rejection sensitive dysphoria manifestations on my own, but until then, I’m grateful and lucky to have friends around to help make it easier.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Originally published: October 4, 2021
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