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7 Things That Can Trigger Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

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Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) has been a part of my experience with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for as long as I can remember, even before I knew it had a name. Rejection sensitive dysphoria is an intense sensitivity to any form of rejection, or perceived rejection. It makes it hard to maintain relationships or control my emotions because it can be so overwhelming. I’ve had to learn to identify the main triggers for me, so I can prepare myself accordingly because many of these triggers can’t be avoided.

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Messages being left on ‘read’ or ghosting.

Most people don’t feel great when they’re ghosted (when someone doesn’t respond to them and disappears like a ghost). For me, it goes a step further and is actually worse when a person sees a message I’ve sent and doesn’t respond, so all I see is a “read” receipt. Instead of understanding the person may be busy or need time to respond, I feel rejected and horrible about myself. I start thinking they don’t like me or don’t want to talk to me, and it becomes hard to breathe.

2. Constructive feedback.

I try my best to be open to feedback, especially at work, so that I can improve because I know that feedback is a gift. However, when I am given feedback — in particular by a person in power, like my boss — I perceive rejection and think they believe I’m terrible at my job and entirely incompetent. Even if the feedback is a small improvement, and I know it makes sense, my RSD still gets triggered. I try hard not to show any emotional response even though I’m tearing up inside, especially when the feedback is so often delivered with kindness. I can’t remember any of the good things they said and focus on the rejection.

3. People being late.

As someone with ADHD, I understand being on time is hard. I run late all the time. But when other people are late to meet up with me, even by a few minutes, my RSD alarm goes off and I start spiraling, thinking I’ll probably get stood up, or the person didn’t want to come and meet up with me and that’s why they’re late. I also view their lateness as a lack of respect for me and my time and feel like my time isn’t important to them because they don’t care. This makes it hard for me to be patient or in the moment, and happy to see them when they do come. I know it’s not their fault, and it’s perfectly natural to run late sometimes, so I try to hide it as best as I can.

4. Cancelling plans.

Life comes up, and plans can get canceled. I understand this on a logical level, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling absolutely gutted when plans get canceled. Regardless of how good the reason for canceling is, I still have the same thoughts around rejection, not mattering, and people not wanting to be around me. The same feeling comes up when I feel like I’m the only one that reaches out to make plans, and the other person doesn’t try to make plans with me. It’s hard because I don’t always feel like I have the right to feel the way I do, so I beat myself up for being so upset at someone because it isn’t always their fault, nor is it usually rooted in malice or them rejecting me.

5. Friendly teasing.

This one’s a tough one because I love teasing my friends in a friendly way. It’s a way for me to bond with friends and feel close to them, but sometimes I can’t take it the way I can dish it, and that’s not really fair to my friends. I know it’s always friendly, but one small comment can trigger my rejection sensitive dysphoria and I start to believe the teasing is true, and it stops being funny. The line between “friendly teasing” and “mean teasing” is fine, and depending on how sensitive I’m already feeling, it can change and take me by surprise.

6. Someone telling me I hurt them.

I’m human, and often fumble or make mistakes. I always want those around me to feel comfortable with telling me when I’ve hurt them. But similar to my reactions when I’m receiving constructive feedback at work, I find it hard when someone tells me I’ve done something that hurt them. I feel like because of my actions, they don’t want to be around me anymore and are rejecting me.

7. People disagreeing with me.

I often perceive disagreements as a rejection of my viewpoint, my experiences, or my opinion. This is further compounded in spaces where I hold the least amount of privilege, so my voice is already rejected on a systemic level. When a person disagrees with me, my RSD kicks into hard drive and I have a hard time accepting that we can both see something differently but still care about each other and feel like I’m being rejected.

The tricky part with these triggers is that they’re often not true rejection or rooted in malice. Often, they’re regular everyday occurrences that the average person would probably be able to take in stride. Because of this, I end up hiding my true feelings, shutting down and invalidating my emotions, or withdrawing into myself. I hope that I can find a way to honor my feelings without letting them dictate how I respond to a situation. I’ve found it helpful to do my best to assume everyone is doing the best they can with what they have, and assume positive intentions first before jumping to conclusions about rejection. I want to learn to respond to myself, and the other person, with compassion and grace, because I owe it to myself and the people who love me to believe in their love for me.

Photo by Rajat Oberoi on Unsplash

Originally published: October 6, 2021
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