ADHD, Emotions and Rejection Sensitivity Disphoria

The topic of emotions for many people is one they would prefer to avoid, especially in our youth and navigating our teen years. Any form of rejection can be very hurtful especially at school or in social situations. This subject takes me back to high school days, where cliques were formed, and difficult to be accepted into, and often the bullies would pick on someone just for being different. I remember one friend of mine who would get picked on a lot! Most people just shrug it off! And then there are the ones who take it to heart, or rebel or avoid contact with other altogether. The ones who take it to heart and have ADHD, often find that feedback or criticism from important people in their life is even worse, like it was said louder and it just hurts more.

Rejection Sensitivity

“The tendency to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and intensely react to rejection” This happens in several other psychiatric conditions also.

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria

This term was penned by Doctor William Dodson who described it as “a triggered, wordless emotional pain that occurs after a real or perceived loss of approval, love or respect.” Doctor Dodson believes that this can only be found in people with ADHD. It’s also been described as when emotions hit a person ten times harder… hence the word dysphoria: hard to bear. One great example of this, is when we ADHD’ers are being criticised… whilst it might be constructive it often has the opposite affect. We tend to hear criticism louder than its actually being said, as compared to neurotypical people!  And when given the option we would prefer to not hear it at all!

Here are the signs of RSD:

  • Approval- seeking behaviour trying to fit in
  • Lashing out as a response to criticism or social exclusion
  • Extreme emotional reaction to rejection, or possibility of rejection
  • Setting higher or perfect standards for yourself
  • Negatively misinterpreting social cues
  • Acutely embarrassed when your actions aren’t up to your high standards
  • Low self-esteem
  • Easily embarrassed
  • Social avoidance- no chance of being rejected
  • Feel like a failure for not living up to others/ own expectations
  • Have problems with relationships

As an ADHD Life Coach my job is to help clients to try to find ways to reduce their sensitivity, build resilience and minimise the impact of RSD. In the process we will explore ways around this so that in future my client will let certain comments pass and internalise less of the negative and focus on what’s positive and helpful.

Naomi Bamberg

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