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Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: Tools for Your ADHD Life Skills Toolkit

Written By: Lauren Goldberg



In my opinion, self-advocacy is a vital skill. And it can look different. We self-advocate when we want a new job, confront a coworker or loved one about a boundary crossed, pursue a promotion and a raise, communicate our needs to our romantic partners, or sell our consulting services to a new client.


In those moments, you probably want to feel and give a vibe that shows you are genuinely self-assured, you believe in yourself, and you fuckin’ got this.


Nothing kills the “I fuckin’ got this” energy like the anticipation or perception of rejection. Womp womp.


There is nothing wrong with rejection sensitivity (I use the term “rejection sensitivity” as a way to describe the spectrum of perceived rejection as feeling emotionally unpleasant to excruciating). There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive. If you describe yourself this way, you are one of my people! I’ve got those superpowers too.

What I want to call attention to is if you have an ADHD brain like me, you may experience the more extreme version of rejection sensitivity: rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). This is not diagnosable, but rather a concept describing a common experience for ADHD-ers.


If you can relate, good news: I have tips. RSD is something I’ve unknowingly dealt with my whole life. I didn’t learn about it and its commonness in those with ADHD brains until recently. It explains so much about my flavor of sensitivity. It still impacts me some days, especially when I’m already feeling low and contributes to the downward spiral.

What is rejection sensitive dysphoria?

This is the experience of emotional pain in response to perceived rejection, criticism, and failure. This feeling goes beyond disliking the unpleasant experience of rejection and feels intolerable or excruciating (according to the VeryWell Mind).

What can RSD look like?

RSD has impacted my social life since I was old enough to make friends. It means I can perceive others’ behavior as a sign that they don’t want to be friends with me, whether that’s true or not. When this happens, I retreat into my metaphorical shell for safety and not interact…which falsely communicates to others that I don’t want to be friends with them.


It can impact my experience with long-time friends too. For example, my inner bully has screamed about my friend only inviting me to their bachelorette and wedding because they felt like they had to since they went to mine, not because they love me…which I know is not true. AT ALL.


RSD impacted my career a lot. For example, in moments of a career identity crisis, it made it worse. My inner bully convinced me that I did not have what it takes to be successful in any industry or field of any kind… ever. Also, false AF.


Now that I know about RSD and my recurring patterns and tendencies because of it - that awareness has helped me shift out of it more quickly. I can shift from acting as a shell of myself and feel comfortable being forward, silly, vulnerable, opinionated, curious - all the things that come naturally to me when I’m not hiding.

A few things that have helped me deal with RSD:

  1. In moments where my inner bully is being a wicked big asshole [in my best Boston accent], I turn my attention to my inner BFF for self-compassion. I ask myself, “What would I say to a friend who was experiencing this?” Or, ”What would my loving friend say to me right now?” Sometimes I physically need to write this out to see it on paper and better internalize it.

  2. I connect with my external support squad to help me see what my inner bully won’t let me see. When I’m having a really hard time remembering what my sunshine looks like when I shine it on the world, my support squad—coaches, mentors, friends—are there to help me see it.

  3. Another shift I made, which is going to make me sound arrogant but is honestly the energy and audacity I want to bring to my life: assume love. Assume everyone wants to see me rock what I got on social media. Assume people want to be friends with me. Assume people want to hire me as I am. All I know is when I walk into a situation with this energy, it attracts - it brings people in. Regardless of how things pan out for a job, new client, etc., it’s an invitation for others to be who they are with me because I’m comfortable with who I am with them, and then it’s an upward spiral for all parties involved.

My experience with RSD makes me a caring, thoughtful person towards others. I consider it one of the things that gives me a powerful perspective of the world.

Having these tools in my life-skills toolkit helped me shift my self-perception which makes a huge difference in every aspect of my life. It silences my inner bully. It keeps me keepin’ on towards my goals. It changes how I experience and exist in the world. And that changes how people respond to me. And it makes self-advocacy a hell of a lot easier.

What’s your experience with rejection sensitive dysphoria and what tools help you regulate it?



This post supports the Hawaii Community Foundation.

 

Meet the Author

Lauren Goldberg Lauren Goldberg is a social impact entrepreneur, coach, and disability justice advocate. She helps social impact professionals find and pursue what lights them up.



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