Last year was a strange time for everyone. I experienced a change in career, a lot of alone time and a diagnosis of ADHD. This was a life changing realisation for me, as I had just turned 33 and suddenly, I knew why life had always been an uphill battle. After my diagnosis I became hyper-fixated on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms and all the lesser-known traits. One struggle a lot of people with an ADHD diagnosis had was Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). As I read more about it, I could see how this related to a lot of my life and it was comforting to have some sort of explanation.
Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria is a new name for a collection of symptoms which involves extreme reactions to rejection and criticism, either perceived or real. It is not listed as a condition yet, but can describe a group of symptoms often linked with other conditions.
No one enjoys the feeling of being rejected or receiving criticism, however, those with RSD feel the emotional pain much more intensely than others. Instead of mild discomfort or sadness, they will feel emotional pain, most often described as heartbreak. The feeling lasts much longer and shapes the way they interact with others. People with RSD will often overcompensate in order to avoid “failure”, they will feel as though they are not liked by others and carry long term shame.
Children may show this through extreme anger or sadness when they make a mistake or lose a game. This may then result in withdrawal from academics and social interactions or strengthen the need to be perfect and be liked by everyone. These behaviours will be present in most children at some point and can be caused by many different environmental factors. It is not as simple as using RSD as a sole explanation.
RSD has been linked with ADHD and autism both in adults and children. Though not much research has been conducted, it is theorised that the structure of the brain in individuals with these conditions gives them a predisposition for extreme emotional reactions. It should also be considered that children with these conditions often exhibit behaviour outside of social ‘norms’ so will have often faced a lot more criticism and rejection from peers and adults. They may begin to view themselves as different and therefore they create a narrative about themselves that no matter how they engage with others, it will result in some sort of rejection.
In intimate relationships it can be seen through controlling behaviour and the need for constant reassurance. Those with RSD will ‘mind read’ their partner and conclude that if an interaction is slightly different than usual then they must have done something wrong and the relationship is in jeopardy. Controlling behaviours may emerge from these thought patterns in order to keep their partner close, however it does not minimise the danger or damage that an emotionally abusive relationship can cause.
Personally, I think RSD makes for interesting reading and can provide a label for a specific group of symptoms, but I think it is always interesting to consider the origins for the onset of behaviours and feeling such as the impact of trauma, abuse and neglect. As an adult with ADHD I can relate to RSD and it was something I explored with my own therapist. However, I also know there are probably many reasons for my fear of rejection and intense shame around making mistakes.