What Is Rejection Sensitivity?

3 min read
rejection sensitivity dysphoria

While we all face rejection from time to time, everyone responds to it differently. It’s common for people’s feelings to be hurt in the short term, but what does it mean when people struggle to cope with the situation? Individuals with rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD) have extreme difficulties dealing with rejection, criticism, and failure. They may become so overwhelmed in these circumstances that they experience extreme emotional pain and anxiety.

This guide outlines the causes and symptoms of RSD and offers tips for managing it. Rejection may be a part of life, but it doesn’t have to be a disruptive occurrence.

What Is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?

Rejection sensitive dysphoria is a condition in which a person’s reaction to rejection, criticism, or failure is so severe that it negatively impacts their quality of life. For example, a person may live in such fear of rejection that they completely avoid situations that might lead to it, like asking for a promotion or trying to pursue a friendship or relationship.

Unfortunately, as a result, people with RSD may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because they want to avoid the possibility of rejection, they may ignore or reject opportunities or positive social signals and then experience feelings of inadequacy or not belonging.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria symptoms

Recognizing RSD is the first step in learning to manage it. Possible rejection sensitive dysphoria symptoms include:

  • Heightened emotional sensitivity: People with RSD are easily embarrassed or ashamed. When they feel rejected, they may get angry or have emotional outbursts.
  • Anxiety: RSD may lead to anxiety, especially in social settings. In some cases, individuals may avoid social situations because of their anxiety.
  • Low self-esteem: Individuals with RSD often have low self-esteem and may feel like they’re failures and haven’t lived up to others’ expectations (or their own). This can be exacerbated by the tendency to set impossibly high standards for themselves.
  • Problems with relationships: Living with RSD can impact everyday quality of life and day-to-day relationships. For example, individuals may shy away from making friends or asking someone out on a date because of a fear of rejection.
  • Thoughts of self-harm: In extreme cases, people with RSD may consider hurting themselves after experiencing rejection or what they perceive as rejection.

Although typical of RSD, these signs alone aren’t enough to diagnose the disorder. A doctor can administer a rejection sensitive dysphoria test or questionnaire to assess the frequency and severity of symptoms and behaviors associated with the condition. There are no formalized screenings currently, but the questions provide helpful criteria for understanding a person’s experiences with RSD.

The connection between RSD and ADHD

Anyone can experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria. However, there is evidence to suggest that certain groups are more at risk—notably individuals who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is caused by an overly sensitive nervous system, which heightens a person’s reactions to external triggers. This can contribute to extreme emotional responses, including those associated with RSD.

How to Deal With RSD: Tips for Parents and Individuals

There is no cure for rejection sensitive dysphoria, but there are steps you can take to help manage it. Medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and stress management help address the underlying symptoms, like anxiety, and provide a framework for understanding and recovering from instances of rejection.

The right path will depend on a person’s diagnosis. An individual diagnosed with both ADHD and RSD will have different supportive needs compared to someone with RSD alone.

How Parents Can Support Their Children

The best thing parents can do is to keep an eye out for RSD symptoms and seek a professional assessment if there’s an identifiable pattern of behavior. A doctor, counselor, or coach can also provide guidance on handling your child’s emotional outbursts and redirecting their energy and attention to help them move forward. Social and life coaching can be especially helpful for kids who are still learning to navigate the many aspects of school and extracurriculars.

How Adults Can Set Themselves Up for Success

For adults, a comprehensive diagnosis is also the first step. You can then explore counseling and coaching options that can help you with the various aspects of RSD. Social and life coaching tailored to the needs of independent adults can have far-reaching benefits, including in the workplace. Mastering communication skills, learning to identify emotional needs, and setting personal goals can help build confidence and resilience.

Casey Schmalacker

Casey Schmalacker, Vice President at New Frontiers, is a seasoned leader in marketing, sales, and business development. With a dual degree in Government and Law and Economics from Lafayette College, he has spent the past 10 years coaching students, adults, and organizations to improve executive functions, soft skills, and workplace performance. Casey’s approach is rooted in strategic development and a passion for personalized coaching, emphasizing a culture of continuous improvement.

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