I just learned about Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD), which describes the experience of people who are extra sensitive to rejection. They feel rejection more intensely. They may perceive it when it isn’t there. They may exaggerate its significance, and they can be paralyzed just anticipating it.
An Example of RSD at Work
Several years ago, I was working with a regular, long-term client. On that particular day, she was eager to share a popular new system for managing her To Do lists. I was familiar with the method, and noticed that she had misinterpreted one of the steps, which would make it more difficult for her to implement. I imagined she would be very glad to know the system could be simpler and even more useful, so I started to gently correct her. But I couldn’t finish because my client jumped up and shouted, “I don’t want you to criticize me!” and then ran out of the room. I was stunned. I felt horrible about upsetting her, the last thing I had intended. I truly thought my language had been very non-critical, just a friendly correction of a simple misunderstanding.
We were able to get past the incident, but it made a lasting impression on me. I assumed that I just hadn’t been careful enough with my choice of words, and vowed not to make the same mistake again. Now I realize my client was probably experiencing rejection sensitivity. She perceived my comment as a personal criticism, and it hurt her deeply.
More than Just Being Sensitivie
Dr. William Dodson discusses RSD in depth, in this free webinar. I highly recommend listening to the webinar, but if you absolutely can’t, here is a slideshow that may be helpful:
I have long known that emotional sensitivity is a common characteristic of ADHD, so it doesn’t surprise me when I see it in my clients. I am also aware of the debilitating fear of failure so many of them experience. Dr. Dodson explains that people with RSD not only fear rejection from others, but they can also fear disappointing themselves, to the extent they don’t attempt anything new and meaningful.
Even though I was already aware of these sensitivities, learning about RSD has deepened my understanding of the neurological basis for the fear and overwhelm my clients experience. I’ve always admired their strength and resiliency, and even more so now. I am amazed and inspired that so many people are able to make meaningful changes in their lives, despite living with these feelings.
What Might Help?
So how to manage RSD? Dr. Dodson is a strong proponent of medication, and suggests that traditional talk therapies aren’t particularly effective. It’s great to know there are meds that can help, but I know medication isn’t always an option.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that breaking things down to very small steps is helpful. It lowers the likelihood that something will be perceived as another way to fail. Good self-care, such as being well rested, well nourished and getting enough exercise, often helps people feel more optimistic and capable. Practicing mindfulness and stepping back to acknowledge a feeling, without blaming oneself or being distracted by it, can also help.
For those of you who experience RSD, what helps?