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ep.16: Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD)

Imagine someone casually saying "hey, there's a mistake in your presentation." Most people would just nod and make the correction, but for those with RSD, this is a serious blow. In this episode we're talking about Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, or RSD.

What this can feel like is your reactions to criticism are beyond what you might feel is normal, or you might feel rejected very easily.

By the end of this episode, you'll be armed with coping strategies to help you manage RSD. You are not alone, and there is always help and support available.

Click here to learn more about enrolling in The ADHD Academy!

What you'll learn:

  • How to set realistic expectations and deal with criticism in a healthier way

  • How RSD can impact people with ADHD

  • The importance of effective communication when dealing with RSD

  • The benefits of mindfulness and seeking support in managing RSD

"When RSD strikes, your brain can become a swirling mess of negativity. Take a step back and ask yourself if your thoughts are based on facts."

Useful links mentioned:

Listen to the Episode:

Click here to read the transcript:

Welcome to Learn to Thrive with ADHD. This is the podcast for adults with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms. I'm your host, Coach Mande John. I'm here to make your life with ADHD easier. Let's get started.

Welcome back! This week we're talking about Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria or RSD. What this can feel like is your reactions to criticism are beyond what you might feel is normal, or you might feel rejected very easily. First, what we're going to do is get a better understanding of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria.

Then we're going to talk about its origin. It hasn't been talked about in the world of ADHD, as long as you might think. And lastly, we're going to give you strategies to navigate RSD more smoothly. First, understanding RSD. There's a hypersensitivity to criticism. Imagine someone casually saying, “Hey, there's a mistake in your presentation”.

Most people would just nod and make corrections. But for those with RSD, this is a serious blow. Criticism feels like a personal attack, and it can be incredibly tough to take as it's intended. Then, there's the self-criticism that comes after facing rejection or criticism. People with RSD often turn the blame inward.

It's like their inner critic cranks up the volume. And they start to blame themselves, even when it's not their fault. Their critical voice in their head gets meaner and louder. Next, there can be avoidance behavior to dodge this emotional storm because it certainly doesn't feel good. People with RSD often become experts at avoiding situations where they might feel vulnerable.

This is a serious problem because it can stunt personal and professional growth. You can easily see how this would happen. How much in life do you need to open yourself up to the opinions of others to get what you want or to learn and grow? Moving on from a negative experience can be much more difficult for a person with RSD.

The emotional aftermath of RSD can stick around for long after the initial trigger. This can be like emotional quicksand, making it difficult to move forward. I've worked with a client who checked all the boxes for the problems with RSD. He was amazing, kind, and talented, but RSD was holding him back in his personal and professional relationships.

It caused him to leave employment and fear new employment opportunities. The inner critic voice was really running the show. Later we'll check back and see how things turned out for him. The origin of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, RSD. It's important to note that RSD isn't officially recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis, but the term has gained a lot of traction in the ADHD community.

It's like a collective ‘aha’ moment when people with ADHD start saying, “Hey, this intense reaction to rejection and criticism, it's a thing and it's something we should talk about”. So, while it's not big in medical textbooks, it's very real for people with ADHD.

The term Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria was coined by Dr. William W. Dodson of the Milton E. Hershey Medical Center to describe the extreme mental and emotional pain that even the mere perception of rejection can trigger in some people. He discovered it by looking at some of the papers from the 60s, but the first papers we could find that actually referred to RSD were published in 1982.

So, it's a pretty recent thing. What can you do if you're dealing with RSD? Or what can you do to help someone that you care about that's showing signs of this? Let's talk about some strategies for coping with RSD. Number one, identifying triggers. Observe yourself and notice what situations set off your RSD more than others.

Start by identifying those triggers. Just being aware can prepare you so you're able to pull in the tools you need for that situation. So, let's talk about some of those tools. Challenging negative thoughts. When RSD strikes, your brain can become a swirling mess of negativity. Take a step back and ask yourself if your thoughts are based on facts.

Ask yourself if they're actually a hundred percent true. What we like to talk about with thoughts in coaching is get curious about those thoughts. Don't get upset that you're having negative thoughts. Those thoughts are not you. Build a support network. Don't do it alone. Surround yourself with people who get you. Sharing your experiences with understanding friends, family, or joining an ADHD support group is like having a safety net when things get rocky.

This could be something like the ADHD Academy that we have. If you listen to the end, you can hear about how to find more information on that. Practice self-care. You are not a machine. You're an amazing, complex human. Plan some activities that help you relax and show yourself some love after incidences like this.

Whether it's mindfulness or a hobby that you adore or just some downtime, this can go a long way to resetting your emotions. Effective communication. When RSD hits, you need to know how to express your emotions in a healthy way. Talk to a trusted friend, jot down your thoughts, or consider seeking professional help if it feels like too much to handle alone.

Expressing your feelings in a healthy way is the best way you can have your own back while feeling emotionally responsible. Set realistic expectations. None of us are perfect. We're going to make mistakes, and this is not a problem. This is extra helpful to remember when you're receiving criticism. Some thoughts I like to use when I make mistakes are, “of course, I'm human”, or “mistakes are going to happen”.

Be sure to get help. If you're struggling with RSD often, get help from a therapist or a coach to help walk you through the tools and teach you how to apply them. Find someone that makes you feel supported while showing you the big picture. Patience and persistence. This is not an overnight shift. You have probably been dealing with this all your life and you're not going to get rid of a lifetime of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria just because the light bulb's been turned on about what's going on.

Be kind to yourself, be patient and watch for even the smallest progress. Awareness is the first step of the process. Using mindfulness and emotional regulation, incorporate mindfulness techniques and emotional regulation into your daily routine. These practices help you become more aware of your emotions and give you the superpower to manage them when RSD comes knocking.

One of the easiest tools to help you is an honest brain dump of all your thoughts and feelings in general or when something particular happens. Go back and examine the thoughts. Are they true? Are they helpful? What else could you be thinking? Is that also true?

Back to my client I mentioned earlier, he first gained an awareness of what was going on and then learned to question or just acknowledge the inner critic in his head.

And he learned to move forward on his goals, even though things were uncomfortable. This alone made a significant difference in his personal and professional relationships. We worked to help him express himself in healthy ways in his romantic relationship. This opened up communication and made a significant difference in his relationship as a whole.

Professionally, he learned to take criticism constructively. He focused on what he could do something about and reminded himself that everyone gets feedback. RSD still pops up for him, but he's feeling so much better overall and says that he feels more in control of his emotions. Now, I encourage you that if you're dealing with difficult emotions, most of the time to seek support.

You don't have to live this way. We all deal with negative emotions on a daily basis, but what you want to ask yourself is how do I feel most of the time? Seek the support you need. You deserve to feel better most of the time. Thank you all. See you next week.

Thank you for your time, and especially for your attention today. If you haven't looked into the ADHD Academy, you'll want to do that. This is my membership, with binge-able courses, weekly life coaching, new courses every month, a community of like-minded people and more.

Be sure to head over to to get the details. See you next week.

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