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ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

 Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short—failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.

Dysphoria is Greek for “difficult to bear.” It’s not that people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) are wimps, or weak; it’s that the emotional response hurts them much more than it does people without the condition.

When this emotional response is internalized (and it often is for people with RSD), it can imitate a full, major mood disorder complete with suicidal ideation. The sudden change from feeling perfectly fine to feeling intensely sad that results from RSD is often misdiagnosed as rapid cycling mood disorder.

It can take a long time for physicians to recognize that these symptoms are caused by the sudden emotional changes associated with ADHD and rejection sensitivity, while all other aspects of relating to others seem typical. RSD is, in fact, a common ADHD symptom, particularly in adults.

RSD can make adults with ADHD anticipate rejection — even when it is anything but certain. This can make them vigilant about avoiding it, which can be misdiagnosed as social phobia. Social phobia is an intense anticipatory fear that you will embarrass or humiliate yourself in public, or that you will be scrutinized harshly by the outside world.

Rejection sensitivity is hard to tease apart. Often, people can’t find the words to describe its pain. They say it’s intense, awful, terrible, overwhelming. It is always triggered by the perceived or real loss of approval, love, or respect.

People with ADHD cope with this huge emotional elephant in two main ways, which are not mutually exclusive.

1. They become people pleasers. They scan every person they meet to figure out what that person admires and praises. Then they present that false self to others. Often this becomes such a dominating goal that they forget what they actually wanted from their own lives. They are too busy making sure other people aren’t displeased with them.

2. They stop trying. If there is the slightest possibility that a person might try something new and fail or fall short in front of anyone else, it becomes too painful or too risky to make the effort. These bright, capable people avoid any activities that are anxiety-provoking and end up giving up things like dating, applying for jobs, or speaking up in public (both socially and professionally).

Some people use the pain of RSD to find adaptations and overachieve. They constantly work to be the best at what they do and strive for idealized perfection. Sometimes they are driven to be above reproach. They lead admirable lives, but at what cost?

Excerpted from “How ADHD Ignites Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria” in ADDtitude Magazine.  Read the full article online for more information and to learn more about the treatment options for RSD.

Source: ADDitude | How ADHD Ignites Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, https://www.additudemag.com/rejection-sensitive-dysphoria-and-adhd | Copyright © 1998 – 2020 New Hope Media LLC

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