6 Helpful Tips for Dealing with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Teen boy with ADHD and rejection sensitivity dysphoria, sitting on a chair, looking down to the side with his arms crossed, unhappy, while his teacher speaks to him.

What is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?

ADHD has a large group of companions that like to come along for the ride, whether that’s anxiety and depression, learning disabilities, or autism. Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), while not a formal diagnostic category, describes experiences that often occur with ADHD. People struggle with letting go of past hurts and/or rejection and struggle with heightened emotional sensitivity. They may hold onto unkind words or actions directed towards them for months or years. RSD can also reflect a personal belief that you have let someone down. Because many ADHD children and adults may already experience a feeling of otherness, they often already feel like they are at a disadvantage.

We live in a society that teaches us to be people-pleasers. This makes it even harder to avoid sensitivities. Here are some great tips to help you work with rejection sensitivity and reduce its tumultuous effects, whether you need a little reassurance or you’re helping a loved one who is struggling.

How to Manage Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

1. Combat rejection by reinforcing strengths

What everyone needs to remember is that simply having Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria does not make you a human who is weak or incapable. You are just wired to feel things more intensely and replay unpleasant interpersonal interactions over and over. RSD is linked to social insecurity.

A helpful tip is to consistently reinforce the strengths of your child or teen with ADHD. What do they love to do? What do they do well? Acknowledging their work, acknowledging their positive efforts and rewarding activities really helps them feel more confident. It can also help them see things from a new perspective and shift from negative self-talk about rejection. This can encourage them to approach future situations bravely as well.

2. QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally!

Many kids and adults with ADHD struggle to separate when a statement is directed specifically at them or when it’s something more general. They take things personally that may not be personal. Assist your child or teen to pause before responding to a question or answer by saying, “That’s a good question/comment. Let me think about it.” Then, they can better assess what’s being said. Remind them that other people can say thoughtless or hurtful things sometimes that are more about them than you. The rejection they perceive may not be purposeful.

3. Develop affirmations

Developing mantras or affirmations assists in reducing the noise of negative thoughts that can come with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. Try positive phrases like:

      • “I am stronger than I think.”
      • “My mind is uniquely wired and creative.”
      • “I can make a mistake and be a good person.”
      • “I can take risks and see what happens.”

Sit down with your child or teen and brainstorm some things to say to the negative voice in their heads. Post them somewhere they can see and recall them when they need a boost. Maybe even make time in the morning or before bed when you both say your own affirmations. Starting your day with a positive thought can really help when feelings of doubt creep in. This is also a fun evening activity that can calm them before sleep.

4. Remember that all emotions are valid

As parents, we never want our kids to feel bad. It can be extremely difficult to watch them struggle with sensitivity issues or peer rejection. When someone struggles with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, they have often lost hope in their social abilities, been unable to forgive themselves for what happened and feel shame about their experiences and their emotions.

It is very important to remind them that every emotional experience is valid. Offer a listening ear to hear about what big feelings they may have. Be supportive without problem-solving.

5. Be prepared to handle outbursts

Anger is a notable side-effect in people diagnosed with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. Many people internalize their emotional responses. This can be harmful, especially over extended periods of time. They may lash out as a result, or react in ways that are not as kind as you would like.

If you are working with the sensitivities of a child or teenager with ADHD, it could be beneficial to have an action plan when experiencing a notable outburst. Use my Stop, Think, Act tools, pre-arranged ‘time aparts’ to cool down, or other relaxation techniques to cope with outbursts. There may be some benefit to having a room or area designated for your child to slow down and recover.

6. Emphasize family connection

Adolescent girl with ADHD planting in a garden with her family in the sunshine

As always, connecting with your family is important. Engaging in fun and memorable activities can really help reduce emotional sensitivities related to acceptance. This will allow your kids to rediscover and nurture the joy of being together, instead of perpetuating a sense of rejection and low self-worth. They can also practice their social skills in a safe place.

Once in a while, invite a friend to join you. Surreptitiously check out your child’s interactions and responses to what the other child is saying or doing. Then you can talk about these at a later during quiet time. Or, just use the information in monitoring dinner table conversation and behavior. Kids with ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria really need to feel the consistent, loving presence of their parents as an antidote to the painful social experiences they may be having or perceiving.

For those older teens and adults who may be experiencing symptoms of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and would like to gain more insight into what it could mean for you, check out this free online test offered by our friends at ADDitude. My ADHD Solution Deck is also a helpful to have on hand, helping you employ strategies that can help your ADHD child or teen in the moment as they face a social or emotional challenge related to RSD.

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