One of my wonderful students from a couple of semesters ago messaged me about this condition and asked if I had ever heard of it. I said I hadn’t and I started researching it. I found so much interesting information!
First, this condition, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is, according to experts, tied to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder): about 99% of people with ADHD have it and about a third state it’s the most difficult part living with ADHD. In a nutshell, RSD is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain brought on by the thought that the person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life.
The specific symptoms of RSD are:
- setting very high standards for yourself
- STRONG emotion reactions
- Fear of Failure
- Rage towards the person/situation that was rejecting
- Loss of self-esteem
- Seeking approval from family/friends/partners
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Being very self-critical
Now, I believe RSD can be tied to other disorders as well, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders (depression and bipolar) and even certain personality disorders (borderline, avoidant, and dependent).
For example, in terms of bipolar, look at the symptoms of adult ADHD that I see are significantly tied into RSD: impulsiveness, restlessness, low frustration tolerance, mood swings, hot temper, and trouble coping with stress. And now some of the symptoms of bipolar: mood swings (duh!), impulsiveness, restlessness, poor decision making, feelings of worthlessness, indecisive, and feelings of guilt. Look how these match in so many ways!
I found an article as I was digging around that actually shows RSD being related to bipolar in what looks to be a biological way (plus, this article cites another study to support this biological link as well). The article also mentions how APPEARANCE based rejection can be related to eating disorders too, which are also being shown to have a biological basis. SO…maybe RSD isn’t ONLY tied to ADHD, but is tied to many other disorders as well. (I can even see it tied into children’s disorders such as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder).
Here’s why I thought this was so interesting to look at further: I’ve ALWAYS been very sensitive to rejection! If I thought a teacher didn’t like me; if I thought my parents or sister were mad at me; if friends made plans without me; if I was ‘criticized’ in class; etc., I would be devastated. And I’m not using that term lightly!
Actually, this came up at school just last week! I’m on a special team where we evaluate one another and when I saw my scores as having ‘gaps’ in terms of my work, I IMMEDIATELY started crying! I felt the evaluations were ‘rejecting’ or criticizing me as a professor. My friend on the team talked to me about it, and showed me that the evaluations were meant for personal development and not necessarily valid in all areas since no one watches me in class and how I am with my students.
Further, my last break-up was shattering to me. I literally felt as if I were falling apart (which I actually did). Regardless of any circumstance, I saw MYSELF as so less than, and my emotional distress was more than I could, in effect, handle at times. I know I’ve reacted similarly in the past: for example, I’ve talked about how I ran my car into a tree after my High School boyfriend broke up with me. I also remember being very angry when a friend I had ‘rejected’ me a few years ago. That anger stayed with me much longer than it ever should have.
Then, to top it off, you have people saying things like: “Quit being so sensitive!” “Why do these things bother you so much?” “There are other people out there!” It’s so hard for people to understand this sensitivity unless they feel it themselves. But that makes me feel even WORSE for having these strong emotions, as well as making me feel as if I’m being criticized for having them at all. Yeesh! It’s a huge self-defeating cycle I wish I had the power to stop.
So, what’s the take-away for me? That Rejection Sensitivity exists. That it’s more than likely tied to biological factors. That it’s tied to more disorders than ADHD. And, that it’s something that needs to be researched further for more understanding!
Finally this: it’s not my ‘fault’ or a failure on my part that I’m so very sensitive to rejection. It might be a part of the mood disorder that already causes so much disruption in my life.
Hmmm…I’m going to keep my eye on this topic!