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Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria in ADHD and autistic people

By: The Autistic Teacher

Have you ever heard of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)? This term might be unfamiliar to many, but it's a common experience for many ADHD and autistic individuals. Characterised by an extreme emotional sensitivity and a strong reaction to perceived rejection, criticism, or failure, RSD can have a significant impact on their daily lives. This can often lead to intense feelings of shame, embarrassment, and worthlessness.


The Effects of RSD

For those who have ADHD, RSD can manifest in a variety of ways. Difficulties in building and maintaining relationships are often prominent, as is struggling with school or work performance. Autistic individuals may also experience RSD, frequently in the form of overwhelming anxiety or emotional distress in social situations.


Individuals with RSD might anticipate rejection and try to protect themselves or avoid the possibility of rejection by avoiding school or workplace, or becoming a ‘people pleaser’ and masking to fit in. This anticipation can lead to constant monitoring and checking to see if others are rejecting them, often through questions like 'are you cross?' or 'do you like me?' The effort required to constantly monitor people’s feelings like this can be exhausting.


The smallest change in others’ behaviour or words might lead those with RSD to feel they are being rejected. Sometimes this can be misinterpreted and blown out of proportion if they have hyperfocused on that rejection. To them, it feels huge and these feelings should not be dismissed.


Feeling incredibly embarrassed due to high anxiety around rejection is also a common experience. A simple instance such as someone laughing might be misconstrued as laughing at them, and it can feel devastating.

Often, those affected by RSD become their own harshest critics. Being highly critical of oneself can be a form of protecting oneself from criticism from others, almost like anticipating the rejection and getting there first.


Dealing with RSD

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria can be devastating to those who are affected. Understanding it can help us to deal with our own emotions but also help those around us to understand why our feelings are so strong and often overwhelming around rejection. Understanding and acknowledging these challenges can lead to better support and accommodations, making a more inclusive environment for neurodivergent individuals.


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