Feeling Extra Sensitive? It Might Be RSD
Rejection sensitivity dysphoria is one of the lesser-known responses associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And if you’re not aware of it, you can end up feeling paralyzed and alone.

You might think that sensitivity about how people perceive you and your work or that story you’re telling yourself about why someone isn’t responding to your email or direct message just comes with entrepreneurship. And I think it does, to a point. But RSD is these feelings to the extreme.

This week on the podcast, I’m sharing more about RSD, what it looks like, my own struggle with RSD, and strategies you can use to get past the feelings. Even if you’re not diagnosed ADHD, this is an episode worth tuning into because these techniques will work any time you’re feeling a little anxious about others.

Links and Resources:

Time Stamps:

[1:02] – Why ADHDs are meant for entrepreneurship
[1:21] – What rejection sensitive dysphoria is
[2:25] – Official definition of RSD
[3:54] – What RSD looks like
[5:24] – My struggle with RSD
[6:01] – What’s happening inside feels way more real than what I know to be true
[7:28] – What to do about RSD
[8:43] – One of my triggers
[10:28] – Strategies to get past the feelings
[11:20] – Give yourself compassion


Amber Hawley 0:01
Business owners are increasingly being pulled in so many directions, feeling like they aren’t reaching their full potential in business and life despite their type aways. With my background as a therapist, entrepreneur, and as a.com dropout with ADHD, I interview and coach high achieving business owners like you who want to stop struggling for success by using psychological systems, strategies, and the occasional care for entation. This is the easily distracted entrepreneur, your place to slay overwhelm perfectionism and shiny object syndrome so that you can get done what matters most to you.

Amber Hawley 0:40
Hello, Hello, Happy Wednesday, my focus seeking friends. If you have been in business for more than a minute, then you’re aware that entrepreneurship is a roller coaster of highs and lows. There are things that can make those highs and lows flattened out a bit. But it’s always there. Some traits of ADHD make us especially suited for entrepreneurship, like creativity, hyper focus and risk taking. However, there are some parts that make it especially challenging. One of those has to do with the emotional regulation component of ADHD. And it’s called rejection sensitive dysphoria or RSD. I’m sure you have had a time that you can remember where you thought someone was upset with you. Maybe they didn’t respond to you for a few days or a week, they took longer than they would usually take and you built up a story about why they aren’t responding, felt a deep sense of rejection and were convinced that they no longer liked to you or were mad at you, only to have them finally reached out and everything was totally normal. You feel silly wondering why you worked yourself up so much over nothing. That’s sort of what RSD is like only on steroids.

Amber Hawley 2:02
To give an official definition, I’m going to quote some information from Chad, which is a the association its children and adults have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s a mouthful, it ch a DD I’m going to quote some information that they provide. So rejection sensitive dysphoria. RSD is an intense emotional response caused by the perception that you have disappointed others in your life. And that because of that disappointment, they have withdrawn their love, approval or respect. The same painful reaction can occur when you fail or fall short of your rather high goals and expectations of yourself. RSD commonly occurs with ADHD, and is causes extreme emotional pain that plagues both children and adults, even when they’re no actual rejection has taken place. This is actually one of the biggest parts of emotional dysregulation that adults with ADHD talk about causing them a lot of pain or causing a lot of conflict for them. Rejection sensitive dysphoria is characterized by intense mood shifts triggered by something. Usually these are a rejection of some sort, and can be real or perceived withdrawal of love approval or respect from somebody in their life teasing criticism no matter how constructive the criticism is, and persistent self criticism or negative self talk prompted by a real or perceived failure.

Amber Hawley 3:49
So what might this look like? So it can be having sudden emotional outbursts following a real or perceived criticism or rejection, withdrawal from social situations, negative self talk and thoughts of self harm. It can be avoidance of social settings in which they feel they might fail or be criticized. And so this is where one of those things where it becomes hard to know is this social anxiety disorder or is this RSD it’s hard sometimes to distinguish that. It can show up as low self esteem or poor self perception. It can be constant harsh and negative self talk that leads somebody to become their own worst enemy. Another way it shows up is rumination or perseveration where somebody keeps playing something over and over and over and kind of stay stuck. relationship problems, especially feeling constantly attacked and then responding defensively. And the thing is, it’s it isn’t there all the time. It’s something that gets triggered and that it occurs. But it’s not something that someone feels all of the time. And people with RSD are when they were going through this, they usually feel ashamed of their own overreactions and hide them so that they will not be further embarrassed or thought of as mentally or emotionally unstable. So this is something that definitely has come up for me, throughout my life. What is hard for me is that when I have this happen, at the very least I lose momentum.

Amber Hawley 5:35
And at the worst, I am consumed with feelings of failure, or that I’m all alone. It can come on strong out of nowhere, I mean, something will trigger it. And then anything negative that happens that day just compounds those feelings. The logical side of me knows that I’m good at what I do, I’m not failing, and I have an amazing support system of people who really care about me. But in those moments, what I feel deep inside of me, feels way more real than what I know to be true. I see this with my friends, and clients and colleagues as well. Most people who have RSD can recall times that they were reprimanded for something, even if it was from years or decades ago, because the pain has been burned into their brains, faux pas that they have made replay in their heads like flashbacks, and are often things that no one else remembers, and nobody even thought twice about. But for the person experiencing it, they were so embarrassed, it just keeps coming up for them when they get reminded of that situation. It can be avoiding people when you feel like you’ve let them down by not respond responding in a timely manner. Or when you didn’t deliver something on time, it can be taking feedback to mean that the other person thinks they are incompetent, or believing that they aren’t credible when someone disagrees with them.

Amber Hawley 7:08
These are just a couple of examples of how I’ve seen it show up for people. And this can impact their ability to sell follow up or grow their businesses, as well as cause them deep, deep emotional distress. So obviously, it’s impacting their lives as well as their businesses. So what can we do about it? Well, one of the most helpful things is just recognizing when it’s happening, understanding that the intensity of the feelings is likely just disproportionate to what is actually happening and that the feelings will dissipate in usually a few hours can help you de escalate quicker and keep perspective that you’ll move past it soon. Depending on the severity, sometimes a strategy called reality testing can help exploring the facts around the situation and what has happened in the past. And what is the likelihood that your catastrophizing is true, can be particularly helpful, or playing out what you think the actual worst case scenario is, and exploring just how bad that reality is. Another strategy can be talking to somebody that you trust about how you’re feeling, finding someone who’s good at validating you, but also giving you perspective. One of my favorite ones is check in with a person who you have concerns about going straight to the source. And communicating can be the fastest way to clear up any misunderstandings. One of my triggers is feeling like people are upset with me or that I’ve let them down when I don’t respond in a timely fashion.

Amber Hawley 8:55
And you know, I receive communication in so many different ways. I have like five email addresses. I have two phones, one for business one for personal. I get boxers I get you know, DMS and social media and LinkedIn, and text messages, you know, like there’s so many means to communicate, right? So I try my best to keep up but I’m busy. So it’s just one of those things where it’s inevitably going to happen. And one thing that I started doing is because like the longer I would wait, the worse I would feel and then the more overwhelming it would feel to reach out to that person. And I would think about responding all the time, but then I would feel I’ll also feel avoidant. So what I started doing with Voxer, for example, because I communicate with a lot of the people who support me in my business via Voxer. And so what I started doing is if I had like five messages from somebody, or even one, it would say, because I knew I knew what they were following up about something that I needed. To get to them that I’d hadn’t yet. So I would, I started actually just going on Voxer and saying, Hey, I’m not I haven’t listened to your message yet. This is what I’m thinking it’s about, but yatta yatta yatta. Like I gave them kind of like how he’s feeling because sometimes just hearing that would feel like that feeling of being yelled at, like you were in trouble can be enough when you have RSD, like, shut you down. So I just kind of like circumvented that.

Amber Hawley 10:29
So sometimes coming up with kind of strategies of like, acknowledging, hey, I feel bad. I know, you’re probably having some feelings about it. And then just kind of addressing what I think it is. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. But usually people are super understanding. And then I don’t listen to those messages often because then I’m like, Okay, now I don’t even have to deal with those bad feelings. Are there are other ways that you can deal with it as mindfulness techniques can be really helpful. Mindfulness is about paying attention on purpose, and it can help you calm your mind and your body. And so this is what it’s all about is, you know, regulating our bodies, regulating ourselves, so that we can get to a place where we can respond how we would normally do. I would also say that understanding that this happens, and giving yourself compassion is really important. And don’t let it mean something more about you than that you can be sensitive and you have big feelings at times, it can be so hard, especially if we’ve been told throughout our lives that we are too much, or we’re dramatic, we can feel that there’s something deeper wrong with us, and how the world is impacting us. And it’s just not true.

Amber Hawley 11:48
As we say, it’s not the feelings that are the problem. It’s what we do with them that matters. If you’re experiencing RSD, and it feels like it’s frequent and causing major impairment in your life, there are a couple of medications, one of which is one guanfacine that has been shown to help people with this, you would need to talk to a doctor or psychiatrist about this option. And I always recommend speaking with somebody who’s well versed in ADHD. And if you go the medication route or not, therapy can be really useful. And again, I would recommend seeing somebody who is trained in working with ADHD specifically. Well, I hope this is helpful in understanding one of the aspects of ADHD you may not have known about. If you would like more information or resources on RSD. I would recommend checking out the Chad website, that chadd.org and all the links will be in the show notes as well. Or you can email me at hello at Amber holly.com. And let me know what questions you have or if there are some resources you would find helpful. If you found this episode helpful, I would love it if you could share it with a friend who might find it helpful as well.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

The Inner Circle

a unique membership for ADHD {and ADHD-ish} biz owners who live in Distraction City, with shiny object syndrome, and live life with other tendencies that keep us from doing our best work.

You want a sustainable life. A work/home/school/family stability that WORKS, functions on good habits, systems, and approaches that set us up for immeasurable success both personally and professionally.

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join The My Biz Bestie Community today: