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Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria and Me

I saw a post lately about having faith. To many, there is a religious or spiritual connotation to the word. Belief in a higher being. To believe in something despite it not necessarily being a physical item you can touch or see, but rather the faith that is tied to history and emblems, holy books, stories, verses and psalms and a whole host of other things.

There is comfort in being a part of a community that, as a whole, does not question their particular faith. They rely on that faith in times of trouble, give thanks to their faith when things go well and celebrate their faith according to various customs.

But what about faith in ourselves?

I used to see people doing things I always wanted to do, wear or be e.g. jobs, fashion, qualifications, courses, hairstyles, etc. There has been a long list over the years and for the most of it, I made a conscious decision to shy away from it all. I didn’t believe that any of those things were for me. I wasn’t capable, I imagined I would get laughed at, rejected, criticised. The thought that someone like me could even attempt any of the things I had been envious of, was inconceivable.

I didn’t have faith in myself.

For years my self-esteem was on the floor, I criticised myself over so many things, big and small. My self-confidence was never anything but low. I never shared any of this with anyone because I had never experienced anyone sharing these things with me. It simply wasn’t done. I was scared of being rejected if I did. Even when people weren’t rejecting me, I did it for them in my own head. Even when people weren’t teasing or criticising me, I did that for them too. Imagining in my own head what they must think of me and believing what I thought.

I remember my older sister telling me there was no point in doing A levels as I wasn’t clever enough. I know now that it’s untrue but it fed into all the negative self-talk and persistent self-criticism. Because of this I avoided any attempt at further education for years, ever fearful of failure and criticism, if not from others then from myself. I truly was my own worst enemy and lets face it, how many of us have faith in our enemies?

There’s no denying that as a teenager I was badly bullied, but looking back I have also realised that some of it was down to Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). Something that can affect individuals with ADHD.

It has affected me my whole life.

The fear of being rejected by family, loved ones, friends, colleagues and even perfect strangers has been a huge issue for most of my life. My overthinking and the huge emotions that came with it, the over reactions, especially when my default was to turn all those emotions inwards on myself. The fear of being seen as a failure, a bad person, the person who always got it wrong. The person nobody wanted to be around. The person who wasn't good enough for anybody or anything. The person who, no matter how hard she tried or how many people said she was welcomed or loved, always felt like she didn't fit in.

It's horrible that anyone could think of themselves like that, but there are many out there who do and my heart goes out to them. Some can learn to reduce their RSD and for others it is a real struggle.

Like many others with RSD, more often than not we avoid situations that can trigger our RSD, but some are completely unavoidable. I remember coming home from work one Friday and on my drive home, (which is usually when I process things) I remembered a comment I had made to a co-worker earlier that day.

At this point the RSD kicked in. I questioned myself and answered on the behalf of others.

Should I have said that? No it was an awful thing to say.

What if it upset her? She didn’t seem happy, At all.

I think I have offended her, in fact I definitely have. What must she think of me? I’m awful.

What if she doesn’t speak to me? I don't think she will and that is going to be awful in work.

Will I get into trouble at work? Of course I will, me and my big mouth. Why can’t I think before I speak?

She hates me now. She really hates me. Another friend lost because I don't know when to stop talking. I hate myself.

I’ll bet she has told someone and they hate me too. I bet everyone does. How can I work there? I’m gonna get sacked.

I really believed everything I told myself.

I spent all weekend going in and out of what I would call a catastrophic state. I kept going over and over it in my head. I’m not going to lie, I was crying my eyes out each time it took hold. It didn’t stop all weekend. I kept going over and over it, thinking the worst. The anxiety, anger, embarrassment, shame, guilt; emotions that were so extreme and all rolled into one. It was honestly unbearable, physically painful and extreme.

I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and when I managed to calm down and distract myself, as soon as the thoughts came back in again, the cycle continued. I couldn’t stop those thoughts coming like a train in my head.

And I couldn’t tell anybody. I was so ashamed. I honestly thought that if I told someone, they would agree with me and more. I was a horrible person and deserved everything I got and thought about myself.

I considered trying to call or text my co-worker. What if she didn’t want to speak to me? What if she had a go at me? I definitely couldn’t cope with that. I couldn’t sum up the courage to make the call due to my own shame and fear of being rejected.

By the time Monday morning came I was exhausted. I got myself up and ready, took my son to school and began the drive to work. The sense of dread was awful and the thoughts around all the different scenarios and what would happen were extreme. Not one of them suggested anything other than eventual rejection in one way or another. Would I get called into the office first thing or would the boss wait until later in the day or the week? How would I cope with that? How could I continue to hide my fears and tears that came with it? How was I going to hold myself together? Would my co-worker speak to me? Would anyone speak to me? Does anybody care?

The answers to all of the questions were negative, critical, feeding into my poor self-perception.

By the time I got into work, I could no longer bear it. I went over to my co-worker and apologised for the comment I had made.

She didn’t have a clue what I was talking about! She couldn’t remember the comment and when I reminded her, she had no idea why I thought it would be offensive as it wasn’t.

I remember thinking to myself, I’ve just spent the whole weekend in a right state over nothing. I also remember feeling relief on what I can only describe as an immeasurable scale. I was also exhausted.

I then questioned why I had let myself get into such a state, not able to find an answer and vowing I would never do it again. But I did. Maybe not the same extreme, but it happened.

In all honestly it has been happening my whole life in various scenarios. The fear of rejection can be so strong that you spend your life criticising yourself, your abilities and who you are as a human being.

I'am also very aware that I used to do a lot of people pleasing in the hope that certain people would like me, be it because they were popular, I felt I had offended them or I wanted to fit in.

So how do you live with it? Is there a way to deal with it so that it isnt as debilitating? At what point does it stop having such a huge impact on your mental health?

Therapy is one way, be it counselling or life coaching (I’ve had both). It helps you learn coping strategies, how to rationalise those thoughts and look at the bigger picture. It also raises your self-awareness. At the time of my initial therapy, I had never heard of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria but I became aware of my negative thinking patterns and how they affected me.

The ability to rationalise those thoughts can be key to preventing the harm we do to ourselves.

A simple example is sending a text and not getting the reply you expect at the time you expect it. Something that plagued me for years. If someone doesn't text me back right away, it isn’t because they don’t like me, have fell out with me or don‘t want to reply. It could be because they are busy e.g. driving, sleeping, shopping, spending time with family etc. Maybe their battery has died. Maybe like me they are done peopling!

There are many rational reasons why our interactions with others don't go as we expect. These are what I use to stop the cycle before it takes hold. I even have a visual I use that helps.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have these thoughts. I cannot stop them. There is still criticism, rejection, punishment. The difference is that now I am very aware that it is my RSD that causes this. In seeking professional help, I now have a toolkit to counteract these thoughts well before they get the chance to take hold and cause a major mood change and surge of powerful uncomfortable emotions, all turned inwards, all feeding into each other.

I've also noticed that when I'm stressed or my mental health is starting to slip, my RSD gets worse, and it starts to take hold again. It's usually a sign that I need to make changes to reduce the stress levels or that I need to go back to therapy and deal with what is affecting my mental health.

When something that causes RSD isn’t connected to another individual and is based on thoughts about me alone, I look for evidence to prove myself wrong. And there is evidence. Factual evidence.

I know that I can try to counteract all those thoughts. I know people don’t always hate me and if they do that's their choice, you cant be liked by everyone!

I know that I am clever enough, good enough, capable of learning, trying new things and have as much chance of succeeding as anyone else, if the opportunity there and I choose to face my fears and grab it by the horns, although I do have to be realistic. I am never going to run a 3 minute mile anytime soon or become a professional dancer. Not without some serious effort on my part and I hate running and dancing.

As much as others can tell me that I can and will succeed and that I am capable, I need to believe it in my own head and ignore those little thoughts that come in. I have to have faith in myself.

If I keep listening to my RSD, I will never try anything. If I never challenge it in my own head and take a chance on myself, despite my doubts and fear of rejection, I will never have the opportunity to prove myself wrong. And in all honesty, proving myself wrong gives me more satisfaction than proving it to anyone else.

Truth be told, as a coach I also like helping others challenging these thoughts. To see another individual’s growing faith in themselves is a privilege indeed.


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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

So much love for this article and for you. Had never heard of RSD, but I recognise much of what you've said. Thanks for sharing and reminding me about faith. x

Siobhain Murphy
Siobhain Murphy
Apr 02, 2023
Replying to

You are very welcome lovely lady x

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