Relationship Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD) is the irrational fear of being rejected. To qualify that further, it’s dysphoria instead of disorder, because dysphoria is the Greek word for “hard to bear.” And a disorder is just a state of confusion. It’s hard to bear because it actually causes acute emotional pain. It is a very painful overreaction to rejection.
Chances are that if you have ADHD, you also have RSD. In fact, the odds are close to 100%. RSD is a condition like ADHD that is inherent and not developed. It is important to note that not all people who have RSD have ADHD.
How does ADHD affect relationships? In this article we are going to discuss how RSD is a large part of that.
RSD Is a Symptom of ADHD
People with ADHD are highly prone to mistakes. This happens because your brain is moving much faster than what you are doing. Also, you are easily distracted from your tasks. For making all those mistakes, we are criticized, on average, at least 20,000 more times before teenagerhood than someone without ADHD. That, compounded by RSD, makes just about any criticism more likely to be seen as harsh rejection, even when it is not. Why would anyone who is frequently criticized and hyper sensitive to it, want to extend themselves for anything? Maybe this is why most ADHDers are highly sensitive. We are a highly reactionary group and tend to overreact quickly and without thought.
The 2 Directions RSD Pulls You In
RSD can make an ADHDer behave in one of 2 ways. One is the need to impress by either becoming a people pleaser or to be driven to be the best in hopes of becoming above reproach. ADHDers are by nature perfectionists, which lends to that drive. And, as is widely known, perfectionism is an unattainable goal. We are setting ourselves up to fail, possibly creating the rejection that you are overly sensitive to. From my experience, people pleasing eventually leads to disappointment, resentment, and wearing yourself to thin by ignoring selfcare. You are no good to others if you’re are strong enough.
The other direction is towards avoiding anything that risks any negative judgment. It’s a “why bother” kind of attitude. Or you will hide away from everything. If I’m highly sensitive to any criticism, I will take any of it as harsh, regardless of the intention and intensity. Or you can totally freeze up in fear of that rejection. And you can take something said as criticism that was only meant to be a mere query. An example of this would be if you are asked a simple question like, “What shade of green is that shirt?”, can invoke reaction of “Why? Doesn’t it match?!”
I am guessing that most of us are like me, in that I gravitate towards both. It’s a circumstance of either all or nothing. Depending on the situation, I am likely to go one way or another. We ADHDers do tend to go to extremes.
How It Affects My Relationships
It is obvious that my being hypersensitive to rejection would affect my relationships. The fear of emotional pain from rejection, accompanied by social awkwardness (another ADHD trait), kept me from even attempting to form relationships. The few times that I attempted to ask a girl out ended in the disaster. One time I couldn’t stop saying hi to one girl till I must have said it 50 times. I walked away feeling the biggest doofus. Another time, I couldn’t stop shaking and stuttering. I can’t imagine what kind of impression I made in both of those situations. RSD has caused a strong erosion of my confidence.
Sometimes I am unable to tell if someone is giving me a compliment or being sarcastic. I might respond with a sarcastic barb back and get a, “no, I meant that as a compliment,” answer. A lot of that came from the multiple harsh put downs that I’m used to about my social awkwardness or my mistakes. It does hurt when people think you are a dope, when you are not. And I’ve treated others that way to make myself feel better about how much I’ve screwed up or wanted not to be the target.
When It comes to my wife, I tend to overreact to too many things she says. I immediately assume that she is criticizing or chiding me for something that she just wants to discuss. Or she just might be joking with me, and usually it’s my inability to read social cues help that along. And sometimes it is a slight barb or criticism that I take to the extreme. That is usually followed by an exceedingly emotional outburst from me that I let my ADHD and RSD get the better of my. This in turn more times than not, leads to a messy fight or making her feel hurt and withdrawn.
How Does One Treat RSD
When I recently came across RSD as an ADHD condition, it just about brought me to tears. These were tears of both sadness and relief. The sadness came from the feeling that I had been hurting others by the emotional outbursts all these years. The relief was came from understanding what was causing them, and that there are treatments out there.
I’m still on the fence about medication, but my research has had me leaning towards it. If you can find a doctor well versed in ADHD medication, they will know how to properly prescribe the right medications with the right doses through trial and error. Clonidine and guanfacine are alpha agonists that tend to help a third of people. MAOIs have been shown to provide relief, as well. From what I have been reading, that relief can be powerful.
Stress and anxiety are contributing factors to making RSD worse. So if you can manage existing or oncoming stress and anxiety, you can reduce the intensity of RSD. Meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises such as taking 4 seconds in and 4 seconds out, exercising, etc. are great ways to manage stress and anxiety which in turns helps with RSD.
And I would say fight it! Do whatever RSD keeps you from doing anyway! Just keep at it until you create successes. Fake it till you make it. Hopefully each success will bring with it some confidence. And with enough confidence, you can reverse the erosion of it. Make your confidence stronger than RSD!
As with ADHD, only a professional such as a medical doctor or a mental health professional with the proper experience can diagnose RSD. I would have to say, though, that, as with myself, now that you know what RSD is, you will probably have a pretty good idea whether or not you do have it. You will probably have a visceral reaction from that knowledge as I did. Also, with that knowledge, and the main goal of the right medication, can come the little pause you need to properly react. That’s one of the biggest differences between people with and without these conditions. Most people can pause enough to properly react.