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Rejection Sensitivity

Feeling rejected by a friend, family member, or romantic partner is a universally painful experience. Some individuals, however, feel the sting of rejection much more acutely than others and also have an exaggerated fear of being rejected by those around them. These people are said to be high in a trait known as rejection sensitivity.

Perceptions of the Sensitive

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Someone high in rejection sensitivity will often interpret benign or mildly negative social cues—such as a partner not answering a text message immediately—as signs of outright rejection. They may disregard other more logical explanations, as well as reassurances on the part of the supposed rejector. Paradoxically, such behavior may actually push others away, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is my sensitivity in my head?

Sensitivity to rejection isn’t just “in someone’s head.” Evidence suggests that in people high on this trait, feeling rejected triggers physiological changes, including the fight-or-flight response. Brain imaging studies have also indicated that when rejection-sensitive individuals see disapproving facial expressions, they show heightened activity in areas of the brain that influence blood pressure, decision-making, and emotions.

 

Can rejection sensitivity hinder my relationship?

Being hypersensitive to perceived slights from your partner can derail your relationship. The person feeling rejected may just scrutinize and second-guess every communication or interaction. This negative thinking can affect overall relationship satisfaction.

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What Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria Means

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Recently, some clinicians and psychologists—particularly in the ADHD community—have proposed that especially high levels of rejection sensitivity be classified as rejection sensitive dysphoria or RSD. Certain mental health conditions, including ADHD, are associated with high emotional reactivity in general; it’s theorized that RSD frequently co-occurs with ADHD for this reason. For some adults with ADHD, their rejection sensitive dysphoria is thought to be so severe as to interfere with daily life and the formation of healthy relationships.

Do I have rejection sensitive dysphoria?

If you feel extreme despondency, distress, or even failure in the face of perceived rejection, you may suffer from RSD. The feelings are so severe that you may even reach a point of panic and high anxiety.

Is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria in the DSM?

RSD has not been recognized by the DSM, and the concept itself has not yet been widely studied nor given validated diagnostic guidelines. Still, it has gained attention in recent years, most notably among adults with ADHD or borderline personality.

The Treatment of Rejection Sensitivity

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Though it can be challenging to overcome high rejection sensitivity, there are certain strategies that have been shown to be beneficial.

How do you treat rejection sensitivity?

Therapy and or mindfulness may help individuals identify negative thought patterns that spur feelings of rejection. Couples’ therapy may also be useful to help break out of negative cycles caused by one partner’s high rejection sensitivity.

Will treating co-occurring mental health conditions help?

Treating co-occurring mental health conditions such as ADHD or depression may provide relief for RSD. And in some cases, simply being aware of an increased sensitivity to rejection can help a person cope more effectively.

 

The Signs of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

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While there are no empirically quantifiable criteria, these characteristics may help spot a person who is overly sensitive to being dissed:

  • High sensitivity about the possibility of rejection
  • Overly high standards for oneself
  • Feeling easily triggered toward guilt or shame
  • Isolating oneself in a preemptive strike not to be rejected
  • Aggressive or rageful behavior toward those who have been perceived to have slighted the person
  • Frequently feeling an uncomfortable physical reaction due to "not fitting in" or being misunderstood
  • Self-esteem that is entirely dependent on what others think, and rises and falls accordingly
  • Frequent and intense ruminating after an interaction

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