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RSD - The Set of Traits You Need To Know About if You Have ADHD

What is Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria?

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria or RSD is an intense emotional reaction to real or perceived rejection, criticism, or teasing. This onset of intense emotions can also be triggered by you falling short of your own expectations.

You might hear the term Rejection Sensitivity Disorder to describe this set of traits. But, RSD is not a diagnosis. It is a subcategory of traits commonly experienced by neurodivergent people.

You could place RSD under the executive function category of emotional regulation. Or in this case, emotional dysregulation so often experienced by people with ADHD and autism.

RSD contributes to the difficulties in diagnosing adult ADHD because it can look similar to rapid cycling mood disorders. It can look like social anxiety or even a social phobia. And it is extremely difficult for people who have rejection sensitivity dysphoria to describe with it feels like.

A woman experiencing intense overwhelm

Most people who deal with RSD state that it just feels really overwhelming and terrible. It can come out as sadness or anger. And can contribute to neurodivergent people becoming people pleasers or overachievers.

The reality is, is that almost 100% of people with ADHD experience rejection sensitivity in one way or another. But this set of traits really only started being looked at within the last 6 years. Most adults with ADHD don't know what rejection sensitivity dysphoria is.

And how can you work to manage something that you don't know exists?

What Does RSD Look Like?

As with any neurodivergent trait, RSD can look different for everyone. Red flags for me as an ADHD coach, and an audhd person myself, are constant ruminations on wrongdoings from other people. That is how my own RSD tends to present itself. I struggle to let things go. If I felt like someone has criticized me or rejected me, I would sit in that to an unhealthy point. I needed to feel like this issue is resolved before I was able to move on. I would get really angry and really upset, and the people around me would have to listen to me go on and on about how this other person is really in the wrong, and how dare they. This was a really unhealthy way for me to "cope" with really big feelings. It did a lot of damage to my own mental health not to mention the damage it did to my relationships.

For most ADHD'rs, RSD can look like:

  • sudden emotional outbursts following real or perceived rejection.

  • Withdrawal from social situations (anxiety avoidant)

  • Negative self-talk

  • Low self-esteem

  • Rumination (running through a situation over and over again in your mind, a never-ending loop of negativity.)

  • Difficulty in relationships

RSD can make it difficult to have healthy communication

It's near impossible to have healthy communication and problem-solving in a relationship if one or both parties are responding to conflict or confrontation from a space of rejection sensitivity dysphoria.

What Makes RSD Different from a Mood Disorder?

Please note, none of this is medical advice. If you feel that you may suffer from a mood disorder, please talk to your healthcare provider.

Emotional roller-coaster

Honestly, the most notable difference for the general public would be that RSD emotions are completely normal, except in intensity.

It is normal and justified to be upset at a poor review from your boss, or a judgmental comment on your housekeeping skills from your partner.

It turns into a problem when you are unable to let it go. When the emotions become so intense that you can't do anything else but focus on them. When your relationships, professional or social, suffer because you are unable to move to a place of resolution.

​Mood Disorder

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria

No known trigger for the changes in mood

Clear trigger for mood changes

Moods don't necessarily match the person's environment

Moods are a reflection of the trigger

Mood shifts more gradually over days or weeks

Mood change is immediate

Moods shift back to baseline more gradually

Mood goes back to baseline within hours

What Can We Do to Manage RSD?

There are pharmaceutical options to help manage RSD, such as guanfacine or clonidine. These medications seem to help manage RSD symptoms better than stimulants.

Other than that it's really a matter of self-care, inner growth, and awareness.

1. Start training your brain to stop reacting at the moment. Allow yourself some time to really process an upsetting situation. Respond reflectively rather than reflexively. This can be hard. This takes practice. But with practice, it will become a habit to stop responding out of emotion and start responding after allowing yourself to get to a space of logic and ideally resolution.

This is a good time to reflect on if this is "you stuff" or "them stuff".

Is this something that you should be taking ownership of and working to make better?


Is this them stuff? Is their rejection or criticism more about them than it is about you?

In which case, it doesn't belong to you. So don't keep it.

A person taking a moment to reflect on a situation before reacting

2. Learn how to be honest about how you are feeling. This is responding reflectively. Give yourself some time to really identify how you are feeling and why. And do something about it. If you are upset about something someone did or said, tell them. Give them the opportunity to make it right or clarify (a lot of rejection is perceived, not real). This can be a vulnerable and scary place but it is key to healthy communication.

taking the time to journal can be helpful in managing RSD symptoms

3. Like most ADHD traits, RSD is worsened by stress. Do what you can to start limiting overall stress in your life. It's just not good for your brain (or your body).

Take time to de-stress and treat your body and brain with love and kindness. Take bubble baths, journal, meditate. Learning how to ground yourself is an invaluable tool for neurodivergent people. In doing this you are taking control of your emotions rather than letting outside factors control them.

4. I will state this in probably every post. Use support that specializes in neurodivergence. Whether it be therapy, coaching, or something in between, make sure your support is fluent in neurodivergence and can help you manage your symptoms.

Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help people suffering from RSD understand where these emotions come from and provide tools to navigate those feelings before they become emotionally dysregulated.

5. Stop fighting your feelings.

This can seem counterintuitive. But this is part of stopping the ruminating cycle.

We spend so much time shaming and blaming ourselves for our thoughts and feelings rather than just letting them be what they are. Further contributing to intense, negative emotions.

The key is, letting your thoughts and feelings be just that. Thoughts and feelings. You don't need to act on every one.

Acknowledge that your emotions are valid. But also acknowledge that acting on those emotions won't always serve your greater good.

Now, this is not to say that we shouldn't stand up for ourselves. Or that there is never a time or place to be angry. Remember what was noted above, RSD emotions are a reasonable response to a situation, they just go a little over the top. They tend to lead to further conflict rather than a resolution. And that's not good for anyone.

Hopefully, this little rundown of rejection sensitivity dysphoria can bring awareness and positive change to your life.


How does RSD look for you?

Have you found any ways to manage your RSD, not mentioned above?

Let us know in the comments below!


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