ADHD symptoms: Rejection Sensitivity Disphoria

“You’re too sensitive!”

If I had a pound for every time I heard this between the ages of 5 & 18—I have no idea how much I’d have, but I’d certainly be less worried about my finances.

In another of a long list of I told you so’s that have come up since I discovered I have ADHD, it turns out we were both right.

To everyone who told me I’m too sensitive: parents, teachers, friends—you were right. I AM too sensitive. It’s part of my ADHD and it’s called rejection-sensitive disphoria. It’s a bit of a mouthful, so I’m going to acronyse, (that’s not really a word,) it down to RSD from here on.

RSD is, essentially, heightened sensitivity to rejection. No one really likes rejection, apart from a small group of kinksters, (no judgement, you be you,) but people with ADHD not only take rejection harder than neurotypicals—feeling the sting of it that bit sharper—it also triggers on just the perception of rejection.

This means that even if someone didn’t intend any rejection, the ADHD person may misconstrue events, convincing themselves of rejection, and take a kick in the feels anyway. This is the “Are you mad at me?” effect.

I also couldn’t put a number on the amount of times I said “I can’t help it,” during those years. It turns out I was right too—being too sensitive was not my choice or fault, and it wasn’t for lack of willpower or character that I was, and continue to be.

“Give me the child until age seven,” wrote Aristotle, “and I’ll give you the adult.”

The child with ADHD is said to receive twenty-thousand more negative messages than a neurotypical child by age twelve.

Not twenty-thousand total. Twenty thousand MORE. Each one like a cut on the psyche. Each felt deeper than the neurotypical child.

So during the crucial formative years, the ADHD child has repeatedly been told they are clumsy, forgetful, tardy, lazy, difficult, disruptive, or uncooperative, among other labels and terms—usually thousands, or tens of thousands of times.

ADHD tends to set us up for failure. Concentration issues often lead to avoidable, (to the neurotypical,) but inevitable mistakes and/or accidents. Issues with working memory means we often forget tasks or assignments. Time blindness leads to lateness. Executive function issues leads to poor planning and execution. Object permanence issues lead to more forgetting. Demand avoidance makes us seem obstinate. Then there’s burnout, and overwhelm, and everything else.

Combine all of these and you have conditions that would exasperate any parent/teacher/friend.

Is it any wonder that depression and anxiety are common co-morbidities with ADHD? (See my co-mobidities series when available for more.) Childhood trauma rarely makes for a happy and well-adjusted adult.

And yet even I, with a lifetime of experience of being on the wrong end of this seemingly endless stream of criticism, occasionally lose patience with my daughter, who shares my condition, and raise my voice.

So, if you know someone with ADHD, try to remember that they’re not doing any of this on purpose, (forgetting things, making silly mistakes, etc,) and certainly not to annoy you. So be kind, be patient, and be aware of your wording and tone because it may affect us more than you realise.