What is Rejection Sensitivity?

Tiffany Hall
4 min readOct 12, 2021


Photo by Anthony Tran

Have you ever felt like you were always on the outside of groups growing up? You knew everyone, and you would interact with different groups, but you never felt like you really belonged. Your relationships with classmates, friends, and, later, coworkers always seemed to have some kind of barrier between them.

When you would let someone in, it seemed like they got you. Then, one conversation, one disagreement, and you feel like the bond is broken. The friendship, the romance, whatever was the promised outcome is dashed. You replay the conversation over and over in your head to see if you could fix it somehow. The conversation becomes an incessant thought and somehow you feel like a fool, a failure, a loss cause, or even unloveable. If you have experienced situations like this, maybe it can be a good idea for you to learn about rejection sensitivity.

What Does Rejection Sensitivy Feel Like?

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is a term that has gotten some attention recently. This is especially true in the ADHD community. Individuals with RSD have a strong emotional reaction to perceived rejection. As a result, they may constantly think about the judgement, criticism, or exclusion they experience to the point that they cannot move on with their day.

People with RSD may experience rage or feel like failures due to the rejection. RSD has long-term consequences and can cause the individual who has it to feel shame, feel like people don’t like them, or feel like people are against them.

To cope with these feelings, people who have RSD may become people pleasers. They may bend over backwards to stay in someone’s good graces. Individuals with RSD may respond to the mildest criticism by being overly sensitive, overly perfectionistic, or even overly reactive.

RSD vs Social Anxiety

Although there is some overlap between RSD and social anxienty disorder, there is also some distinction between the two. People who have anxiety may feel worried about potential embarrassment when associating with people they do not know. A person with RSD may feel distress around those they know because being rejected by someone they perceive as important will hurt more.

An individual who experiences RSD may not feel the preemptive nervousness that an anxious person may feel about interacting with a new person. However, they may have a bad reaction after the meeting because they believe it went badly.

Rejection Sensitivity and ADHD

As researchers have learned more about rejection sensitivity, they have noticed that it has a strong association with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People who experience autism may also experience RSD. Although it isn’t necessary for people who live with ADHD or autism to experience RSD, there does seemed to be an increased risk of RSD for those that do.

It seems the reason why rejection sensitivity is such a common issue for those living with ADHD is because people with ADHD may find it difficult to regulate their emotions. They may feel things a lot stronger than the average individual.

People with ADHD also have trouble focusing on a task and can miss social cues which can lead to social friction. They may experience more criticism than those that do not have ADHD. Constant criticism can feel like rejection and lead to shame and embarassment. All of this can set off RSD.

Sometimes, ADHD brains may emotionally have difficulty differentiating between an unanswered text message and a breakup. So, even the most moderate rejection can feel devastating.

How to Cope With RSD

Just knowing that there is a name out there for what you may be feeling can be comforting. You also feel like you are not alone because there are others out there who feel what you feel.

It can be hard to treat RSD with psychotherapy because the emotions you feel hit you like a wave when your back is turned. The feelings can become so strong that they can be overwhelming for your mind. It may take some time for you to regulate your emotions after having an episode.

You can take medication for RSD. One option is to take an alpha agonist. 33% of people who took this medication for RSD found relief. Another option is to take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). There are some side effections that come with this medication though. So, talk to a professional about your options.

The Wrap Up

During this time, many people are looking inwards to figure out what makes them tick and how they can improve their quality of life. Although it is not possible to go back in time and change bad things that have happened to you, having a word or phrase for something you are experiencing can help you get the help you need.