Emotions & Shame

How Rejection Sensitivity Casts a Cloud Over My Marriage

I feel personally attacked more than most people do. The sharp tips of criticism gut me open. Even the anticipation of rejection can paralyze me. And when it does, I’m tough to live with, tough to calm, tough to help. Here is how Rejection Sensitivity challenges my most important relationships, and what helps us heal.

Two umbrellas symbolizing the rain that can fall on a marriage when one partner has Rejection Sensitivity (RS), or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

I am staring at my husband. I am just staring, not blinking, narrow-eyed, mouth a straight line, standing across the room and fixing him with a look.

He tells me to stop. He says I am not accomplishing anything with this. He says I just need to accept that I yelled too much at the kids because I was stressed and that’s okay, everyone does it sometimes. He is not gaslighting me — I admitted I did it and felt guilty and sad and awful and terrible about it. And I apologized to the kids. So it’s over and there’s nothing else left to do but move on. But my attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) comes with Rejection Sensitivity (RS) — a.k.a. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. And it can be a beast.

Stop staring, he says. Stop. Just stop. When you feel upset like that, just walk away.

I cannot stop. I know I am not accomplishing anything. I am so, so angry right now. I am livid. I am raging. It’s one thing for me to say I feel sad and guilty. But it’s a whole other issue for him to agree with me.

Because, by doing so, he is saying I am a bad parent.

He is saying I am a terrible parent who lost control.

He is saying I should not have kids.

He is saying, when he tells me to walk away, that it would be better if I were not around my children.

[Take This Test: Could You Have Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria?

Of course, he is not actually saying any of these things.

But I hear them. I hear them as if he is shouting them at me. I feel them like a punch in the gut. This is what Rejection Sensitivity means. In my house, we all have ADHD. But I have a bad case of RS and my husband does not. In my case, it means that I have an extremely difficult time taking any type of criticism whatsoever.

A good marriage is built on honesty. That means, at times, gentle and constructive criticism from your spouse. I can’t take it.

I Curl Inward

A lot of the time, when my husband offers up suggestions for family improvement — “Hey, maybe we should enroll the kids in some sports programs,” for example — I clam up. I don’t initiate a discussion about the pros and cons of the idea, and I don’t offer my input. I just curl inside myself.

There’s a line from the poem Fiddleheads by Maureen Seaton: “When you hurt me, I evolved like a backboned sea creature, translucent/ nervous system sparking along in the meanest deep where I was small enough not to care …” I think of this every time I stop talking and cross my arms as if to hold myself inside and feel like the worst person in the world for not thinking of this beforehand. I might feel like I am right and he is wrong but I cannot offer up suggestions about the mundane like a rational person at that moment. I am too busy feeling rejected and alone.

[Take This Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyper-Arousal?

I Lash Out

Sometimes, when my husband asks something as simple as, “Did you water your plants today?” which he doesn’t particularly care about, and is just part of the background patter of marital conversation, I hear something else.

I hear, you are irresponsible. I hear, you do not take care of your things. And I feel the anger rising. I snap. “Of course I did! I always water my garden! I take good care of it!” And he is left baffled. “What did I say?” he asks. “What’s wrong? Did you have a bad day? Are you okay?” And it might evolve into a fight. Which I pick, almost every time.

I Pick Fights — Because It is Easier

Psychologically, we pick fights with those we love because we are hurting and angry at ourselves, and we want to stop that anger from clawing at our insides. If we can get mad at someone else, we can deflect our hurt and anger outward, and suddenly the hurt isn’t hurting so badly. Or at least, it hurts differently, in a way that doesn’t feel so damaging and broken.

We’re mad and disappointed in our spouse instead of ourselves. This can erode a relationship, especially an ADHD relationship. Luckily, my husband knows I do it, calls me on it, and walks out of the room. I have been known to both follow him and keep arguing (if the kids aren’t around) or dissolve into a puddle of tears (if they are). Then we can move into something constructive.

I Snark Out

Sometimes, when my husband makes a suggestion, I don’t so much lash out as snark out. He might say something like, “Man, I need to do the dishes,” and I hear, “You should have done the dishes,” even though according to our household division of labor this is not my job and I never touch them. “Oh, I’ll try to fit that in between my bon-bon consumption and Days of Our Lives tomorrow,” I bite back, even though he knows I spend my days loving, feeding, homeschooling, policing, and cleaning up after three children.

Not a constructive way to deal with life, and something that leaves him stuttering for an answer. To me, he’s telling me I should have done the dishes for him and I’m lazy for not fitting them into my busy schedule. To him, it’s an offhand comment.

I Stomp Off

Sometimes, it all gets to be too much. Maybe there are too many little things I can interpret as criticism, so much so that I feel unwelcome in my own home. I feel so attacked that I can’t function as a parent or spouse, whether I’ve curled up inside myself or lashed out. So I stomp out the door to Target or Goodwill and go shopping — sometimes compulsively. I buy stuff we don’t need and I feel momentarily better about life. Except when I come home, my husband will ask what I bought, which I hear as an indictment, and which can start the cycle all over again if the shopping hasn’t thoroughly calmed me down (it helps, I’ve found, to take a kid along for balance).

I Think My In-Laws Hate Me

Rejection Sensitivity extends beyond my husband and into the rest of the family. I am utterly convinced my in-laws (excluding my father-in-law) hate me. Every comment, every request to re-organize the dishwasher I just loaded, any question about my homeschooling (no matter how innocent), any insinuation the kids should play in one room instead of another for fear they might break something priceless, is read by me as a comment on my inability to function as an adult with competent parenting skills. It sucks.

I know intellectually that they don’t mean it. And they are truly nice people who do actually like me. But I fret and freeze and clam up and fake migraine headaches and sleep too much around them because I find their presence, at times, an excruciating march of rejection. This leaves my husband to run interference, to keep me calm, to cajole me into every single visit. It sucks. They are super nice and super sweet. But my RS prevents me from feeling it.

I Make My Spouse Deal with My Parents, Too

My RS is so severe that some days, I can’t even talk to my own mother. For example, she moved to our town and needed help, because moving is stressful and busy and messy. I went over one afternoon to meet the plumber and, while I was there, broke down all her boxes and organized her linens. I instantly regretted it. She would hate it. She would hate me for it. I had so much internalized my RS that I anticipate it from those I love.

So when she called that night, I made my husband answer the phone for fear she would berate me for doing everything wrong. My mother is not the berating type. Of course, she was wildly grateful (I still think she rearranged all her linens while cursing my name). The constant need to deal with not only his parents, but also mine, can wear on him. He always has to be the adult while I’m the scared kid.

I Spiral Into Despair

RS is often mistaken for any number of psychological disorders. But sometimes, when I feel rejected or criticized, I can’t help falling into a spiral of despair and misery that can culminate in tears, panic attacks, and the need to take medication to calm myself down.

My poor husband has to play both comforter and psychiatric nurse to these episodes. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, and it’s not conducive to an equal partnership when one person might fall off the deep end at any moment.

I Suffer Suicidal Ideation

Sometimes, my RS gets so bad that I feel like the world would be better off without me. Let me be clear: I would never harm myself, because I cannot stand the thought of hurting my children. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. That doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t want to. And when that happens and I voice the thought, he goes into panic mode.

Is this bad enough to call the doctor? Does he need to take my pills away? Can I be left alone? He often has a panic attack himself at the thought of losing me. I’m feeling guilty and rejected and unloved and so terrible I think I don’t deserve to live, and the person who loves me the most is scrambling to keep me safe. It’s not healthy for either of us.

Basically, RS can strain a marriage to the breaking point. I’m lucky. I married a man who will stick by me through anything, who loves me deeply, and who was aware before our marriage that I had psychiatric issues, whatever labels psychiatrists have decided to slap on them over the years. He knew what he was getting in to and he’s able to see the person behind the RS: the woman who loves him deeply and who acts out not because of malice, but because of despair and fear.

I don’t go on an RS tear every day. Or even every other day. For long stretches, I hold it together, and I try my best to hear the words people are saying, rather than the words I hear. But sometimes, I can’t help it. Sometimes, the words twist and turn like a knife in the back. Then I start to lose control. The RS takes over. The strain on my marriage begins. And I am lucky — damn lucky — to have married a man who can cope with it.

[Take This Test: Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults]

47 Comments & Reviews

  1. I think you’re incredibly brave here. I know the struggle. One trick I learned is to carry a Qtip in your pocket so you can feel it an remember Quit taking it personally. I’m getting to the point where I can usually recall it is not about me but it has taken 60+ years to get there. Some days I still fall into that place. Now i am working on learning how not to stress myself in other ways so i can qtip all the time.

  2. Thanks for writing this incredibly descriptive narrative about how it feels to be overly sensitive to rejection. It is so similar to the hundreds of stories I’ve heard from couples over the last 35 years.

    I am convinced that rejection and taking things personally are almost always connected. As one of my clients so vividly describes “The tornado hits and I’m Dorothy!”

    I’ve taken things personally my whole life, and only recently was diagnosed with ‘mild’ ADHD after decades and decades of not having a meaningful‘ label’ for trying to deal with these confusing reactions to family, friends and workplace peers.

    In the 80’s I researched and wrote my dissertation on how perceived childhood rejection impacts adult intimate relationships. Two books, now published in 9 languages, evolved: Don’t Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection and Breathing Room – Creating Space to Be a Couple.

    I have worked with hundreds of clients –– especially couples where ADHD, Rejection Sensitivity and Taking Things Personally converge, causing havoc in relationships.

    It’s amazing what we can actually do to make a choice to modify and change reactive behavior once we are able to separate the ‘then’ from the ‘now’ by identifying and isolating those early painful message which seem to stockpile and explode.

    Elayne Savage, PhD

    1. Hi in a 34 yr old ADHD inattentive type female. I’ve also got a diagnosis of GAD. My fiance has an abusive alcoholic father who never expressed love toward him but instead did the opposite & always told him how he wished the he’d never been born n that he ruined his life. He actually had him believing he wasn’t really even his dad bc he always said he was wasn’t. Anyway, my bf has always had this RSD type way of thinking & acting and the articles I’ve read about it on here describe him exactly. He does not however have ADHD. I’m curious about how you have managed to help people change this irrational way of thinking to a more healthy realistic one? I really am at my wits end having 2 stress about the way I word everything I say 2 him & even then still constantly finding myself in arguments with him which are almost always brought on by him taking things I say and assuming I’m trying to say something negative, like he believes he’s got this 6th sense where he can read between lines and understand the real meaning behind what ppl say but in reality there are no lines to read between(not in my case anyway)! If the argument isn’t about that then it’s him going on about me not caring about him or showing him enough attention/affection. I’ll admit I’ve been told my entire life that I’m hard 2 read and don’t show emotion the way most people do, for instance I can be all to hell on the inside but to someone looking at me I appear unbothered like I don’t care. I don’t know how to be any other way tho bc honestly I don’t even understand what it is about me that makes me “hard to read”. If I voice the way I feel he just doesn’t believe me & says its just words & my body language shows otherwise. I’ve dealt with his emotional instability going on 8yrs now & lately it’s gotten even worse (prob due to the fact that his dad’s been being worse than ever due to the fact that he’s dying from cirrhosis of that liver (his mind is being attacked by toxins since his liver isn’t functioning to filter the toxins out of his body) so he’s been acting even meaner than normal & my bfs actually scared his dad might even kill him. I’ve stuck around this long bc I realize his issues stem from things beyond his control but I don’t think I can deal with such a huge amount of stress for the rest of my life esp since I’ve got my own probs & they’re constantly on the back burner while im forced to listen to him complain about me not loving him and having to try to give my attention to him rather than things I need to be doing for myself. Any advice would be incredibly appreciated bc I do love him and im not trying to throw away the last (almost) decade of my life with him (which btw resulted in our 4 yr old daughter).

      1. I also have ADHD and RSD and looking back can see how it was RSD that caused me so much pain when I was younger. In my early 30s I was put on anti-depressants because of suicidal ideations and Luvox has dampened my RSD by about 90%. Very rarely now will it bring me to tears.
        My husband also could not take any perceived criticism to the point of violence but did seek medical help and AD’s also helped him immensely. He still struggles and as someone else mentioned, appears narcissistic,including the gaslighting mentioned in this post. I read a book called “Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get on with Life” by Margalis Fjelstad and it really was life changing. Some very simple ideas that I found so easy to implement, when I had actually thought that there was no way forward.

  3. I really struggle with the characterization of the husband as a saint. What is the benefit to him to stay married other than to protect the children?

    I am diagnosed ADHD, one child is diagnosed ADHD/RSD/ODD. My wife has no interest in being evaluated, and yet I am 100% certain that she has a very severe RSD. Our relationship is at the point where it is utterly impossible for me to say anything even vaguely negative without some kind of explosion, and all forward motion in our growth as a partnership stopped years ago as a result.

    I find excuses every day to stay married, but I am quickly running out. While there is a strong psychiatric component to her behavior, at the end of the day if she is abusive to me on an ongoing basis, why would I stay, vows or no. Unlike the husband in the article, I had no idea at all what I was getting into when we married.

    The post doesn’t mention if the wife is trying medication or anything else to get RSD under control, or if it is just a thing that the family is learning to live with.

    I am really curious about whether there is any way to accommodate RSD other than tolerating the abuse.

    1. I have to agree. At this point I just feel like I’m being abused. also as much as I appreciate this forum for bringing these issues to light I do honestly get frustrated with the lack of answers. For instance this article said what helps us heal and yet I don’t see anything in this article about healing just coping which I’m tired of just coping…

    2. I’m in the same boat, except it’s my husband who I think may have RSD. I can’t offer any insight, or any sort or criticism, even constructive, without him losing it and blaming me for being aggressive, mean and degrading. It is so exhausting, and I feel defeated. I feel emotionally abused, and I’m walking on eggshells. What are we supposed to do as the spouses in these situations? I want to keep seeing the good in the man I married, but I don’t think I have anything left to give emotionally.

      1. Do you really need to offer constructive criticism? Pay close attention to how often you do it. You might be surprised. Were you or was he raised in a critical environment, or an environment in which doing anything less than one’s best wasn’t okay?
        Remember that your suppose with RSD is suffering. Objectively they may be over-reacting, but their reaction is consistent with their actual feelings.
        If you are sensitive to and understanding of your spouse’s experience, maybe your spouse will be receptive to its effect on you, and together you can help your spouse get treatment.

      2. Kady I understand what you’re saying. However there is a limit. I didn’t know what I signed up before marrying my husband with ADD and RS. And I am truly at my wit’s end. I try to be understanding and realize that he’s been through a lot and he doesn’t mean it, etc. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty, he is verbally abusing me. And our kids. Why should I have to put up with it and understand his issues. Don’t my feelings matter? What about my issues? When does he start to understand my issues? I can not be like the husband in this article. God bless him for his patience and willingness to let the outbursts just flow by. But after 17 years, I’m tired of it. Clearly I have reached the point of anger. I can’t have any productive conversation about our relationship without being yelled at and blamed and made to feel as if it’s all my fault. And it has reached the suicide stage with him a couple times. So then, of course, all topics where he may feel as if he’s to blame are tabled. Because if I upset him too much, I may come home to a dead spouse. Certainly I don’t want that. When does this change? How does it change?
        This article is SPOT ON. Down to the shopping to make them feel better. I can’t believe what I was reading. It was as if he wrote it.

      3. I had to set boundaries with my best friend; took him time to get used to that, but he knew that if he didn’t stop taking things out on me, he’d lose me, and I’m his primary support system. It took some time, but my persistence worked and he knows how to separate his thoughts/feelings from his perception about the things I say and do.

      1. The linked article indicates that medication is the only treatment, but a commenter suggests that the author is mistaken. It would be interesting to hear more on this topic from Dr. Dodson and other experts. It’s a very challenging issue. Thank you.

      2. Some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) could help. There are no studies on RSD to my knowledge.

        ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    3. In fairness to the author, I think that the experience that she describes is different from what you are describing. You referred to constant explosiveness. The author indicated that she often withdraws and sometimes lashes out, and that she doesn’t experience this every day or every other day. I don’t think that the author’s behaviour is abusive.
      I’m afraid that I don’t have any helpful advice re your situation. If this is new behaviour, is it constant? Could it be PMDD or perimenopause? Is she under a lot of stress?

      1. Hi kjandkd –

        Our life together is like walking through a minefield. A day or a week can go by and there is peace, and then the most offhand comment provokes an explosion that ends all conversation. Often it leads to the silent treatment for the rest of the day or into the next day. No real correlation to external stuff.

        She is perimenopausal so it’s interesting you mention that, although this behavior predates menopause by years. Stress? Again, the behavior has gone on for a long time, and stress has been all over the place in that time.

        If I could wave a magic wand, I would want her to recognize there is an issue, be it RSD or NPD or just some low grade depression or anger management issues, and agree to work on it. But the only way I will ever get there is with a gigantic fight and a very real chance of divorce. So timing is everything.

        Thanks for listening.

      2. It sounds really tough that your spouse is unwilling to seek help or discuss her behaviour. I guess you’ve tried discussing it when she’s feeling good? Love and acceptance and understanding go a long way. Are you sure she’s overreacting to the offhand comment, or to an underlying, unspoken issue? If you’re running out of reasons to stay married, perhaps she’s sensing that (unspoken) rejection.
        Perimenopause does go on for years before menopause.

      3. This sounds so much like my relationship with my husband, so he’s definitely not peri menopausal! Both of our kids have adhd & several therapists have said my spouse does too, but he refuses to be diagnosed, seek help, or attend therapy on an on-going basis. It is extremely challenging & his behavior also affects his relationship with our kids, which he blames me for, of course. Takes a lot of prayer to keep myself sane.

    4. I once had a friend who (after the fact, I learned….) had clear-cut, “every box checked” Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Talk about being ABUSED!!!

      I would like those who feel like they are being attacked to research some information on this insidious personality type. It is important, as Narcissists can not only severely damage your psyche but they are capable of putting you in physical danger. THESE PEOPLE you MUST get away from!!!
      Peace be with you all ~~

      1. In our particular case I explored and considered the various disorder definitions for years, and found the ADHD/RSD diagnosis to be a lot more explanatory, especially since our child officially had the diagnosis as well. Sorry about your friend.

  4. I really feel for your situations. My husband definitely has this issue and I suffer with him.

    I did know about the abuse he suffered as a child, but had no clue he would take it out on me…(RS)
    What I would say is that instead of just suffering…I got help- and I told my husband he needed
    help, too; And that me staying around would be conditional upon him getting help and sticking with
    it. If he stopped counseling, I would leave. If he was sincerely working on his issue, I would

    I had to learn how I enabled him to continue to treat me badly- because my passivity or my “rescuing/fixing”
    response contributed to and reinforced his offending behavior…

    We teach people how we want to be treated and what we will tolerate…
    We allow people to step on our boundaries if we don’t enforce them with consequences.

    I also had to learn how to separate his behavior from my reaction. I, too, became
    emotional and had muddled thinking when he would go on a tirade. I let fear and or anger make me irrational.
    Instead, I practiced my measured and fair response with my therapist so that when the situation arrose, I’m
    wasn’t caught off-guard.

    Although things aren’t perfect, they are getting steadily better and I am glad because I do love my
    husband and want our marriage to go the distance.
    Best wishes and prayers for yours.

    1. Well that’s awesome and I congratulate you. There is no question that I perpetuate the behavior. The big leap that you made and I am not quite ready to take is the ultimatum. I hope to be able to get there.

      My wife is never wrong and never apologizes, so therapy has never helped. Sounds like you have a great therapist as well. Any bibliotherapy you would recommend?

      1. Yes! MichealFreesmith


        “Stop Walking on Eggshells”
        “You can be Happy No Matter What” (Hate the simplistic title, but I love the content)

        titles only because I’m doing it from memory, don’t remember the Authors offhand…

        It is very difficult when a spouse doesn’t have much ‘leverage’ to work with in getting a partner to Therapy. I hope for the best for you, truly…

      2. Thank you both for your discussion. It helps to not feel so alone. I feel trapped in my marriage as, due to some health issues, I don’t think I can work full time & take care of the kids & house on my own. Otherwise, I’d be at the point of an ultimatum. I wish I could find a therapist as good as yours!

      3. “Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get on with Life” by Margalis Fjelstad

    2. I wish I could have stayed with my husband. I walked on eggshells for a very long time. I tried different ways to talk with him but it seemed like no matter how I approached any subject he blew up. If I said A, he said B. He refused to go to counseling with me. He misconstrued pretty much whatever I said, which is why I knew he was RSD. He would rage and started giving me ultimatums. Like it or leave or some version thereof. After 10 years I couldn’t take it anymore. I love him and I hated to leave, but at a certain point if the person won’t seek help, blames what’s in their head on you, it becomes abuse. I have ADD but it is more related to a lack of executive function. I couldn’t take care of myself and get better as long as I was in that situation. I finally had to put my mask on first as they say on airplanes. I am starting to recover and I wish him the best. It is easy to characterize these types of people as narcissists but I don’t really think that he was. He was in a lot of pain instead of being manipulative. I hope he gets better now that we are apart.

      1. I have read that other people aren’t even thinking about you – you just think they are. Your mantra is good shorthand for that thought, IMO. Thank you!

  5. I have a hard time in my relationship with sorting out who is doing what to whom. I know that I am rejection sensitive, but … hmm. I’m not imagining the emotional abuse, I’ve gotten some feedback from other people about it. My RSD is more about over-reacting than straight misinterpretation.

    I am so fed up with the dynamic. This has been going on for fourteen freaking years, and I almost never even open my mouth anymore, because, a typical interaction:

    He throws me under the bus in front of our friends. It’s a small comment, not a crisis, but it’s also rude and demeaning, it steals any chance I have of shining, and it’s manipulative: he gets to elevate himself at my expense, and it sets me up so I want to defend myself but I’d look like an asshole if I did. I’m not a puddle of RSD at this point, but I’m bothered, this is not what I want in partnership.

    A day later when we’re alone in the car I try to carefully use my best words to discuss it. I say ‘you know, I felt pretty upset when you said x yesterday.’ And before I can get another word in edgewise, the attack begins. I’m being ridiculous. I’m too sensitive. That’s not what he meant. That’s not what he intended. It was a joke. I must be pretty stupid if I don’t know that. And then silence, and silence, and silence.

    I don’t respond in part because I’m furious, in part because I have no skills to deal with this – I have no quick words for someone who pretends an obvious interpretation is ridiculous and won’t even Try to have a discussion or see my point – and in part because my RSD has just gone into overdrive. It’s my fault, we were having such a nice day, I spoiled it all, how could I be so dumb to say something, how can I fix this … that panic, that paralysis. I’m so upset, I’m so angry, and this other feeling like being choked to death in an ice bath. And, the upshot, he’s … won. He’s used my RSD to get his way. At best I’m silent, and silence signifies consent, and at worst I’m a puddle of tears and apology, not only condoning his abuse but in a way actively approving it.

    Any thoughts on how you deal with over-reactive RSD that’s making you feel like a doormat and putting you in a position of real abuse?

  6. I just want say thank you for your open and honest account of what so many of us struggle with. I know the shame you feel as you write the words and lay yourself bare for all to see the dark side. No one can truly understand what it’s like unless they experience it themselves. No one truly gets that once you are in that place you have little to know control and no one can really reach you no matter how hard they try. You become your own worst enemy and then the worst part is after you come out of it the regret, sorrow, guilt, shame and embarrassment can be overwhelming. So on behalf of those of us that go through this same thing … thank you!

  7. @mesotired, my OPINION (I’m not a therapist, counselor, etc.) is that you are being emotionally abused. Your statement “He’s used my RSD to get his way. At best I’m silent, and silence signifies consent, and at worst I’m a puddle of tears and apology, not only condoning his abuse but in a way actively approving it.” It sounds like he is just plain ol’ mean and being a bully. The small comments, or digs, are terribly painful and you shouldn’t have to put up with them. I just happened upon this article. Maybe it will help explain things.

    Escaping the Codependent-Narcissist Trap

    Good luck and take care of yourself.

  8. I wonder what the difference is between RS and Borderline Personality Disorder is? BPD is a common dual-diagnosis in adults with ADD and what she describes sounds an awful lot like BPD. Suicidal ideation, impulsive shopping to feel better emotionally, suspicion of other’s motives, and emotional volatility are all BPD traits. Now I’m curious.

  9. I believe I have RSD, but it shows up in different circumstances.
    When I feel unfairly criticized (or even fairly criticized) in a way I hadn’t anticipated, RSD hits. Then, my whole body chemistry changes; my adrenaline pops, my heart rate races, my voice trembles and I get flush.
    Since I’ve had to deal with this for years, I have actually learned to control raging outbursts most of the time. What I can’t control is that adrenaline pop, and the physical changes that accompany it. And people notice it, and criticize THAT;”You seem to go from zero to sixty in seconds” is the problem, rather than any inappropriate behavior. This is very frustrating; I try to hide my adrenaline surge symptoms, but it’s just so hard.
    I’ve had a rough road in my career, and I’ve spent months, even years, unemployed. I’m very easily threatened when I start a new job; before my ADHD diagnosis (at age 48) I was terrified that I was an impossibly flawed person who was doomed to homelessness (and I was actually homeless for a time). So from day one on any job, I’m in constant fear that I’m going to get fired.
    A previous article about “gaslighting” talked about people who target others with ADHD because they sense a vulnerability. So I will “withdraw” when I feel my RSD getting triggered by criticism (or gaslighting), but then this makes it even harder to properly deal with people who are actually bullying me. Heck, it takes a while for me to even recognize abusive behavior, because I’m so sensitive that I can’t tell the difference between that and constructive criticism in the moment.
    It seems I can’t win, even though I’ve worked VERY hard on controlling my RSD. I sometimes even control it so much that I seem overly calm, cool, easy-going and… well, maybe a bit childish or naive, which sets me up for someone to “teach me a lesson”, and when that happens… red zone! So I quickly remove myself from the conversation, or keep quiet. My emotions are raging and I find it really hard to think and be rational, so having a measured and thoughtful defense is usually not forthcoming anyway. Bullies take this as a victory, and I’m treated worse in the future.
    This whole scenario has me feeling quite depressed and hopeless. I once again am facing bankruptcy after two years out of work. I have to take anything at this point, and… that always ends up in disaster.

  10. I really appreciate this article. I truly relate. It is so comforting to know that other people experience life similarly to myself, but I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I have not been officially diagnosed with ADHD or RSD, but I just decided today that I need to actively pursue a clinical assessment. The thing that seems to help me the most on my self development journey is reading, watching videos, and listening to podcasts about self-help. The more I learn, the more empowered I feel. I am genuinely curious about why I am the way I am, and I want to be proactive in learning to live a less tortured life. Hopefully by getting a proper assessment, I can be more aware of the truth that lies in my experiences. Earlier this month, my boyfriend and I impulsively started a podcast where we talk about mental health. After a few episodes we realized that it is probably more a podcast about ADHD tendencies. The podcast experience is proving to be therapeutic on many levels. There are certain themes that keep emerging regardless of the episode’s “topic”. What I am discovering is that it is my shame regarding my ADHD tendencies that gets triggered in me often. The slightest perceived criticism can destroy me emotionally and indefinitely, so it seems that this concept of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is quite possibly the thing that has ruled my life for far too long. Thank you to all of you who share your stories. You are not alone, and you are not defective.

  11. This is the first time I’ve read an article that’s as if it were pulled from inside my own head. I live it. Daily. I’m 48 years old and only within the last 4 months was I finally diagnosed with ADHD. Now, I’m thinking I have RSD as well. My second marriage is on the brink of becoming history. And I’m letting it. Because I genuinely feel he’ll find a happier life with someone who doesn’t have the psychological challenges that I bring. I’m tired of trying to fix myself and am resigning to a life alone. I also have suicidal ideation but I also won’t do anything because I love my 2 sons beyond measure. I want to Thank-you for sharing because you were able to accurately explain the de-railed thought pattern that I also grapple with.

  12. @mesotired What you have said really rings a bell with me, but I don’t think my partner is abusive, I think he doesn’t know how to be wrong and he doesn’t get my sensitivity. Sometimes he is great and treats me really nicely and has patience with my sensitivity, and sometimes he seems to not care and I don’t know if that’s me or him. I find myself confused about how much is me and how much is him, but he does the thing you said of not being willing to discuss it. we have tried, we even went to couples counselling, we have been together 26yrs with two grown kids. I mostly think I’m really lucky to have him and sometimes I feel trapped and I wonder if I am being gas lighted or just not understood. It is so hard to know. I know I am difficult, diagnosed this year with adhd, age 58, and it explains everything, also realise RSD is very strong in me. So I am learning all I can online and reading about adhd etc. and it helps to understand the various aspects. But I still find myself confused. I think he is Autistic/Aspergers and I wonder if that is where the problem lies, he is absolutely adamant that he is not wrong, his expression often is, “I didn’t do anything’, and that’s the end of the matter as far as he is concerned. It’s so frustrating. I always want to talk about it and to agree that we are both a part of what caused the argument, but he won’t have it. I long to live on my own, but I know that I am probably better with him, because mostly we get on really well and he is really good to me, it’s just when those times arise, and we can go for a month or two often without too much friction, then we might have a week or two of real difficulty, and it is usually me that has to accept the blame or hold my tongue in order to get past it. That bothers me, but with my newfound understanding I am feeling stronger and starting to find ways to not let it get to me. It is so tiring tho….

  13. When I read this article is was like someone was explaining the way my brain thinks in a way I’ve never been able to articulate.

    Thankfully I’m in a relationship now with a patient person who doesn’t hold onto things and talks through my episodes with me. Does that mean it’s always ok? No. But he understands that I’m working on myself and I’m making an effort to be the best version of me that I can be.

    For those of you who are in a relationship with someone who has ADD, I know it’s hard believe me! But we’re upset and frustrated with ourselves as well. We don’t want to react this way and we’re confused by why we react this way and some times talking it out in the moment just makes us spiral more and say things that we don’t mean and can’t take back and then we internally beat ourselves up about it and bc we don’t do well at explaining our thoughts during these times it makes it hard to explain it to you. So we may try to explain it but it isn’t coming out right and you get more frustrated which makes us even angrier with ourselves bc we’re trying to fix it but we can’t figure out how. We also may just lash out and cut you the deepest we can to make it all stop bc we can’t take being in the situation anymore due to having sensory overload of what’s being said and trying to comprehend it and then trying to understand what just happened.

    We hate it. We hate everything about it. We don’t want to be this way. We don’t want to react this way. We want to have rational thoughts and rational responses and reactions but our wires misfire in the process. Our brains are a confusing and some times miserable place to live in and we’re primarily in our heads trying to decipher and over analyze to be better but we have trouble finding the answers.

    For me the best thing my partner can do is acknowledge that I may be going through something even if they don’t understand and tell me that they’re not mad at me but they’re going to walk away and give me some space to breath and when I’m ready they’ll be there to talk through it with me.

    Thank you again for this article and for everyone just trying to be better, if you have ADD or you’re someone in a relationship with someone who has ADD.

  14. I so relate to this Elizabeth. And I feel your pain. I didn’t know I had ADHD or RSD in my 20’s and 30’s but it totally affected me. When I moved in with my husband, the RSD started, because I seemingly couldn’t do anything right, all of a sudden. It took years of therapy to work on the issues, but I still wasn’t diagnosed. Then just as my husband and I got better at recognized and dealing with my RSD, my daughter turns 10-11 and she is just like him! Now, everything she says and does is like a dagger on my heart and I explode with anger. Our relationship has taken a quick dive, and I have acknowledged what is happening, but I’m so not ready to deal with this again. I feel like if I educate her to RSD maybe she’ll “go a little easier on me.” But I also know it’s my problem, not hers and I shouldn’t expect her to change so as not to offend me. But I also want to teach her to be a kind person and stop being so judgemental! Ugh. I’m exhausted lately, to say the least. And my husband has always been mature enough to deal with these big emotional issues, my daughter is not yet. So I struggle, and pray that this doesn’t affect our relationship, and her future relationships as a result.

  15. mesotired-I hear you. I used to be explosive and sensitive, then after many years of very hard work I now get quiet, think about it, and usually let it go. Occasionally I bring it up to my husband and I have a 50/50 chance of him hearing me and we can deal with it, or him gaslighting me. Better than what it used to be which was always gaslighting.

    Two things I try to remember:

    1. That we created a habitual behavioral dance, a well worn groove in the road, which we will tend to fall back on when stressed. So when one person changes their behavior, the other person may still be in the groove. They may not notice we have changed, or they may just not be thinking about it. It takes time and persistence to change a two person behavior.

    2. That this system in some ways worked for the non-RS partner. They are always default the victim, and that comes with some power that they typically do not want to or actually see. The power of perceived self-righteousness, the power of shutting down criticism, the power to control a conversation. I have not lost it at my husband in a decade, yet he will still use the same language to describe my behavior. I have to ask him “What did I actually say?” or “When did I raise my voice?” so that he has to describe my behavior rather than just get to say “yes you did”. When he has to do that he has to admit I did not raise my voice, I did not say anything, I did not react at all let alone over-react.

    I sometimes think it would be so much easier to start over with a new partner with new habits. Trying to change while keeping the same environment is really hard, especially when the partner is resistant to change themselves. Rarely is someone a victim and the other a perpetrator. It is typically a dance where both parties are getting some need met. It seems like pinpointing that need/benefit is an important component to healing and developing good communication.

    And mesotired…your partner is gaslighting you. He is using your struggle to dismiss your concerns and he gets power from that. It is unfair and not reasonable. You are not crazy.

  16. For me this wasn’t known or expected.

    It went from meet to like to love to treasure and adore. After 3 years the woman I married mentally walked away. I went from treasured and adored to I love her.

    It took almost 7 years to find her again and when i did she said I will never have the woman I married again. I went from I love her to I made a vow to her, I made a vow to God and my name is my bond.

    Don’t get me wrong I do love her but this is just a maddening and joyless life with no hope to fix things or normality.

    I’m just not built this way. I watch the life I could have and realize that’s just not possible. I know this sounds in jest but I know my self and by now i would be a multi millionaire in a “normal” situation but instead will likely end up destitute in the end.

    The only answer is to find some way to help or fix her or walk away. I know we don’t fix others and we can only fix ourselves but when you have no way to fix the problems that shouldn’t exsist that under any normal scenario wouldnt it just leaves you hollow.

  17. I think your article really helps neurotypical people see RSD from an ADHD perspective. In addition, I’m also going to say, I agree with someone who commented “there is a limit.” It may not feel compassionate or fair to the ADHD person suffering from ADHD with RSD, but when RSD leads to reactive behaviors over and over, it takes a toll. It’s not either/or, everyone is trying to make things go well. But to bump up against RSD over and over, when none of your reassurances that you meant well matter or count, it gets hard. I get that one doesn’t mean ill by the behaviors you mention in the article (stomping off, assuming others hate you, picking fights, lashing out), but those kind of behaviors have an effect on partners. It is really hard for neurotypical spouses to understand why our partners know cognitively that we aren’t attacking them by reminding them of overdue responsibilities, but we still get treated as if we were attacking them. It’s hard to take because those tasks that are overdue are usually important, and affect the partner. Will there ever be enough reassurance on my part so that we can move forward as united couple with shared values and goals, without my partner feeling like I am attacking him/her? It’s also challenging to understand why we aren’t trusted ourselves as partners. I would never bash or attack my partner with malice, but any feedback is experienced by him/her as a personal jab, not objective feedback. So after all this time, decades of relationship and connection, I am still sometimes seen by my partner as the evil person who is being unfairly aggressive. There is no right answer, but as much as I appreciate and take in your article, I wish the other partner’s perspective entered the conversation a bit more.

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