How Does RSD Really, Actually Feel?
“The initial feeling of RSD is as if you’ve been punched in the head and are struggling to regain consciousness. You then deny that it is affecting you, but your brain goes blank, your body paralyzes and, as if by the force of a volcanic eruption, you plunge into an abyss of infernal pain and fear. That is only the beginning. Nothing derails the power of RSD.”
Stabbing knives, white-hot rage, and debilitating fear are all descriptions used by ADDitude readers to convey the unseen and often unappreciated power of RSD — or rejection sensitive dysphoria. RSD is the term used to describe extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception (not always the reality) of criticism and/or rejection. At its worst, RSD can imitate a full, major mood disorder complete with suicidal ideation — and practitioners are only beginning to recognize and address it.
In a recent survey, ADDitude asked adults with ADHD to describe how their RSD feels and how it impacts their lives. Responses confirmed that RSD is a serious, debilitating psychological phenomenon. If you’ve suffered from RSD, share your experience in the Comments section below.
How Does RSD Really, Actually Feel?
“Some rejection hits like a physical punch. The air leaves my lungs because of the hurt. Other times I feel this all-consuming humiliation. Or a fierce frustration and anger at myself. If I’m blindsided, I feel like a sad, confused little girl, thunderstruck in my bewilderment. I’ve even lashed out like an injured animal, cornered by the pain and wanting to dish it back out. These varied reactions can be accompanied by tension headaches, instant fatigue, nausea, tightness in my throat or chest. Sometimes I can shake it off, while other times the funk it puts me into can leak over into the next day or even week.” – Anonymous
“Anytime someone critiques an interest of mine, it feels like a dagger rips through me, especially if the critique comes from someone I care about. Their rejection can pretty much shatter my interest and leave me feeling empty.” – Anonymous
“My partner and I both suffer from RSD, and any difference in opinion is a potential pit of despair. My hyperactivity makes it incredibly painful to be patient with his inattentive symptoms. His silence and emotionless demeanor feel like knives. Medication helps, but clear boundaries and humility help the most.” – Anonymous
“When I feel I am being criticized, especially by my husband, I get very angry – I see red. Now that I know why this happens and that we have a name for it, it’s a lot easier for us to know how to handle it together. He now appreciates that I don’t have the ability to resolve it in the moment and lets me be alone for a bit to calm down.” – Anonymous
“If you close a door on me, if you reject me, if you dismiss my feelings, I can’t control my reaction. It turns from frustration into white hot rage so quickly that I’m liable to throw something or break something. It’s incredibly embarrassing as an adult and I’m in therapy working on the anger.” –Anonymous
“RSD feels like constant failure, and then being criticized for feeling like a failure if I express any of my emotions.” – Anonymous
“Criticism usually triggers feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness. I immediately feel disconnected from the person who criticizes me.” – Anonymous
“The initial feeling is as if you’ve been punched in the head and are struggling to regain consciousness. You then deny that it is affecting you, but your brain goes blank, your body paralyzes and, as if by the force of a volcanic eruption, you plunge into an abyss of infernal pain and fear. That is only the beginning. Nothing derails the power of RSD.” – Anonymous
“Due to many real and perceived rejections in my life from friends, family and co-workers, I have become scared to start any new friendships or group activities. I no longer volunteer to do things at church as I struggle too much to remember to get the tasks done or to attend the meetings. My family helps me out by reminding me and forgiving me when I forget.” – Anonymous
“Any sidelong look or shared smirk between people in a group conversation feels like I’m being made fun of, and most corrective feedback feels like, ‘You are not good enough. This is how you have failed.’ I know intellectually that these worries are irrational, but the thought only occurs to me after I’ve already felt the emotional sting of perceived rejection. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around new acquaintances because I’m constantly trying to figure out what they want.” – Anonymous
“I understand rationally that my partner is not rejecting me when he doesn’t want to come to the Sunday market with me, but my emotions get easily out of hand. I feel like he doesn’t want to spend time with me, that I don’t matter, that I’m stupid for asking, that I’m uninteresting and dull, etc. It’s exhausting.” – Diana
“It is humiliation, followed by self-berating, and I feel it as a nauseous anxiety in my stomach. I anticipate it all the time when I have to present ideas at work, and in social situations I tend not to express my thoughts or feelings.” – Wendy
“It feels like my heart drops into my stomach and I’m completely taken out of the moment.” – Anonymous
“When I am criticized for a simple mistake at work I become extremely emotional and cry. It has been so humiliating that I have quit jobs.” – Anonymous
“Every single time is like the very first time you got rejected as a child.” – Anonymous
“It’s a punch in the gut and a kick to the head while you are writhing on the ground. The parts of me that others miss I take care of by beating myself up for leaving myself vulnerable to them in the first place.” – Eric
“I often misunderstand what people say and become defensive or angry. I feel like they are talking about me and laughing at me. I butt in at inappropriate times and say something irrelevant that pops into my head because it feels urgent at the time. My relationships have been affected by my outbursts and perceived insults.” – Anonymous
“The slightest change of expression or hesitation can feel like a slap in the face, whether it is real or perceived. For years if my husband tidied the house I perceived it as criticism, even though I knew he was meticulous before we married. He has had to walk on eggshells to avoid the minefield of my easily hurt feelings. I struggle with people-pleasing and am constantly analyzing the behavior of coworkers and supervisors for signs of their judgment.” – Anonymous
“RSD feels like searing regret, shame, embarrassment, and failure. At the slightest hint of disapproval, I crumble. I feel so inferior and I want to hide from the world – it’s safer that way.” – Anonymous
Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and ADHD: Next Steps
- Understand: How ADHD Ignites Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
- Download: Understanding Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
- Learn: New Insights Into Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
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