What Is It Like Living With Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?

Updated on July 26, 2020
Kyler J Falk profile image

Psychology is a shaky science at best. Better to stay skeptical and observe things impartially and in earnest.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria is like a ghost that only you can see and feel.
Rejection sensitive dysphoria is like a ghost that only you can see and feel. | Source

Whether it be my ADHD, depression, and/or borderline personality disorder taking its toll on my day to day life, I must always stay aware and up to date on myself and the science around the things I feel.

Having stumbled upon the novel idea of rejection sensitive dysphoria, I feel like I have finally found an appropriate way to describe a very haunting part of my psyche. That part is what I had simply referred to as the product of being abused by my family, friends, and acquaintances but now I have a convenient phrase that offers others a simple and relatable explanation.

What is it?

Rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD) is, essentially, an extreme emotional reaction to perceived and/or experienced rejection. It is, generally, felt more prominently within individuals diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.

Is It a Real Disorder?

Having just recently stumbled upon the idea of rejection sensitive dysphoria I immediately questioned the validity of such a simple phrase that uses a contentious word like, "dysphoria."

You see, when I saw the word dysphoria I felt like this must be some way for people to pass off extreme emotions as normal and acceptable behavior. I was only half right, however, because it was a way to pass off extreme emotions but only within the context of simplifying it for others to understand. It is still under great scrutiny from the medical community and is not, in fact, a literal disorder that can be diagnosed right now.

Don't let the fact that RSD is not actually a disorder/diagnosis deter you from the validity of learning about the descriptor itself. RSD could be a great clinical term for describing an intense, abnormal, and unreasonable emotional response to perceived and experienced rejection!

After consulting a practicing clinician on the term and how it could apply to me, they suggested I expand upon it in my writings so that others are made aware of the condition in a relatable context.

Asking myself how to go about explaining RSD without being completely convoluted, I figured that the best place to start would be by explaining what it feels and looks like before, during, and after it occurs.

Panic, paranoia, anxiety... it is all there when experiencing RSD.
Panic, paranoia, anxiety... it is all there when experiencing RSD. | Source

What Does It Look and Feel Like?

It would not be accurate to say that RSD is a recurring event so much as it is a constant self-instigated and propagated mentality around your own sense of rejection. When you wake up and decide to do something, already the idea of rejection within your day is playing a part in your decision making. Rejection can be from another person, or it can come in the form of failing tasks of varying importance.

Interactions With Others Make Me Nervous

For me, personally, rejection sensitivity dysphoria comes to the forefront of my perceptions whenever I think about speaking to or hanging out with other people. Just the thought of interacting with other people puts butterflies in my chest; not because I fear people, no, but because I fear my own shortcomings that only I can perceive.

Basically, I worry so much about what other people think that I judge myself before they can, I beat myself down for every little flaw, then I project that insecurity onto the world around me regardless of whether it is there or not.

Most recently I was going out for a hike with a group of individuals I had never met, and I backed out at the very last second because I had received one of those, "thumbs-up," emojis to a message I had sent. I have always, and will always hate the stupid thumbs-up emoji because I find it absolutely condescending and to be a blow-off for whatever is being said or asked.

Rather than present this to the sender, because I was scared I'd be judged for mentioning my distaste and lack of understanding for their thumbs-up, I just didn't show up to go hiking.

The Thoughts Stay With Me for Days

The RSD doesn't end there though; it is still playing a huge part in my everyday thoughts and actions because it was, in fact, traumatizing for me to know I pulled out of a hike for no good reason. Compounding the issue is ignoring the further messages I've received asking where I was, why I didn't show up, and letting me know they hope to see me next time. I'll most likely dwell on these thoughts for some time to come, and even as I write this I'm only building the RSD into a monster.

The internet being what it is, and life as an author being what it is, I'm scared to speak out publicly on my thoughts and experiences. I do so anyway because I know that I'm better than anyone who seeks to use it against me, but nonetheless I continue to feed a monster that I'm also trying to defeat. Luckily, that is just what I'm doing better than feeding, defeating these silly feelings by confronting the monster publicly and at every turn!

The head-on approach!

Rejection sensitive dysphoria would seek to have you hold yourself back, and bottle up everything you feel to your own detriment. I say fight it directly! Put yourself out there, open yourself up to great rejection, and then conquer that fear by recognizing how little consequence there is to accepting yourself for who you are!

How Do You Overcome It?

I'm an unflinching proponent of treating the self without medication and doctors, but that doesn't mean everyone is and there is no shame in seeking the advice and assistance of a clinician for any and every problem you are facing.

If you're the type to desire and/or need the help of a clinician, they might recommend pills to lower your blood pressure and/or anything to assist in the emotional aspects of ADHD. It's important to speak with a medical or mental health professional before taking any medication.

Rejection sensitive disorder is so widely associated with ADD and ADHD that your best option is to treat your other disorders while also trying to tackle RSD through clinical therapy.

If you are like me, however, and you want to face this dragon on your own then you could probably benefit from the methods that help me in overcoming RSD with great success. These are a few tips and tricks I use to overcome RSD:

  • Open yourself up to public criticism willingly, and take control of every situation before it can take control of you.
  • Focus on being proactive rather than reactionary in your emotional responses.
  • Do not prepare yourself for rejection in every social situation, and instead try recognizing how inconsequential most interactions are.
  • Turn every self-criticism into a compliment; rather than asking yourself, "Why do you have to be like this?" you could observe all the constructive things you've done that day.
  • Let yourself take a break from life, and let things fall by the wayside without worrying.
  • Confront people with how you feel and explain the way they make you feel regardless of context, seeking to understand them as much as you want their understanding.
  • Taking positive steps to recognize and adjust physical insecurities like getting in good shape, and progressively moving toward realistic goals for self-image.

These are just a few things that I do, and they all work quite well. They could be summarized concisely as throwing caution to the wind and embracing the RPD for what it is, allowing you to confront the issue and the world you perceive as the issue at the same time.

As a final note for overcoming rejection sensitive dysphoria, make sure that you take into account that there are more people who will appreciate you being honest about your insecurities than those who will reject you!

There is always a support system waiting for you to stumble upon it!
There is always a support system waiting for you to stumble upon it! | Source

You Aren't Alone in Your Struggle!

If you take anything constructive from this article at all, then I would like it to be this sentiment right here. You are not alone, and you deserve to have your feelings heard, understood, and accepted. It is upon you, however, to make those feelings heard, and I know just how scary that can be.

The next time you feel that RSD kicking in, those feelings like you need to hide away and avoid failure or rejection from others and yourself, say something about it to whoever you can. There is no shame in seeking acceptance and understanding or even requesting a helping hand back into reality away from your feelings, from those your mind is telling you to avoid. This is also a great way to build support systems for not only yourself but those of us out here who feel the same way you do.

When you go out of your way to let people know how you are feeling, that your emotions are beating you down because of the way you are perceiving the world, those that you tell are an addition to the awareness that we all need. People can be cruel in their responses, but in exposing yourself in such a way you may just be showing strength to the one remaining silent about their struggle with RSD.

So, in closing, I ask you to be loud and proud of who you are and the struggles you are facing. Show the world that those of us who fear rejection are braver than those who would reject us! More importantly, show the world how strong you really are by overcoming your rejection sensitive dysphoria!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Submit a Comment
  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    Thank you so much, Anupam, and I hope that one day you can overcome those feelings. It always helps me to know I'm not alone in the struggle, and that I don't have to hide it away to overcome it. Keep strong and pressing onward into a brighter future!

  • Anupam Mitu profile image

    Anupam Mitu 

    2 weeks ago from MUMBAI

    The way you have stated a few points, it looks like it has come from my own heart. I too feel the same when I go in public.

    A great article. Thanks for writing and sharing it.

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    It never hurts to discuss it with someone in a non-combative, and non-accusatory way, Farrah. I tend to be hot-headed when it comes to my problems, especially if I feel as if I'm being accused or otherwise looked down upon for them; but when people show concern and care with their observations, or at least tact, it not only helps them, but also me in understanding my problems deeper. I'd also be careful with assigning labels to someone without concrete knowledge, especially in this case where this is barely even being used as a clinical term yet.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    Thank you, Marissa, at the end of the day that is what i desire most; to help those in the world most often unfairly targeted and dismissed for things they are learning to control and overcome. Sufferers need to know that their suffering is not something to be ashamed of, and that is something society makes difficult.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Isivwe Muobo profile image

    Farrah Young 

    2 weeks ago from Lagos, Nigeria

    This post is such an eye opener. I never knew there was such a thing as rejection sensitive dysphoria or that there are tips to managing it.

    I know someone with this disorder, although he'd deny it to the high heavens if pointed out. Just wish he could see this piece.

  • Marissa Raymond profile image


    2 weeks ago from Nigeria

    Thank you Kyler for sharing this area of your life, you have not only shed light on rejection sensitive dysphoria but you have managed to help anyone that might be going through it. This is brave and I must say bravo!

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    You know I always value your educated opinions, Scorpio, you always present them with tact and unique flare.

    Your sentiments are absolutely true, and I couldn't agree more with how pointless it is to dwell on the naysayers. It's a hard-learned lesson, however, when you've developed strange disorders and conditions. Breaking the chains of mental health problems can be seemingly impossible, and in saying not to care about people's opinions it can be rough on the sufferer who sees very little positive feedback from their perspective.

    I say it can be rough and that is when we take into account that in order to overcome the negative, the sufferer needs to learn to reinforce the positive. For me personally, I don't care what other people think, but I do care too much about the negative aspects of myself that I need to change. In order to overcome that self-torture, I need positive reinforcement in my life, and that requires a certain level of caring about what others say lest I hear only the negative in my head and ignore the positive reinforcement.

    Ugh, another topic that would need exploring in its own article I'm afraid. It is like navigating a labyrinth, but in the end we can always find our way out.

    Thanks for reading!

  • dashingscorpio profile image


    2 weeks ago from Chicago

    "I have always, and will always hate the stupid thumbs-up emoji because I find it absolutely condescending and to be a blow-off for whatever is being said or asked."

    Generally speaking if someone uses a "thumbs-up" emoji it means they're in AGREEMENT with YOU! They're not out to insult you or be condescending. How we interpret things can cause us to feel unnecessary anxiety. I've known people who are always looking around to see who is looking at them.

    When you stop caring what other people think you're free.

    No matter who you are or what you do you're not going to please everyone. The sooner we accept this fact the better off we are.

    In a world with over 7 billion people rejection just means: Next!

    One man's opinion!

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    Your kind words are deeply encouraging and appreciated, Lorna. One can only hope that more attention is paid to this condition on the professional level, as it seems to me like a very valid branch of psychology. I've met many individuals who get treated for many different disorders but RSD from my perspective appears to be a root disorder rather than a simple set of symptoms, and I think many forms of treatment cut it off at the head rather than pulling the roots.

    Thank you so much for reading!

  • Lorna Lamon profile image

    Lorna Lamon 

    2 weeks ago

    RSD can be so debilitating and your article not only shares your own experience of the condition, but gives hope to those who feel isolated. Overcoming RSD can be an uphill battle, however, your points are valid and realistic.

    On-line support groups are also a good place to start as the person may find it easier to discuss their RSD in a non-judgmental environment. It may take years to have this condition classified Kyler, however, educating others by drawing awareness to RSD can only be applauded. Thank you.

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    I appreciate your well wishes, Ruby, and value your recognition.

    Thanks for reading!

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    2 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

    I have always found that putting it on paper is a start to understanding many things. I wish you the best ln all your ups and downs. I do know that some things that happen to us when we are children lingers a lifetime.

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    I would have to concur with you on that sentiment, Holly, I often fall short in my writings as it concerns being concise but also delivering the message properly. It really is worth its own article and I'll be sure that I expand upon it in great detail in the next article I write. The sentiment itself seems to contradict most practices, the idea of controlling everything, and that is where I've failed to clarify things blatantly.

    Just like your husband, I say keep writing as well. I really enjoy your writer's voice and your choice of topics always contain a sense of comfort for me upon reading them. I don't feel so alone whenever I stop by your articles, or you stop by mine; and I'm sure there are those who do not voice their appreciation for your writing, but it is there nonetheless!

    Keep proving that you are a brave and amazing author, as well as a wonderful person!

    Thanks for reading!

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    Long time no see, Manatita!

    I appreciate your recognition greatly, and hopefully those suffering in silence will get all the healing and acceptance they deserve.

    Peace be upon you and yours as well!

  • Holley Hyler profile image

    Holley Hyler 

    2 weeks ago from Upstate New York

    Wow, Kyler, it's like you were in my head while you wrote this. I have had a very similar response to people using the thumbs-up emoji. It made me feel so dismissed. I try to ignore it now if someone uses it, or I remind myself not to take it personally, but those feelings are still present in the back of my mind. I would love to see you expand on this trick to overcoming RSD: "Open yourself up to public criticism willingly, and take control of every situation before it can take control of you." I feel like that in itself could be an article, especially the bit about taking control of the situation before it can take control of you.

    The idea of rejection or someone being critical factors into most of my decisions regarding other people and sometimes my decision of whether to publish an article or leave it in the unseen recesses of My Documents folder. My husband tells me to keep trying, to have thick skin, and never give up. I am trying to follow his advice, but admittedly it is very hard to stop thinking and feeling this way when I have done so for so long. Anyway, great article, so glad you decided to share.

  • manatita44 profile image


    2 weeks ago from london

    Thanks Kyler.

    So good of you to share. We all struggle in one way or another and you bringing yours to light is commendable. Sharing can sometimes be healing and a great member of the Rehabilitation Team. I bid you much peace.

  • Kyler J Falk profile imageAUTHOR

    Kyler J Falk 

    2 weeks ago from Corona, CA

    The reason this is such a contentious and disregarded disorder is because it would undo much of the science that has already been done, much like CFS did to the science around depression, and what depression did to the sciences before it. Science is way more political than most would believe, and psychology is no exception by any means. If RSD were to be implemented into the DSM, it would undo years of studies and science.

    So, basically, this needs much more study to even be considered as a legitimate diagnosis and as of now the official studies have yet to even be performed. However, the important thing is to not self diagnose and simply use it as a way to compartmentalize the thoughts and form a proper self-therapy for them. The phrase makes it easier to explain the problem, and puts it into perspective where otherwise you'd blame a piece of your psyche that may be totally unrelated.

    It is very hard to take a clinical approach to things, especially when clinicians are at odds with one another.

    I hope your wife is doing well with her CFS, coping with and overcoming it!

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    2 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

    Kyler thank you for sharing information about this disorder. Even though it can’t be officially diagnosed yet, I am sure it is just a matter of time. My wife has chronic fatigue syndrome, and for many years it wasn’t seen as a legitimate medical disorder, now it is. I am sure this article will help others suffering the same symptoms, and giving it a name,


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