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Rejection Sensitivity

How to Turn Rejection Sensitivity Into Positive Growth

If you're aware of your sensitivity, you can use strategies to manage it.

Key points

  • Rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD) isn't an official diagnosis but is a growing concern.
  • Strategies for rejection sensitivity include cognitive reframing (questioning negative thoughts).
  • With self-awareness and effort, people with RSD can learn to manage their reactions and build resilience.

Over the last several years, I've had more clients ask me about rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD). While it is not a term used by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the manual of mental health conditions, pop culture, and social media influencers use the term frequently to refer to an intense emotional reaction to either real or perceived rejection that impacts the person's functioning in relationships. Nobody enjoys being rejected, but rejection-sensitive people experience enduring emotional pain, low self-esteem and decreased motivation to engage in relationships as a result of this challenge.

Rejection sensitivity may occur after a breakup when there is a one-sided romantic interest or even in friendships, where the person feels as though others are less interested in their friendship. Some recent research supports the hypothesis that individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at a higher risk of rejection sensitivity. Still, one does not have to have ADHD to experience the misery of rejection.

If you notice that you have a much harder time recovering from any form of rejection, the good news is that there are psychological tools you can use to become more adept at dealing with rejection. In addition, the sensitive reaction that you experience as a result of real or perceived rejection can help you empathize with others who have been rejected.

But it's not always easy to think about these things when you're feeling the sting of rejection and wondering why it hurts so much. Research shows that social and relational rejection can be physically painful. In addition, the pain felt by those sensitive to rejection often leads to greater social avoidance and less effort, informing future friendships and relationships.

Although people who experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria will most likely continue to be more sensitive than the average person, it is possible to become less affected and to build resilience. Self-awareness that you are rejection sensitive is the key to using coping strategies. You must enter social interactions with this knowledge so that you're prepared to question your thoughts and emotions before assuming they are accurate. Then you are also prepared to handle rejection when it does occur.

Here are some strategies to help lessen the impact of rejection and gain a realistic perspective on how to navigate potential rejection in your relationships.

Cognitive Reframing: Are You Being Rejected?

Imagine that you text a friend to see if they're free on Friday night to hang out. They don't reply to you until Friday afternoon, and then they tell you they have plans that evening. You immediately feel the sting of rejection and question the friendship.

The first step is to acknowledge how it feels. The second step is to remember there may be other reasons they aren't available. Some people are bad at responding to texts in a timely way. Ask yourself if this is someone who regularly turns you down, in which case you may not want to invite them out again. But if it’s not a pattern tell yourself that your friend may have had a tough week, and reach out again some other day. This one instance isn’t necessarily a reflection on the relationship or how they feel about you. This strategy involves reframing your thoughts and resisting reaching conclusions without facts.

Accepting the Reality of Rejection

Sometimes, your impression will be correct. Everyone gets rejected from something or someone. It is an inevitable occurrence in life. Rejection sensitive people perceive that they get rejected much more often, but they will still experience true rejection. If someone is less interested in being friends with you, or they ghost you after a couple of dates, accepting the reality prevents you from continuing to obsess over what happened.

Focus on the people in your life who are loyal, loving, and always there for you. You want people in your life who don't play games and who have enough courage to tell you when you do something they don't like. None of us is everyone's cup of tea. The other reality about rejection is that you will ultimately reject others, and that's OK.

Focus on Building Self-Confidence

Whether RSD is directly related to ADHD or not, it is absolutely related to a person's inner sense of self-worth. Believing in yourself will take away the sting of rejection because you know that you are worthy of having great friends, a romantic partner, and a job that you like. The emotional intensity that occurs in RSD can be tempered by taking a step back to remind yourself of your good qualities. Even if everyone doesn't choose you, a strong sense of self-worth reminds you that the reaction may be disproportionate to the rejection.

Many people who experience RSD don’t know what to do about it. Although RSD can be a painful emotional experience, you can still turn it into a way to grow and increase your self-worth. If you notice that you're hurting deeply from rejection and having trouble moving on from it, take some time to reflect on why you're having this intense reaction, what it means to you to be rejected, and whether the reaction is truly worth the energy that you are expending. You won’t stop being sensitive to rejection, but being aware that you are more sensitive and using these strategies can help you manage the reactivity so you’re not reacting as disproportionately to it.

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