Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is gaining popularity in the neurodivergent community; it describes people who experience distress in response to criticism, the perception of being put down, or rejection in any form. Those who suffer from RSD are often mislabeled as “bad sports,” “too sensitive,” or “crybabies,” all of which are often applied to children with ADHD. Here, we discuss the symptoms of RSD and hear from professionals about how to support your child through this difficult time.
The “appearance” of RSD: what is it like?
Check out this TikTok by Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist who has ADHD and specializes in the disorder, if you learn better visually, in which he describes some of the characteristics shared by people with ADHD and RSD. Those things are:
Too much sensibility
is sensitive and easily [Amplified] emotionally. empathy
Sensing rejection frequently, even when it isn’t present or intended
Negative self-talk, including self-harm, is a symptom of self-criticism.
Acts of impulsive emotion
Withdrawal from society
Lack of confidence
The emotional pain that neurotypical people feel when they are rejected is much less intense than the physical pain that people with RSD describe. That can make maintaining friendships, succeeding in class, and entering the workforce more challenging. However, RSD is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a separate clinical diagnosis.
We don’t understand why RSD coexists with ADHD.
Children with ADHD may be more likely to experience RSD because their hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive behaviors can lead to social isolation and rejection. Dr. Fatima Watt, PhD, a psychologist at Francscan Children’s, says that “because of these symptoms, they tend to receive more directives and negative feedback from adults than their same-aged peers.” The words “stop,” “pay attention,” and “no” are used more frequently with children who have ADHD.
Constant criticism can alter an individual’s behavior. Dr. Emily King, a child psychologist who specializes in raising and teaching children and adolescents with neurological differences, says that hearing “stop doing something that is hard to stop doing” frequently can make a person feel overly sensitive to the feedback of others. Studies show that kids with ADHD are unfairly criticized compared to their peers.
The central nervous system also contributes to the onset of RSD, Dr. Watt explains. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a nervous system that is more reactive to the external world because of differences in the frontal lobe. Rejection, whether real or imagined, can trigger a traumatic stress response that makes one appear more emotionally unstable than is actually the case. The experts agree that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not the root cause of RSD, but rather that ADD/ADHD can frequently present as a traumatic brain disorder.
What you can do to boost your kid’s self-esteem
If your child is experiencing difficulties with rejection and you suspect that they may have RSD, there are a number of things you can do to help them cope, the first of which is to have a conversation with them about it. They may feel less alone if they are aware of “the difficulties that may accompany the condition.” Your child can benefit from socialization if you help demystify the diagnosis.
In general, it’s best to emphasize the positive aspects of your child’s character. “ Dr. Watt advises parents to “be sure to provide positive feedback to your child on a regular basis, while avoiding unnecessarily harsh criticism.” Sometimes it’s difficult to see the bright side, so it can help to set mental reminders to do so. If your child experiences a setback and doesn’t lose it, you should recognize that they exercised self-control and relied on their skills, even if your own reaction would have been the “normal” one in similar circumstances. It could have been a huge success for your kid.
Your child will succeed if you give them many chances. Children with ADHD may receive more frequent feedback about their behavior, so it’s important to build their self-esteem in all areas. Dr. King recommends encouraging a growth mindset in which making mistakes is seen as an integral part of learning. Learn to use the word “yet” as a period replacement. I’m not sure how to proceed at the moment. In this way, “failure” becomes more like “not yet” than a negative term for a lack of success.
Discuss a method with your classroom instructors.
Dr. King advises, “Approach feedback as a problem-solving team where you are brainstorming together what was hard,” when it comes to tackling challenges at home and in the classroom. Just keep in mind that the child is not the problem, but rather a partner in this fight. The best educators are those who acknowledge that their students struggled but do not blame the students themselves.
Make sure you communicate with your child’s teachers, coaches, and other caretakers about his or her needs. Dr. King recommends that parents “share any strategy they have found helpful, such as problem solving as a team, with others so that they too can have that strategy in their toolbox when teaching and coaching your child.”
Because “teaching your child coping skills to manage their feelings associated with rejection and criticism can be particularly helpful as they grow and develop,” Dr. Watt advises parents to help their children prepare for the inevitable failures, rejections, and unkind treatment that are part of life. It’s possible that some methods will work better with some kids than with others. Potentially helpful are meditative practices, such as mindfulness and breathing exercises, and other “reset” methods.
You can equip your child with the resilience skills they’ll need to handle the inevitable rejection, acceptance, highs, and lows of life by teaching them now.
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