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  • Writer's pictureAbigail Barragry

What is Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria?

What is ‘Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD)? At present, this is not an officially diagnosable condition by itself, but is increasingly understood as being present in children and adults who are highly sensitive, and/or may have underlying neurodiversity (such as ADHD). This sensitivity impacts the nervous system, which in turn impacts physical / sensory sensitivities as well as emotional sensitivities.


It affects how a person experiences themselves within their environment. They are hyper vigilant to any signs that they will be ‘rejected’, perceiving signs of this even when they are not there. For example, the slightest change in a tone of voice may make us interpret a suggestion as ‘being shouted at’. The resultant reaction to this may actually lead to a negative response from others, thus confirming what is already feared, leading to a downwards spiral of behaviour. This can lead to intense feelings of shame, expressed as extreme anxiety and withdrawal or acting out, using anger as a defensive strategy.


A child often doesn’t understand what is going on, only that they feel a sense of fear, helplessness and rejection. This can be most extreme with the mother, since rejection from the mother is in real terms the most threating thing for a child’s safety. These children will often project rage at the mother, the person who they most need to keep them safe.


The sensitive child is even more hyper-vigilant where the mother is concerned. She is desperate for attachment from mum, but fears she isn’t worthy of it, leading to unconscious sabotage of the relationship. She may be furious with Mum for not preventing her from feeling the things she does, and again this then leads her to


This sensitive child will struggle with accepting blame, even admitting to having done something of little consequence. Their already fragile sense of self cannot tolerate accepting they have done something wrong, and especially can’t let anyone else think they have done something wrong.


What’s the answer? For those working with sensitive children, look past the behaviour. Ask ‘what is this behaviour trying to communicate?’ Anger is NOT a root emotion, it is the product of things like fear, shame, helplessness and sadness. As an adult, foster self-compassion for that part of you that still raises their head when your inner child is triggered.


Is it them rejecting you, or is it you rejecting a part of yourself that was never fully healed? What part of you shows up when you feel shame, guilt, lack of worth? As the adult you are now, how can you help that younger part of you to understand, YOU ARE ENOUGH? And how can we all help the younger people in our lives to understand this?


RSD- it exists inside of you. Only you can do the work and make the changes to say ‘you know what? I’m not perfect, and that’s OK’

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