Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria in Relationships

Communication breakdowns are one of the most common relationship problems, and millions of couples have to deal with figuring out the best way to express themselves. However, for some couples, there’s an extra wrench in the works: Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, or RSD. RSD is a symptom of several neurodivergencies, but is most closely associated with ADHD. Today, we’re going to talk about how to recognize when RSD is interfering with your relationship, and what you can do to work through it together.

What Is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is a psychological phenomenon characterized by an individual’s heightened sensitivity to perceived rejection or criticism. While initially associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), RSD has been recognized as a phenomenon that can exist independently of ADHD. People experiencing RSD often have an extreme emotional response to situations where they feel rejected, whether the rejection is real or merely perceived. The emotional reactions can be intense, immediate, and disproportionate to the situation at hand.

Individuals with RSD may exhibit a range of behaviors, including a pervasive fear of abandonment, a strong desire for reassurance, and a tendency to avoid conflict at all costs. The condition can lead to negative self-talk and a constant need for validation. It’s essential to understand that RSD is not a deliberate choice or a sign of weakness; rather, it is a heightened emotional response rooted in the individual’s fear of rejection. Recognizing and addressing RSD is crucial for fostering healthier relationships and promoting emotional well-being.

Signs of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

RSD has lots of different signs and symptoms. Here are some of the most common.

Intense Emotional Responses

Individuals experiencing RSD often have immediate and intense emotional reactions to situations that might seem minor to others. These reactions can include feelings of worthlessness, sadness, or anger. If you find yourself having disproportionately strong emotional responses to perceived rejection, it could be a sign of RSD.

Fear of Abandonment

A pervasive fear of abandonment is a hallmark of RSD. If you constantly worry about being abandoned by your partner, even in the absence of concrete evidence, it may be indicative of RSD.

Avoidance of Conflict

Individuals with RSD may go to great lengths to avoid conflict or disagreement in relationships. This avoidance is driven by the fear of rejection, and the person may suppress their true feelings or opinions to maintain harmony. This can lead to the erosion of boundaries and the accumulation of resentment between partners.

Need for Reassurance

If you find yourself constantly seeking reassurance from your partner or feeling a strong need for validation, it could be a manifestation of RSD. The fear of rejection may drive this constant need for affirmation.

Negative Self-Talk

RSD often leads to negative self-talk, where individuals internalize perceived rejection and criticize themselves harshly. If you catch yourself engaging in self-deprecating thoughts after moments of perceived rejection, it may be linked to RSD.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria in Relationships

RSD is characterized by an intense emotional sensitivity and extreme reactions to perceived rejection or criticism– even if the rejection isn’t real, the feelings surrounding it are. When dealing with RSD in relationships, it’s crucial to differentiate between genuine issues within the relationship and those triggered by the individual’s heightened sensitivity to rejection.

If you suspect that RSD may be impacting the way you communicate within your relationship, take a step back and look at the issues. Reflect on whether the challenges you’re facing are recurring patterns tied to rejection sensitivity. If you notice a consistent theme of intense reactions to perceived rejection, it may be indicative of RSD.

External input can also be extremely helpful for telling if your relationship problems are linked to RSD. One option is to discuss your concerns with trusted friends or family members. They can provide an external perspective on the dynamics of your relationship and help you discern whether the challenges are primarily linked to RSD or other underlying issues. Professional assessment can also help. Consider seeking the guidance of a mental health professional to assess whether the challenges in your relationship are related to RSD or other factors. Professional insight can offer clarity and a tailored approach to addressing specific issues.

Dealing with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria in Relationships

At its core, RSD is a communication and emotional dysregulation issue. There are several communication strategies and coping skills that can really help communication between a couple when RSD is involved.

Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Developing mindfulness and self-awareness is crucial in managing RSD. Pay attention to your emotional responses and the thoughts accompanying them. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can help you observe your emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapeutic approach that can be particularly effective in addressing RSD. It helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns, replacing them with more balanced and constructive thoughts.

Communication Skills

Enhancing communication skills is vital for navigating relationships when RSD is a factor. Learn to express your feelings openly and honestly, and encourage your partner to do the same. Effective communication can help address issues before they escalate.

An important skill to establish is the use of “I statements.” An “I statement” is a communication technique where individuals express their thoughts, feelings, and needs in a clear and assertive manner. It involves structuring statements in a way that focuses on one’s own perspective rather than making accusatory or blaming remarks. The format typically includes three components: expressing the feeling, describing the specific behavior, and communicating the impact of that behavior.

For example, instead of saying, “You always ignore me when I’m talking,” an “I statement” would be, “I feel unheard when I’m speaking, and it makes me feel disconnected.” Using “I statements” is very helpful when working through RSD, because they feel less accusatory. Accusatory language can exacerbate feelings of rejection for someone with RSD. “I statements” shift the focus from blaming the other person to expressing personal emotions and experiences, reducing the likelihood of escalating conflict and triggering intense emotional responses.

Establishing Boundaries

Setting clear and healthy boundaries is essential in managing RSD. Establishing boundaries not only protects your well-being but also provides a sense of security in the relationship. Communicate openly about your needs and expectations.

Building Self-Esteem

Work on building and maintaining a healthy self-esteem. Engage in activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment. Surround yourself with positive influences that uplift your self-worth.

Therapeutic Support

Seeking therapy, either individually or as a couple, can provide valuable tools and support in managing RSD. A mental health professional can help you explore underlying issues and develop coping strategies tailored to your specific needs.

If RSD is impacting your relationship and you want help working through it, don’t hesitate to contact the therapy team at Love Heal Grow. Our team of relationship experts has a lot of experience with communication issues of all kinds, including RSD. We also have a lot of experience helping neurodivergent people identify and work through their symptoms. RSD doesn’t mean you can’t have a great relationship– it just means you have to work on communicating. And that’s something every couple has to do! Reach out and get on our schedule today!


Love Heal Grow Relationship Therapy Center Sacramento

Free Relationship Therapy Starter Pack

*How to Find a Therapist

*What to Expect in Your First Appointment

*How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

*How to talk to your boss about going to therapy during the workday

*How to seek reimbursement for therapy from your PPO plan

*Over twenty pages of relationship and life stressor tips and exercises that it would usually take 10+ therapy sessions to cover.

Check your email!