Rejection Sensitivity is a strong reaction to perceived or actual rejection. It can often be triggered by fearing having done something tenuous wrong that another person will then act upon, or by the perception of negative feedback.
It often starts as a result to poor masking. Masking is a mechanism that neurodivergent people, such as autistic and adhders, use to seem like others, to fit in with the crowd and be accepted. The problem with this method is that neurodivergent person is not actually accepted, only their mask is.
When this fails and the person is rejected anyway, it triggers a spiral of “was it me”, “was it my mask”, “did they see the real me?” and “what do they want from me?”. Being seen behind the mask, not knowing how to fix the mask, and not understanding why you’ve been rejected is terrifying.
When it works, neurodivergent people can mistake themselves for the mask, or always feel empty, dishonest and false. Neurodivergent people can feel that they are what they produce and lose themselves in their identities such as work, rescuer and provider. These are all roles, and are not you.
When entering a group, the neurodivergent person wants to know what role they fulfil to “fit in”. What do you, the group, need? How will I be able to add value, so that you will value me? To decrease the risk of immediate rejection from the group, the neurodivergent person may bring gifts, services and work extra hard. It is not uncommon for the neurodivergent person to put so much work in, that they are doing the work of 2 or more people. Just don’t reject me!
Abusive people love to take advantage of this sensitivity and extra goods from the neurodivergent person.
Rejection Sensitivity is a thing. RSD aka Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, is not.
Rejection sensitivity comes with some cousins.
– Rejection sensitivity
– Imposter Syndrome
– Fear of Betrayal
– Fear of Abandonment
– FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
– Fear of Failure
– Fear of Being Alone
– Conflict avoidance
To manage each of these, people form “People Pleasing” behaviours, avoid ever pointing out someone else’s mistakes and take on far, far, far too much responsibility. Until the neurodivergent person collapses in exhaustion and experiences burnout.
The central error in this is mistaking your worth as your product – gifts, services and sacrifice.
Your worth is in you as a person, not what you do for others. You are a Human Being, not a Human Doing.
This reorientation of worth allows the Human to make mistakes without being a mistake, and from those mistakes, learn, grow and change.
This allows you to produce a reasonable amount, instead of a superhuman amount. After all, the person in the team who does the least is still getting paid just as much as you are.
This makes it easier to spot those who are abusing your generosity and cutting them off. This allows you to walk away from that toxic situation.
When a neurodivergent person begins to arc up with extra sensitivity from any of the above trigger situations, they can query themselves – am I experiencing Rejection Sensitivity? Then take a pause and separate the feeling of personal failure from the situation. You haven’t changed – the situation has.
Sometimes the neurodivergent person has made a mistake, and if so, it will be clear and obvious. We don’t lose friendships over subtle problems, and a person who claims we made a subtle or illogical and non-evidenced error is someone to be aware of – they are likely toxic and may also be abusive (take the opportunity to get out of that relationship). Once we have identified the error, what can we learn from it? Can we adapt and adjust our actions, plans etc to factor in this new information? How can we grow?
We have turned a mistake into a growth opportunity.
Learning how to identify toxic people is very important. The odds are that if you have a high rejection sensitivity response and it is frequently triggered, then you are likely “surrounded by arseholes (TM)” [a ‘diagnosis’ I sometimes give my anxious people in hostile social situations].
I find the red, amber, green flag system useful for doing evaluations of the person/people who trigger the Rejection Sensitivity.
Red flags are “red alert” style behaviours (double standards, moving goal posts, claims of error without evidence, faulting you for not reading their mind).
Amber flags are “wake up and take a close look” behaviours, where something seems off, but it isn’t clearly a red flag, but it might be. This is the time to take the rose tinted filters off our eyes and take a cold hard look. Is this odd behaviour an anomaly, or is it actually a trend? Everyone has the right to a bad day.
Green flags are indications that our relationship (work, intimate, friend) is on the green – aka good. Things like “does what they say”, “informs you of the important bits in a timely fashion”, “asks for reasonable things”, “believes you”, “has a single standard”, “understanding”.
Once you’ve started to learn about how to spot the toxic people, and that their behaviour isn’t your fault or responsibility, you can start to yeet the toxic people.
Then, with a bit of retraining, your Rejection Sensitivity can calm down.
There is a strong caveat here. Even after internalising the above, you can still struggle with rejection sensitivity. Two main causes for that is past trauma – get some trauma counselling; and an adrenaline/mood problem – investigate medication.
If you want, I can go into those two in more detail. For now though, see a professional.