Watch Out for Rejection Sensitivity

People with ADHD tend to have something called rejection sensitivity or rejection sensitive dysphoria. Watch out for this!  

What is rejection sensitivity?

It’s the tendency to perceive a situation negatively, when in reality it is not meant to be negative at all. It can lead to significant anxiety or low self esteem. 

For example

An example of this may be that you attempt to text a friend multiple times. There may be many reasons they don’t reply, but you automatically assume they’re mad at you or don’t value your friendship. Even after hearing that their phone died or they didn’t have it with them, you still may feel that their delayed response was somehow due to them not wanting to answer your text.

Stress response

When you have ADHD, your nervous system overreacts to things from the outside world. Any sense of rejection can set off your stress response. This leads to an emotional reaction that is out of proportion to the situation. Sometimes whatever really occured was not a negative thing at all, but your reaction to it is negative. 

Symptoms of rejection sensitivity. Learn to recognize them so you can work on it.

Why does this happen?

It’s estimated that the typical 12 year old with ADHD has received 20,000 more negative messages than other kids their age.

They are constantly reminded that they’re not on task.

Chores are often forgotten.

Homework is lost.

They may interrupt others and speak without a filter.

Sitting quietly without constant movement is expected in certain situations, but very difficult for many kids with ADHD.

Each of these situations is due to all of the executive functioning shortcomings, not intentionally bad behavior. But the scoldings and reminders make kids feel like they were bad. All that criticism can take a real toll on their self-esteem.

Over time people who are chronically made to feel like they didn’t meet expectations grow more sensitive to all situations. They might attempt to be perfect in what they do to cover up real or perceived shortcomings. Since it’s impossible to always be perfect, they fail, which serves to further lower their self esteem.

What does low self esteem look like?

When people experience repeated failures to do things as expected, they may lose the drive to try. They often give up. This can look like laziness, which can lead to more shame. 

Only when people who are affected in this way are guaranteed success will they even try. There aren’t many situations in life that we’re guaranteed anything, so this can be a big problem.

Many people are afraid to ask for help when needed, so they simply don’t do perceived difficult tasks. Some children fail to do homework because they’re ashamed to ask for help when they don’t understand it. Parents may mistake this for willfully not doing homework or being lazy, which isn’t the case. Often kids wish to do the work, but they’re overwhelmed and too embarassed to get help.

Some people try to overcompensate and show more confidence than they have. They might state that they are really good at something when they don’t really believe it. The overconfidence can backfire when it hurts someone else’s feelings or when they fail to live up to the set expectation. People can simply view their statements as bragging. No one wants to be around someone who thinks they’re better than others. The irony is that in this situation, the person really doesn’t think that. They have a low self esteem and are overcompensating or simply trying to hide their fears about themselves. 

How does this affect relationships?

It’s not surprising that rejection sensitivity leads to a lot of problems within relationships. 

Blaming

Many people with very low self esteem attempt to blame others for all of their problems.

They are unable to accept responsibility for their shortcomings. This prevents them from learning from their mistakes.

It of course also affects how the other person feels – which isn’t good.

No one wants to stay around someone who makes them feel bad, so it can strain relationships.

Drive people away

With the texting example above, if you accuse your friend of not valuing your friendship, they will be annoyed. Maybe not at first. With the first occurance, they might simply blow it off and say you’re being silly. But if you consistently treat them like they need to be at your beck and call because you get angry or jealous when they’re not, they’re likely to get tired of it. They’d have every reason to ask for space and intentionally stop making plans to do things with you. 

Jealousy

Dating relationships can be even more affected, since it’s a one on one situation. Many people with rejection senstivity easily get jealous. If their boyfriend/girlfriend talks to someone, they might misinterpret the situation and jump to the conclusion that they’re cheating with – or at least have a crush on – the other person. Relationships should be based on trust, but when there’s jealousy, all trust is lost.

When a person gets jealous easily, they often become very controlling. This can lead to emotional abuse of the partner. It brings forth negative emotions in both people in the relationship. It isn’t healthy to stay in relationships like this. Even if you really care for one another, it is important that everyone in a relationship is safe and respected. 

Failed relationships

It is not uncommon for people with ADHD to have more failed relationships (including marriages) than people without ADHD. This is not exclusively due to rejection sensitivity, but rejection sensitivity certainly plays a part. Recognizing this trait and working to improve self esteem and decrease the rejection sensitivity can help with maintaining strong relationships. 

What can be done to treat rejection sensitivity?

Recognize it 

The first step in treating this is recognizing what is going on when your extreme negative emotions are driving your thoughts and actions. If people tell you you’re being too sensitive, reflect on it with an open mind. Don’t just get angry, blame others, or avoid the issue.

Treat your ADHD

Treating the underlying ADHD can help some of the issues with rejection sensitivity, but not all of the symptoms.

Impulsive behaviors can exacerbate the emotional response to a perceived negative situation. Controlling the impulsivity appropriately can help with the response directly, as well as to help preserve your self esteem by allowing you to think before acting and speaking.

Improving your focus can help you be successful in completing tasks without rushing through them. Again, this helps to preserve your self esteem because you achieve success. 

If you don’t think your ADHD symptoms are properly managed, talk to your parents and your doctor.

Talk to others

It’s important to not hide or cover up your negative thoughts and concerns. Doctors, therapists, and loved ones can help if they can be told what is going on in a way that helps the understand. Too many people are afraid to talk about why they stop trying, are negative or jealous, and about their overall low self esteem. Many might not even realize what is going on and why they feel like they do, but if the above list of symptoms reminds you of yourself, talk to someone you trust about it.

If the person you tell is not familiar with rejection sensitivity, they might not understand what you’re trying to tell them. Please don’t let that knock down your self esteem even more because they don’t understand. Show them this post and and other information about rejection sensitivity. Help them learn rather than accepting their ignorance and going further down in your own self esteem. Talk to your doctor, a school counselor, or a therapist. If they don’t know about the condition, show them the resources you have too.

Accept yourself for who you are

Learning to accept yourself for who you are – faults and all- can be difficult for anyone, but it’s possible.

Focusing on the positives can help.

Take the time each day to think about and write down what you’re grateful for from that day.

Also write down the things you did that day that made you proud or accomplished. Don’t focus on the tasks that you haven’t finished – think about all the parts you have done.

Humor can be a good healer

Learn to use humor when situations get tough. It’s okay to laugh at situations to help avoid negative thinking.

Don’t forget to learn from the situation, but keeping the mood light helps to not have negative self talk.

Medications

Rejection sensitivity is sometimes treated with medications such as guanfacine and clonidine (both are blood pressure medicines now approved to treat ADHD), and MAO inhibitors.

These treatments should be discussed with and managed by a physician knowlegable in this treatment.

How To Get A Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is correlated with success more than intelligence is predictive of success. So how do you get this growth mindset?

Did you know your brain can learn to change the way it works? It doesn’t just learn the new information you study at school. Our brains are able to change and adapt. You can learn to use your brain to your benefit through developing a growth mindset.

What’s a growth mindset?

You're in charge of your mind. Carol Dweck

The concept of fixed and growth mindsets was introduced by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in 2007. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, discussed this new way of thinking about how we think.

Of course, Yoda knew this long ago…

Fixed Mindset

Per Dr. Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe that people’s intelligence and abilities are static and outside their control. In contrast, those with a growth mindset know that intelligence is dynamic. We know that the brain is able to change based on experiences and efforts.

Some kids worry that they don’t have enough.

Not enough intelligence.

Or enough skill.

This is the fixed mindset.

Young Luke Skywalker was suffering from a fixed mindset. Yoda, the wise master, told him there is no try. He was pushing Luke to have a growth mindset.

Growth Mindset

Some kids grow up thinking that they can do anything if they just work hard at it.

They don’t worry if they’re smart enough or skilled enough.

These kids know that if they work hard, they have a chance. This is a growth mindset.

Who succeeds in life?

You know what? Studies show that intelligence doesn’t matter as much as grit.

People with a growth mindset have grit and resilience. They are more successful in life.

Even people who are very gifted intellectually can fail to succeed if they stop trying. They often start off in school finding that it’s easy, so they don’t need to learn study skills early on. When academics become challenging, they don’t know how to learn. They can easily get frustrated and give up if they’ve relied on being smart and lived with a fixed mindset.

Many people with ADHD develop a fixed mindset because they so often struggle with everything. They focus on getting a good outcome, but they fail to see the benefit to the process of trying. The good news is that they can learn to succeed if they change their mindset!

How can you get a growth mindset?

Okay, so it’s obvious that a growth mindset is better than a fixed mindset, but how do you get one?

Look at your way of thinking

When you face a challenge in daily life and you want to quit (or just not start), ask yourself what’s going on.

Really stop and think.

  • Is there a voice telling you that you can’t do it?
  • Does it say you’re not good enough?
  • Is the little voice telling you that it’s someone else’s fault?

This little voice is your fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset is when we believe our intelligence, attributes and abilities are fixed and unable to change.

If you listen to this little voice, you will stop before even trying.

This voice holds you back. It keeps you from achieving your goals and dreams. You’ll never know your full potential if you listen to it and quit.

Quitters never win. Winners never quit.

When we have a fixed mindset, we constantly feel the need to prove ourselves. It leaves us vulnerable and highly sensitive to being wrong or making a mistake. When we have this mindset, any failure or mistake destroys our self confidence. This leads to being anxious and keeps us from learning from constructive criticisms and mistakes.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Choose to ignore that little voice

Once you recognize that the little nagging voice is your fixed mindset, you can learn to ignore it.

A growth mindset allows us to understand that our talents and abilities can be improved and developed.

Dreams don't work unless you do. John C Maxwell

If your fixed mindset voice is telling you that you can’t do it, think of how you can.

Is a big task overwhelming? Break it into several smaller task and get started on the first one. Small tasks seem manageable. And after doing one, you can move on to the next. Before you know it, the whole thing is done!

Instead of saying…

“I’m not very good at this.” or “This is too hard.”

Say…

“This is really hard for me. I need to keep practicing.”

Celebrate the hard work

Remember all the times you weren’t sure if you could do something, but you did it?

Even if it wasn’t perfect, you did it!

If you don’t even try, you can’t succeed.

How can you start whatever needs to be done? What tools do you need? Are there resources you can use? Is the size of the task intimidating? Can you break it down into smaller parts?

Maya Angelou

Instead of thinking you’re not good enough, think about what you can do to be good enough.

Know that you are able to solve problems. You can grow from doing anything you set your mind to doing!

If you can dream it, you can do it. Walt Disney

 

Keep track of progress

Keep a notebook or electronic file of all the things your fixed mindset said were not possible to do but you were able to get them done.

Include your successes as well as the times you tried but didn’t quite meet your goal. They can be celebrated for the process of doing, even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.

“What can I learn from this? What will I do next time I’m in this situation?”~ Carol Dweck

You can learn a lot even when you don’t quite meet your goal. Think about what happened when you didn’t quite get what you wanted – usually it’s not that bad.

Be sure to not get lost in the goal itself, but the process of how you got there. There’s a lot of good learning that comes from the process.

Mistakes are always forgivable, if you have the courage to admit them. Bruce Lee

Maybe you didn’t get an A on that really hard project, but you learned something about the topic. Maybe you didn’t see it at the time, but you learned organizational skills or research tips from the process.

Sometimes the best teacher is a mistake – as long as you evaluate what happened and use it as a learning experience. You can take all the things you learned with you when you work on your next project.

Your best teacher is your last mistake. Ralph Nader

It’s the effort you put in to a project that helps you learn. The outcome if things work well or not really is less important. Focus on how you problem solve and your determination to continue, even when things are hard. That’s what helps you to strengthen your growth mindset.

Exercise your brain

Your brain is like a muscle: the more you use it, the better it gets. Each time you’re faced with the negative little voice of a fixed mindset, you need to challenge it with positive thinking.

The more you practice this, the easier it gets. It might never be your first line of thinking, but you can always choose to think with a growth mindset.

Want more?

Growth versus fixed mindsets are explained in this short video from TedEd.

This is a FANTASTIC inspirational video. Take the time to watch The Wisdom of a 3rd Grade Dropout.

The power of grit:

5 Self Confidence Boosters Part 2: Be Positive

Wow… all of that on negativity in Part 1 was a downer. Important stuff, but it can bring us down. Let’s turn to being more positive. The power of positive thinking is amazing! Many people with ADHD have trouble staying positive. They have so many struggles, they often find it hard to feel positive.

Turn that frown upside down!

That’s a popular phrase for a reason. When we act happy, it’s easier to feel happy.

Remind yourself to be positive.

If being happy isn’t your nature, give yourself some prompts. Put sticky notes around that remind you to be positive.

Post positive reminders - the more you see it, the more you'll believe it!
Post positive reminders – the more you see it, the more you’ll believe it!

Some suggestions for your sticky notes:

“I’ve got this.”

“I can write this paper.”

“I’m a good friend.”

“I am smart.”

Basically whatever negative thoughts cloud your mind, counter them with positive words.

Just like when you’ve heard a million times that you’re not good enough, so you start to believe it, when you see these positive messages, you start to believe them.

Post positive messages. Read them. Start to believe them.

Do what you love.

Think about all the things you love to do. They are the things that naturally make you happy and put you in a positive mindset.

Sports… Dance… Art… Music… Reading… Writing… Running…

Whatever it is that you love, as long as it’s safe and healthy for you, schedule time in your day to do it. Sometimes we get so busy with the things we have to do, we don’t ever get around to doing what we want to do.

Schedule both. Get the things you need to do done, then do the things you want to do.

You know what’s great? Despite the fact that people with ADHD have a hard time focusing on many things, they can often hyperfocus on what they enjoy.

By doing the things you enjoy, you may benefit from being able to really focus. Doesn’t that make you feel good?

Surround yourself with positive people.

Surrounding yourself with positive people helps you stay positive. It makes sense, right?

When we’re around negative people, they bring us down. That’s why we try to avoid them. Their negative outlook and comments don’t help us and actually inhibit us from going forward.

The opposite is true. When we’re around positive people, their positivity can rub off on us. Let the power of positivity rub off on you!

Be grateful.

Take a moment each day to think about what was good about the day.

Go one step further and write it down.

What should you write? Anything that you’re thankful about.

  • That person who smiled at you at just the right time today.
  • The teacher who hinted at a pop quiz to give you time to review notes.
  • Perfect weather for your outdoor adventure.
Why bother writing it down?

Writing it down forces us to think of something concrete rather than just the vague, “I’m thankful for stuff.”

This helps us really think about what is good in our life. You don’t want to write the same thing every day. Yes, I’m grateful that I have a warm home and food on the table, and I shouldn’t take those for granted. But writing things down will help me expand to the little things that might otherwise get missed.

It also reinforces the thought in our mind and strengthens it. Just like when you take notes while studying you reinforce that information, writing your gratitudes daily helps to reinforce them in your mind.

It’s also a great resource to review when everything seems wrong in our lives. If everything seems to be against you, take a minute to review your list of things you’re grateful for. That can be an immediate pick-me-up!

Go one step further…

Tell the people who helped with your daily gratitude that you’re thankful for them and why. It just might make their day!

This doesn’t have to be a long letter like people of generations past used to do. It can be a quick phone call. Or even a text. Just a word of thanks!

The power of positive thinking is amazing! Learn how being positive can boost your self confidence and self esteem.
The power of positive thinking is amazing!

Stay tuned for next week…

Come back next week to learn how finishing tasks can help boost your self confidence. And more importantly, how to finish those tasks!