People with ADHD tend to have something unofficially 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 them 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.
Did you know that helping others has been proven to make us feel better? This is the final post in a series of ways to gain confidence and feel better. It’s my personal favorite. When kids are little they often have a hard time believing that it’s better to give than it is to receive, but most of us learn that it’s true somewhere along the way.
Find ways that you can make a difference for someone else. It can be big or small. Everything counts.
The one caveat is you should do it to help others, not to help yourself. Part of the magic of how it works is that we’re putting someone else ahead of ourselves.
Find a cause you’re passionate about and work for that cause. There are many. If you aren’t sure how to commit your time, try a few short term commitments out to see how they work for you.
Another thing to remember is that everything should be done in moderation. If you overextend yourself with too much to do, you will become overwhelmed and be unable to do anything well. Make sure you reserve time to do the things you need to do: school work, eating healthy, exercise, and sleep.
Choose service opportunities that are important to you. Don’t do things just because someone asks you to do it. It’s okay to say “no” if it’s not the right thing for you to do. If you do things that are not right for you, you will more likely resent what you’re doing instead of enjoying the many benefits of it.
Stress management and resilience can be gained by helping those in need. When you see how others live, you have a better perspective on your own life. You can learn empathy, compassion and solidarity with others.
Once you learn first hand about others, you can help to dispel common myths and prejudices.
One of the big ways we grow through volunteering is through personal development. When you branch out and do something for others, you learn about yourself.
You may recognize how your actions impact others by seeing how they benefit from what you’re doing.
Sometimes you learn about resilience by seeing others in unfortunate circumstances being strong.
Leadership roles might need to be taken, which involves strong organization and communication skills.
You might need to use teamwork to finish a project. Many projects require problem solving skills – and people with ADHD tend to be great problem solvers!
Studies show that when we help others with their stressful situations, we help our own emotion regulation skills and emotional well being.
Whatever skills you learn in your volunteer work, you can bring with you. It might spark an interest for a career or just help you in your daily life.
Feeling of community.
When you volunteer with others, you may gain new friends and make connections with your community.
If you’re working in an area that interests you, you will find others with similar interests.
You will meet people you might otherwise not have the opportunity to get to know. Finding things in common or things to value about one another can help you learn about yourself and about relationships.
Being part of a group of volunteers can help you feel a part of the community. That connection can build self confidence and a feeling of belonging.
Helping others and doing good just feels good. It makes us happy to make others happy.
Volunteering means getting up and doing something. Too often we sit around and listen to music or play online. This isn’t good for our bodies.
Some volunteering is very active. If you’re cleaning an area, repairing or building a home or planting trees, you’re getting a lot of exercise.
Some volunteering is less physically active, but still active. Playing cards or bingo at a retirement center or stuffing envelopes is better than sitting in front of a computer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Please share it if you have, and comment on what you liked and didn’t like in it. What was missing? What has helped you the most over the years boost your self confidence?
Eat right, exercise, and sleep to keep up a healthy body and mind! I call these “The Big 3” things we all need to do to be healthy in mind and body. When we do The Big 3 properly, our self confidence and self esteem are improved.
What are The Big 3?
Eating right, exercise, and sleep.
Eat a nutritionally well balanced diet.
Malnutrition and hunger are not good for our focus. As if people with ADHD need any more problems with focus!
Start with a good breakfast. I know many teens aren’t into breakfast or just don’t have time for it, but make the time. Find foods that you can eat while getting ready or on the way to school. Examples are smoothies with yogurt, leftovers from dinner, a sandwich and a quesadilla.
Eat some protein and a fruit or vegetable every time you eat. Snack on baby carrots, bell peppers, or cucumbers with hummus after school. Or apples with peanut butter. Grapes and cheese. Strawberries with yogurt. You get the picture? A plant and a protein!
Many people feel that exercise helps their focus. Studies show that they’re right!
After sitting all day at school, do something active before you sit down to do homework. Your body needs the exercise and it will help make study time more efficient.
If you’re not into competitive sports, try other types of exercise. Go for a bike ride. Run. Dance. Swim. Just move!
Whatever you do, make it fun. Put it on your calendar and in your planner so it happens daily.
Sleep is under-appreciated in our society. It is not a time that you’re doing nothing. Your body and mind work hard while you’re sleeping to keep themselves healthy.
Teens need at least 8.5 hours of sleep each day. Even if you’ve reached your full height, your brain is growing until your mid-twenties. That means it still needs extra sleep compared to adults.
If you’re still growing, you might need 10-11 hours of sleep.
That’s hard when you also have activities, work, and homework. And when your circadian rhythm keeps you up until at least 11 pm but school starts at 7:30am. Not to mention the baseline problems people with ADHD tend to have falling asleep due to minds racing with amazing thoughts.
Exercise itself is one of The Big 3, but it also helps us sleep. Try to get your exercise in early in the day. Exercise can help tire your body so it can sleep well.
Avoid too much exercise within 2 hours of bedtime. This is not possible with some activities, I know. But exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to wind down.
Avoid caffeine and stimulants too close to bedtime.
Caffeine is one of the most commonly used substances to help us stay awake and focused, but it’s not always safe. It is habit forming. It’s also a stimulant, so can be especially problematic if you take a stimulant medicine. The additive effects of the two together can cause problems in some people.
Stimulants like adderall and ritalin are commonly used to treat ADHD, but should be used under the supervision of your physician.
If you use caffeine to help your focus or to stay awake, be sure to talk about the use with your doctor. This is especially true if you use a stimulant medicine, but even if you’re not. Relying on caffeine can be an indicator that you are self medicating something that could be better controlled with proper sleep or a prescription medication.
If you take a stimulant medicine, don’t take it too late in the day. Long acting medicines can last 8-16 hours. Short acting medicines last 3-4 hours. Know what you’re taking and when they tend to wear off. It’s unique to each person, but you can usually feel the effects wear off. If you take it too close to bedtime, it can cause sleep problems. For many teens, they can’t take a long acting medicine after 10 am or a short acting medicine after 6 pm, but how your medicine works in your body will be unique to you. Pay attention to when you feel the medicine wears off each day to learn how long it lasts for you.
Turn down lights.
Turn down lights 2 hours before bedtime. Your body needs darkness to make melatonin. Melatonin makes you feel tired and helps you fall asleep. Artificial lights keep the melatonin level from increasing, so you feel less tired.
Fluorescent lights, televisions, computers, cell phones, tablets and all other lighted things can affect your melatonin level.
Check out f.lux, a free program for PCs, Macs, iPhones, and androids that changes the screen lighting prior to bedtime to allow natural melatonin to rise if you must be on a screen close to bedtime. Must means you have to finish homework that you couldn’t do earlier. It does not mean checking social media or texting friends. It also doesn’t mean putting off homework until later because you just don’t want to do it after school. Work and scheduled activities are a good excuse. Procrastination isn’t.
If you want to take a supplement of melatonin, talk to your doctor.
Watch out for late night munchies.
Avoid eating (especially large meals) before bedtime. Again, I know this can be hard, especially if you have after school activities that keep you busy and make you hungry.
This is even more difficult if your daytime medicine makes you not hungry at lunchtime. Of course try to eat at least something with good calories mid day, but if you don’t eat a typical lunch, you’ll need to make up the lost calories after the medicine wears off. Be sure to not eat foods that bother your stomach while laying down too close to bedtime.
Do relaxing activities as part of your bedtime routine. These can include reading, taking a shower, coloring or listening to soothing music.
If thoughts keep you up, journal before climbing into bed. Journaling can help focus thoughts and allow your brain to stop thinking about them.
Relaxation exercises or deep breathing can help. Put a hand on your heart and on your abdomen. Try to keep your heart hand still while you take in a slow, deep breath. While you inhale count 4 counts and while you exhale count 8 counts. The deep breaths can make you feel tired, and the counting slowly helps keep your brain from racing thoughts.
Practice meditation every day. There are many mindfulness apps to try – and most are free. Once you’re used to using the technique (it’s great before doing homework) you can also use mindfulness at bedtime.
Set the stage.
Make your bed a place for sleep. Avoid doing homework on it. Let your body associate your bed with sleeping.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Use a fan to keep it cool and as a white noise.
Keep pets out of the bedroom. They tend to keep you up or wake you too early.
Ideally you’ll charge your phone in another room overnight to avoid late night distractions. If you must have your phone in your room, make sure no notifications will wake you. Resist checking it “one more time” as you go to bed because you know it will be several minutes of scrolling through things…
Stick to a schedule.
Keep your bedtime consistent.
Even if you can sleep in on weekends, try to go to bed within an hour of your usual bedtime. This schedule is important!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Do you feel like you’re the bad kid? Are you always getting in trouble for speaking out of turn or forgetting to turn in homework? Do you feel stupid because you make careless mistakes on tests? How can you boost your self-confidence? Negativity can get us down and hold us back, so stopping it is the first of the many ways we can boost our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Today is Part 1 of a 5 part series of how to build confidence. I hope you check back next week for more!
I’m starting with what many will find to be the hardest of the 5 ways to boost confidence. I like to get the hard stuff out of the way first. But I also think that negativity is one of the biggest problems for people with ADHD – and people in general.
Stop the Negativity.
Everyone says it, so it must be true?
When we hear over and over again that we’re not good because we forgot to do something or that we’re not doing a good job at whatever we’re supposed to be doing (like sitting quiet and still) we start to feel bad.
We assume everyone’s right that we’re not good enough or we’re stupid.
That’s human nature – we take on the beliefs of what we hear over and over again. People with ADHD are especially sensitive when it comes to things like this. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way they are. Or maybe it’s because after time and time of being told something, they just break down and start to believe it. It’s what everyone else thinks, so it must be right, right?
ADHD comes with many challenges, but most people with it are not bad or stupid. Some ADHDers try really, really hard… but it’s just too hard to stay focused, organized, still, and everything else that we’re supposed to do.
Stop the negative self talk.
When you start to believe in the negatives, you need to really consider if it’s true or not. Stop the negative self talk.
Pretend you’re talking to a friend instead of talking to yourself. We tend to be nicer and more forgiving towards others. We’re our own harshest critics. What would you tell a friend if you were trying to reassure him or her?
If you think ~
I’ll never finish this assignment on time.
I can’t write well.
Math isn’t my thing. I am never going to understand it.
Those kids will never like me. They won’t understand me.
Stop thinking those thoughts that you’ve probably had over and over in your mind. They aren’t facts. Think of the facts and what you can to about them.
Be careful. Feelings are much louder than facts. You really have to focus on what is factual and not just how you interpret things. This can sound really difficult, but try the exercise described in Don’t Think of Pink Elephants.
There are things that many of us tend to do that make us feel sad.
If we stay alone in our room, we tend to feel worse about things. I read this great analogy with a creaky house that helps to explain the issue. Read the whole thing from the hyperlink if you have time.
Depression is like a creaky house. It will creak and creak, no matter what you do. You’ll notice the noise more sitting quietly in your room. You’ll notice it less if you throw a party. Depression is similar – the feelings of sadness/guilt/apathy are likely going to keep on creaking (you can’t just “stop being depressed.”) However, you’ll notice them less if you keep yourself busy. And, sitting quietly in your room can make you feel even more sad/guilty – in this way, depression can be a vicious cycle. It can control your life, it can be a bully.
Instead of going to your room and closing the door, sit in the family room. Stay at the dinner table a little longer before jumping up to be alone. Make real conversations with people instead of texting. Connect with your friends and family.
When we complain about all the bad things (homework, that annoying kid in math class, how much work there is to do) we feel worse. Our brain is focusing on the negative, which just brings us down.
It also makes others not want to be around us. That adds to our low self-esteem.
Thinking and Rethinking what you did wrong.
We’ve all messed up. We do embarrassing things. Sometimes we fully intend to finish something, but then we’re distracted away and forget to return.
Use whatever the problems you’ve had as learning experiences. Stop blaming yourself. Don’t keep thinking on what you did wrong. Change the thinking into what you could have done instead to have things turn out better. Try that improvement next time.
Turning to negative habits.
Sometimes we feel so low that we want to try unhealthy ways to feel better. Some people try alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. Others try cutting or other harmful behaviors.
Unfortunately people with ADHD are more likely to have problem behaviors with drugs, alcohol, and other dangerous behaviors. The impulsivity, low self-esteem and risk taking behaviors that are common among people with ADHD put them at risk.
If you find yourself struggling with these issues, please talk to a trusted adult. Once these habits start, they’re really hard to break. Don’t try to handle it alone! Help is out there.
If you ever feel like you’d be better off dead or want to harm yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential help. 1-800-273-8255
Tune in next week…
Next week will not be so much of a down topic! It’s all about being positive.
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Anger and ADHD: How to Build up Your Brakes: Jessica at How To ADHD has some great tips on learning to control your anger and emotions. From her summary: Impulsivity is one of the main characteristics of ADHD, and building up our brakes is one of the most important things we can do. Here’s the science behind it and 5 things that help.