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 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.

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.

Celebrate all you do, even the little things! It can help build self esteem.

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.

5 Self Confidence Boosters Part 3: Finish tasks

Finish tasks?

Finishing tasks gives a feeling of accomplishment and raises our self confidence!
Finishing tasks gives a feeling of accomplishment and raises our self confidence!

Yes, even people with ADHD can complete tasks. When we finish whatever we start, we gain a feeling of accomplishment. It’s great!

Remember that procrastinating doesn’t get anything done. So stop talking about everything you need to do. Stop doing distractions. Start doing what needs to happen.

How in the world can someone who has executive functioning problems ever complete tasks on time… and remember to turn things in?

Keep a planner.

Yeah, I know. Your grade school teacher made you keep a planner and you hated it.

But they can help so much!

There’s something to a paper planner that helps many people organize more than the calendar in your smart phone. You can use that too, but putting things in your planner can help you visualize it better.

Finish the most important tasks first!
Finish the most important tasks first!

You can write all your assignments in your planner and even break them down so that different parts should be complete at different times. (Even if your teacher just has one due date – you can break it up and make it more manageable.)

Don’t forget to add all the other “stuff” you have to do, such as practice or work. And don’t forget leave out time for family, friends, exercise and sleep!

Get in the habit of looking a week ahead and then refreshing your memory each morning.
Get in the habit of looking at your calendar for the week ahead and then refreshing your memory each morning.

Put everything in the planner, so you can schedule time accordingly.

If you forget that you have late rehearsal on Wednesday and a big test on Thursday, that will put a crimp in study time. If you can see that on your weekly preview, you can put in a little more study time Tuesday and then a shorter study time Wednesday will be enough for the test.

Use a white board.

Using a white board is effective for many people.

Some people like to also use a white board to keep the big assignments and important goals in one place.

It’s a visual reminder of the big things that need to get done. You can even make a place for goals and positive messages.

Color code things so you can easily see things that are related by categories you choose.

Some people like check boxes to be able to check off what’s done!

Remove distractions.

It goes without saying that there are a lot of distractions in our world. Many we can’t control, but there are some that we can.

De-clutter.

If you’re a neat freak and your workspace is cluttered, quickly de-clutter it before you start to work.

Quickly is the key. Don’t use this as a means of procrastination.

The phone.

Doing any task that is not interesting to us (and even some that are) is harder when our phone is around. Even if the notification sound is turned off, it’s a temptation to just check what people are up to. Or play a quick game. Or post a quick selfie.

They’re all really quick, right?

It doesn’t matter. They all interrupt our focus, so they need to not happen.

Put your phone in another room.

I know many will insist that they use their phone as an alarm clock or for background noise.

You know what?

You can buy a kitchen timer for under $5. Or you can get an alarm clock that you can use to get you out of bed for under $10 and use for both circumstances. Your parents might even have one on a nightstand that is in working order.

Turn off notifications.

If you’re working on your computer, turn off notifications so that annoying box doesn’t keep popping up telling you of a new message. No one needs that distraction! The message will be there when you’re done.

Reward yourself when you’re done by checking your phone.

Schedule breaks.

It’s hard for anyone to stay focused for hours of anything.

Make a goal to work for 50 minutes (or whatever you can reasonably tolerate and still get things done). Set a timer to go off in 50 minutes. When your timer goes off, get up and take a break.

Set a timer for your break for 5-10 minutes so you can get back to work when it’s time.

Exercise is a great way to refresh your brain, so do jumping jacks, jog in place or do a little yoga.

You might also need a snack. Brain food! Try to pair a fruit or vegetable with a protein source each snack. High carbohydrate snacks and fatty foods can make you tired. Not good when you need to focus! Try an apple with peanut butter, carrots and hummus or cheese and grapes.

Be sure to keep track of your timer for each step and repeat until you’re done for the day!

Accommodations.

Use fidgets if they help you stay focused.

Stand at your desk if your focus is improved.

Sometimes even pacing while reading can help – unless you work better taking notes as you read.

Sit on an exercise ball or pillow to allow movement.

Swing your legs or do other movements that most likely come naturally to you.

Use a friend.

Ask a friend to be your accountability partner. You can really help each other out.

Text tasks to each other so you can ask if they’ve done their tasks and they can ask if you’ve done yours. Text each other when they’re done.

Make it a challenge to see how many days in a row you can keep it up. Challenges have a way to help us keep up with things!

When you finish tasks, send a quick pic of your successes!

Background noise.

While it isn’t good to have great tunes that distract you, studies show that background noise can drown out the distracting sounds.

When you’re studying or working on a project, use your ceiling fan, a white noise machine or music on low volume to drown out the other noises.

Break it up.

Big tasks are overwhelming. Break them into several smaller tasks.

Put each part of the task in your planner and stick to the mini-deadlines.

Give yourself kudos each step of the way. When you finish a section of whatever you’re doing, give yourself a little praise. At the end of the task, reward yourself with something you enjoy.

Don’t forget to check off completed tasks. It feels so good to mark things DONE!

Check back next week!

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Next week we’ll discuss self care and how that helps us keep up our self esteem and confidence! If you missed how to decrease negativity in part 1 or how to be positive in part 2, be sure to check them out.

 

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!

5 Self Confidence Boosters Part 1: Stop Negativity

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.

Top 5 Self Confidence Boosters:

1. Stop Negativity
2. Be Positive
3. Finish Tasks
4. Self Care (The Big 3: Eat well, exercise, and sleep)
5. Help Others

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?

Wrong.

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.

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.

Practice.

It takes time, but it’s so worth the effort!

Try using this powerful trick.

Stop bringing yourself down.

There are things that many of us tend to do that make us feel sad.

Being alone…

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.

An excerpt from THE OLD CREAKY HOUSE: ONE WAY TO FIGHT DEPRESSION:

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.

Complaining.

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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Negative self talk can make everything seem worse. Learn to stop the negativity!
Negative self talk can make everything seem worse. Learn to stop the negativity!

Also recommended…

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.