Does Criticism Affect You Too Much? You Could Have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Humans are hardwired to seek belonging and avoid social rejection, but for some, that response is amplified. Fear of rejection can lead to intense anxiety, social isolation, and an unhealthy need for validation from others. That's what it can feel like to have rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD).

According to Choosing Therapy, RSD isn't an officially recognized diagnosis, but it's a very real experience nonetheless. When a person with RSD detects rejection — whether real or imagined — they often find it difficult to regulate their emotions or function normally after. It's like their system goes into overdrive, experiencing criticism as a dangerous and unbearable threat.

As clinical psychologist and best-selling self-help author Dr. Andrea Bonior told Health, everyone falls somewhere on the rejection sensitivity spectrum. "But when [rejection sensitivity] gets to the point of 'dysphoria,' that means that it is extreme enough to cause distress that makes a negative impact in someone's daily life or impairs them in some way," she added. If that sounds familiar, you could have RSD. Here are the factors that might cause the condition and how you can stop feeling crippled by criticism.

These conditions could explain your sensitivity to rejection

While anyone can experience rejection-sensitive dysphoria, the experts at Choosing Therapy believe that some groups are more likely to notice symptoms of it than others. This includes those who have a history of childhood neglect and abandonment or past relationship trauma (like painful partner betrayals or a pattern of dissolved friendships). Though everyone has experienced rejection at some point, you may have been more impacted by these events if you struggle with RSD and feel every mild criticism as though you're experiencing the trauma all over again.

Some developmental and mental health conditions are also thought to coincide with RSD. For instance, people with depression, anxiety, autism, and some personality disorders may be at a higher risk of RSD symptoms.

RSD is perhaps most commonly linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Medical News Today explains that ADHD might interfere with emotional regulation, making individuals with the condition especially likely to be impacted by RSD. Moreover, ADHD may cause people to act impulsively or in ways deemed socially inappropriate, which can make rejection an all-too-common experience for those with ADHD. Though there's some evidence that ADHD and RSD go hand in hand, more research is needed to better understand the connection.

Here's what to do if you think you have RSD

Living with untreated RSD can lead to unhealthy behaviors and coping strategies that could make symptoms worse. For example, you might adopt people-pleasing tendencies, self-sabotage relationships in an attempt to control the rejection, or avoid socializing altogether (via Choosing Therapy). These behaviors can make perceived rejections feel even more painful and isolating.

To get a handle on your response to criticism, try reframing the situation. Matt Lundquist, a psychotherapist, told Prevention that it can help to ask yourself questions like, "What can you learn about what didn't work in the relationship?" That way, you see the rejection as an opportunity for personal development. You can also take a step back and consider if the rejection wasn't a rejection at all. You may have misinterpreted the other person's actions or zeroed in on negative feedback.

If you still find yourself feeling emotionally revved up whenever you sense rejection, work on managing your stress levels. Healthline suggests practicing self-care like exercising. Remember, however, that RSD is often associated with other conditions that may require specialized treatment. If you feel overwhelmed or notice signs of coexisting conditions, like depression, visit a doctor or therapist to get the support you deserve.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.