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Rejection sensitive dysphoria and dating doesn’t get talked about often, although it should. What speaks more to the power of rejection than heartbreak? What can leave us crying and confused more easily than a lover who leaves us for good? There are many rejections in life, but rejection by a significant other is one of the most difficult to handle, rejection sensitive dysphoria, or not.
Rejection sensitive dysphoria, much like ADHD, touches every portion of our lives. We can’t leave it hanging in the closet when we head out of our homes. It is there, like an unwanted tag along, annoying us and wreaking havoc on our mental health and our emotional health. How do we manage our social lives when we are fearful that our rejection sensitivity may keep us from forming relationships with healthy individuals?
Rejection sensitivity, much like social anxiety can leave us fearful of forming new relationships with people. After all, once one has been rejected romantically by a person they truly cared for, how could they not have a fear of being hurt again? ADHD relationships can be complicated, but worthwhile. While being afraid is normal, rejection sensitivity can make us upset enough that we can cause our relationships to fail before we even get started. That is not what you want to do. Here are some tips to help you date without being beaten up by your own fear of rejection.
Being rejected is a normal part of dating and cannot be avoided
I know you want to do the date and leave the don’t behind, but this isn’t going to happen. There will always be someone who doesn’t want to swipe their way into our hearts. People are going to ghost you. They won’t reply to your text messages in a timely fashion. Rejection and the pain that comes along with it is a normal part of dating. Because it is an inevitable part of dating, you’re going to need to prepare for the idea in advance. This is all a learning process, and there are times in our lives when we are feeling more vulnerable or fragile. In those times, it may not be a time for us to date. Remember, you want to be dating from a place of emotional stability. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until you are in some perfect ideal place before you can ask someone out, just be aware of where you are emotionally and you’ll be able to decide if this is a solid time to start something romantic.
Taking things very slowly is the safest route
When you are sensitive to rejection, but also impulsive, that can sometimes equal a recipe for disaster. ADHD is screaming at us to go all in, take the risk, and “live a little.” Rejection sensitive dysphoria is telling us that we are going to get hurt really bad. Neither one of these is the correct approach. When you are dating, because of the impulsivity and inattention, and emotional regulation issues that relationships with ADHD can bring, you want to give yourself the gift of going slow in your relationships. This gives you time to get acclimated, observe their behavior, determine how well your personality interacts with theirs, and make an educated decision on whether this relationship is worth the time and the risk involved. There is no specific time limit on how long this can take, it could be a few months, or even longer. That doesn’t mean you have to take the spontaneity and joy out of dating, I promise. It just means that you shouldn’t go to Vegas drunk and get married, and you shouldn’t assume that they are going to leave you heartbroken and unable to go on. Those are extreme, and neither one is accurate in all likelihood.
Reframe rejection to what it actually could be
The thing about having rejection sensitive dysphoria means that we can perceive rejection even when it is not there. When we are aware of these tendencies in ourselves, we are able to be more intentional in asking ourselves if what we are perceiving is actually rejection or if it is something we may be triggered by that is actually not happening. Psychology Today, in their article, How Rejection Sensitivity Derails Relationships, very helpfully suggests we reframe those thoughts for our own good, stating ” For example, instead of viewing an argument as catastrophic, they might remind themselves that some degree of conflict is a normal part of most relationships.” This isn’t a fail-proof method, but it doesn’t have to be. If this can help you to avoid conflict that is flared by sensitivity to rejection, it will help you to keep things going smoothly.
Remember: you need to like them, too
Rejection sensitive dysphoria can cause us to focus so much on whether someone likes us, we can forget to decide if we like them. Instead, we become focused on what we are doing to attract them. When you are worrying incessantly if you are saying or doing something to drive them away, how are you supposed to know if you want to keep them around? Deep breaths, darling. Take this time to look at THEIR behavior. Do you enjoy your date’s company? Do you all have anything in common? Are they a good conversationalist? You need to know how they work with you just as much as you need to know if they like you for real. If you can start to focus on this, it could take your attention off whether you’re being rejected or not.
Decide what parameters feel normal when you are NOT triggered
Here’s what I mean by that. Do you feel like a normal time for a text to be answered is a few hours or is a day reasonable? How long is too long in between dates? For a returned phone call? All of those are normal expectations to have, but you really need to decide on those parameters when you are not feeling neglected and rejected. When your RSD is triggered, you can convince yourself that someone you care about actually doesn’t care about you at all. When we react out of being triggered by RSD, we don’t always make the right decision. I have accused people of trying to hurt me when they weren’t. I’ve thought that people’s feelings for me changed when nothing had changed at all. I have had to eat crow because I overreacted when I was emotionally compromised. I HATE eating crow.
Now, I do not address someone over something that has triggered my RSD until the flare has gone away, and I have had times to consider the facts unemotionally. It isn’t always easy, but neither is being embarrassed by an overreaction. If you have chosen what seems normal to you, it is much easier to look back on when you’re feeling triggered. For instance: “I know I’m feeling bad because I haven’t gotten a text back in a few hours, but it is perfectly normal for this person to take _______ amount of time before getting back to me. This is not rejection, this is normal behavior.” And yes, I know you hate having to do that. I know it makes you feel badly over your sensitivity. Here’s the thing: do it anyway. You’ll thank me when it saves your ass.
Create a contingency plan for if you become triggered
Having your rejection sensitive dysphoria triggered can be difficult to bear, especially when you’re not alone. Consider the fact that rejection sensitive dysphoria is your mind in crisis. Just as we prepare for a fire or a flood, or any other emergency, consider preparing for what you do in the event of your RSD being triggered. My favorite, to be perfectly frank, is to look at my phone, say something has come up, and I have to leave and go. I also make it a point to go to the majority of the places I am going in my own car so that I don’t feel trapped and forced to stay as often as I possibly can. What’s your contingency plan for if you become triggered with your potential date there? Many of us live in mortal fear of being triggered in front of them because they feel like the outbursts that can come are embarrassing. It is perfectly normal to feel that way, but also consider that as your relationship deepens, they are going to need to be aware of how RSD plays a role in your life. After all, you want to be certain you are with someone who understands you. You do not want to conceal your rejection sensitive dysphoria, you just want to be certain that you aren’t exposing yourself emotionally to someone until you know they are worthy of being that close to you.
Have a neutral party as a sounding board
Here’s the thing: because rejection sensitive dysphoria can throw our perception off from time to time, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have someone we trust to talk these things over with. You need a friend who has good judgment, and a solid understanding of RSD to talk to when you feel like you may be overreacting. Lay out the situation for them, let them know why you’re upset, and ask them to give their honest view on whether or not this seems serious. Of course, as you know, the final decision is yours, not theirs. It is perfectly ok to ask for someone else to examine a situation for you. It is NOT ok to expect them to make your romantic decisions for you. Having someone with good perception and the ability to see problems from all sides can be extraordinarily helpful when you’re feeling triggered by your RSD.
It is normal to be nervous and cautious
Every time you feel nervous or wary it doesn’t mean that your RSD is going to be triggered. Over time it is easy to begin to believe that rejection sensitive dysphoria has been triggered every time we feel a twinge. That can really cause us to live in fear, and I recommend that you don’t allow that fear to sink in. If it does, it can take you to a place where you no longer trust your instincts. The only time your perception is off is when you are triggered. Any other time, you are perfectly capable of using your own thoughts and intuition to make a decision. In fact, you NEED to use your intuition when you’re dating. Does something feel off? Do you see some red flags that are giving you pause? Don’t doubt yourself. You know what you feel and when things don’t feel right. You’re allowed to feel nervous, and you are allowed to be cautious when you feel like something doesn’t pass the smell test.
Work on your issues with rejection in therapy
Some rejections are easier to get past than others are. Sometimes what we think is rejection sensitivity is actually trauma. Have you been to therapy? If not, it is really time to sit down and talk with someone. Traumatic experiences can cause us to be more hypersensitive to rejection as well. As we work our way through trauma and establish healthy habits, we can reduce the number of triggers we experience. Being able to talk with a therapist will also give you the opportunity to come up with even more coping strategies to help you date in a healthy way.
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Dating with rejection sensitivity can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Have you found a way to date despite your rejection sensitive dysphoria? What is your favorite coping strategy for when RSD rears its ugly head? Let me know in the comments.
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