Sensitivity to rejection - a common feature of ADHD

Published on 18 May 2023 at 00:33

Rejection-sensitivity in ADHD

All of us can suffer emotional pain when we feel rejected or rebuffed or overlooked. For some people, however, this pain is more severe, with a continual monitoring of any interaction and a tendency to perceive rejection on the basis of very minimal (or even non-existent) cues. Rejection can be felt if a response is subtly less effusive than is wanted, or if the right words or body language are not used, or if there is a delay in the response (for example, to text messages). For some, feeling rejected is the default position. The fear of rejection may also be intense and pervasive.

In such cases, the continual experience of narcissistic injuries – wounds to self-esteem from slights, put-downs, and rejections – is a dominating feature of life. Fear of such experiences can make relationships an emotional minefield.

This rejection-sensitivity can often be found in those with ADHD and is part of the proneness to shame often associated with this condition. It may reflect a more general difficulty in regulating and managing emotional experience. For those with ADHD, emotional pain tends always to be intense since it is not modulated and cushioned by the neurobiological processes available to others. Another factor may be that people with ADHD can be deficient in the pleasure-mediating aspects of the brain, partly due to abnormalities in the availability of certain neurotransmitters. This neurobiology may lead the person to feel unloved – attributing the internal brain state to an external cause (being unloved).

The rejection-sensitivity may also mean the person is continually in search of an intensity of connection with others – and a tendency to seek out emotional drama. Lower-key expressions of love and affection may fail to satisfy.

Another aspect of this is that for some people the pain of rejection does not subside over time in the way it does for most people. The pain remains as raw as ever, although there may be avoidance of recalling or thinking about it.

It can be helpful for those with ADHD to understand these aspects of their own neurobiology and the emotional states thereby generated – and thus to counter the tendency to perceive rejection where there is none. Energy psychology modalities can be used to alleviate the continuing pain of previous experiences of rejection throughout life.