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Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria & Imposter Syndrome, How Do We Fight Back?

Updated: May 24, 2022

The most prevalent questions I see from people with ADHD are:

How do I deal with Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria?

How do I deal with Imposter Syndrome?

We fight, that's how, we fight, and we keep fighting.

So let's start with some definitions

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short—failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.
Impostor syndrome is a term created by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It is used to describe high-achieving people who struggle to recognize their accomplishments. People with imposter syndrome live in fear of others finding out they are a fraud. Of course, they aren’t a fraud; their successes are a direct result of their hard work and effort.

Let me tell you a story about something I learned about how to deal with these issues.

A couple of years ago I worked with an ADHD Life Coach and she and I worked on a self-discovery process to help me figure out the positive things about myself. But not just the positive, but also the negatives that I thought about myself.

What did I love doing? What did I hate doing? Why?

What did I do well? What did I have a hard time with? Why?

What kind of parent, husband, friend was I?

And then she challenged me on every negative point I made, cheered on every positive I made, and throughout the process, we explored both.

“I’m a terrible friend. I forget to message my friends.”
“Do they say you’re a terrible friend?
“Then how do you know how they feel? Did you ask them?”
“Then stop making those assumptions and have discussions with them. Use your words.”
“I don’t work out enough because I feel like everyone is staring at me.”
“Are they though?”
“Are you really important enough that you’ve made that kind of impression on them while they are listening to their headphones running on a treadmill?”
“I’m too tired to work out. I hurt too much.”
“Is that true, or is it your mind lying to you?”
*pointed silence* “oh…”

What did I just learn? My mind was blown. With just those few push-backs, I learned something truly profound about ADHD and other issues that many of us face.

Our brains lie to us. Our brains LIE. TO. US. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.

Now that we know this, how do we fix it?

It’s something that we can’t do alone. It takes talking to a therapist, a coach, and working through a process of self-discovery. We have to work with someone who will challenge us and give us objective feedback, both positive and negative.

When you have ADHD, it is extremely hard to be objectively honest with ourselves. We think too much and we feel too hard. And those thoughts and feelings get wrapped up together, and it causes us to lose all objectivity. It’s why we have such a hard time being confident. We feel our insecurity more. We feel perceived criticism more.

In this self-discovery process, we build a list of all the positives about ourselves, the realistic limitations from our ADHD, and actual character flaws we have.

We identify the intrusive negative thoughts that come at us. We identify the triggers that can cause us to blow up, or to retreat into depression.

We use this process to make our self-affirmations, and we bludgeon the shit out of RSD and IS with them. We counter every negative lie, every intrusive thought, and every insidious insecurity with the objective knowledge we’ve gained.

Hulk smashing Loki with words of affirmation and positivity.
gif by Shane Thrapp *credit Disney/Marvel for clip

For me it’s:

I AM a good father.

I AM a good husband.

I AM a good friend.

I AM an excellent coach.

We use this process to understand what are actual character flaws that we have, and what are things we can not control that come from ADHD, Autism & their comorbidities. With character flaws, we have to own them, and we have to do our best to be better people. Because when we do make those mistakes, then that is more ammo for our minds to use against us. One negative action, even if assumed, will destroy the progress for 3 positive actions.

For the things that are from ADHD, Autism spectrum, or from comorbidities, we have to learn what healthy coping mechanisms to help with them. We fight the shame that we feel by having grace and forgiveness for ourselves for those things that are out of our control. We set boundaries to protect ourselves and those around us from the outbursts from the triggers that may happen. A therapist or coach can help us with this, but so can supportive family/friends or support groups.

But we aren’t done. Once we have these understandings, we need to communicate these things to those we love, our friends, our family, and sometimes, our workplace. We talk about the positives and negatives and we ask for feedback, to both validate the positives, and learn more about the negatives, even those we didn’t discover earlier. We advocate for ourselves about the things that we can not control, and ask for grace for those things out of our control.

But what about those character flaws? Well, we have to own them. We have to work on being better, and for those that we may have hurt around us, then we have to apologize and hold ourselves accountable for whatever pain we caused.

Our brains will tell us that we can’t ask for help, that we’ve caused too much pain, or that people will judge us. But the truth is, that if people love us, or respect us, then they will help us, they will forgive us if they can. When you communicate with someone about what you’re going through, their reaction will tell you everything you need to know about them. If they judge you unfairly, then they don’t love nor respect you and you need to evaluate whether they should be in your life.

So we have to live with those self-affirmations. Recognize that we can only work on what we can control, and work hard to challenge ourselves on our character flaws. And have patience, this isn't a short process, it's a life-long process that we have to continuously work on.

I know you feel this pain, the fear of rejection, the fear of not being enough. Let's work together and fight back against RSD & Imposter Syndrome.

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