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Sensitive to Rejection? RSD and the ADHD Entrepreneur

Isn’t Everyone Sensitive to Rejection?

We’ve all been through high school. We felt the burn in our cheeks, the catch in our throat, the desire to hide under blankets because we felt rejected by some person or group. It’s just a normal thing that feels gross.

No one likes it. Who isn’t sensitive to rejection?

But for those of us blessed/challenged with ADHD it could be a little more…intense than that. On my podcast this week, I talked about it. And now I want to talk to you too.

It’s called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and it’s a real thing - particularly if you have ADHD. “Dysphoria” is a Greek word that means “hard to bear” and basically that’s what it is.

“People who have RSD don’t handle rejection well,” Webmd tells us, “They get very upset if they think someone has shunned or criticized them, even if that’s not the case.”

When you have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria you’re not just sensitive to rejection, your rejection monitor is turned up to 11. You see critique in harmless interactions. You interpret imperfect engagement as humiliating. You live in a sort of livewire state that brings a sense of regularly not measuring up.

It’s. Awful. Like high school…forever. Chilling.

But why are we talking about this Katie?

Welp, one of my specialties is working with ADHD entrepreneurs. Hell, I’m one myself. And RSD represents itself disproportionally in the ADHD community. So, if you’re an ADHD-preneur, that’s going to be a whole other level of ugh.

In this blog, I want to talk about how ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria relate. We’re going to ask the question, “do I have RSD?” We’re going to examine how it relates to your business. Most of all, we’ll talk about some ways to handle it and move forward.

Rejection Sensitivity and ADHD

Let’s be clear, this is a kind of a new idea - officially. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is just now beginning to be researched for real. A lot of studies note an intolerance for perceived critique in ADHD teens and adults, but it’s just now getting real focus.

That being said, the evidence - in the research and IRL - is showing that dysphoric rejection sensitivity and ADHD tend to travel together.


Well, it could be about the nervous system. “[H}aving ADHD does appear to raise your risk of RSD significantly,” says Psychology Today, “…one potential explanation is that the central nervous system tends to be triggered in different ways in those with ADHD.

In other words, the way we ADHD entrepreneurs absorb stimuli is a whole other kettle of fish.

There's also the fact that we’re also driven more by impulse and innovative thinking. That means we could be acting outside behavioral norms sometimes. This can set off a chain reaction of disorientation in the people around us, which feeds back to our brains as criticism.

Do I Have RSD?

So - wait a second - I don’t want to fall into the trap of acting like every person with ADHD is exactly the same. It’s worth asking if you even have Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria. Or are you just, you know, a little stressed by being turned down?

Here are some signs that you could be more than usually sensitive to rejection:

  • Do you feel anxious in social settings?

  • Are you humiliated at the drop of a hat?

  • Do you melt down when you feel like someone rejected you?

  • Do you set unrealistically high expectations for yourself?

  • When you think you’ve disappointed others, do you feel like a total failure?

  • Do you expect to be rejected by new people?

If you ticked many of these boxes - especially if you have ADHD - you might be struggling with a dysphoric sensitivity to rejection.

Rejection Sensitivity and Your Service-Based Business

When you're sensitive to rejection and run a service-based business, you’re in a bit of a pickle. Because you are the product. And people will say no.

That’s gonna feel extra personal.

When I work with my ADHD clients, rejection sensitivity has to be a go-to lesson. We have to get a grip on what the word No usually means.

Because what the lead is actually saying No to is the outcome you offer. Not you. Maybe they want it, but not enough. Sometimes it’s about the price tag. Or maybe they have their own set of fears linked to your work, and they’re not ready to face them.

Whatever it is, it’s actually not personal at all. But boy it feels like it.

Still, rejection is part of business - or rather the word "No" is. So being extra sensitive to rejection can be the biggest obstacle you face in your work.

If we want to grow - to make the income and the impact that’s possible - we have to face this issue head-on.

Three Things You Can Do If You’re Sensitive to Rejection

I’m not a physician or a therapist. I can’t talk about medication. I won’t counsel you. There are way better sources out there for that.

However…I am an ADHD-preneur and a big cheerleader for people who want to live their best lives. So here’s my Katie-approved prescription for how to deal with your RSD struggles while running your service-based business.

Bring Your True Self to Your Marketing

I feel like I say this all the time, but it’s that important - especially for those of us who are sensitive to rejection.

When you really bring your whole self to your marketing - your live streams, your blogs, your social media posts - it weeds out people who don’t click with you.

When you’re 100% yourself in your marketing, you can enter into a sales call knowing that the person’s already opted in on you. Any subsequent NO is about the price, the timing, or their own baggage. It can’t be you.

They’re already sold on You.

The No Game

Okay, this is admittedly hard-core. (I go into it a little more in the podcast - FYI.) This game works a little like a baptism by fire. But, if you can stand it, it can flip a switch in your rejection sensitivity.

It’s the No Game.

How do you play?

Well, basically, dress professionally, then go out and ask 100 strangers if they’d like to redeem a free 30-minute phone consultation with you.

I mean, be safe about it, but yes - ask 100 total randos for an appointment.

If someone takes you up on it - which is very unlikely given the circumstances - it doesn’t count! You gotta get 100 Nos.

If you’re sensitive to rejection this will likely shake you free of its sting - again, if you can stand it.

I did this. Standing on a corner like a freak. I survived. And I finally learned that No is not the end of the world, and it has nothing to do with me.

The Miracle of “Nobody Cares”

So this is going to sound horrible, but it isn’t. It’s amazing!

If you’re sensitive to rejection put up a post-it note that says, “THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU.” Ouch, that really does sound awful. But it’s liberating!

Remind yourself that the person on the other side of the call isn’t focused on you. Everyone comes to the conversation obsessing over themself.

It’s about their fears. Their needs. Their hopes and dreams. You’re basically a tool to them. A tool that they might use today - or not. Tools don’t need to be sensitive to rejection. It's just a questions of "is this the tool I need today?"

They’re not thinking about you…at…all. They are thinking about themself. Just like you. Just like me.

“No” Is A Signpost

Look, I get it. Clearly. I’m so sensitive to rejection that my business coach had to send me to a street corner to hand out cards to 100 strangers. (Don’t worry, I don't make my clients do this.)

But the bottom line is there’s no way around the word “No” when you have your own business.

So I want to challenge you to fall in love with racking up the Nos. Be wholly yourself in your marketing. And remember that your sales call is not about you.

The only way is through this. You can do it. I promise you.

When you get to the other side, rejection will still suck. Everyone’s a little sensitive to rejection - whether they have RSD or ADHD or not. But it won’t cripple you. It can actually propel you.

“No” is a signal that you’re moving. That you’re doing something.

Each no is just part of your process, a step along your way. No is just a signpost to where you want to go.

Sensitive to rejection? OMG, you should hang out with me on Facebook.

No rejection - I promise!

Just tap below for tips on how to be a kick-ass ADHD-preneur.


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