Sighs Of ADHD: Rejection Sensitivity, Emotional Hyperarousal

Jeannette | Posted on January 17, 2022 
adhd emotional sensitivity

Although nobody likes the unpleasant feeling that follows rejection, it can be even more challenging for those with ADHD. Studies suggest that ADHD-driven emotional sensitivity in people makes them struggle to cope with rejection. This rejection may be as simple as having a friend say no to you or as big as not being accepted for a job you applied for. ADHD-affected people feel every emotion very strongly because of their emotional hyperarousal, which makes perceived or actual rejection more painful than it may be for someone without ADHD.

Rejection sensitivity and ADHD

The condition in which a person feels extreme and overwhelming emotions to criticism, teasing, disappointment, or rejection is called Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). This emotional condition heightens the painful emotions a person experiences. People with RSD tend to either internalize or externalize their overwhelming feelings, harming their relationships with their loved ones. They may internalize feelings by withdrawing from their surroundings, causing a low mood and loneliness, or experience emotional hyperarousal, causing rage and physical violence towards themselves or others.

Studies show that people with ADHD show more susceptibility to RSD, explaining the emotional sensitivity in people diagnosed with ADHD. While psychiatrists commonly believe that RSD occurs exclusively in people diagnosed with ADHD, some professionals think that might not always be the case. Since emotional sensitivity and rejection are difficult to measure, and their symptoms present similar to those of other mental health conditions, it is still debatable whether RSD could be a mental health disorder.

ADHD and sensitivity go hand in hand due to abnormal hormonal levels in a person diagnosed with ADHD. Those with ADHD are likely to face rejection at some point in their lives; some may be more than others, making them more sensitive to rejection or other disappointments in the future.

Managing rejection sensitivity

Sensitivity to rejection in ADHD is likely to feed a vicious cycle of repetition of past trauma. This leads to possible negative thoughts and responses, requiring an efficient management plan. It is essential to realize that people with ADHD are generally emotionally sensitive and may have strong feelings of shame, preventing them from seeking the medical help they need.

Aside from medications, allowing the person to process their emotions before a meltdown is a healthy way to help them cope with rejection. There is no shame in getting help from a specialized counselor. Therapists specializing in dealing with people with ADHD can help you develop a treatment plan and coping strategies that work best for you.

Emotional hyperarousal and ADHD

While emotional hyperarousal presents as visible hyperactivity in about 25% of children and 5% of adults, the rest internalize their hyperactivity which can look like the inability to relax. Emotional sensitivity in ADHD may present as passionate thoughts, emotions, and feelings more intense than anyone else. Their highs are higher, and their lows are lower than the average person.

Adhd Specialist

People with ADHD experience stronger emotions, whether positive or negative. They are more invested than others in what they do and develop self-esteem issues if they cannot deliver quality work on time. This may be as minor as being unable to fix a puzzle or something as significant as rejection from a loved one. Since people with ADHD do not usually confine to societal norms, they are often met with harsh criticism from others. They may internalize and grow up with unhealthy emotions and perspectives about themselves.

Managing emotional hyperarousal

ADHD is often misdiagnosed as a mood disorder because of symptoms presenting as emotional sensitivity in ADHD. However, the difference between moods in mood disorders and ADHD is the duration and intensity. In ADHD-driven emotional sensitivity, the moods are pretty much standard in every way except for their intensity. In a mood disorder, the moods often last for two weeks or more and are separate from the person’s situation.

Emotional sensitivity in ADHD is usually triggered by past or current events or wrongly perceived situations. To cope with the emotional hyperarousal caused by ADHD, people need help and support. People with ADHD often suffer from constant, deeply ingrained feelings of shame or low self-esteem and need constant reassurance. It would help if you constantly reminded people with ADHD that they are good enough and value them. This helps them manage their extremely negative perceptions toward themselves and everyday situations.

The key to helping a person with their emotional hyperarousal is embracing them and their unique nervous system as it is. This allows them to be comfortable with themselves amidst the constant feelings of shame and disappointment.

Coping with signs of ADHD

While emotional hyperarousal can feel like a burden at certain times, you can always learn new strategies to help you cope with your heightened emotions. Professional counselors suggest incorporating regular exercising routines in your life. Dedicate a few hours to yourself every night to go over the emotions you may have felt during the day. This helps promote a healthy mental state and lets you occasionally connect with yourself.

Talking about your condition with those around you will help you better understand yourself. In cases of rejection sensitivity and emotional hyperarousal in ADHD, your friends will choose their words carefully when interacting with you. It is best for people with ADHD to choose their relationships wisely and leave emotionally abusive relationships, if possible. Emotional abuse tends to make their ADHD worse, which might cause the person to internalize or externalize their harsh response to being treated a certain way.

It is also essential to understand that most of your emotional hyperarousal and rejection sensitivity is associated with your neurodivergent health condition – ADHD. Knowing your condition and what it can bring about allows you to go easy on yourself and avoid unconstructive and demeaning self-criticism. If your ADHD continues to be difficult for you to cope with, it’s time to visit an ADHD specialist and get help to manage your emotional sensitivities in daily life.

See Also: What’s The Difference Between ADD And ADHD?


As painful as an experience like rejection is, it is even more degrading to people living with ADHD. According to experts, the inability of people with ADHD to process and regulate their emotions makes them more prone to developing RSD. Rejection sensitivity disorder does not respond to therapy and is one of the most challenging aspects of ADHD.

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