Workplace Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is one of the most debilitating issues for neurodivergent workers.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is a severe reaction to criticism, rejection or disagreement. It can occur to anyone but it is more common in neurodivergents as well as people who are suffering from mental distress or recovering from trauma. RSD can be described as a symptom and not a diagnosis. It is, like many neurodiversity concepts, an extreme form of normal human experience. RSD is a condition that causes rejection. However, people with it experience overwhelming physical symptoms and high levels of stress hormones. This makes it difficult to accept.

RSD can also cause a cognitive bias to view normal communication as wholesale rejection. Even daily management interactions can be difficult for an employee suffering from severe RSD. Managers might review a project to find positives and learn points. They may follow up on a piece of work they promised but it is late and request it. They may request changes or edits to a task that is already completed. Any suggestion that they might not meet the grade may be met with denial, deflection, anger, shutdown, or challenge. A honest reflection could be seen as a harsh chastisement that can be very painful for the employee. Managers can find it very distressing, and often resort to retaliation.

A broken relationship can happen even if there is one instance like this. Either the manager loses their confidence or the employee is unable to reframe their shameful experience and see that the manager was not criticizing them personally. Even if both sides meant well, it is possible to get into conflict. This can be confusing and even hurtful. It takes patience, time, and emotional labor to unpick the events. Removing grudges and tension can lead to tension that could affect well-being and spill over into the team. RSD employees might be viewed as difficult and defensive by their bosses, while their managers might be criticized for being too harsh or insensitive. It is important to identify the root cause of this problem in order to fix it.

Where does it come from?

We must first understand the roots of RSD. This is a well-known fact for ADHDers. evidence shows receive more criticism than their peers, even before secondary school. Low-level corrections such as “sit still” and “you’re using an outside voice, please use the inside voice” can cause self-esteem to slip when they are directed at bodily functions that we have less control. Implicit expectations about gender, race, and culture, as well as any preferences or behavior that are not culturally acceptable, can exacerbate this problem. Consistent experiences from a young age can be interpreted as biological responses that we as adults will need.

One of my dyslexic colleagues shared her seven-year-old experience with not being able to match letters and words in lessons. “I can still remember the cards with the shapes and the orange box. I also remember the sudden chill that swept through my body when I was singled out by the teacher. I felt a freeze reaction, it stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s still possible to feel that way when I’m surprised by failure.

Six helpful responses

1. You can pre-arrange feedback. Some prefer to discuss it, others prefer to have it written so they can process it and contextualize it before they meet you.

2. Your feedback should not include any inferences about the intentions of others. You are allowed to request a review if a task is incomplete or late. This is an essential part of management, and long-term essential for performance improvement and growth. These are personality criticisms, and you might not be right. They might have tried very hard, but misunderstood the brief.

3. If feedback sessions have gone poorly, offer to debrief and allow employees to talk to a mentor if they feel vulnerable.

4. Don’t let critiques build up. You shouldn’t let criticisms build up. They will be surprised if you have previously stated that it’s okay or not pointed out the fact that there is more to do.

5. Regularly review activity and ” Feeforward” are important. This is where the focus should be on what could work better than what went wrong.

6. It’s not your fault. It can be insulting to someone who perceives your communication as chastisement, even though it was not intended. These responses are not your fault, but a result of a lifetime’s worth of negative experiences. While you might be processing the conversation in your brain, it is likely they are responding with a fight/flight/freeze response. If you take the conversation personally, you can create a negative spiral in your relationship.

Toxicity and RSD

True leaders are able to own the responsibility for a flawed project and will be open to apologizing for their role. RSD can prevent colleagues or direct reports from reciprocating. They are likely to be in shock and will avoid admitting to their failures for fear of being used against them. RSD can also cause havoc in leadership if they refuse to admit their mistakes. If one side is willing to compromise, the other will continue digging in. This can lead to feelings of injustice. Sometimes an honest offer to acknowledge one’s role in a problem can lead to the RSD party taking that as proof of their inherent rightness. Sometimes, you might offer to apologize and invite feedback on your role. However, if the RSD party is not happy with this, they may be unwilling to listen. This can lead to a serious mismatch in emotional resilience, which can cause trust to be broken and a toxic work environment. It’s time for professional support to help you work through each issue individually, with patience, investment, and support. While it might not save the relationship, it can bring peace to the situation if the employment relationship is ended.

RSD And Loyalty

It can be extremely psychologically powerful for RSD patients to give their colleagues the chance to talk through their problems. Many people suffering from RSD don’t realize how terrifying it can be to be on the other end of their communications. This might be the first time someone has invested in this way. It may be cathartic for them and help them see the reasons why they have had to break up with their colleagues in the past. You have the potential to build loyalty and promote high performance within your team if you do so. It is not an easy task to understand the social communication patterns of neurodiversity and the strong emotions that can be experienced at work. However, it is something you can do for your colleagues who are neurodifferent.

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