Why People With ADHD Are Terrified Of Rejection — And How To Overcome It

You're not imagining it — but it can get better.

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It's common for people with ADHD to feel emotions more intensely, have fewer friends and fewer invites, and experience greater rejection than their neurotypical peers.

Ever find yourself wanting to mingle and chat, yet you’re haunted by past mistakes? This feeling is common for people with ADHD.

Why so many people with ADHD are afraid of rejection or have "rejection sensitivity".

Many people with ADHD struggle to pay attention to the person you are talking to, overwhelmed by negative thoughts and self-criticism.


People with ADHD can get caught up in verbally processing what others are saying and then begin blurting out Too Much Information (TMI), inspiring feelings of awkwardness and anxiety. 

Have you ducked into the restroom because your anxiety got too overwhelming or overreacted when someone doesn’t respond to your phone call, making you feel they're ignoring you, or even purposely trying to hurt you?

If you have ADHD — and even if you do not — you are not alone. 

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Past rejections and conflicts can trigger fears and social anxieties

You have been rejected before, in fact, probably many times before. The result? Now, even little, perceived or expected rejection can make you feel uneasy and apprehensive.

The actual cause or intensity of the situation is often not proportional to the reaction. Even if you sense rejection, your body may go into fight, flight, or freeze mode — an ancient alert system designed to save you from a charging saber tooth tiger!

You end up in a terrifying cascade of emotions and reactions that feel terrible.

What is rejection sensitivity and how does it impact adults with ADHD?

Rejection sensitivity (RS) is "the tendency to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and intensely react to rejection.”


RS can be a huge issue for people with ADHD because of our difficulty in regulating emotions. Most of them have a long history of actual rejection.

Feeling emotions intensely can actually physically hurt which, in turn, impacts their willingness and ability to solidify meaningful relationships.

Why "just reach out” isn’t so simple for folks with ADHD

As an adult with ADHD, when we try to engage socially, we often personally interpret even the slightest change in tone or response to text or comment, which in turn triggers Rejection Sensitivity.

You may get angry, cry, or say things that will eventually lead to rejection. To avoid these sensations, many end up people-pleasing, not inviting others, or not asking for what you need or is in your best interest.


How intense is the emotion?

I created a tool — The 4 R’s — to help you gauge an emotion’s intensity. Each step centers on helping you figure out how intense your emotions feel in order and what strategies to employ.

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Here are 4 steps to gauge the intensity of your emotions.

1. Recognize

Identify the intensity of the emotion. Are you in the "red," as in, is your face flushed? Are you fighting back tears? Is your stomach or fist clenched? Or are you in neutral yellow or relaxed green?

The higher emotions go up, the more cognitive ability goes down.

2. Respond 

Recognize where you are on the intensity meter and respond with an appropriate strategy.


Green: This is the lowest of intensities, where you're primarily in a positive space. You can engage in dopamine production strategies such as walking barefoot (a grounding activity), sewing, doing crafts, and engaging in guided meditation.

This is a time to implement daily preventative strategies to help you cope with inevitable stressors and triggers.

Yellow: This is the middle ground of intensity, as you're elevated emotionally yet still have control over your emotions. Employ the portable strategies you have developed during the green phase in order to calm your limbic system and help avoid moving into fight, flight, or freeze.

Avoid conflict and put your energy into getting back into the Green. Walk the dog, take deep breaths in and out, engage in something creative or a mindfulness activity, cuddle a pet, or meditate. 


Try a technique called "havening" to self-soothe and calm your limbic system.

Red: In this state, you may be entering fight, flight, or freeze mode. When emotions are in the red — or very high — it's not the time to act out, bring up heated topics or ask for things that may not be granted.

Quickly take advantage of the calming strategies you have developed in advance. Physical activities can lessen the effects of increased blood pressure, struggles with breathing, and a rapid heart rate is best in order to prevent falling into the fight, fligh,t and freeze cycle.

These include jogging or jumping jacks to expel energy and increase serotonin and dopamine levels.


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3. Reflect

Double, triple-check your reasoning. Ask yourself, "What story am I telling myself? What evidence is there that this story is true? What else could it be?"

This is super important because our initial interpretation of a situation is often incorrect due to heightened emotions or personalization.

Further, when you perceive rejection, even if it isn’t true, you're more likely to react and anticipate rejection in the future.


4. Reframe

Consider other possible reasons for their response. Perhaps they didn’t accept the invitation because they were busy or had already seen that movie. Often, what you perceive as rejection is just a conflict of needs.

What if you need more help?

Healthy, realistic interpretations of others’ reactions are critical for your emotional well-being. If these strategies don’t work for you, or if RS is a significant issue for you, consider working with a therapist.

Evaluating past situations can help you move forward in a more confident manner. In addition, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a form of CBT, or even a CBT workbook that you can use on your own, can help you work through these issues.


What if all of this is still not working?

If this is the case, work on your social skills to help reduce the risk of being rejected in the future. 

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Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL training methodology (#ConnectionMatters) for adults, parents, clinicians and academic professionals on how to develop critical social, emotional and behavioral skills, in themselves and in others. For more information, visit her website