Another Side of Adult ADHD

Rejection Sensitivity

In my last post, “What does ADHD have to do with Anger,” Gracie thought she and Dennis had finally turned a corner in being able to communicate effectively. 

Dennis finally revealed that he had been diagnosed with ADHD. Even though they were neighbors and friends during childhood, Dennis had never revealed this to Gracie until after they were married. 

Gracie had noticed some strange and even bizarre behavior from Dennis, but let it go until the day he blew-up at the driver of another car while on their way to dinner. Dennis finally leveled with her about his ADHD.

A few days later as they were preparing to do some studying together, she saw Dennis on his computer. She asked him what he was doing followed by the question, “I thought we were…?”

Dennis interrupted her and flew into a rage, calling her names with his finger pointed in her face.

Stunned! She tried to say something again and got the same response. Grabbing her purse, she headed for the door. All the while, Dennis was yelling at her.

My behavior is absolutely normal

Those with ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, or some other Personality Disorder continually tell the rest of us what it looks and feels like to them “inside their box.” They say they are tired of everyone telling them it’s not normal. It is normal for them. And that those of us on the outside of their box need to accept their behavior, no matter what.

Yet, those of us, who are close, have to deal with the consequences of their behavior. 

Unfortunately, they seldom seem to be aware of the cause and effect, the relationship between their behavior and all of the resulting drama. They rarely seem to have a clue that other people have to deal with problems they create..

Emotional Dysregulation/Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

It has always been known that people with ADHD have had problems with “Emotional Dysregulation.” In just the last few years they have discovered what they call “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) which is extreme emotional sensitivity accompanied with intense pain. 

RSD is triggered by actual or perceived rejection or criticism. It may also be triggered by the sense of failing to meet expectations on the job or of a personal nature.

In my last post, Dennis revealed how, as a child, his dad would call him a “sissy” and even try to “beat the sissy out of him.” 

People with ADHD are not weak or wimps, but it has been determined that they feel intense pain that is unbearable, restricting, and highly impairing.

Dennis’s dad is not the only man who has tried to “toughen-up” his son by beating him. But, when the son has ADHD it can compound the issues. 

When girls receive strict discipline it seems to be received and more effective than with boys. Fathers who use the belt more than words, tend to create resentment in the boys.

Individuals with RSD tend to internalize emotional responses more than others. It has been determined that it can present like a full blown major mood disorder. 

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria Often Mis-diagnosed

Because of the impulsivity in ADHD, these mood swings can change from someone feeling great to intense sadness or intense anger in a matter of seconds. Therefore, RSD can be mis-diagnosed as a rapid cycle mood disorder. But it’s not.

Give the person a few more minutes and they can flip back to the happy person they were before the intense mood swing.

When the mood swing is externalized it appears like instant rage. But, when it is internalized is appears like intense sadness, often with suicidal ideations.

RSD can often make people with ADHD anticipate rejection and/or criticism. The look on another person’s face, the tone in their voice, or even the other person being distracted by something in the environment can trigger the person’s RSD. They can instantly become fearful that other person will embarrass them, humiliate them or they will be negatively scrutinized harshly by the public. 

Pain of Rejection

It’s been difficult for researchers to recognize and define RSD because clients can’t find the words to describe the pain they feel. They use words like intense, awful, terrible, overwhelming.

This creates a huge emotional elephant for the people with ADHD to cope with.

Some become people-pleasers, who try to figure out what type of person the other person admires and praises. They then try to impress the other person with a fake persona. Very often they become so engrossed in pleasing others that they forget who they are and what they want from life.

Others assume they will fail so they quit trying. They avoid people and activities that could be anxiety-provoking. They quit trying to get dates, apply for jobs, and definitely will not speak in public where they could be scrutinized.

One person stated in an article about RSD,
“I feel personally attacked more than most people do. The sharp tips of criticism gut me open. Even the anticipation of rejection can paralyze me. And when it does, I’m tough to live with, tough to calm, tough to help.” 

Dennis acknowledges his feelings of rejection

Gracie drove off with Dennis standing in the doorway fuming. She had never left before. Would she be back?

Still his emotions were heightened.  He began pacing back and forth in the house until he heard his phone ding with a message. It was Gracie.

“I wasn’t putting you down. I was just asking if we were still going to study together. Also, you asked for us to go to  a specific lesson. I was asking where I could find it. There was nothing in my mind that was a put down or a criticism. Yet, you wouldn’t allow me to speak and you went into a rage. You assumed you knew what I was going to say and launched into a rage attack.”

Just as instantly as his emotions had reached rage, they went back to calm, but with regret that he hadn’t listened.

“I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I allowed my assumptions to run wild.”

God’s Word and ADHD

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay
Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV

ADHD and impulsivity 

The clinical definition of impulsivity is “action without foresight.” Healthline

God tells us in Proverbs that we will suffer consequences when we are hasty or impulsive. 

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5 ESV

Many people with ADHD impulsively speak without listening. God says in James that it is valuable to listen before speaking. 

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19 ESV

The Word states that it is wise to listen to what someone says before responding. 

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” – Proverbs 18:13

God’s Word states that patience and longsuffering (holding back impulsive passion) are signs of spiritual maturity and traits that need to be developed by all people, not just those with ADHD.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” – Galatians 5:22 ESV

“Count it all joy, my brothers,[a] when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4 ESV

ADHD and Self-Control

“Individuals with ADHD (especially the hyperactive/impulse component) tend to react in direct response to a stimulus due to their poor executive function, which robs them of the ability to pause and to perform the self-directed actions involved in self-control as described above.” Thriving with ADHD

“As a result, they may act impulsively without anticipating the consequences, struggle to delay gratification and experience difficulties regulating their emotions.” Thriving with ADHD

Gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:23 ESV

“And knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness.” – 2 Peter 1:6 ESV

In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells how he brings his body into control using self-control, so that others will not discredit and disqualify his preaching.

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV

Proverbs encourages all of us to control what we say. 

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Proverbs 10:19 ESV

The Bible also advises us that the first step to controlling our lives is to control our minds.
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 ESV


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