What Is Rejection Sensitivity?

Rejection sensitivity is a trait that causes a person to anticipate, perceive, and react strongly to rejection, whether real or perceived. If you have rejection sensitivity, not receiving a response to a text message could convince you that you are no longer valued. These emotions can override more rational reactions and ultimately harm healthy relationships.

Rejection sensitivity is not a clinical disorder but rather an emotional response commonly observed in individuals with conditions such as depression, social anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism.

Signs of Rejection Sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity involves habitually experiencing intense emotions that are out of proportion to the situation and lead to immediate feelings of despair or rage.

If you have rejection sensitivity, you might experience the following:

  • Misinterpreting a slow or delayed response as outright rejection.
  • Assuming that employer feedback means you're about to be fired.
  • Believing you're being dropped as a friend if an invitation is declined.
  • Feeling distressed about whether people will call you on your birthday.
  • Obsessing over friends who have let you down while overlooking those who haven't.
  • Feeling physical pain in response to rejection.
  • Needing constant reassurance in friendships or relationships.

Causes of Rejection Sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity is not a mental health disorder, and the causes of the emotional overreaction remain unclear. It is believed that trauma may play a role, but there is also evidence suggesting that brain processes differ in individuals with rejection sensitivity.


For some individuals, being sensitive to rejection could be a response to prior emotional or physical trauma, especially during childhood. This trauma may impact their ability to form strong emotional connections. Childhood abuse, strict discipline, conditional parental love, exposure to family violence, and emotional neglect can all contribute to emotional instability and a tendency to be sensitive to rejection later in life.

Biological Vulnerability

Some people may have a biological vulnerability to rejection sensitivity. This could be due to genetic predisposition or certain personality traits. Rejection sensitivity has also been linked with low self-esteem, neuroticism, social anxiety, and an insecure attachment style.

Rejection Sensitivity and Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD)

"Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria" (RSD) is a term proposed by some mental health experts to define rejection sensitivity as a diagnosable clinical disorder similar to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and gender dysphoria. It is commonly associated with ADHD but is also increasingly linked to other mental disorders.

The term "dysphoria" refers to a mental state in which a person experiences a deep sense of unease or dissatisfaction. While not a specific mental health diagnosis, dysphoria is a symptom commonly associated with various mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder.

Coping With Rejection Sensitivity

Dealing with rejection can be incredibly painful, but there are healthy ways to cope with it. Here are some helpful tips to cope with rejection sensitivity:

Feel the pain and acknowledge the loss

It is normal to feel sad or disappointed after experiencing rejection, such as the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Recognizing and acknowledging your emotions is an important step in working through them.

Distract yourself

Rather than hiding under the covers, take the opportunity to exercise, go to the movies, or meet with friends. If your natural impulse is to dwell on raw emotions, distraction may be your best ally.

Seek support

Don't suppose that everyone doesn't want to hear your painful story. Find someone to take to, and make the most of it by listening to what they say. You don't have to agree, but a two-way conversation strengthens friendships and relationships.

Don't assign blame

Many people with relationship sensitivity tend to blame themselves when a relationship ends. It's important to focus on the lessons to be learned rather than feeling a sense of failure or blame. If you find it hard to cope, consider reaching out to a therapist who can help you develop the necessary tools to manage your emotions healthily.

Final Words

While rejection is often painful, for some individuals, the pain is so intense and extreme that it goes beyond the typical emotional response. This is known as rejection sensitivity. It can occur independently due to past trauma but is often linked with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, as well as mental health disorders such as ADHD, depression, and social anxiety disorder.