this felt important enough to share
Alright, this post hit me right in the gut. There’s a lot to unpack here (insert John Mulaney meme) but one thing I realized halfway through reading it is that not only have I experienced this feeling countless times in my life, but also that over the years I actually HAVE found some coping strategies that have helped me address it in my life.
I’ll summarize these strategies as statements that I make internally to myself either before, during, or after I experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria. I’ll also give a bit more explanation of what I mean by them. (And I hope they may be somewhat helpful to others.)
- “Enthusiasm and sincerity cover a multitude of sins.” – I mess up a lot in life. I will often dive headfirst into a situation or project that I’m excited for, but not prepared for. I’m terrible at making accurate estimates of the time or effort it will take to do something. So I make mistakes frequently. But I’ve learned that often times when people get upset about little mistakes, it’s because they think it indicates a lack of caring. (Like if I had just cared more about the thing, I would have taken more time to research and understand it first.) When I explain to people that the majority of my missteps are caused by over-enthusiasm and caring TOO MUCH, they tend to be far more understanding. This matters for RSD, because it helps me see my own enthusiasm and sincerity, not as liabilities to overcome, but as valuable attributes that I can’t afford to give up.
- “I can’t control anyone else’s happiness.” – When I start feeling like people are sending me signals that my enthusiasm is making them uncomfortable, I will try to take a moment and figure out if my behavior is actually ruining things, or is it their attitude about my behavior ruining things? I mean look, if I’m tackling people in a game of flag football, I need to cut that crap out (whether it’s caused by enthusiasm or not.) But if people disapprove of what I’m doing just because it’s not what their used to or because they’re embarrassed by people who stand out, that’s not something I can fix for them. I’ll do my best to be patient and understanding and not judge them for it, but those are internal issues that only they can address. Me taking responsibility for their happiness is presumptuous and unhealthy for both of us.
- “I can be my own self-fulfilling prophecy.” – We usually think of “self-fulfilling prophecies” as bad. Like when someone thinks their day is going to be bad, so they act all grumpy and pessimistic, and then that leads to people avoiding them or they sit out on fun opportunities. But I believe that self-fulfilling prophecies can also be tools for good. For example, in my job I conduct a lot of online training webinars. I believe that people learn better when humor is regularly used as a teaching tool, so I structure a lot of my training style as if it were a stand-up comedy bit, and the learning takeaway is often the punchline. But here’s the thing: 99% of the time, I am the only person on the webinar NOT on mute. So I can’t actually hear the laughter from attendees when I say or do something funny. This would be like a comedian performing in front of a brick wall. But I also know that doubting myself will kill the energy of the training and make all my jokes fall flat. So I remind myself that I AM funny, that people have laughed at my humor LOTS of times before, and the more I tell myself that I’m coming across as funny and charming and confident, the more likely that will be true.
- “It’s not smug to believe I’m great at something. It’s only smug when I start comparing myself to others.” – I’m really good at public speaking. I rock at it. Like, you could put me up on stage with a topic and zero prep time, and I’m pretty confident that a significant portion of the audience is going to enjoy it. Early on in my life, I wouldn’t have been comfortable saying that. Not because it wasn’t true (I’ve pretty much always had a talent for public speaking) but because I would have worried that I was bragging. But I’ve realized that I don’t mind when people acknowledge their own talents. I like it when I hear someone talk about something they’re good at. The only time I’m bothered by it is when they start talking about how they’re BETTER than someone else. When they start comparing themselves to others, THAT’S when it goes from charming to smug; from confident to conceited. I share this because I’ve observed that sometimes my episodes of RSD are tied to a fear of coming across as arrogant. As if my own enthusiasm implies I think I’m the best at something. So instead of pulling back and disengaging, I use that feeling as an internal reminder to myself to avoid saying or doing anything that compares myself to others.
- “I might just be ahead of my time.” – Sometimes an idea I have is confusing for people. Sometimes my ideas are understood, but people will be skeptical of success. Sometimes other people just don’t care about my ideas. There can be a few different reasons for this. Perhaps I haven’t communicated the idea in a way that was clear to the audience and I need to try to rework my explanation. Perhaps the idea itself still needs some additional refinement or tweaking to get the right iteration. Or perhaps, for whatever reason, my audience just isn’t ready to receive what I’m giving them. Whether it’s due to a bad day, conflicting priorities, distractions, or just not being on the same wavelength, there are lots of factors that can make an idea “ahead of its time.” This is important because it helps remove the self-doubt that comes from wondering if my idea is just inherently bad. The truth is that I rarely have an objectively “BAD” idea. I have LOTS of ideas that need to be improved and refined, but almost none of them are 100% without value. And that thought helps sustain me through an episode of RSD.
- “People appreciate someone who’s willing to try.” – One of the characteristic attributes of someone with ADHD is a tendency to seek out novelty. I like trying new things, or trying old things in new ways. Failure doesn’t feel good of course, but it does feel very temporary because there will always something else to try. But I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily true for the majority of the general population. Many people I encounter in life do NOT enjoy trying new things, but they DO appreciate the people who will. So in a room with fifty people in it, I might be the only one willing to do something in a new way, and three of those people might even speak up to discourage me from trying it. But I’ve observed that as long as the thing I’m trying isn’t dangerous to anyone, there’s a good chance that at least thirty of those people are silently hoping that I WILL try the thing because they’re also curious but too afraid to try it themselves. For every time I’ve asked a question in class that made five classmates groan, there’s a silent crowd cheering me on who all had the same question. I’ve learned to believe in that silent crowd, and draw strength from them.
- “I won’t go to hell for swearing because I repent too damn fast!” – This last statement is a fake quote often attributed to J. Golden Kimball (sometimes referred to as “The Swearing Apostle” by members of my church) because, well he had a bit of a potty mouth. And while the quote itself is almost certainly fake, I still appreciate the idea that perfection isn’t nearly as important as a sincere desire to do good combined with an eager willingness to recognize my mistakes, do my best to correct them, and never stop trying to improve. So, am I perfect at using all of the tactics above? Hell no! But I’m getting better all the time, and I even try to help share them with others when I can.
WHEW!! OK, that all turned out a lot longer than I had first intended. But then again, I did say very early on that I am NOT good with estimates. So for those of you who already skipped past this or gave up halfway through… well, I won’t apologize to you because you’re not reading this anyway.
For those who are still reading and found this helpful, I hope you’ll share it with others or let me know.
And for those who are still reading, but wish I had kept this shorter, well… I hope you’ll understand that any mistakes I’ve made here are due to my enthusiasm about this topic and how sincerely I care about it. (And I trust that will be good enough.)