Knight defending a castle

Defending boundaries: When RSD (Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria) turns up!


Defending your boundaries is difficult. Having to manage rejection sensitivity dysphoria adds another dimension to this. It's important to recognise this and this is something that often sit within ADHD traits. In this short piece will explore what that looks like and how you can start to put into strategies to support yourself and individuals to work with this more effectively.

Struggling with boundaries is a reality for many of us, especially as we try to make life better in a world where it’s not always clear how other people perceive us. But with RSD (Retention Sensitivity Dysphoria), it can be even more challenging.

Why our boundaries fall

Our boundaries fall because we don’t put limits in place to defend them and reset when life goes wrong. Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD) is one of the traits that can be dangerous to our boundaries. This turns up with other neurodivergent conditions like ADHD, but it’s also present for all of us in some ways, unless your behaviour looks psychopathic (sorry, Donald Trump).

I’ve seen rejection sensitivity make individuals highly sensitive to the possibility of rejection, meaning they take on tasks that don’t serve them. They want to accommodate the needs of others. This can be incredibly debilitating, and as a result, individuals make poor decisions that don’t serve them well.

Have you planned your schedule by deciding what’s important to you and then changed your plans as you believe it will affect how others perceive you? For example, you might have agreed to write a book and set aside time for it, but you often end up giving that time to other work as you think it’s important to another person. This happens because of your inaccurate perception of what other people think of you.

Sometimes, you can isolate yourself to prevent RSD, so you stop collaborating with the right people. These people will hold you accountable for what you have agreed with yourself. This can sabotage the structure that helps you thrive. There’s incredible power in ‘us’, collaboration and accountability.

Why partnership is important with RSD

The key is a good partnership, where you consciously ask for constructive feedback. If feedback hasn’t been given helpfully, it can shut off that channel, which breaks down the opportunity to partner and puts boundaries in danger. There can be feelings of misunderstanding and a feeling like you don’t fit in. I worked with someone who explained that they felt like an alien when they were at school. They described knowing the answer but often unable to articulate it, which meant they didn’t fully participate. Understanding these feelings of not fitting in is essential, or you can judge yourself too harshly and have an overly negative and inaccurate view of yourself. This can often be useful to explore during a coaching conversation.

How does this turn up?

For instance, there are times when people feel hesitant to share their thoughts because they fear they might sound foolish. This can lead to missed opportunities and frustration at work. It’s crucial to recognise and address this issue by creating organisations that encourage people to bring their best and most effective selves to work.

Self-esteem can play a crucial role, too. How can you defend your boundaries if you don’t love yourself? This is a powerful idea as it might be a hindrance if you define your significance by other people’s approval. Anything that damages that approval can take you to a difficult place.

Is getting to know new people difficult as you define yourself by others’ thoughts about you? In an ideal world, people’s opinions should be their business, not yours, but this can feel like a wrestling match; worrying about what others think can mean you are less of yourself.

For some individuals, this turns up by playing back every conversation and social interaction, going over what’s been said, analysing what went wrong, what the other person thought, and how your words landed.

Have you ever spent time worrying about your conversations and not allowing the communication to sit? This behaviour can often put a lot of pressure on you and ultimately put you in a position where you cannot move forward.

How to start to move the needle on RSD

Helping change your perspective on this can be helpful, and there are various tools you can put in place to support you or anyone in your team to move forward. For example, when in negotiations or trying to understand how best to work with someone, individuals can give up their boundaries entirely because they are more concerned if they’ll be liked, often sacrificing doing what’s best for both parties.

One of my favourite quotes is by Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by my success; judge me by how many times I fell and got back up again.” How will you respond when boundaries fail? Will you run from them, or will you return and rebuild them?

Maintaining boundaries with RSD

You can maintain your boundaries and handle RSD by using strategies and being accountable for your actions. Start by having a conversation with yourself about recent events, identify which boundaries were crossed, and figure out how to adjust them moving forward. Establish accountability structures to stay aware of the situation and take actions that benefit you. Remember, you can’t change the past or others’ actions, but you always have the power to choose your next steps.

I’ve been reading Rise by Siya Kolisi (South African Rugby Captain, 2x World Cup winner), and he said, “I’m at the point in my life now where I don’t care what other people think.” This doesn’t make him any less caring; it just means that he focuses on what he can achieve, which is an excellent way of thinking about life.

Think about…

What will you do to maintain and defend your boundaries today?

What are your next steps?

At The Neurodivergent Coach, we specialise in supporting individuals to build effective boundaries and defend them well. If you’d like a conversation, please get in contact.

When you are ready, here are 3 ways we can connect: