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Rejection sensitivity, social anxiety, and trauma: which is it for mixed people?

Anxious person with head on their hands screams

If you're neurospicy like me, you might have heard of the term ‘rejection sensitivity' or ‘rejection sensitive dysphoria,' which is often linked to ADHD and autism.

The term captures the impact of repeated micro rejections experienced by neurodivergent people early in life. As a result, people with ADHD, for instance, are said to develop a dysphoria around rejection, which causes them to experience further emotional distress and isolation.

Because neurodivergence like ADHD can challenge people’s capacity to keep up with societal expectations (such as following through on promises, remember what’s going on in other people’s lives, and emotional regulation) neurodivergent people often experience a lot of interpersonal conflict and rejection early in their life and persistently throughout their lives.

Its not the person with ADHD's fault, but it’s an invisible tax they pay for their neurological wiring. Low key If you ask me, this is a form of trauma. People who are different or don’t thrive in a capitalism state are essentially socially punished for simply being themselves.


My point is this: Something similar happens for mixed folks because many of us have repeated experiences of feeling misunderstood or rejected, spanning from childhood on.

This makes us highly sensitive to peoples words and behaviors, as we might be scanning the interaction for proof of the persons frustration with us or disgust. As a result we can be stuck in cycles of avoiding or navigating this rejection.

Earlier this month I was talking with Kina Wolfenstein on her podcast, Complex Trauma Recovery, about how I sometimes think of social anxiety, relational trauma and rejection sensitivity as interchangeable terms.

More so though, what I mean is that these are different lenses through which we can understand the experience of being an "inbetweener" or "outsider" or even just someone with a marginalized identity.

We cannot control how other people treat us or what they think of us. And honestly, we can't “control” our emotions either, for the most part.

But we can lend ourselves a hand by learning how to soothe ourselves, discern our habitual anxiety from true sources of rejection, and build relationships with people who value us.

Do these sound like areas you need support in? If so, you should check out my upcoming workshop Somatic Skills for Social Anxiety. We meet live on July 31, 2023 and the replay will be available for purchase after that.

Photo by Atul Choudhary:

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