Being rejected for a job can be tough for anyone to deal with but for certain people, it can cause intense emotional distress due to a little-known condition known as rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). While some critics have dismissed RSD as made-up, those who live with it say the feelings are very real.
Job seeker Maisie Gear recently brought attention to the condition in a LinkedIn post, saying it's commonly experienced by those with ADHD, autism or PTSD. The social media and disability consultant says being rejected, particularly for a job, makes sufferers feel worthless, as they interpret messages of rejection in a more negative way than intended.
'Horrific' rejection letter
Recounting a recent rejection from an employer, Gear's post begins, "I received this horrific job rejection: 'We don't even know why you applied, you're quite clearly extremely under-qualified and we are under the impression you would be horrible to work with due to your odd personality. We've hired someone else who would actually be good at the job and hasn't completely wasted our time. Please do not contact us again!'
However, she clarified that in truth the message wasn't so harsh: "Well actually it was more along the lines of: 'Thank you for your application. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Unfortunately, on this occasion we have decided to proceed with another candidate.'"
Many people said they "felt seen" by the post, but one commenter argued it was the view of someone who'd been "coddled all their life and never learned to deal with rejection". Another critic questioned why any employer would hire someone "who perceives everything so negatively".
Condition throws logic out the window
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Gear said RSD doesn't respond to logic.
"I've been through probably hundreds of applications — and rejections — in my working life, and I've learned a lot," she said. "Despite this, RSD still sits like a stubborn toddler in my head. And just like real toddlers when they start having a tantrum, it's very difficult to subdue it with reasoning."
She said RSD lives in the "primal part of the brain", behaves in conjunction with fight or flight and has "no connection to truth and fact". "Humans are creatures that need socialisation and to feel part of a pack to survive and feel safe," Gear explained. "When that need is threatened, by a real or perceived rejection, and we feel at risk of being left behind, our survival instincts kick in.
"When we receive vague communication from employers, we become subconsciously triggered and the anxiety creeps in and suddenly the stubborn toddler is screaming at us again that everyone hates us and we're useless."
Gear, who lives in the UK, said recruiters everywhere should be open to the idea that all job applicants could have a disability and suggested they provide rejected candidates detailed feedback on why someone else was successful and express parts of the application they excelled in.
Rejection sensitive dysphoria is very common, academic says
Jayashri Kulkarni, a professor of psychiatry at Monash University, told Yahoo that RSD is "absolutely a real thing" — particularly for those with ADHD or PTSD — and is often rooted in an individual's childhood history or trauma experiences. "It's a very common phenomenon," she said. "A lot of the brain's biological, cyclical or chemical components can be affected in life so the reaction to new trauma and perceived trauma can be very pronounced," she said.
"It's rooted in early-life trauma that has affected the brain's biology and they [neurodiverse people] can have a really significant emotional and physical behavioural response to environmental factors, which is very pronounced and away from what others might think was a 'normal' response."
Rejection 'like petrol on a flame'
Kulkarni said reactions to perceived or real criticism could have "dreadful responses" for some individuals, including self harm or even suicide, and are particularly more pronounced in women than men.
"Emotional invalidation in early life should not be replicated in workplaces or educational settings... it's like throwing petrol on a small flame," she added.
Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.
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