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Why Feedback Hits Harder (with ADHD)

As a professional, you need to be able to receive feedback from others. Whether it’s a peer, your direct manager, or just that random person who always has something to say, it’s important that you can hear it, validate it, and learn from it.

As with many other things, it’s easier said than done — especially for those of us with ADHD, but why is that?

Meet Rejection Sensetive Dysphoria (RSD), one of the lesser-known but widely-felt “features” of ADHD.

The intensity of RSD varies from person to person, ranging from general sensitivity to the catalyst of debilitating anxiety and depression. While I’m normally an optimist about the superpowers that come with ADHD, there’s not really an upside to this one. RSD is a fairly new term that hasn’t even made it into the DSM yet but if you look around you will see that “Rejection Sensitivity” IS a studied and validated piece of ADHD that seems to be tied to our general struggle with emotional regulation.

On a personal note, I minimize praise to an extreme, and I hang on to criticism, feedback, and even a lack of validation much more than I should. When I get feedback, I tend to spiral quickly from denial to self-evaluation, and I may even go as far as to start thinking about an “escape route” e.g. finding another job, giving up a hobby, etc.

Important things to know about RSD:

  • It’s very common among people with ADHD – no one is quite sure why.
  • Even light criticism or suggestions can trigger you to get defensive, feel defeated, or turn on yourself.
  • Your emotional response, while exaggerated, is real and valid.
  • RSD can shape the roles you allow yourself to take on in your personal and professional life, most commonly as a people pleaser.
  • RSD may make it feel like criticism is there when it is not.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about how to actually handle feedback. Here are some lessons I learned the hard way and that I’ve tried to share with whoever will listen.

  • Don’t enter a conversation with the intent to build or present a case in your defense. Between hyperactivity and anxiety, you’ve probably already identified areas where you might get feedback, and you probably have already come up with a case to justify it. Leave that out of your initial conversations and focus on hearing what is actually being said.
  • Don’t rush to your conclusions, especially extreme conclusions. Take the time to process what was said and figure out what you can take away from it to help you grow.
  • When you’re preparing for feedback, it helps to recognize how you’re feeling. That doesn’t mean internalizing it – being aware will help you control how you react and help you to allow for the time you need to process it before responding.
  • It also helps to have an ally who can support you and be your “gut check” when you feel like you have received unfair feedback. I tend to check with people who know me in the context of the feedback and will have a relevant perspective to avoid any ego padding.
  • Remember that getting feedback doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do. The people who are best at what they do tend to pursue critical feedback for the sake of getting better. You are good at what you do AND you can get even better at it.
  • Find an example that makes sense to you. I’ve found that while the feedback may be valid, I have a hard time with the example or context that it is associated with. As my biggest critic, I can find a better one pretty darn quickly and that usually makes it feel less like something is coming down on me and more like problem-solving — which I like to do.
  • Turn the feedback into fuel. One day I had my Muay Thai instructor call out that I wasn’t pivoting correctly when I threw my left round kick. I was very aware of this moving forward and I still dedicate time and focus to ensure all of my repetitions are done with the correct form and mechanics.

If you’re looking for more info in a lighter tone, you can check out this video.

I’ll probably write more things and you might just want to read those too.

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