The Pain is Not the Damage: Rejection Sensitivity

If you’ve got ADHD like I do then you may be familiar with RSD. Being rejected by peers can cause devestating emotional pain – and the fear of being rejected can be debilitating when it comes to forming new connections and making friends.

About a year ago my son threw his water bottle and the hard lip of the lid landed directly where my toenail grows out of my big toe.

It hurt more than anything else I had experienced up until then. (A few months ago I had a migraine which beat it for most painful experience of my life. But the toe is still coming second). It was so painful I could do nothing but hold my foot and rock back and forth moaning for what felt like years. It hurt so badly that I lost touch with the rest of my senses – I was unable to see or hear. The only thing that existed was pain.

But I remember it pretty clearly because there wasn’t any sense of panic or danger. I wasn’t worried that I was going to die. I didn’t think I’d need an ambulance or even a doctor. I knew that the problem I was experiencing in that moment was one of pain and that the pain I was experiencing was not a reflection of the level of damage done to my foot.

And it really made me reflect on how rejection sensitivity has hurt me in the past and how devestatingly painful I have found it to be rejected by my peers. Being reminded of parties I didn’t get an invite to as a teenager and young adult will bring me to tears at 37 years old. But I’m trying to recontextualise these experiences (and the new ones that keep coming up and will do forever because, and it makes me want to throw up to even articulate this, some people will probably continue not to like me that much and will reject me over and over until I die) by thinking about my toe and remembering that the pain is not the damage.

When we’re in the midst of that excruciating emotional pain it’s natural to link our pain to an assumed level of damage.

What could I have done to deserve this kind of treatment that hurts SO much? Am I fundamentally a bad person? I will never be able to recover from this level of hurt and I will be weighed down for it forever.

But I’ve found it helpful to remember that the pain is not the damage. The pain is real. It is all encompassing and overwhelming. It’s real and it’s important.

But just as with my toe the pain doesn’t correspond to an equal level of emotional or psychological damage. The problem is pain.

The pain is not the damage.