April 11, 2023

The Power of Therapy for Rejection Sensitivity

Helen Villiers is here with me again in this week’s podcast! You might remember Helen from Episode #200: Maybe I’m Not the Problem: Understanding Emotional Abuse with Helen Villiers and Katie McKenna. Helen is a psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast, In Sight – Exposing Narcissism.  

In part 3 of the rejection series, we talk about rejection trauma from the beautiful perspective of a therapist with ADHD. This episode is so affirming of my feelings and opinions shared last week on Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. 

Helen explains important terms such as toxic shame, moral defense, mirroring and stonewalling. We also learn how to identify if a therapist is a good therapist. But my favorite part is when Helen helps me identify why it can be so hard to not take rejection personally and why I look for mirroring in relationships to help me feel safe.

The moral of the story is: therapy works! And immersing yourself in good education, encouragement and coaching in a group like FOCUSED can make a world of difference in dealing with rejection in everyday life.



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Kristen Carder 0:05
Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. Hayward what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you’re listening to the I have ADHD podcast. I am medicated. I am caffeinated. I am regulated. And I am ready to roll.

Welcome, welcome. We are in the midst of a series on rejection. And I’m just wondering, like, Are you doing okay, I know the last couple of weeks have probably been a lot for you to handle. And if I could reach out and give you a hug, I totally would. Actually I’m not much of a hugger anymore. In my real life. I certainly used to be but now I have better boundaries. But seriously, I would hug you if I could because I know these episodes on rejection are probably a lot. They’ve been a lot for me to research and record. So anyway, I’m just sending you lots and lots of hugs and support as we navigate this rejection territory together. Today’s episode is part three in our series on rejection. And I have with me today, Helen Villars, who was here just a few weeks ago for the incredible episode called Understanding emotional abuse. And we’re gonna get into all the things related to ADHD and rejection today, I can’t wait for you to hear it because we get a little fired up really, really fired up. Actually.

Before we get started though, let’s review kind of where we’re at in this series. Episode One was all about how rejection sensitivity is very, very common for most adults with ADHD, including yours truly, Kristen Carter. If you haven’t listened to that episode, yet, it’s a must, please make sure to check it out, because it will give you really good context for this conversation that I have today with Helen. Episode Two came out last week and was basically me ranting about RSD, which is rejection sensitive dysphoria, and how I personally am no longer using that term for myself on this podcast or in my coaching practice, although you are perfectly entitled to use that term, if you would like and I will never judge you for that ever, ever, ever. I am feeling a little insecure about last week’s episode, because I literally just recorded it yesterday. And I’m not sure if I got this point across. So I want to kind of explain it and maybe I’m over explaining or maybe I’m just making it clear, I’m not really sure. But in any case, I want to make sure that you hear me say that it’s the lack of nuance, and no acknowledgement of the complexity of the rejection experience and healing process for an adult with ADHD. That is the reason why I personally will no longer be using the term rejection sensitive dysphoria or RSD. From what I can find that there is one respected doctor in the ADHD community that has coined this term. And that doctor says that RSD is strictly genetic and neurological. He says that it’s not caused by trauma. He also says that nothing other than medication helps to heal our SD, he does not give any data to back up these claims. And I sincerely disagree with him. And therefore the term RSD is not something that I’m willing to embrace. I do however, 100% fully fully fully acknowledge that rejection is a major part of the ADHD experience. And I will be referring to this experience as rejection sensitivity or highly sensitive to rejection.

Now as people with ADHD, we receive rejection, both implicitly and explicitly our whole lives, our whole lives. And because of that, which by the way, is trauma. We are highly highly, highly sensitive to rejection, even just the perceived rejection of maybe maybe maybe this could happen, or rejection scenarios that we make up in our brain, in my opinion, in my experience, which I feel like I need to add.

Okay, so today, I cannot wait for you to hear this because I have on the show, an amazing psychotherapist Helen Villars and we’re going to discuss the trauma of being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world and how rejection impacts us. And let me tell you a little bit about Helen before we get started after qualifying as a psychotherapist, how Linda villa has completed a master’s dissertation and working therapeutically with adult children of narcissistic parents. Helens client base is largely adult children of narcissistic parents or survivors of narcissistic partners. Helen has a full and busy practice. And she also co hosts the podcast insight, exposing narcissism, which I have found to be massively massively helpful in my own healing journey. I highly recommend it. Helen has ADHD. She’s a lovely human, and she’s here with us today to talk all about rejection. Please enjoy this incredible and very spicy interview with Helen Villiers. Helen, welcome back to the podcast. I’m thrilled to have you. Thank you so much for being here.

Helen Villiers 5:49
I’m so excited. Thank you for having me back. It’s so exciting.

Kristen Carder 5:54
I am so looking forward to chatting with you. Because when we were recording the last episode that we did together, which ironically came out today, which I love. We just had a very quick back and forth about rejection sensitivity. And it really sparked in my mind, man, I would love to have a conversation with you about your thoughts on rejection sensitivity. So I would first love to hear, Helen, how do you define rejection sensitivity.

Helen Villiers 6:26
Rejection sensitivity for me is where toxic shame gets triggered by somebody saying you’re not someone I want around me or you’re not good enough at this thing. Or maybe it’s I don’t know, you failed at a task. In some ways. It’s the confirmation of not being good enough, which triggers a toxic shame response. And there’s a big difference between toxic and healthy shame. Toxic shame will last for days and days and healthy shame will be a couple of hours and you’ve made me feel a little bit bad. But toxic shame is look, here’s the evidence that you’re a terrible, terrible person. And that’s what rejection sensitivity does. Is shows us evidence that we are not good enough that we are not lovable that we’re not wanted. We’re not worthy. And yeah, it’s very, very, very painful. Painful, like I can’t overstate how painful it is so bad.

Kristen Carder 7:15
I would even go as far as to say it can be debilitating.

Helen Villiers 7:19
Yeah, absolutely. It really like disabling it freezes us. It puts us into fight flight freeze and fawn responses, right? Rejection sensitivity is so disabling it puts us into our trauma responses, our survival responses, right. And quite often what it does is paralyzes people, because I don’t know which way to turn so that I’m safe, so that I’m accepted so that I don’t push this to the point of me being discarded. And it’s

Kristen Carder 7:49
so hard. And in your opinion, why do people with ADHD experience extreme rejection sensitivity?

Helen Villiers 7:59
Well, if you think about ADHD, people having bigger emotions anyway. So typically, you will see that there’s an emotional, I don’t want to say dysregulation, there’s just an emotional experience that’s different to the neurotypical experience, because they are typically bigger emotional responses, even that I’m still in the front on the fence of is that even just trauma responses? I don’t know. I feel like it probably is, but that’s a whole different podcast. But for me, it’s because in childhood, you’re expected to be neurotypical until proven otherwise. Right? And we had the conversation on our last episode where I said to you, that anybody who grows up in an environment where they are just accepted as they are, where they’re not shamed or punished or bullied into being your typical, won’t have RSD or rejection sensitivity, right? So that’s why I’m so convinced that rejection sensitivity has nothing to do with ADHD traits or symptoms. It’s 100% For me, trauma around being forced and bullied and pigeonholed into neurotypical thinking and behaving. And you know, the ADHD child doesn’t want to sit on a chair and learn sums all day. They want to run around and explore the world and climb things and create things and, and I’m watching it now in my own child who bless her is in school and she is the most creative, interested thing. And she’s being asked to sit still and she just can’t she she has to sit on a wobble backboard on her chair because she fitted so much and it’s like well then that her fidget. You know, it’s Yeah, bless her. She’s, I mean, the expectation of mainstream education, or just generally education of children to fit this neurotypical standpoint is awful. But then let’s go back into family of origin, who are then also going to be using the kind of shaming behaviors around these parts of you aren’t good enough and All those parts of your ADHD parts, and so then those parts get rejected. So anytime you share any parts of yourself that is related to ADHD, you are terrified that you’re gonna get rejected. And so you build your mask, and you put it on, what does it

Kristen Carder 10:14
do to a child when they are rejected within their family system?

Helen Villiers 10:18
Oh, gosh, the exile of that it’s just intensely painful. And what it will create is a desperate attempt to retain the attachment figures. So there is something called the moral defense, which so I could get a bit theoretical now. So I don’t know. Yeah, okay. Okay. So it’s not too hard to concept. But the idea is that the moral defense is where a child will believe that they are the bad thing in any of their relationships, right. So if they’re objects, which are their parents, caregivers, whoever around them, are showing things that are on pleasant unkind, it will be easier for the child to believe that they are the problem. Because if the child is the problem, that they’ve got a chance to fix it, right. And the healthy parent will say, No, no love, that’s not your fault. Mommy snapped at you because x y Zed, and I shouldn’t have done it, and I won’t do it again, you are fine. And they will reassure the child and not punish them or whatever. The unhealthy parent, particularly the narcissistic parent will lock in, while the narcissistic parent uses something called complimentary moral defense. But the unhealthy parent will reinforce the idea that they are the child is the bad thing. So the child grows up thinking every time something bad happens in their relationships, they are the problem, and they are the thing that caused it. And sometimes it’s easier to sit with that because it makes us feel hopeful that we can change it, we can change those relationships that the person will treat us because a child above everything else wants to maintain their attachment relationship. And they will absolutely 100% sacrifice themselves in order to this

Kristen Carder 12:01
is where people pleasing is born out of. Would you say?

Helen Villiers 12:06
Yeah, well, will you think about it? If somebody is told you’re bad, and I’m cross at you? What am I what can I do to make it up to you? How can I make that better? How can I make that go away? For a small child to be told your emotional safety is compromised? Because I am displeased with you? Right? So they, and it doesn’t even have to be by the way, I’m cross with you. It could just be not talking to you. I’m not. I’m not wiping so loud. Right? It could be. You think about the ADHD kids, honestly, I think my own daughter who is just excited about the world, she wants to look at everything and do everything. And she just wants to ask every single question. And she wants to bounce on a trampoline all day. And she wants to do this and that and the other. And she’s not actually officially diagnosed. But how she isn’t? I don’t know, too. We haven’t had the assessment that’s out. But she, you know, I look at her behavior and how excited about the world she is and even if she’s neurotypical, if I was to turn around to her and go, Oh, would you just stop asking questions for five minutes? What’s that going to make her fear? Shame, panic, panic, that I’m not loving her panic that I don’t want to be around her. So she’s going to say, I’m sorry, Mommy, I’m sorry. I won’t ask any more questions. And then when she goes, Oh, by the way, what’s this thing over there? Oh, no, don’t worry about me. I won’t ask a question. See immediately is a panic response.

Kristen Carder 13:29
Because there’s nothing more unsafe than feeling like the attachment is being severed? Yeah,

Helen Villiers 13:38
absolutely. Absolutely. And we know that from the rhesus monkeys from Harlow, which was a terrible, terrible experiment, but it just showed that monkey, the little monkeys, baby monkeys will seek comfort from the mother figure rather than food. They will always choose the soft, cuddly monkey, rather than the one that’s got food. Just I mean, it’s devastating. Probably don’t go and watch that one. It’s really

Kristen Carder 14:07
trigger warnings with that one. Oh, that’s already like

Helen Villiers 14:11
all of them. Yeah.

Kristen Carder 14:15
I’ve done research on RSD for a couple years intermittently in my quest to understand myself and help my clients with ADHD. And of course, you know, there are a couple reputable sources that I go to to find info and one of those is attitude magazine. And I was really astonished by the article that I read in attitude magazine, and this was over a year ago. It was updated this year on January 20, but it’s been published for longer than that. And it’s written by William Dotson. And the way that he talks about rejection sensitivity. I’m just gonna go ahead and say it but Do me, it bugs me. And it continues to bug me. And one of the reasons why we are over 200 episodes into this podcast and I have not had an episode on this topic is because I feel like an outlier when it comes to my thoughts on rejection sensitivity dysphoria, because, in my opinion, it actually not in my opinion, the facts are that there has not been much research on it. The facts are that it is not a known medical condition, it is not something that all clinicians are in consensus about it there is not consensus yet on rejection sensitive dysphoria. And it bugs me when people talk about it from a position of authority as if it is well researched as if we know everything about it as if medication and interventions have been tested and tried and researched. And you know, we have decades of information about it, we just don’t. And it really, so I’m gonna read a couple quotes from this article and just get your opinion on it. Because I’m curious what your thoughts are. Rejection sensitivity is part of ADHD, it’s neurologic and genetic. early trauma makes anything worse, but does not cause RSD. Here, here’s something that I find problematic with this statement. There is so little research on RSD. So little research, and it is not an officially recognized medical condition. So when you speak with such authority, about something that first has not been well researched, and second is not even a recognized medical condition. It really can lead people to write off interventions that may be very helpful. Yeah, later on in the article, the author goes on to say psychotherapy does not particularly help patients with RSD. I

Helen Villiers 17:11
feel really offended. Oh, my, I feel rejected. No, no, I’m fine. But go and carry on. I’d love to hear this while we

Kristen Carder 17:21
go. Psychotherapy does not particularly help patients with RSD. Because the emotions hit suddenly and completely overwhelm the mind and senses. And I would love to call BS on that statement.

Helen Villiers 17:36
I’m coming with you to dial the number because Geez Louise, that is unbelievable. I work with so many people on this absolute concept of rejection being one of the root things that we have to work with, in order to build us a healthy sense of self and to be in healthy relationships. Because we have to be able to hear the word no, we have to be rejected and be able to reject ourselves, because so it’s not just hearing it is being able to say it. It’s 100% trauma related. I’d love to know what genetic evidence they’ve got, because I don’t believe that sorry.

Kristen Carder 18:09
Yeah, and there are no scholarly articles linked on this article, which is very interesting. I am not a huge fan. I’m not a huge fan.

Helen Villiers 18:18
I mean, that’s so dangerous, right? It’s one thing to make a statement about this is this, and here’s the evidence, but there’s no evidence being presented. So people are going to read that who don’t know better and take it as verbatim that there are like rejection sensitivity is a medical condition that they’ve got no control over whatsoever. And how disempowering is that to Pete, right? You can’t control this, it’s just happens to you, and nothing will help you. I mean, that’s so horribly irresponsible.

Kristen Carder 18:49
I mean, what we’re doing right now is calling out the most well read ADHD source groups on the internet. And I’m going through to see if there are scholarly articles listed and what all of the links are internal links to other articles within this website. So there’s no external links to scholarly articles. There are links to medications, however, are great. So if if that perhaps is an indicator of why there might be some motivation to to call this definitively a, you know, a neurological condition and it must be treated with medication. I think that maybe is perhaps a tell.

Helen Villiers 19:41
Well, one could argue that everything is neurological condition because it is in the brain. So are you willing, I’m being a bit controversial and flippant, but I’m actually really horrified that they’re, they’re posting stuff like that with the position and platform that they’ve got and not qualifying it with reputable sources. It’s just you can’t do that in academia. And you can’t, you know, if you’re feeding that to the masses saying it’s alright for you to have this thing, you don’t have to do anything about it. You know, that’s both. Or it’s enabling and disabling. Right?

Kristen Carder 20:19
It has been reviewed, it’s been reviewed by the attitude, medical advisory panel. And so 1234 I mean, there’s like a bunch of people listed on the advisory panel.

Helen Villiers 20:34
But it’s their own advisory panel, not an independent one.

Kristen Carder 20:42
So here’s what we’re trying to say, Dear listener, I think what we’re trying to say is rejection sensitivity is absolutely a thing.

Helen Villiers 20:52
Yes. 100% a thing. So I’m not denying that at all. And it’s so valid, and I am so sorry, if you experience it, and I will share that I used to I used to have it so badly. And guess what, seven years of therapy and it’s gone? Yeah, it took a long time. And it’s really hard. And every now and again, I can touch that wound just ever so slightly, but I’m able to regulate it, I’m able to pull myself back from it, I’m able to discuss it with myself. And that is thanks to therapy. And I, you know, obviously I might be seen as having an agenda because I’m a therapist, but I’m not going to make money out of anybody else hearing this, because you’re not going to come to me for therapy. So, right. So what I would just say is, it’s so valid to have your experience of rejection and being really, really difficult. And it’s, it is so painful when you’re in that space. What I’m saying is, you could have got the power to change it. Right. And that is the difference. Yeah, I think it’s something that people really struggle with, is that they can change it. Because when we say you can change it means it’s a call to action. And some people struggle with that. Cool, you know, and that’s okay, because we got to go when it’s the right time.

Kristen Carder 22:02
I completely agree. I think that there is a segment of people who learn about rejection sensitivity, or RSD. And feel so validated, which is completely the way that I felt as well. But they don’t take it a step farther. Right. So like, the first step is to recognize that it is a real thing. And feel that validation and know that you’re not broken and know that there’s a reason why you are so so sensitive to the word no, or to the to rejection, or even perceived or potential rejection. That is extremely valid. But what I would love to invite the listener into is, maybe there’s something we can do about it. Yeah, maybe it’s not just enough to validate it. Maybe the next step is, how do I understand myself better? How do I understand my childhood and my upbringing and my the family dynamics and even current relational dynamics, and really stepped into my own authority of not everything is rejection?

Helen Villiers 23:14
is that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s the letting go of that. Because actually, my fear of rejection kept me safe for so long. Because if I could look out for it, and be hyper vigilant, hyper aware to it, then I could prevent it from happening instead of recognizing that rejection is actually usually about the other person than it is about me. And that’s something people really struggle to grasp. But actually, if someone rejects me, it doesn’t mean I’m inherently rejectable or unlovable or unworthy. What it’s just saying is, I’m not right for them. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s okay.

Kristen Carder 23:48
I’m still working on that part.

Helen Villiers 23:50
Yeah, it’s hard to you know, I was explaining it to a client this morning. I was talking about the Earl Grey tea. Right. You know what Earl Grey tea is? Yes. Okay. I just you know, the culture device so British. So, I hate Earl Grey tea, like I loathe Earl Grey tea. It’s revolting to me. I think it’s absolutely disgusting. It’s too floral and fragrant and I can’t even bear someone making it in my house. I hate it that much. Right. But my dislike of Earl Grey tea doesn’t mean Oh, Grey tea is unlovable. Very, it does. My valuing of the Earl Grey tea is not the value system on which the Earl Grey tea should be like decided, right? Because there will always be someone who loves it. And that is what we’re talking about. When we’re talking about rejection. It’s fine for me to reject her great doesn’t mean gray is not lovable. It just means that I don’t love them. And that’s fine. That doesn’t make me a bad person or they’re them a bad person is just the way it is.

Kristen Carder 24:50
Yeah, that’s so that’s so so powerful. And now a word from our sponsor. Hey, I’m Kristin here. I’m the host of this podcast, an ADHD expert and a certified life coach who’s helped hundreds of adults with ADHD understand their unique brains and make real changes in their lives. If you’re not sure what a life coaches let me tell you, a life coach is someone who helps you achieve your goals like a personal trainer for your life. A life coach is a guide who holds your hand along the way as you take baby step after baby step to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish. A good life coach is a trained expert, who knows how to look at situations or situations with non judgmental neutrality, and offer you solutions that you’ve probably never even considered before. If you’re being treated for your ADHD, and maybe even you’ve done some work in therapy, and you want to add to your scaffolding of support, you’ve got to join my group coaching, program focused focused is where functional adults with ADHD surround each other with encouragement and support. And I lead the way with innovative and creative solutions to help you fully accept yourself, understand your ADHD, and create the life that you’ve always wanted to create. Even with ADHD. Go to I have to join. And I hope to see you in our community today. Like I said, I am for sure still in process with this because I I recognize now, thanks to a lot of therapy and coaching, I recognize when I am being hypersensitive to rejection, I do recognize that I recognize that my body is very dysregulated. Yeah, I’m able to do this actually just happened last night. So this is a perfect example. I’m able to notice it recognize it and and work through the calming down of it. But it does still linger for me, it is still kind of in the back of my mind, I need to go fix this. I need to make it I need to do something so that I feel like they adore me because I love to be adored. Right. And so if someone is not adoring me, I feel very unsafe. And that’s my own. That’s that’s my own issue that is actually quite dangerous. Yeah, that’s very dangerous. I need to be able to receive feedback, I need to be able to be in relationships where I’m not adored that that’s just not, it’s not healthy.

Helen Villiers 27:36
Well, I was just gonna ask you. What’s the what does it look like to be adored? How do you receive? Or what would you see as someone showing you that they adored you?

Kristen Carder 27:51
Oh, that’s so interesting. Somebody’s really liking my ideas. Okay, going back and forth pretty quickly without a lot of lag time. That is something that I think a lot of people can relate to. But I think also really does stem from childhood trauma of perhaps getting the silent treatment in childhood. And so now, I might perceive even just a little bit of lag time in a response to a question as being the silent treatment and thinking someone’s mad at me. Yeah. Okay. So maybe it’s not even being adored. Maybe it’s just being responded to

Helen Villiers 28:30
do you know what that sounds like? What you’re looking for is mirroring.

Kristen Carder 28:36
Oh, that resonates very deeply. Yeah. So when I’m not being mirrored, I do feel unsafe. And potential rejection coming.

Helen Villiers 28:53
Yeah, because what’s the opposite of mirroring,

Kristen Carder 28:55
like shutting out almost? stonewalling?

Helen Villiers  28:59  
Mirroring is emotional validation. And stonewalling is emotional abandonment, and therefore invalidation. So what you’re saying is to not feel in danger of rejection, I need to be mirrored and to feel adored, as it is seen and heard and loved. I need to be mirrored, okay. But the great thing about that is you can do that for yourself. You know, you can do that to yourself for yourself by literally talking to yourself, and I know people are gonna go sounds a bit weird, but you can say, Yes, that’s a great idea. I can do this. And I could do that. Yeah, no, I’m really good at these things. And like, No, I’m a good friend. I know. I’m a good friend. I like where’s the evidence that I’m a bad friend. I know. I’m a good friend. I also know that person will come to me if they’ve got a problem with me and I don’t need to create a set of things that might be existing. When I know that they will come to me because the other side of this is, let’s flip it over and look at how this awareness helps you because that’s the other side we think think, Oh, it’s so awful having this sensitivity to rejection, it’s so gross the shame that fills our body that toxic shame that will last for days and days and days. What we’re not looking at is, how does it help us? And what it’s generally telling us is this relationship is not safe, you are not seen, you are not heard you are not validated in this relationship. And we need to pay attention to that. Yes, we have to look at where we might be asking for too much or a childhood wound to be healed by somebody else, which, you know, we have to reparent ourselves. But we also need to take note, is it actually telling me something I need to listen to? Because maybe it’s trying to help you. As much as that reminds

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