Ever wonder if your RSD is impacting you at work? It is, and if you’re an attorney with RSD it could be impacting how you handle your cases. Before we discuss the ways RSD impacts attorneys, let’s be clear on what it is and who is impacted by it.

What is RSD?

Dodson describes RSD or rejection sensitive dysphoria as a severe emotional response triggered by perceived rejection or criticism, teasing or criticism that significantly impacts an individual’s ability to function effectively. It can be experienced like an intense physical pain. It generally occurs with ADHD. Some experts believe that it is not a separate condition from ADHD. In their view, RSD is a more intense expression of the emotional dysregulation that most people with ADHD experience. Regardless of whether it’s a form of ADHD sensitivity or a separate condition, it is real.  Consequently, we have to deal with it in our personal and professional lives.

How are attorneys impacted by RSD at work?

Dodson has identified three main behavioral responses to RSD:

• The People Pleaser.

The people pleaser is anxious to obtain approval of others. They avoid conflict at all costs. They rarely say no to assignments resulting in unrealistic workloads with deadlines they cannot meet. Compounding this, they rarely ask for help in these situations fearing that the request will be viewed negatively. They cannot achieve anything resembling work/life balance because of their inability to say “no.” This path often leads to burnout and worse.

RSD at work can impact an attorney, who is a people pleaser, in the course of representing a client, in many ways. One of the hardest parts of being a lawyer is that sometimes we have to tell our clients“No.” People pleasers, who don’t do this, can experience burnout or worse, lose their licenses for agreeing to do things that they should not. In litigation or transactional work, the people pleaser may be afraid to “offend” opposing counsel by zealously advocating for their client or be reluctant to take on cases that are less than sure winners.

• The Perfectionist.

The perfectionist who is experiencing RSD at work may procrastinate at starting anything new, unfamiliar or challenging because of a fear of failure. They know that their performance is inconsistent and strongly prefer to do what they have done successfully before. As a result, they avoid avenues that carry even a small risk of failure. In terms of their careers, that means they may turn down advancement opportunities or new assignments because at heart they are not confident that they will succeed at things they have not mastered. In terms of client representation, they may not advance creative or new theories that are not proven successful. Perfectionist are hard to work with because in search of perfection, they miss deadlines, violate page limitations and demand perfection from their colleagues and subordinates.

• The Overwhelmed.

Some attorneys with ADHD get so overwhelmed by their fear of rejection, that they simply shut down. They seek work that is routine and carries no risk of failure. Or, when given an assignment out of the ordinary, they shut down. They don’t respond to emails or inquiries about how the assignment is coming along—usually out of shame. They don’t ask for assistance or guidance for fear that would be perceived negatively. This results in colleague frustration which often gets worse when the task is re-assigned.

I have observed a forth behavioral response:

• The Over-Zealous Guardian.

Some people with RSD are overly protective of themselves and are on constant guard for rejection or criticism from others. When they perceive rejection or criticism (real or imagined), they instantly react with anger, frustration or attacks on others. In the workplace, they may interpret disagreement with a colleague on a legal issue as an attack and respond in kind. This can lead to others not being willing to work with them or complaints about bullying or harassment.

The first step toward dealing with your RSD at work is to learn what you can about ADHD and RSD and how they impact you. Everyone is unique and the impacts differ from person to person. Sometimes it just helps to know what it is and how it impacts us.

The second step is, in the moment, to pause to give the rational part of your brain time to catch up with your emotions. You are experiencing an emotional flood, can you name the emotion? Naming the emotion can help you control it. Finally, working with an ADHD coach can help you find more strategies tailored to fit you and your situation. Finally, treatment, therapy and medication are available and can help you deal with your RSD.


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