Rejection sensitivity is a psychological condition characterized by oversensitivity to rejection. It typically appears in people with various neurotic conditions like borderline personality disorder, and it can be extremely debilitating for people who suffer from it. Treatment typically integrates treatment for the underlying neurotic condition with talk therapy to discuss and work through perceptions of rejection and unworthiness.
Someone with this condition tends to be extremely sensitive to rejection, often perceiving it where it does not exist. For example, upon hearing that a group of friends has gone out without her, a woman with rejection sensitivity might think that her friends didn't like her, when this is not the case. Her perception of rejection, however, might lead her to be angry or aggressive, putting stress on her relationship with her friends.
Individuals who suffer from this problem also suffer from an abnormal amount of dread in situations where rejection is a possibility. They might be extremely distressed at the thought of asking someone out on a date, for example, or at the idea of meeting new people. This anticipation can set up a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the person behaves strangely out of fear, thereby creating a situation in which he or she is rejected, confirming the previous fears.
In the case of actual rejection, people with rejection sensitivity tend to overreact, sometimes quite violently. In addition to being unpleasant for everyone involved, this overreaction can also work to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which rejection will be experienced over and over again as members of the person's social group learn that he or she is unstable.
While many people might think of rejection specifically in the sense of romantic rejection, rejection sensitivity can also strike people when they interact with peers, coworkers, and others. It also isn't limited to people in powerless positions; it is as likely to strike a shy 16-year-old girl as it is to plague a 50-year-old professor. Often, people are unaware of how severely this condition affects their lives until they start to receive treatment for it, causing their perception of the world to radically shift.
When dealing with someone who has this problem, it can be useful for individuals to remember that seemingly innocuous actions can be perceived as slights. It is sometimes helpful to stress that something is not a rejection if a person senses that someone else appears upset by it. People who are close to someone with this condition may want to encourage him or her to seek therapy.