Has this ever happened to you? Your significant other is trying on clothes that you know don’t look right. Then they ask you “well, how do I look?” All you can do is tell the truth as you see it. So, you say something like “I’m sorry, this doesn’t work” and the next thing you know, you’re in the doghouse, wondering “what did I do wrong?”
Well, the problem is that it’s a common mistake made by people on the Autism Spectrum. The mind of an aspie often thinks in very black-and-white concrete details. They often miss the nuances of a situation which would tell a neuro-typical person to tell a little white lie to avoid offending someone else and ending up in the doghouse, as all you boys know!
This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I’ve been honest to a fault with somebody and after they responded with a feeling of offense, I’m left wondering “what did I say?” Following my diagnosis I began to understand the patterns of my behavior. I consider myself lucky, because some Spectrum children never even develop an awareness about their own behavior. Having been without awareness for so long it is alternately a blissful ignorance and a painful crippling of self-esteem. I could not imagine living my entire life that way; I’m grateful for the ability to know myself and to have the drive to continue growing in strength.
During college, I took a wide variety of classes. Besides the literature and music courses, there were some classes that had a very enlightening effect on me; they were my psychology and communication courses and I learned a lot about human behavior which raised my self-awareness.
Communication is always a two-way street; it’s a given for people on the Spectrum and for the Neuro-Typical. I discovered that people communicate through sets of filters based on life experiences. These filters determine whether a person is introverted or extroverted, whether their self-esteem is low or high, how sensitive they are to criticism, and so on. Looking at my own experiences, I’m inclined to believe that someone born on the Spectrum not only lacks certain filters that some people learn to develop, but also are born with other filters that they have a difficult time modifying.
I’ve done some critical thinking and I feel like I have an explanation on how I communicate. Because of past bullying incidents I used to be very apprehensive about saying hello to a person at social gatherings. My fear of how somebody would respond left me on the fringe of a party. This fear can be traced back to the way my sensitive ears believed that my parents were yelling at me when in fact it was just a scolding. I allude to this in my post entitled “To Sense It All” http://lessonplanforlife.com/2012/06/30/to-sense-it-all/.
As I grew up, I discovered that I had developed a very critical way of looking at people and their actions. If I was being critiqued on schoolwork and/or writing that I had done, I had a problem accepting even positive criticism because I felt as though it was a personal attack. This is a problem I’ve had to deal with for a long time. I didn’t know how to give or receive offers of friendship, so I never developed anything long-term until high school.
When I started this blog I would read my first drafts to someone and whenever they had something to say about how I could improve a post, I would become tense and agitated, thinking that their words were directed at my skills and competency. This happened for a long time because I was so desperate to prove that I could do something right; I would not believe that I could make mistakes doing something I enjoyed doing. Even worse, when I was urged to ask for help in or out of the classroom, I was firmly gripping the belief that asking for help was a sign of vulnerability on my part. I needed to prove in my own way that someone on the Spectrum wasn’t helpless, and could stand on their own feet.
The folly of that way of thinking used to isolate me even more. It was a vicious cycle of needing to be understood, but unwilling to take the positive and negative, and so I would refuse aid, leaving me more isolated. Once again I was guilty of taking something personally.
I feel like it’s a mistake to believe that accepting any help is a sign of weakness, the only person someone should be worried about looking bad in front of is one’s self. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have my issues when creating something I’m passionate about. What I’m asking for is for people to hear me out when I tell them who I am and what my strengths and weaknesses are. This is part of my humanity: it’s what I am learning to accept and I can’t be anything less than who I am.
Going back to the way I looked at people and their actions, I believe that my strongest reactions would be like putting a mirror to my own insecurities and issues. Seeing someone who had done such positive and rewarding things in their life would make me admire them, but also make me feel insecure. For years after school I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be in life and it would just eat me up that I didn’t feel accomplished in some way.
Conversely, hearing stories about the people who got away with crimes related to theft and money for so long, and people who acted on revenge for a perceived injustice would trigger a sense of anger born out of jealousy. Yes, I admit it, a part of me deep inside was jealous of the people who did these horrible things because I would find myself thinking “boy, how pathetic was that? If I was in their shoes I’d do the deeds a hell of a lot differently and more discreet without the phony image and/or hypocrisy. With what I’ve been through, it should be me!”
It has taken me a lot of soul-searching to make peace with my faults and insecurities. I have always possessed a strong sense of right and wrong and common sense; deep inside I knew that my feelings were born out of isolation and lack of significance. There are times I feel like the hero in a film noir; I attempt to do the right thing while coming to terms with my own internal demons. Just like a film noir detective, I’m able to use my reasoning to see the shades of gray in myself and other people. I’ve learned about the differences of each person on the Spectrum and I feel like I’ve translated that process to seeing the many sides of people, asking why they are the way they are.
One of the best ways I’ve accepted the light and dark sides of me is reading a good book and watching a well-made movie. By looking deeply at certain characters, I can learn about myself by seeing them in me, and it matters not if they’re good, bad, or somewhere in between. As I continue writing this blog, I do have the old feelings about being critiqued; thankfully, I have become more accepting of the fact. I’m definitely not as sensitive to criticism as I used to be.
Where I am today is very different from where I used to be. My social blunders are now few and far between; with fresh perspectives from different sources I’ve gained a greater awareness about how I may be perceived by others. I am now able to communicate better; I have gained a charisma and confidence that I only dreamed of years ago. The critical, negative part of me is more under my control, and just like my Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s something I’ll be dealing with for the rest of my life. The more I speak about who I am, the more I feel like I am embracing my authentic self, and that has given me the courage and freedom to pursue my dreams. If you knew how to be your true self, how far would you go?