When I hear people, autistic or otherwise, talk about autistic social difficulties, they often say things along the lines of:
- “You and I just know all of these rules intuitively, but people with autism find them mysterious and have to learn them explicitly”
- “All of these rules that you…
A lot of neurotypical people also wind up learning social anti-skills, like passive/covert aggression, by learning them from other people, as we typically learn social skills – or disingenuousness, manipulation, impulsiveness, and treating others as unequal. These can all be passed along in the same way as social skills and can be subtle enough and effective enough in the short term of achieving the desired results that they can seem like social skills. I’ve been in groups that normalize poor social skills, relational aggression, and discrimination, and it can be hard to learn and practice better skills in those situations.
It pays to pay attention to what you’ve picked up, and make your own choices about how you want to treat others, and then practice skills that reflect those choices. Everyone can benefit from learning more about interaction, where it goes wrong and how it can work better for everyone. One of the many reasons why I so appreciate realsocialskills and Captain Awkward.
Other resources I like are Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s interpersonal effectiveness module, the Non-Violent Communication module, and Suzette Haden Elgin’s books on the gentle art of verbal self defense. These have at their core assertiveness and respect for self and others, something the whole world needs more of.
Yes, neurotypical people can definitely end up learning anti-skills. Particularly it they are gay, trans, disabled, poor, people of color, or women. Particularly if they are several of those things. But even if they’re not any of those things. Life is complicated, and there are many ways people can end up acquiring anti-skills.
That said, I would advise extreme caution with Non-Violent Communication. Non-violent communication is often harmful to marginalized people or abuse survivors, and it can teach powerful people to abuse their power more than they had previously. Non-Violent Communication has strategies that can be helpful in some situations, but it also teaches a lot of anti-skills that can undermine the ability to survive and fight injustice and abuse.
For marginalized or abused people, being judgmental is a necessary survival skill. Sometimes it’s not enough to say "when you call me slurs, I feel humiliated” - particularly if the other person doesn’t care about hurting you or actually wants to hurt you. Sometimes you have to say “The word you called me is a slur. It’s not ok to call me slurs. Stop.” Sometimes you have to say to yourself “I’m ok, they’re mean.”
You can’t protect yourself from people who mean you harm without judging them. Non-violent communication works when people are hurting each other by accident; it only works when everyone means well. It doesn’t have responses that work when people are hurting others on purpose or without caring about damage they do. Which, if you’re marginalized or abused, happens several times a day. NVC does not have a framework for acknowledging this or responding to it.
NVC also values saying things in a really specific way very highly, and judges people less on the content of what they’re saying than how they are saying it. And generally, abusers and cluelessly powerful people are much better at using NVC language than people who are actively being hurt. When you’re just messing with someone’s head or protecting your own right to do so, it’s easy to phrase things correctly. When someone is abusing you and you’re trying to explain what’s wrong, and you’re actively terrified, it’s much, much harder to phrase things in I-statements that take an acceptable tone.
Further, there is *always* a way to take issue with the way someone phrased something. It’s really easy to make something that’s really about shutting someone up look like a concern about the way they’re using language, or advice on how to communicate better. Every group I’ve seen that valued this type of language highly ended up nitpicking the language of the least popular person in the group as a way of shutting them up.
tl;dr Be careful with Nonviolent Communication. It has some merits, but it is not the complete solution to conflict or communication that it presents itself as.