I'm ok you're mean

this ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:
i know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies, because that can crush the kid’s self-esteem later, & can so easily turn them into someone who bullies a different kid to feel better.
but what should you say to support kids instead?
yrs, a past bullying victim, now older & trying to support kids thru the same thing
realsocialskills said:
I think, before considerations about teaching kids who come to you for help self defense, it’s important to consider what you might be able to do to protect them. You are likely in a position to offer them material protection as well as self-defense advice. This is a situation in which actions speak louder than words.

            

For instance:
Can you offer bullied kids a refuge?
  • If you’re a teacher in a school, can you start a lunch club or recess club where kids can eat and hang out in your classroom instead of going to the playground?
  • If neighborhood kids are coming to you for help, can you make your house or yard a safe space for them to hang out in away from bullies? 

If you’re an adult with some kind of power over kids (eg: a teacher, a youth group leader, etc), you might be able to make some things better by supervising things more:

  • Can you pay close attention to what’s going on, and intervene when the wrong kid gets suspended?
  • (You know from being bullied that the kid who gets caught often isn’t the kid who started it.
  • If you pay enough attention, you might be in a position to protect the kid who is being unjustly punished.)
  • Can you pay attention to when harassment and bullying rules are being broken, and enforce them? Rules can actually make a difference when they are enforced consistently.
  • (For instance: if there’s a rule against touching people’s stuff without permission, can you pay attention to when kids take other people’s stuff and insist that they stop?)
If the bullies are taking or destroying the kid’s possessions in a place that’s hard to supervise, can you offer them a safe place to keep it?
  • Being able to store things in a place bullies can’t get to can make a huge difference
  • For instance, a kid whose science project keeps getting destroyed by bullies can complete it if teachers give her a secure space to store it and work on it
  • A kid whose dolls keep getting destroyed by his brothers will probably be much more ok if an adult gives him a safe place to keep his dolls.
If the bullies are preventing the kids from eating:
  • Can you provide a safe place for them to eat? 
  • If bullies keep taking food away from the kids who are coming to you for help, can you give them food?
  • If kids need to break rules in order to eat safely, can you allow them to break the rules?
Has the kid been physically injured or threatened in a way the police might take seriously?
  • Sometimes the police might take things seriously even if the school does not
  • Calling the police is not always a good idea, but sometimes it is
  • If calling the police might be warranted, can you offer to sit with the kid while they call the police?
  • Or to call for them?
  • Or to go to the police station and make a report together?
  • Going to the police is a lot less scary if someone is helping you; and children are more likely to be believed if adults are backing them up
  • If they have to go to court, can you offer to go along for moral support? (It makes a difference. Testifying is often terrifying and horrible and it’s not something anyone should ever have to do without support)
What else can you do?
  • I don’t know you, so I don’t know what the kids coming to you need, or what you’re in a position to offer.
  • But there are almost certainly things you can do that I haven’t thought of
  • if you think it through, you can probably think of and do some things that materially help bullied kids.
  • Actions speak louder than words. If you help protect them, you send the message that they are worth protecting.
You can also be an adult who believes them:
  • Being believed about bullying is incredibly powerful
  • So is listening
  • Kids who are bullied often have everyone in their life try to downplay how awful it is
  • If you believe them about their experiences and listen, you send the message that it matters that others are treating them badly
  • And that it’s not their fault.
  • And that they’re ok and the bullies are mean.
There is an emotional self-defense technique that works better than the destructive one we were taught as children. It was developed by Dave Hingsburger, and he describes it in The Are Word (a book anyone working with people who are bullied for any reason need to read.)
 
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how it works, and I will probably do so again in the future. 

            

Have any of y'all helped out bullied kids? What have you done?

dephinia:

Stop romanticizing neurotypicality

realsocialskills:

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…

dephinia said:

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.

realsocialskills said:

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.

When parents ask invasive questions

Hi. My parents are always asking me why I do things like rock back and forth or become unable to talk. When I say “I don’t know” they press me until I throw wordsoup at them. If I answer “I was overloaded” or whatever “Why were you overloaded?” “The lights.” “Why did the lights bug you today and not yesterday?” “I didn’t sleep well.” “Why didn’t you sleep well?” They go farther and farther until I say I don’t know, then press me until I make up reasons. I hate it. Help?
realsocialskills said:
That’s hard. There are no universal strategies that work for everyone in this case, and you might not be able to get them to stop, particularly if you are still living with them. That said, here are some possibilities:
Depending on your relationship with them, it might help to talk to them about it when you’re all calm. If they care about how you feel, it might help to tell them that it’s hurting you, possibly along the lines of:
  • Mom, when I am rocking back and forth or unable to speak, the last thing I want to do is talk about it. It really hurts my feelings when you press me for answers. There’s always a reason, but I don’t always know it, and it’s not something I want to talk about when I’m in that state of mind. When I’m rocking or unable to speak, I’d prefer that you leave me be.
  • or:
  • Dad, I get the sense that when I rock or can’t speak, it makes you very worried and you want to find out exactly what’s going on. I know you mean well, but that doesn’t help. Rocking and losing speech sometimes is actually fairly normal for autistic people, and it hurts my feelings when you act like it’s a problem to be solved. When I rock or can’t talk, that’s ok, and I’d prefer that you let me be and stop trying to investigate.
  • This only works if your parents care about your feelings and are likely to believe you. I don’t know you or your family, so I can’t tell you whether or not you have that kind of relationship.

Also depending on your relationship with them, you might be able to unilaterally refuse to talk about these things. This depends on how much power you have and how they are likely to react, but it’s a possibility worth considering:

  • If you refuse explicitly and say “I do not want to talk about that”, they will probably get angry
  • But it’s hard for them to argue with, particularly if you adopt a broken record approach and don’t answer questions like “why not?”, or answer them in closed ways like “That’s private.”
  • Whether this is a good idea depends on what your parents are likely to do if they get angry, and whether you consider that consequence bearable.
  • If all they’re likely to do is get angry or yell at you, it’s probably in your interest to develop a tolerance for yelling and anger
  • This is a good post by Dave Hingsburger about a man with a developmental disability learning to tolerate parental anger

Another possible broken-record approach:

  • When they’re asking, it might help to say “because I’m autistic”, and “because that’s what autistic people do” in response to all of their questions
  • Or something lighter like shrugging and saying “My brain works in mysterious ways”, if you can pull off a light tone with that.
  • This might work better than outright refusing or saying “I don’t know”, since it’s an answer, but it doesn’t get into details

Another possibility: infodump and bore them:

  • If they want to ask you about rocking or losing speech, you might try telling them every single thing you can think of about rocking and losing speech, in as verbose a manner as you can manage
  • And answer every followup question with another longwinded monologue
  • Infodumping can be a superpower of self defense. As Laura Hershey put it about wheelchair users blocking inaccessible doors, such power should not be wasted
  • If you’re infodumping and answering the question you want to answer rather than the one they want you to answer, that gives you power

Another possibility: lie

  • It might help to make up something that sounds plausible and just answer that every time they ask
  • Lying can be easier than trying to tell the truth
  • Particularly if you practice the lie and refine it to become an answer they find satisfying
  • “Why were you rocking?” “Because I was overloaded.” “Why?” “Because of the lights.” “Why did the lights bother you today and not yesterday?” “Today the lights were different. I think the bulbs are burning out.”
  • It is ok to lie when people are harassing you about things that are none of their business, even if they love you, even if they are your parents

Another possibility: Aggressively change the subject when they ask questions you don’t want to answer;

  • This is particularly effective if they have things they are particularly interested in
  • Eg “Why were you rocking?” “So, are you looking forward to the big game tonight?”
  • This doesn’t work on everyone, but it can be very effective with some people

Another possibility: Talk about the things they’re objecting to in positive terms:

  • “Why were you rocking?” “Because rocking is awesome!”
  • “Why weren’t you talking?” “Because words are overrated and the space outside of words is beautiful”
  • This can be disarming, in part because it’s rude to argue with people about things they like
  • They might follow up with: “But other people think it looks weird”, which you can answer “That’s their problem.” or “That’s ok.”
  • They might also say “That’s inappropriate”. I don’t know a great rhetorical response to that one, but people who say that are in fact wrong.

Another possibility: Turn the questions back on them:

  • “Why were you rocking?” “Why do you ask?”
  • This can be surprisingly effective with a lot of people, particularly if you can manage to sound curious or therapeutic.
  • Having a snarky/offended tone isn’t quite as effective, but it can sometimes work too, because it implies “that was not an appropriate question”. That tone will get some people to back off; it will cause others to argue

These are some of the strategies I know. Captain Awkward also talks about parents and boundaries a lot. You might want to take a look through her archives. (That said, take her advice about therapy with a grain of salt. What she says is true for a lot of people, but it isn’t necessarily going to be good advice for people with disabilities, particularly teenagers).

Beyond that, in any case, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t your fault, and that your parents should not be doing this. They may not intend any harm, they may well think they’re helping you, but they’re being mean. The problem is not caused by autism. The problem is caused by them being wrong about how to treat you.

These three posts about dealing with people being mean to you might help: “You’re ok, they’re mean.”, Learning self respect, and When people you love are mean.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It’s an awful situation to be in. I hope that some of this helped.

When people you love are mean

So, in a recent post in which I referenced “You’re ok, they’re mean” as a response to ableism, I got responses along the lines of:

“But what about when it’s my parents? Or people who are really nice in other ways? Or my friends? Or people I respect? How can I say they are mean?”

The short answer: people are complicated. 

It’s possible for someone to be mean sometimes, but not always. Actually, most people aren’t mean all the time. (Even if they are mean to *you* all the time).

Hateful aspects of someone’s personality or behavior don’t cancel out the parts of them that are loving and respectful. They coexist.

And it cuts both ways - the loving or respectful aspects of their personality or behavior don’t cancel out the parts of them that are mean. 

When they are being mean, it’s important to recognize that they are being mean, and that it’s wrong for them to be mean to you. Even though they aren’t mean all the time and you respect them in other ways.

Sometimes, when people who you love are mean, it’s possible to talk to them about it and show them that it hurts you. Sometimes they don’t realize they’re being mean, and sometimes they stop once they realize. But not always. Sometimes they don’t believe you, or don’t care. You have to use your judgement about which kind of situation you’re in.

And in any case, it starts by recognizing the mean behavior or attitudes as mean. If people think less of you because of your disability, or who you love, or anything else like that, they’re being mean. It’s a reflection on them, not you.

You’re ok. They’re mean.

chrisss89:

Learning self respect

realsocialskills:

I’m twenty years old and I can’t help but think that everyone thinks I’m stupid. I stutter, I feel slow, I say dumb things, and I sometimes catch people giving me judging looks. No one’s ever said that to me except maybe once or twice when I…

chrisss89 said:

there probably are a lot of people in your life who think you are stupid.” i don’t know, this doesn’t really sound like a helpful piece of advice to me :/ other than that, i like the responses to this submission. 

realsocialskills said:

This is why I said that, and why I stand by it:

I face cognitive ableism on a regular basis.

I once had a friend tell me, “You know, it’s surprising to hear you say intelligent things. You give them impression of not being all there.” He didn’t mean it as an insult.

I get a lot of looks that I think I pretty accurately interpret as people reading me as having a cognitive impairment, and thinking that means I’m either stupid or dangerous and wondering what I’m doing in a place for real people.

I used to worry a lot about whether I was around people who saw me as stupid. Now that I’ve accepted that yes, I am around people who see me this way, because that’s the kind of world we live in. That’s what many people think cognitive impairment means. It doesn’t. Ever. Not any kind of cognitive impairment (including intellectual disability). People who think that cognitive impairment means stupidity are wrong, and mean.

I’m ok; they’re mean.

When other people tell me that people don’t think I’m stupid, it doesn’t help. Because it’s obvious to me that some people see me that way. That’s part of life; it’s something I have to deal with; pretending it isn’t so won’t make it go away.

People who are willing to acknowledge that people do in fact see me that way can join me in objecting. They can join me and say in solidarity “you’re ok; they’re mean.”

But in order to do that, they have to be willing to acknowledge the reality of what I’m facing. I wanted to do the same for others who are facing this reality.

You’re ok. They’re mean.

Dave Hingsburger, “The Are Word: helping individuals with intellectual disabilities deal with bullying and teasing

And also he explains it in this blog post: I’m ok, I have it on good authority

(via realsocialskills)

He also taught it at a self-advocacy conference.  He had us role-play bullying over and over while yelling “I’m okay - you’re mean!”  It really works.  It is the first thing anyone ever taught me about bullying that ever, ever worked.  Because “ignore it” won’t work.  But this does.  It teaches you to rethink what’s happening, rather than just “ignore it” and expect it to go away.  I use this all the time.  It is the only cognitive tool about bullying that has ever made a difference to me.

(via youneedacat)

I would love to go to that training. Just reading it described in the book has helped me a lot. It’s *amazing* how much “I’m ok, you’re mean” helps. It’s gotten me through a lot of horrible things in the three or so months since I’ve learned it.

Most people teach us to be non-judgmental in the face of bullying, when in fact judging bullies is literally the *only* thing that ever helps make it bearable.