shame

You're not taking anything away from autistics by suspecting that you're one of us

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I’m 22, queer, female, and I’ve been thinking for a while that I might have Aspergers. But I don’t know if people/doctors would believe me. And I’m also worried that they shouldn’t. It feels like the answer, like it provides a lot of those ‘oh that makes sense now’ kinda moments for me, but I’m also worried that I’m just trying to excuse my behavior by co-opting someone elses real struggle. Does that make sense? I’m probably just a horrible person and bugging you aren’t I? I’m sorry.

realsocialskills said:

I can’t tell you if you’re autistic or not, or whether your reasons for thinking you’re autistic are plausible. I have no way of evaluating that. Here’s what I do know:

There is nothing wrong with suspecting that you might be autistic (even if it turns out you’re not.) It’s ok to find autistic experiences relatable (even if you’re not autistic). It’s ok to find coping mechanisms or other strategies created by autistic people helpful (even if it turns out that you’re not autistic.)

There are a lot of people who find autistic experiences relatable, for all kinds of reasons. (There’s a lot of overlap between experiences related to autism, depression, trauma responses, being trans, being LGBTQ in general, ADHD, epilepsy, physical disability, social anxiety and any number of other things. And a lot of people have more than one thing.) Point being, if you’re seeing yourself in descriptions of autistic experiences, it’s fairly likely that there’s a good reason whether or not it turns out that you’re autistic.

Regarding making excuses: I think that understanding your abilities and limitations well is actually an important part of taking responsibility. If you have a sense of what you can and can’t do, and what support you need to do things, it becomes a lot easier to make responsible choices.

I don’t know if you’re autistic or not. If you think you have reason to suspect that you are, I think the responsible thing to do is to take the possibility seriously. Whether or not it turns out that autism is the explanation you’re looking for, I think that you will learn things about yourself that allow you to make better choices and take responsibility more effectively.

And while you’re investigating possible disabilities, I think it’s really important not to lose sight of the fact that you’re capable, and that your abilities matter too. One point of investigating disability is to figure out what your needs are, and to use that knowledge to figure out better and more effective ways of doing things. Acceptance is the opposite of giving up.

Regarding making excuses: Nothing you said gives me any reason to believe that you are making excuses; I’d guess that you are not. This section is to illustrate some what it looks like when people do make excuses. For instance, giving yourself license to be intentionally cruel would be making excuses. (For instance, by insulting people on purpose and saying you can’t help it because you’re autistic.) Learning to accept your needs and learning to be considerate of others would not be making excuses. (For example, by figuring out that you have a language disability that sometimes causes you to say unintentionally insulting things. And then learning how to effectively convey respect for people in ways that make it clear that you don’t mean your inadvertent insults.)

That said, even if you are making excuses, it doesn’t mean that you’re not autistic or that it’s wrong for you to want help. Making excuses is a human error; a lot of us (disabled or not) fall into it from time to time. You don’t have to wait to be perfect before it’s ok to try to understand yourself and get help; if you did, no one would meet that bar. You’re allowed to be a flawed human being; disability doesn’t come with a halo.

If you’re trying to get a realistic sense of what you can and can’t do, and what your needs are, that’s the opposite of making excuses. It’s actually crucially important for taking responsibility.

Also, I think it’s very common for people who grew up struggling in ways that went unrecognized to doubt that their experiences are real. I’ve felt that way, and I know a lot of other people who have too. Feeling shame and doubt isn’t evidence that you’re doing something awful; it’s a normal feeling that a lot of people have in this process.

tl;dr A lot of people who think they might be autistic feel a lot of shame and worry that they’re somehow harming others by suspecting this, or that they’re just making horrible excuses. That feeling is normal and common. If you have reason to think you’re autistic, investigating the possibility is a responsible thing to do. You’re not taking anything away from others. It’s ok to want to understand your struggles and figure out what your needs are. Scroll up for more thoughts.

Letting labels define us

So, people say this about people who are stigmatized in some way or another:

  • “She has a disability, but she doesn’t let her label define her!”
  • “He happens to be gay, but he doesn’t let that label define him!”

And… it tends to be in the context of an article or video that’s literally about how their difference and the way it’s labelled has a profound impact on their life.

It rings false, because if labels didn’t matter, the article or video wouldn’t be about them. It matters that some people are disabled or gay or whatever other thing people are afraid to name in a straightforward way.

It’s important to send the message that we’re all more than one thing, and that no label or category completely defines who we are. It’s also important to acknowledge that differences don’t stop mattering when they are stigmatized. We need to be able to refer to important aspects of who we are without evasion or euphemism.

Shame is not a cure

So, here’s the thing.

People with disabilities are taught that we’re just lazy. That eventually, if we care enough, we’ll be cured. That we can shame our way out of being disabled. 

This is counterproductive.

If you can accept the way you are, the way your mind works, the way your body works – 

You can figure out how to do things in the way that *actually works for you*.

And you can do a lot more, than if you’re stuck in the mindset of thinking that shame will cure you.

Shame doesn’t create abilities. Self-hatred doesn’t create abilities.

Acceptance creates abilities. Understanding and working with your real configuration rather than against it can greatly expand what you can actually do. Even though there are abilities you will never have. There’s a lot you can do, if you understand and accept yourself as you are.

boywoof said: if youre comfortable, telling the person those things upset you (w/o guilting them for having emotions) could make it easier for you to work around it, maybe w/ their help

Yes, there are situations in which talking to them could be helpful; sometimes it is possible to work out things everyone involved can do to make things work.

It’s definitely important to acknowledge that the solution can’t be for that person to just stop being angry or depressed. It doesn’t work that way.

That said - I think that telling someone you’re being triggered by something they do is inherently likely to result in them feeling guilty. In particular if it’s something that they don’t much like about themselves. 

There isn’t any way of bringing up this kind of problem that can reliably avoid the other person feeling guilty or ashamed. So, if they feel really guilty, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong in bringing it up.

A mind-closing dynamic

Criticism is important. Everyone does wrong things, everyone does *seriously* wrong things. Often, other people know when you’re doing that’s bad.

And if you’re able to hear and evaluate criticism, they can tell you. Then you can find out, and know, and fix it before you do more harm.

There’s an attitude that superficially looks like openness to criticism that is actually the exact opposite. Sometimes people freak out about the possibility that they might have done something bad, and then say how bad they are, and need to be comforted. And then the interaction is all about them feeling like they’re not a bad person, and not so much about figuring out why the thing was bad and what to do better.

For instance:

  • Gary and Friend are having a conversation.
  • Friend: You’re standing kind of close. Can you back off a bit?
  • Gary: Oh no, I can’t believe I did that. That was horrible of me. I’m so sorry. I’m such an awful person. 

On the face of it, this looks like Gary is hearing that he violated a boundary, feeling disturbed by his actions, and resolving not to do it again. And maybe that’s part of it. But often, there’s also this subtext:

  • Gary feels humiliated by the implication that he did something bad, and he’s scared that maybe this means he is bad
  • He feels guilty, and feels an intense need for reassurance that he’s a good person. 
  • This is more important to him than fixing the problem
  • So he overreacts with excessive guilt and apology.
  • Then Friend feels obligated to reassure him.
  • And Friend learns that Gary overreacts to criticism. So, from now on, Friend is reluctant to tell Gary when he’s doing something wrong, unless it’s *so* wrong that his kind of reaction would be appropriate.
  • This makes it hard-to-impossible for Friend and Gary to communicate and solve problems in an ongoing way.

It’s really hard to break out of this dynamic once you’re in it, because realizing that you’re doing this can make you feel intense guilt and desire for reassurance. So it can get circular.

But, getting past doing this makes all kinds of things better. Even just reducing how much you do it makes things better. It’s not all or nothing, and it’s worth working on even if you don’t always succeed.