I just read a great post about Gut Instincts and Autistics getting bullied or taken advantage of by people. This post is an expansion on what I commented there.
I’ve been in bad relationships (either intimate ones or friendships or working relationships) that really took a toll on my standing in life. At times, they were emotionally abusive and set me back that way, but more often, they reflected poorly on me in the eyes of others, and that undermined my reputation with other people. They took me for a fool and dismissed me in untold ways.
That can be an even bigger problem than self-esteem or self-perception issues. You can always fake your way through crappy self-esteem. But if you’re not esteemed by others, then the problems are even worse.
Anyway, I’ve thought a lot about this over the course of the past years of coming to terms with being Autistic. And I’ve realized there are some really compelling reasons I find myself in (or actively seek out) bad / abusive / challenging relationships. Some other reasons I’ve done that over the years are:
- Alexithymia – I can’t tell how I feel about a situation. I literally can’t tell how I feel about a person and how they’re treating me. If I don’t know they’re being mean to me, how can I address it? How can I learn to recognize their behavior as abusive or negative? How can I ever hope to defend myself? Fortunately, being clueless about the harm actually protects me from it. For example, if someone insults me in a language I don’t know, I’m not going to be hurt. At all. I don’t know they were being nasty, so … meh.
Slow processing speed – I’m often too busy parsing the environmental cues to realize someone’s yelling at me all the time. This is a real thing with me. People, I literally don’t have the bandwidth to manage all the sensory input — the lights overhead, the feel of a breeze on my arm, the scratchy seams in my shirt, the background noise of people talking or moving stuff around or making the floor vibrate when they walk by — to “get” that people are making fun of me or getting short with me. I’m usually just barely keeping up, so by the time it sinks in that someone’s being mean to me, the conversation / situation has moved on. La la.
Auditory processing issues – I often can’t tell right away that someone is being mean to me, because I can’t actually hear everything they’re saying to me. Again, it’s like someone swearing at me and calling me terrible names in another language, when every other word drops out of their sentence. I sorta-kinda get that they’re upset, but I can’t tell what they’re going on about. So, I generally ignore that sort of thing. It’s like when a friend of mine (who’s deaf in one ear) decides she’s had enough of people and she lies down on the side of her “good ear” (as she calls it). She effectively blocks out the rest of the world, and she can rest.
Memory issues – This is a huge factor. I don’t have great short-term working memory (I’ve been tested, and it sucks), so a lot of stuff just gets forgotten… sometimes before it can even register. My slow processing speed makes things register later, while my auditory processing issues only allows some stuff to get through. And then, either the situation evolves to something completely different, or I forget the details of what was said or done, and life goes on as it has been. On good days, I’m blissfully unaware that people are acting terribly towards me. On bad days, I’m like, “What just happened?” When my memory is particularly bad (when I’m tired or agitated or overwhelmed by everything else), I’m lucky if I can remember that something actually did happen. It’s not nearly as awful as it sounds. Believe me, much of what happens in my relating with other people isn’t worth remembering.
Being yelled at and treated badly wakes me up – I often feel sluggish and brain-foggy, and that makes me feel terrible about myself. But when someone is being mean to me, it makes me more alert. Even if the circumstances are hurtful, at least I feel like I’m awake and I feel like “myself”. So, it doesn’t seem so awful. It actually feels engaging. Of course, the standard-issue position on being yelled at is, It’s Terrible And Should Never Happen – If It’s Happening, Make It Stop. But in my case, being yelled at doesn’t always actually hurt me. Sometimes it wakes me up in important ways.
Logic, logic, logic – I tend to click into logical mode, in challenging situations, so I don’t really feel emotionally impacted, every single time. Sometimes I am, but not always. Sometimes it’s just an objective thing that happens, and I don’t get emotional about it. Of course, other times I do. It’s variable. But when I am really hurt by something that’s said to me, logic comes to the rescue again. Objectively speaking, I’m a wonderful person with so much to offer. I’ve been told that often enough by people I trust, that I’m inclined to believe it. My sample size is big enough to be statistically viable. So there. If someone is being mean to me, I can be objectively certain that it’s about them, not about me. And I can move on without taking it personally.
On the whole, I think the mental health / relationship standards that apply to the general population don’t necessarily apply to me. Stuff that impacts others, doesn’t impact me the same way. Sure, it would be great to not be abused by the people I consider friends, but people are people, and frankly, I often can’t tell if people are actually being mean to me, or not. If I can’t detect it, it doesn’t affect me, so it’s far less of a tragedy for me than it is for others who are deeply impacted.
Maybe I’m sounding all denial-y, but that’s how I see it. That’s my experience. I’m still here, I have a really positive self-image, I’m able to care for and protect myself, and I’m living a far better life (for myself) than I ever dreamed possible. I’ve somewhat figured out — from experience — how to spot “problem people” and avoid them. But mostly, I avoid people when I can, because it’s so exhausting to have to figure everyone out, always on the lookout for danger signs, and constantly weighing all the variables and considerations. Sheesh, who has the time and energy for that? Certainly, not I.
So, I spend a lot of time alone. And that is wonderful and delightful. The most interaction I have on a regular basis is social media. At least I can walk away from that (literally) anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed, and it’s not going to jeopardize my life, like walking out of my job or home would.
In the end, we all have to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t, and take steps to make the most of what works, while trying our best to keep what doesn’t work from ruining our lives. It’s an art. It’s a science. Life goes on.