Tag Archives: behavior

Social Face

A few weeks ago when I posted about having gotten frustrated, I mentioned that interacting with people generally requires two days of recovery, very roughly speaking. A commenter asked if this was true of my Significant Other, Nee. The answer to this is, happily, no. He does not drain me nearly so much as most people. That got me to wondering precisely why this is – what’s different about him?

I suspect there are several contributing factor to this, and generally to why different people drain me to different degrees. One of them is the touching thing, which also posted about a few weeks ago. If I don’t want to touch a person, than dealing with something like a handshake is challenging and unpleasant, whereas people I like and am comfortable with, like Nee, I actively enjoy touching.

Another factor is the Social Face, and that’s what I want to talk about today. When I am going out and interacting on a social level, I wear what I call my Social Face. It isn’t just about being in public, as I do very little with my Social Face in situations like the grocery store. It’s largely about interacting with people on a personal level. Now, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that everyone has some form of Social Face, and I suspect that everyone’s Social Face is different. I want to say I suspect that everyone’s social face is draining, but then I remember about extroverts and people who are energized by socializing. That doesn’t quite mesh with my idea that a Social Face is draining for everyone, so I’ll simply assume that the highly extroverted work ENTIRELY differently from me and just leave it at that.

Before I go any further, I’m going to give a brief rundown on what my Social Face is/what I’m doing when I’m wearing it:
*cutting down on the stimming
*instituting correct/appropriate facial expressions
*remembering to reciprocate social questions
*working to look directly at people/make eye contact
*making sure I keep a friendly tone of voice
*dedicating a rather large portion of my internal resources on social awareness and rapid processing

Some of these items I am slowly dropping, or at least putting less and less energy into. I constructed my social face over the course of years of trying to Be Like Everyone Else, well before I ever knew why it was so challenging for me. Which basically means much of my Social Face is deeply ingrained at this point, and taking it off in social situations is actually quite challenging. I tried to do it for a few minutes a few weeks ago, after feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed and wanting a brief break before going back to Being Sociable. I was only able to do it by requesting that the person I was with ignore me entirely for a few minutes, and even then most of it stuck around. Like tar.

The hard part is that dropping bits, even bits that I think shouldn’t be important, carry consequences. As I allow myself to stim in public more and more, I face the fact that people are going to judge me and draw perhaps unjust conclusions from it when they see it. Even people who mean well can be derisive and condescending (possibly without meaning to) about stimming, and it can be hard to deal with sometimes. And sometimes, if I’m just too tired or too stressed to keep it on, my Social Face slips. Once while socializing I didn’t look at a friend of mine the entire time we were together. I actually had no idea I was doing that, but she felt hurt by it anyway. So I have to make sure it stays on, even during the times when it’s falling off on its own due to my own limitations.

A big thing is that my Social Face is draining. VERY draining. Downright exhausting. As I am realizing this I am starting to resent the Social Face and my partly self- and partly externally-imposed need to keep it on.

So I’ve slowly started to dissect my Social Face, in order to figure out what all it’s made of (I imagine there’s more to it than what I’ve listed so far), figure out why I do those things, and figure out what is important and what I put there simply out of a desire to Be Like Everyone Else. I’m pretty sure the no stimming thing was out of a desire to be normal. Reciprocating social questions, on the other hand, is something I actually care about and want to do more of, as well as remembering to spontaneously ask social questions. Other things are iffier, like eye contact and the dedication of resources to processing. I’d like to tone those down, but I worry that the social consequences of doing so will be greater than the personal consequences of wearing the Social Face. I’m honestly not sure what the right answer is.

Cycling back to the beginning – a huge reason why Nee drains me so much more slowly is that I do not wear my Social Face around him. I can stim and he doesn’t care. My facial expressions can be all over the place and it doesn’t phase him. Our social questions are minimal, I can go for days or weeks without looking directly at him, and he does not seem to mind when it takes me an oddly long time to process it when he randomly says something at me. So at home my Social Face stays in its box (or wherever it goes when I’m not wearing it. may as well be a box, right?) and I stay much more fresh and comfortable.

Maybe someday I’ll minimize my Social Face and it won’t be so stressful or exhausting to wear, and maybe someday it will be ok to be different in public.

I’m curious – to anyone who feels like answering, do you have a Social Face? If so, what does it look like?

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Social Rituals

Taking a break from all that stuff about labels (for now.  mwahaha).  I’ve had part of my brain mulling over social rituals for a while now, and as they recently came up in a conversation with a friend, I figured now is as good a time as any to write about them.

Social rituals have a long history of baffling and/or offending me.  My current favorite example is the “hi, how are you?” ritual.  It used to REALLY bother me.  A person comes along and asks me how I am without actually meaning it, and I am socially obligated to say that I’m fine regardless of how I’m actually doing, and then return the question knowing that I won’t get an honest reply.  It tapped right into my “why is lying considered polite?” confusion (of which I still have many examples, but that’s a post for another time).  The ritual wasn’t just confusing to me, it was downright offensive.

Then I happened upon an explanation for the ritual, and rather suddenly it stopped bothering me altogether.  See, it isn’t just meaningless social noise as I once thought.  It’s a ritual that carries a meaning other than the literal words.

So the words go kind of like this:

Them: Hi, how are you?

Me: I’m fine, thanks, how are you?

Them: I am fine as well.

But the actually meaning of the words is more like this:

Them: Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.

Me: Why thank you, I acknowledge you as a person as well.

Them: Thank you.

Presto chango!  Meaningless social noise has turned into a ritual of courtesy and connection between two people who are likely otherwise fairly unconnected.

I can view shaking hands the same way.  It isn’t simply the neurotic need of people to grab ahold of me (ok, it is still that, but importantly, it’s MORE than that).  It’s a way to create a sense of connection between two people, to help the people to relax a bit around each other and smooth further interaction.  It’s important for me to remember that most people out there are not so bothered by strangers touching them as I am, and touch helps many people feel a minor sense of connection with whoever it is they touched/were touched by.  This one is not as easy for me to participate in since it requires that I either be ok with touching strangers or simply grit my teeth and get through it, but at the very least I don’t find it particularly offensive at this point.  I understand why people do it and why they want me to do it.

I have, at this point, decided that when I see social gestures or rituals that seem to have no meaning, I will assume that there is a meaning and it just isn’t immediately obvious to me.  It may not even wind up having a meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean it has no meaning for the people who use it.

For instance – a while back on the wrongplanet forums I saw someone asking about why some subgroup of the population (usually girls) interacts with each other the way they do.  Specifically, lots of fast-paced chatter, talking over each other, with a noticeable lack of actual information being exchanged.  The general attitude of those in the thread was condescension and derision for that particular mode of conversation, with several people decrying it as totally meaningless.  Now, it’s true that interacting in such a way would be meaningless *for me.*  I would find it stressful and un-fun, so I don’t socialize that way.  However, I prefer to assume that it does have some sort of meaning for the people who do socialize that way.  Even if absolutely nothing else, it seems quite likely that it serves that purpose that so many rituals do – creating a sense of connection between the people participating.

Thus far it’s actually been really helpful to me to view various kinds of social interaction as rituals.  While it doesn’t explain everything, it does take me a lot further than I was before, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who may be confused or offended by the strange social rituals and accompanying obligations that are in the world at large.

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Politics vs. Practicality

This is another one that I’ve only just started to think about, on a topic about which I am more that a little bit ambivalent. We’ll see how this post goes.

However, first things first, I want to tell a bit of a story. On some forums I used to participate in some people from New Zealand posted about how they were planning on vacationing in the US and were anxious about dealing with tips. Tip culture was entirely foreign to them and they had no idea who should be tipped or how much or why the US worked that way. Then one person in particular started to talk about how the entire tip culture that involves paying people very small amounts of money so that they depend on people being willing to pay more than what they technically owe was wrong, and how he thought the US shouldn’t do things that way.

The americans who read these posts interpreted them as him claiming that he was not going to participate in the tip culture, and immediately posted to say that regardless of his feelings on the matter it was important to play along. That not tipping harms the wrong people, the people who are paid so very little, and because of that tips must be figured into the costs of things ahead of time.

The New Zealander who had been complaining about tip culture read their responses as a defense of tip culture – as though they were saying that the system is right. As such, he more firmly rooted himself in what he was saying, which lead to the americans rooting themselves more firmly in what they were saying and it just kept going. Eventually someone was able to point out exactly what was going on and where the miscommunication was happening, and suddenly everyone was able to understand each other. It was a collision of politics and practicality, and I think it really let me see how easy it is for people to mistake them. Or, alternatively, how important it is to be very clear in which of the two things you are talking about.

Ok, back to the subject matter at hand, and how this relates to Asperger’s/autism. (I wonder why AS is almost always capitalized, which autism generally isn’t. hrm) So I recently came across a new blog called Double Rainbow by Caroline Narby.  I have been finding her blog posts very interesting to read, but I also feel that there have been more collisions of politics and practicality going on.  I’ll try to highlight a few examples.

Narby wrote a post about the book “Aspergers and Girls.”  A none too flattering one, at that.  At one point, she takes on an author who talked about how girls should shave and said in response “Yes, teenage girls who don’t shave are likely to be teased and humiliated—which is wrong. Anyone might choose to shave or not, but the expectation that women their legs and underarms is arbitrary and oppressive.”

This is true.  I agree completely with Narby.  On the other hand, and I not 100% sure that the author was intending to defend a culture that pushes women to eliminate their body hair.  It could also be that she was explaining a culture that pushes women to eliminate their body hair, and saying that playing along with this culture is a way to avoid negative responses from people.  Which is also true, however much it is also unfortunate.

Another example is regarding the New York Times article “Navigating Love and Autism.”  One line from the article goes, “Her [Kirsten’s] blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.””

Narby’s response to this is, “Gender normativity and backhanded homophobia in one “blunt tip.” […] Not only are gay, lesbian, and trans* autists ignored and erased in the piece, we’re actively shamed. […] There must have been young adults who are gay and/or genderqueer or trans*, or who are unsure of and are exploring their identities. The message they received was not that they are not alone and are worthy of love, but that they are undesirable.”

Once again, I find myself with mixed feelings, and once again on some level I find myself agreeing with both parties.  On a purely practical level, putting aside issues of what is or is not right, Kirsten is correct, especially for teenagers.  Conforming to gender norms widens one’s dating pool and makes the process easier.  Narby is also correct; it is important to remember that not everyone is the same, and it isn’t right to say that conforming to gender essentialism is the correct way to be.  That said, I really doubt that Kirsten was thinking along those lines.

I have no idea if the people in either of the examples I mentioned were intending to defend oppressive systems or claim that there is only one right way for women to be.  It certainly appears to me that Narby read them that way, though.  In which case, other people probably did too.  Ultimately, I think it’s really important for any such discussion to have room for both the politics and the practicalities, and that people need to be really super clear on which one they are intending to communicate about.  Both areas are important to explore, and ultimately people need to make their own choices about whether they prefer to stand by their own self-expression or conform to a world that is not always welcoming to significant differences, or, more probably, find a balance between the two.

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behavior is communication

I used the phrase “behavior is communication” in my last post, and since then I’ve been thinking about it.  It’s a phrase I see rather often in blogs and articles talking about autism, and I am realizing that I find it rather dismaying.  Not the message itself – that is fabulous.  No, I am dismayed that the message needs to be sent in the first place.  That people need to be reminded of this fact.  Of COURSE behavior is communication!

People really like to parrot around that blah-de-blah percent of communication is via body language.  What does that mean?  It means that behavior communicates more than words.  I talked about my horseback riding, and how my behavior is communication with the horse.  Anyone who rides horses knows that behavior is communication.  When I train my cats, I train via my own behavior far more than I train via words.  In fact, any words I use to train them, I first have to train them to respond to in the first place.  Anyone who trains animals knows that a) you communicate best by your behavior and b) they communicate right back with their behavior.  I’m sure I could come up with plenty more examples, but I’m writing this a bit off the cuff.

In any case, there is really no good reason for a person to not realize that behavior is communication.  So why is it that this lesson seems to get lost when it comes to those with autism (and possibly other developmental disabilities)?  Is it because the behavior cannot be easily understood immediately?  People with ASD think and feel differently from most people, so often our reactions are confusing to others.  Yet anyone with a pet often encounters the same thing.

I am happy to join the “behavior is communication” chorus in my little corner of the world.  While I do it, though, I will keep circling back to wondering why it is necessary in the first place.  I find it very sad.

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