Tag Archives: conflict

Dragged in two directions, neither of them good

I feel like I’m in the middle of a tug of war, being hauled on by two groups, neither of which actually care about me or what I have to say.

So there’s a topic that has been churning around in my head for a while now. It’s the one where people will say “ah, but really we’re all a little bit autistic” and how horrible it is to say. I’ve really been struggling to give voice to that, why it’s so icky, and eventually I went and asked for help. In the process I learned that I am not the only person who struggles to put it into words.

However, as this has all been churning around, another topic sprang to mind, and that’s the one I’m going to talk about now. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll figure out how exactly to explain that no, we are not all a little bit autistic.

So increasingly I feel like I am being tugged in two different directions, both of them icky. And trying to pull back on either of them risks me falling in the other direction. Or, just as bad, risks people thinking I am going in the other direction, even when I’m not.

See, on the one hand we have the people who talk about autism as a “tragedy.” They’ll use words like “disease” or “holocaust” to describe us. They’ll talk about us as though we’re lost or broken, diminishing our lives and our personhood to nothing more than fear mongering talking points. We’ve all run across it, I’m sure. I’m sure many of us have been hurt by words like that in some way or another. So we resist. We say we aren’t a tragedy. We explain we have strengths. We say we are different, not less. We insist our voices be heard, even as they try their best to silence us.

And people see us resist those tactics, and just wind up thinking we are on the other end of things. The end where people say things like “we’re all a little bit autistic” as though autism is nothing more than a bundle of quirks. This is the side that diminishes our very real struggles, how much things can hurt when you’re autistic, how extremely difficult some things can be.

I’ve had people see that I am against the “cure” idea, and accuse me of being against therapy, treatment, and other sorts of help. I’ve seen people claim that “different, not less” is treating our differences like hair color – something shallow and cosmetic and not actually a major impact on one’s life. At times when I’ve explicitly rejected people saying “we’re all a little autistic” I’ve had people able-splain at me that since it’s a spectrum, everyone is on it.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m the middle of this terrible tug-of-war, but I don’t know how to leave. I don’t know how to make it clear that I’m not on either side – that I see BOTH sides as being harmful. And I know so much of it is because so few people are willing to listen to autistic people. When they do, so many come in with their preconceived notions of what we’re saying, with the straw men that have been constructed by the people in that tug-o-war, that they are more interested in accusing me of saying things I’m not than in actually listening to what I am trying to communicate. It’s frustrating. I don’t know how to fix it.

So I guess for those of you that do listen – thank you. Maybe we’ll find a way out from those two sides and forge our own path.

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The importance of validation

Recent events in my life have lead me to wanting to talk about validation as a social skill.

I think validation is very important. Seriously, so important. It’s something I’m fairly deliberate about in my own interpersonal relationships and work hard on, and I find myself sometimes rather wishing that other people were better about it as well.

But first I want to address a myth that seems to be around about what validation means. So I’m going to try to make this very clear:

VALIDATION DOES NOT MEAN AGREEMENT.

Are we clear? I’ve seen plenty of people trip up over this concept, thinking that the only way to validate someone is to agree with them, but that is just not the case at all. Nor does validation mean admitting that the other person is correct. You can validate someone while strongly of the opinion that they are wrong, and you can even proceed to explain that disagreement after the validation. I mean, you can validate someone by agreeing with them, it is certainly also valid (heh), it is simply not the only way.

I actually want to talk about validation in the context of disagreement here. I’ll be honest – it’s something that I need. If you are going to school me on being wrong about something, I will find it a heck of a lot easier to hear you if you start with some validation. If we’re having a debate, you can say something like “those are interesting and well thought out points, but I disagree with you because of blah, blib, and bloo.” If we are discussing something and I’ve made several points and you only disagree with one of them, you can say “I agree with foo, bar, and baz, but I disagree with qux because blah.” If I misunderstood something you said, you can say “I can see how it could have seemed that way from your perspective and I’m sorry* it came across that way, but I really meant blah.”

Another area validation comes into play is when reassuring someone’s worries. First, I’m going to establish some credentials. I grew up worrying a lot. A whole lot. Enough that my mom called me a “worry-wart” (I’m not really sure what that means exactly, but it was because I was worrying all the time). So I can tell you from experience that saying “oh, that’s a silly thing to be worried about” in response to me sharing a worry with you does not help at all. Not even a tiny little bit. All it does is pile up shame on top of my worry, and we already know how I feel about shame.

So I make a point to never, ever do that to another person. Even if I think their worry is silly or not really worth spending a lot of energy on. Instead, I start with validation. This does not mean that I say “oh yes, that’s a great thing to worry about” or anything like that. In this context, it means that I start by saying that I understand worry, and that I can see why they might be worried about that (because seriously, I generally can. soooo much experience with excessive worrying). Only then will I go on to as thoughtful a reassurance as I can muster, about how things are ok or we have plans in place or whatever else. Heck, I am all about making contingency plans for unlikely events, so I am happy to do that too.

Still, the point is that I start with validation, before doing anything else. I don’t have to lie, or agree with the other person, or declare that they are right and I am wrong. I only have to respectfully acknowledge their point of view.

Now I’m going to get into a metaphor. There is a reason I think this is such a big deal in disagreements. Disagreements create friction between people. A few simple words of validation can act as a lubricant on that friction, decreasing it and ultimately making it easier (so much easier) to deal with and work things out. It makes it easier for people to really hear each other. It makes it easier for people to feel heard. This is important, and again, I speak from personal experience here. Both from my experiences of positive effects – in terms of both giving and receiving validation – and from my experiences of how much harder it can be when validation is absent.

I am also imagining that at least a few people are going to see this as some form of passive aggressive behavior or something, but I really don’t see it that way. As I already mentioned, I see it as social lubricant. I also don’t see any contradiction involved. I can respect a person’s thought process even if I disagree with their conclusion. I can accept that I don’t always word things great, even if I think the other person misinterpreted what I said. And openly acknowledging that makes interactions go so much more smoothly. When I first started figuring this out I was astonished at how nicer it made things. When Nee figured it out in our relationship, it smoothed out our friction by a hell of a lot.

Validation is important. You can validate a person without compromising your opinion or beliefs in any way. It’s a small thing to do that has huge benefits. I think the world could use a lot more of this.

*This is not a real apology. That’s ok, it does not need to be. You are not saying that you are wrong if you say “I’m sorry” in this context, you are simply offering to meet the other person halfway. If you can go as far as being willing to consider that maybe your word choices were unclear or you left out information or something that would be even better, but just a simple “sorry it came across that way” goes a long, long way.

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on passing

Recently I wrote my blog post “How out to be.”  In it, I briefly mentioned that I can pass most, but not all, of the time, and much of it’s premise was on the fact that sometimes passing just isn’t possible.  (also, please note – in my blog when I talk about “passing” I am specifically referring to hiding disability)  While I never explicitly stated it, I imagine it would be entirely reasonable for a reader to assume that if I could pass 100% of the time, the question on being out would have a lot less pressure.  Not only that, but if I could pass 100% of the time, I would.

It’s not even something I had really thought about.  It was implicit in that post because it was implicit in my thinking.  Of course I should pass if I can, of course I should try to hide my differences, of course I should make my disability non-obvious.  Then, in an entirely different context, a friend of mine shared this here link.  Now, this blog is really not about my situation at all.  It speaks of disability in terms of masculinity and feminism, and possibly importantly, it spoke of physical disability.  My disability is only physical in that it is neurological.  There is nothing wrong with my body, and it only shows to others in my behavior.  Still, as I was reading I got to this part:

“It also feels like I have spent years betraying other people with disabilities, by hiding mine, and trying to avoid as much ableism as I could, which, much like any sort of passing and any sort of systematic oppression, is always a losing game.”

The author was speaking of passing as able-bodied (not-disabled) and eventually no longer being able to.  And that really struck me.  I thought (well, not in words since I rarely think in words, but this is how it would roughly translate into words), ‘waitaminute, you mean to say that not passing is an option?  And that it might be the right option?  What?’

It actually took a few days for my brain to work through that one.  Who would have thought that deliberately not passing was an option?  Now, I have seen plenty of discussions on the perils of passing.  I have seen people talk about how challenging it can be to pass, how it can feel like never being allowed to be oneself, how they are worried that their ability to pass may be going away, how annoying it is that when you pass people think that means you don’t have problems anymore, and on and on and on.  Never once have I seen someone say that maybe it’s better not to pass.  Because of course you pass if you can.  It’s better that way.

Importantly, there actually are good arguments in favor of passing.  AS does not always get a lot of respect.  I have seen some say that the increases of “mild” autism is making the public think that autism isn’t a big deal, and that such people are taking away much needed resources from those on the more severe end of the spectrum.  I tend to feel ashamed and guilty when I see such statements and I have yet to figure out how to resolve the inner conflict that comes up when that happens.

Additionally, there are people out there who use AS as an excuse to be assholes.  I have no idea how many of them are actually on the autism spectrum as opposed to people who think AS simply means “socially awkward” and decided that it would be a good excuse.  In any case, that has also shaped public opinion.  I don’t want people to think that about me.

Yet another thing – as I mentioned, AS isn’t physical.  Even people with physical disabilities face challenges that they should be able to do what everyone else does if only they want it badly enough, or if they’re just willing to try hard enough.  With a disability like mine, that attitude becomes so much stronger.

Plus, the fact of the matter is, society only tends to tolerate differences so far.  There are accepted ways to be non-conformist, and if you don’t conform to those ways society tends to punish you.  Having AS means that I am different in ways that many people really do not accept.

All that seems to add up to my prior implicit assumption – that if I can possibly pass, I should.  But then I think about the blog post again.  And I wonder if maybe letting myself be who I am might be the right choice in another way.  I could try to reduce the stigma around mental illness.  I could be an example that disability does not have to be physical.

Or in a less grand, societal way, I could think in terms of bettering myself without mashing that up with also hiding myself.  When people use language metaphors I could let it show that I need a little time to decipher them instead of trying to race my way through the logic to figure out what they mean while not letting on that I need to do so.  I love the idea of not being ashamed of being different.  That would take a lot of courage, though.  To be painfully honest, I’m not sure I have that kind of courage.  Especially not in the face of the challenges to not passing I mentioned above.

I feel it is important to mention – this is not simply a matter of being out.  I can be out and still work on passing for normal, or conversely I can refrain from trying to pass for normal but not be out.  In any case, people intellectually knowing that I have AS is a very different thing to people actually witnessing the ways that I struggle, or even spimply witnessing my oddities.  Heck, even stimming in public is a thing aspies try to hide.  Even nice people will look at me funny and avoid me if I’m rocking in a public place.

I don’t really have an answer to this one.  It is a very new ponder for me and I have barely begun to wiggle my way around it.  Still, I find it interesting to think about, and the idea of simply being my literal, strange, stimming self without trying to hide it all the time is very appealing.  Scary, but appealing.

Thoughts would very much be welcome.

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resolving interpersonal conflict

I have never been good at resolving interpersonal conflicts.  I should probably work on this.  It’s easier (in a sense) when I’m the one in the wrong, because I do at least know how to apologize.  The hardest part tends to be figuring out what I did wrong and working on avoiding in the future.

For some reason it’s harder when someone else hurt me.  In general, I have three basic ways of dealing with it.

1) I can just suppress that there’s any issue.  Sometimes this works, and sometimes it’s a problem.  Sometimes an issue can turn into a non-issue without needing any other kind of active resolution, so a little bit of suppressing my annoyance can work.  Case in point – I recently visited my mom.  She has a habit of forgetting everything.  In fact, it seems that she is only capable of actively remembering what is right in front of her face.  Then I remembered that she once mentioned something about ADD and realized that I really shouldn’t take it personally when she forgets all about me – she just can’t help it.  So I can accept that she’s doing her best and take up the slack in this issue, and it’s ok.  The issue was resolved much better than it may have been if I brought it up, as that may have created a conflict or caused her pain or whatever else.  Of course, sometimes (often?) suppressing an issue does not work, and it cannot simply turn into a non-issue with a few mental tweaks.

2) I can bring it up and try to actively resolve the issue cooperatively with the other person.  I think that this is supposed to be the best way to do it, but I really hate it.  Telling another person that they hurt me puts me into a vulnerable position and gives them power over me to hurt me more.  Not everyone is kind enough to refrain from using that power.  Plus, being vulnerable to another person is inherently kind of painful.  So if they decide they don’t want to work things out with me, I have put myself in a vulnerable position (hurt myself) for nothing.  So while this is technically the right answer, I prefer to avoid it.

3) I can cut the person out of my life.  This is drastic, but it does turn any issue into a non-issue… sort of.  Sometimes this is the right answer for real, but I have been told that sometimes it is not.  Sometimes I don’t want to use this solution, but if the first two fail then it’s all I have left.

I have absolutely no idea if there are other ways of resolving conflicts and hurts.  I’m guessing my focus should be on getting more comfortable with #2, but I really have no idea how that could happen.  I don’t even like making requests of people or asking for things because of that vulnerability thing.  Which I now realize, having just typed that out, might be something to address more directly.  That will certainly be challenging.

Oh yeah, and there’s that perseverance thing.  When someone hurts me, it’s a fairly sure thing that I will go over it in my head again and again and again and again ad infinitum.  Some people seem to be able to get over things just by time passing.  I very much doubt that I will ever be one of those people.  Even if it eventually reaches the point where I only occasionally go over it in my mind, the issue is still there.  I really doubt that will ever change.  Time most certainly does not ‘heal all wounds.’  Sheesh.

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