Tag Archives: social skill

Trust

Image is of a “trust fall,” an exercize where a person falls backwards with someone (or several people) behind them, trusting that said person(s) will catch them. Once was doing a trust fall thing with someone, and they dropped me.

I don’t think I’ve talked about trust much before on this blog and to be honest, I’m not sure why. I do a lot of thinking about trust, largely because my relationship with trust is more than a little bit dysfunctional. I’ve often wondered why that is, and it seems the Aspergers might just play a significant role.

Trust is such a weird, tricky thing to me. What does it mean to trust someone, or not trust someone? I often feel most comfortable in the in-between space, where I neither trust nor distrust. Everything just is, without expectation. However, while that sure sounds lovely and makes for a nice little sound-bite, it does not necessarily translate very well in reality. Expectations come with knowing someone well or for long enough, and it’s a normal part of interaction. So while I tried to just fling the concept of trust away from me for several years there, it did not work very well.

Nee actually has a definition of trust that I find pretty nifty. Basically, trust is, to him, about predictability. Trust is knowing reasonably well how a person will act in a given situation. In this case, trust is not always positive. Sometimes, I can trust that a person will let me down, or trust that someone cannot keep a secret. This influences my behavior and what I choose to share and how I choose to interact with them.

I still feel weird about the word, though. I think it’s one of those nebulous concepts that I have so much trouble with. I can’t nail it down, so I feel like I’m trying to wrap a net around fog when I try to get a solid handle on what it is.

Another important point about trust (wow, I’m jumping all around here) is that even for a single individual, trust is non-transferable. Maybe I can trust that someone will keep something private, but not trust that they will be kind to me in a conversation. People are strange and unreliable creatures, and a person might be super reliable in one sense and not at all reliable in another. Or, even worse, they might be totally reliable one day and not at all reliable another.

Navigating all this complexity is very difficult for me. I wish people were more consistent, but they just aren’t. I suspect my own inability to keep up and to accurately assess people’s moods at a glance really has an impact on my willingness and ability to trust people.

Nonetheless, I have found that I still have the ability to feel betrayed by an action. It stands to reason that if I feel a sense of betrayal due to someone someone did, I must have first had a sense of trust that they would not do that thing, right? So it’s tempting to attempt to go back to no expectations – only there is a point where lack of trust and distrust become very similar, and people, in my experience, do not care to be distrusted. It is insulting.

I also think that in my case, my autism makes me more vulnerable. I have an unfortunate tendency to believe people, which can very easily lead to my getting hurt. I also seem to view socialization in a simplified way, causing me to miss nuance that might be obvious or important to someone else. (of course, this goes with my usual rant that this is, of course my fault, and if other people miss nuance that is obvious or important to me, that is somehow also my fault. I think differently, but that doesn’t make me less)

I don’t actually have any answers here, only perspective. The perspective of someone who is frequently confused by this “trust” thing, all too frequently hurt, and who has little idea of what to do with it all.

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Are you sure?

“Are you sure?” is such a tricky question for me. It’s an area of politeness that I tend to feel quite conflicted about. It hits my ‘this is offensive’ buttons, but it also hits my ‘this is an important aspect of politeness to participate in’ buttons. So I do it, but I kind of feel bad about it.

I learned to ask “are you sure?” in childhood, in the face of capricious generosity. I learned that offers are not always sincere, and it’s better to check than to take them at face value. This is not a lesson I am particularly happy that I learned, but learn it I did.

A while back this lesson was explicitly reinforced by my therapist. Due to the fact that I take the train to my therapy sessions, it is not uncommon for me to get there half an hour early. One time my therapist had a free slot in the hour before my session was to start, so she offered to let my therapy session start early.

I replied, “are you sure?”

She then proceeded to compliment me on the fact that I asked this. She told me that it’s good to check in like this and doing so showed social skills on my part. I will admit that I was dubious about this compliment. I had actually felt kind of bad about asking, and was not prepared to be told that I had done the right thing.

See, asking “are you sure?” is, at least to me, an insult. It is questioning the offerer’s sincerity and requiring them to reaffirm that they really meant what they said. It is implicitly stating that I believe they may have not meant what they said, which strikes me as an unkind thing to believe. It plays right into the aspects of politeness that actually strike me as being rather rude.

I had a friend who agrees with me on this, and has stated that they have some trouble with the fact that I tend to ask this. From my perspective, that just means that they recognize “are you sure” for what it really is – disbelief in a person’s sincerity. They would rather I simply believe them at face value than question any offer they make.

Honestly, I would rather do that too. I would rather do that with everyone, all the time. Always questioning if a person actually means what they say is tiring and frustrating, and I resent doing it. I resent the way offers and requests are often switched around in phrasing, I resent passive-aggressive ways people sometimes make requests, and I resent that I cannot always believe people’s offers. However, while I can try to keep in mind that this friend in particular makes a point to be sincere in their offers, I cannot forget that most people do not.

When it comes right down to it, I seem to live in a culture of insincerity. A culture that makes heavy use of phrases like ‘let’s do lunch!’ A culture where it’s normal for a person to make an offer that the recipient is meant to refuse, but ‘appreciate the thought.’ While there are other aspects of politeness-via-lying that I can opt out of with minimal social consequences, this is not one of them. I feel obligated to play along, however much I resent it. However much I am disquieted by my own disbelief in other people.

Much of this politeness-via-lying seems to be wrapped up in cultural insecurity around offers and requests. People seem to put so much effort into obfuscating givers and recipients in any situation outside of ritual gift-giving occasions. It is something that, try as I might, I have yet to understand. So instead, I opt out when I can, and do my best to play along when the consequences of refusing to play are greater than I can (or want) handle.

But really, I wish the social protocols made more sense.

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Filed under rant

Boundaries (again)

creative commons image by amiruddin on flickr

I want to talk about boundaries again. Boundaries are important. Finding ways to express boundaries is important. Responding properly when someone has expressed a boundary – VERY important.

So here is a thing about me – I have trouble explicitly stating my boundaries. I think there are a couple reasons why.

I was raised as a female. In my experience, people who were raised with the expectation that they would become women are raised (at least in the US) to not be clear about their boundaries. Women (or people perceived as women) are typically punished for defending their own boundaries, which leads women (or people perceived or raised as women) to finding other ways to state their needs or desires or boundaries. It leads to being indirect, to phrasing requests as offers, to saying “hey, why don’t you do x?” when they mean “you are doing y and it’s causing me discomfort or worse, please do something else” and expecting the listener to understand that a thing phrased as an offer or a suggestion was actually a request. As I’ve written about before I have an intensely huge problem with this sort of behavior. I find it rude, though for some reason many people seem to believe that it qualifies as “nice” or “polite.” Anyway, regardless of how I view that sort of behavior, I was raised as a woman. I was taught that it’s wrong for me to explicitly state my boundaries.

On top of that, I was on the autism spectrum but undiagnosed. No one knew. There were things that caused me pain that people could not understand how it did, so they did not believe me. I was expected to do the things everyone else did, regardless of the impact it had on me. Sensory overload and can’t cope? Doesn’t matter, I still need to go along with everyone else, smile as though I’m having fun, act the way I’m expected to act. Failure to do so would result in scolding, judgement, and/or punishment, and this continued well into my adult life. Actually, it still continues, though far less so and mostly from people who are convinced that if I just try harder, I could be like them. Happily, I am now at a point in my life where I can mostly ignore those people.

The end result of these two things is that I really have a hard time simply stating my boundaries. However, it’s something I’m working really hard on as I want to be able to do so, and I think it’s wrong to expect people perceived as women to always be passive and indirect about their own needs. Also, I really want people to be direct with me about their boundaries. I HATE having to constantly reinterpret what people say and figure out what they really mean because they’re being indirect. I have actually been actively working on ways to deal with that that don’t leave me angry or resentful for indefinite periods of time (potential script I have yet to use but think might work: “That was phrased as an offer/suggestion. Was it actually an offer/suggestion, or was it really a request?”) Anyway, because I want people to be courteous enough to be direct with me, I’m trying to learn to be direct as well.

So. Let’s say I actually manage to direct state a boundary. Or really, let’s say anyone directly states a boundary. Or even indirectly (arg) states a boundary but you’re lucky enough to know what they mean. What do you do next?

Happily, the thing to do next is the same in ALL instances! It’s a lovely area that does not force me to have a lot of different answers based on small differences in context. The thing to do next is respect the boundary.

So simple! Someone says “here is my boundary.” Then you say “ok! I respect that boundary!” And then, you know, you don’t cross that line, whatever it happens to be. Now, maybe you don’t understand why that’s a boundary. Maybe it seems weird and pointless to you. The right answer is still to respect the boundary. DO NOT demand that the boundary be explained to you first. DO NOT choose to reject the boundary just because you don’t get it. DO NOT say that the boundary is wrong or should be changed.

Sometimes there will be a tricky situation is two people’s boundaries/needs/whatever conflict with each other. I don’t have a pat answer for that situation. All I can say is to negotiate. Respect each other’s needs, believe each other when they express their needs and/or boundaries, and try to work out the best way to accommodate both of you.

It should not be hard to just accept and respect the boundaries people state, but so often it seems that people don’t do that. It’s hard enough for me to just directly say “here is my boundary.” Coming back with “no, your boundary should be something else” is rude, entitled, and personally painful. Don’t do that crap, seriously.

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