Tag Archives: vulnerability

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

So I do a lot of thinking about my social skills. I think about where they are now, I think about where they were in the past, I think about what I want to learn and where I hope I’ll be in the future.

One thing I notice when I look back is that I seem to have been subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect rather a lot.

So before I go further, let’s talk a little bit about what that actually is. Basically, it’s a form of cognitive bias where a person is both really terrible at something, while simultaneously being unaware of how terrible they are at that thing, even to the point of thinking they are good at it.

Apparently there are four main points in play here. Basically, someone who is really incompetent at something will often:

  1. fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill, IF they have been exposed to training for that skill

And… yep. That’s me in a nutshell, at least when it comes to social skills. In the past, I honestly had no idea I was so clueless in my ability to socialize, related to others, make conversation, etc. I even, at times, thought I was good at it (I wasn’t. oh gods, I really really wasn’t). I am increasingly finding that the more I learn, the more aware I become of being so utterly clueless, at least of anything beyond the basics.

I am sufficiently clueless that I don’t even know what good social skills actually look like. I mean, I can see some people are obviously socially successful, but I don’t know how to learn from their example or apply whatever they are doing to my own life. I cannot differentiate between good advice and bad advice. Socially speaking, I am extremely vulnerable and I always have been, just because of how much I don’t know. Sometimes I worry about being taken advantage of, because as soon as I am criticized in a social arena I will back off and apologize, no matter what. Because often, I did fuck up somehow and I just don’t know how. But it means that there could be times where I don’t fuck up, where someone else fucked up, and they can blame me anyways because I don’t know the difference. This is something that worries me, because I cannot make myself any less vulnerable than I am.

That it is so possible, so probable, so be so clueless of my own lack of skill really does worry me. So now I try to offset this effect by being as aware as possible of my own incompetence. It’s a lot easier to learn when I know I have a lot to learn and can remain open to said learning.

I’m honestly hoping at least a few of you will be able to relate to all this. And if you can’t, remember that this Dunning-Kruger effect is actually a thing. Which is to say, try to be patient with me, and maybe with others who are like me. I am trying, but it’s super hard.

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All About Me, Part 1

Thanks to youtube, I recently learned about a study by Arthur Aron (and others) that explores vulnerability and intimacy, and involved 36 questions that are supposed to help speed along intimacy between two strangers. I’m pretty bad at allowing myself to be vulnerable, so I like the idea of tools to help me along. And really, vulnerability with a bunch of internet strangers can actually be a lot easier than vulnerability with someone I already know. So I figured I would answer the questions here on my blog. Part practice at being vulnerable, and part all my lovely readers getting to know me. an autistic adult who likes to write. Now, these questions are intended to be done with a partner and some of them really reflect that, but I’ll just do my best answering them myself.

The questions come in three sets of 12 questions each, and I’m going to give each part it’s own post. So here we go with part one!

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Ugh. I always feel really awkward having dinner guests. My house is always cluttered, I don’t have a proper dining room table, eating happens in the living room. But that’s not really the point of the question, I think. It’s about who I’d like to have a meal with. So taking out the “dinner guest” part of the deal, then… um… I don’t really know, actually.

I’m not super interested in dinner with famous people. I imagine that it would just be a performance on their part. So I’d want to dine with someone I could connect with. I don’t know who that would be, though.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Sort of. I want my blog to be more popular. When I started it, I had a fantasy of eventually reaching an audience of hundreds, or even thousands. I think being blog-famous(ish) would be pretty cool.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Not exactly. I used to – I would rehearse out exactly what I wanted to say – but that always went badly because no one else followed their script. Now, I never, ever call people on the phone just to chat. Of course, with the rise of texting it would not surprise me if talking on the phone just to chat is going by the wayside anyway. Right, so when I make a telephone call it’s because I have something to say to someone. Before I call take a notebook and write down all the points I want to make and all the major things I want to say. I also write down my phone number and, sometimes, Nee’s phone number as well. If I think I’ll need it, I’ll even write down my home address.

Every phone call gets it’s own reference sheet.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

It would start with having gotten a good night’s sleep. I would wake up rested and ready to do stuff. I’d spend my day crafting and creating, maybe learning a new craft in the process. At some point towards the evening I would get to spend time with someone I am close to, complete with cuddles and conversation.

Only this is a really broad “perfect” day. It’s a day I could have every day and still feel really good. However, if we get more infrequent, I would want to include things like going to museums, seeing more of my friends, and connecting with new people. Those are things that are wonderful, but I always need recovery time from. I couldn’t do them every day.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

Ooh. The closest I get to singing to other people is singing to my cat. Which I do a few times a week, I guess. To myself? umm…. eesh. Close to never, really. I really like singing in groups, not so much by myself.

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

I don’t think I can answer this one. I mean, my mind is housed in my brain, right? My mind ages because my brain ages. Only my brain is part of my body, so if my body is of a 30 year old, then my brain is of a 30 year old, and thus so is my mind. I’m sure someone will tell me I’m nitpicking this and that it’s supposed to be about outward appearance or something. However, I am who I am, I answer how I answer, and the answer you get is overly literal. You can blame autism if you want.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Honestly, I used to think I would eventually commit suicide and that was how I would go. Now that I’m on these antidepressants, I don’t so much think that anymore. I haven’t replaced it with any other thought on how I’ll die, though.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

We both enjoy crafty-type things.
We can both be very analytical.
We’re both terrible at remembering dates (holidays? anniversaries? birthdays? all terrible).

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

This is going to sound cliche, but I’m honestly really grateful about where I am right now. Sure, there are things I would improve if I could, but I’ve been with Nee 10 years, I’ve managed to control my depression and anxiety, I know I am autistic and can understand myself better, I am slowly pushing my comfort zones, and all of this is really wonderful. I’m not sure who I’m grateful too, exactly – it would include Nee, my psychiatrist, my horse riding instructor, the people who helped me find the aforementioned individuals, and probably others.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

I really wish I could have been properly diagnosed as a child. Growing up autistic when no one knows it is really awful. I wish my difficulties had been treated as actual, real challenges, rather than as personal, moral failings.

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

Well, I’m doing this for all of you, so how about I give you a really quick run-down of my life so far? I was born and raised in Wisconsin, in an extremely conservative Christian family. I totally bought into all of it because I generally figured that if someone presented something to me as a fact, they must have strong evidence behind it. It took me a long time to learn that people don’t always work that way.

I went to a super conservative christian college, where I learned that I was REALLY not ready to be out and independent like that, until I got kicked out of college for self injurious behavior.

Then I lived on a sheep farm for about a year.

Then I went back to WI for a few weeks or so, before heading off to central PA. I lived in Gettysburg for about two years.

Then I went off to the Philly area, got together with Nee, and we’ve been together ever since. Sometime last year we reach the 10 year mark together!

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Oh, goodness. Um. The ability to drive on highways. Seriously, how do you do merging? It’s so awful!

And those are my answers to the first 12 questions! I would soooo love it if you answered any of these questions in the comments. Let me learn things about all of you lovely people who read my blog!

Continue to part II.

Continue to part III.

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Uncertainty and Control

I am in my early 30’s right now. I am unquestionably an adult, at least biologically speaking. Yet I have somehow managed to make it this far with next to zero ability to deal with uncertainty.

It’s been coming up lately in my life. There are things going on that are just full of uncertainty and unknowns and grays. And they aren’t bad things either, they’re just uncertain things. But holy wow am I having a hard time with them. Uncertainty is just so hard for me to deal with.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. I suspect there are a number of things coming into play here. Things like how it’s hard for me to be vulnerable. Things like how I don’t generally trust people – people aren’t safe; people are dangerous. Things like how I want the world to be an absolute, black-and-white place with no in-betweens.

I’ve written before about vulnerability and how it’s important for making connections with people and being able to be close to people. It’s something I’m still working on, and I’m making some progress. I’m learning to be vulnerable, however difficult it is for me.

In a TED talk, Amanda Palmer talks about the art of asking. She talks about how it’s about vulnerability, but it’s also about trust. She gave a lot of examples of putting herself out there and asking people for what she needed, and how they came through for her and validated her trust. It’s a nice video and a nice talk, but for a couple of reasons I’m not sure it’s applicable to my own life.

For one, I don’t do much with the trusting. When I am vulnerable, when I put myself out there and ask or share something of myself, I don’t do it with trust. I do it with fear. It hurts to do that, every single time. It hurts to write this right now, and I’m sure it will hurt to post it. Having confidence that I won’t wind up hurt is something that I develop slowly and haltingly and painfully, one person at a time. And I have learned that I have to stop closing myself off before I can gain that confidence. Significantly before. I don’t much like that, but I do it because I care about being able to connect with at least a few people; having at least some people in my life who I am close to.

I also noticed that Palmer did not spend any time talking about asking, being vulnerable, trusting, and having it fall through. It was a very positive talk and it seemed to carry the implication that if you ask, you will receive. Except I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. Ask and you might receive, but it is by no means a guarantee. Sometimes you’ll fall and no one will catch you. Which is one of the reasons I don’t much like to ask for things.

If I want something and I can only get it by asking, I face two simple options.

1. Ask. I might get what I want, but I might not, and in the meantime things are uncertain and I am vulnerable.

2. Don’t ask. I will definitely not get what I want, and I know the answer right from the start.

It often seems like asking is the obvious correct choice. It’s something I’ve heard often enough, anyway. It’s the rational I used when I submitted a short story of mine for publishing (which, by the way, worked! Shameless self promotion – I’m published in LUMINA journal. Check it out!). I could submit my story and face the possibility of rejection, or not submit it and never even have a chance of getting published. I submitted, faced the possibility of rejection, and it worked out. Yay for me!

Only with me, I don’t think it’s the possibility of rejection, specifically, that puts me off of asking. It’s the uncertainty in the meantime. It’s the not knowing what will happen, and not being able to control the outcome. There are times when the certainty of not getting what I want is easier for me to deal with than the uncertainty of asking. When knowing the outcome – even if the outcome is bad – is better than not knowing the outcome – even if it might be better.

Because uncertainty is really hard to deal with. Like whoa.

I have been told, growing up, that I am a control freak. It offended me at the time, but you know what? I kinda am. I want to control everything around me, and I’m pretty sure this is also about that horribleness of uncertainty. I will cling to a bad answer rather than not know the answer. I will choose a bad outcome rather than have the outcome be out of my control. Much of how much I do this comes down to how well I feel I can handle uncertainty at any given time. If I’m feeling strong and stable, I am far more likely to be willing to let go and take a chance. If I’m not, though. If I’m feeling weak or I’m already hurt, then uncertainty can be simply too much to bear. It can be easier for me to embrace a solution that hurts me but I was able to choose, than be vulnerable and uncertain and let someone else choose. I will do this with an absolute ferocity at times, if I deem that being uncertain is Just Not Ok.

Only I think that this is not a good thing. I’m not going to demonize myself for it – I know that if I just can’t handle uncertainty, forcing myself to do so is not going to help anyone. It’s just that I think I take it too far sometimes. Sometimes my need to be in control of everything that has an impact on me can mean infringing on other people’s freedom of choice. It can mean, at times, imposing my answer (my hurtful-to-me answer) onto other people. This is not an ok thing for me to do.

Long term, the answer is obvious. I need to learn to handle being uncertain. I need to learn how to cope with it when something that impacts me is in someone else’s hands, and I need to stop trying to grab back control by whatever means I have available (which is usually by picking the option that will hurt me and imposing that choice onto other people, which kinda means I’m forcing other people to hurt me, which is seriously uncool).

Shorter term, the answer is trickier. The only way to get there is to be uncertain and flail around until I find my balance. I can get help with that through therapy and maybe through the kindness and patience of friends, but I won’t get there until I start doing it. But in the meantime, I have to balance when I am pushing myself, and when pushing myself might cause me harm. I have to find my edge and push myself to that edge, and keep pushing it to force the edge further and further out, and I have to do it hopefully without falling off that edge. I don’t want to fall. The prospect of managing all this is really quite terrifying. Especially since I don’t really want to deal with uncertainty. I want uncertainty to not be a thing. It’s just that it is a thing, and I want to be better able to deal with the world and with people and with interpersonal relationships, and that means handling uncertainty.

Whether I like it or not.

Wish me luck?

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Blogging and Vulnerability

Here, enjoy a not-at-all relevant picture of some yarn I spun on my spindle. Woo hoo!

I’ve been doing my once a week blog postings for over a year now. I’m starting to notice that even though I’m in a tiny little barely-noticed corner of the internet, blogging once a week is having an impact on my life.

I do want to be noticed. I have a fantasy that someday my blog will have lots of readers because I’ll be saying things that resonate with people, or help them, or that they simply enjoy reading. So I think about this, and what I want to say, and how I can make my blog enjoyable and accessible and the kind of thing that people will share with their friends, who will share with their friends, and so on and so forth. Which means a lot of looking at the bloggers who have managed that and what I can learn from them.

Some of it is simple things, like making sure my posts have a picture so there is something to look at besides words. I know I like it when blog posts have pictures, and I doubt I’m unique in that, so I spend lots of time looking through various creative commons licensed pictures trying to find ones that fit my posts. I don’t always succeed, but it’s nice when I do.

I’ve also noticed that successful bloggers – or at least, the bloggers that I most enjoy reading (or watching if they do video blogging), really put themselves into what they are saying. They get up in front of the whole internet and proceed to be honest, sometimes downright vulnerable. How scary that must be! But in doing so they come across as genuine and real, so when they say something I find myself wanting to listen.

So I wonder if or how I should emulate that.

And then I watch a video about closeness and vulnerability and feeling worthy. In the video, Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, talks about how she decided to sit down and figure out the hows and whys of people feeling loved and like they belonged. Her conclusion? That those who feel that way believe they deserve to feel that way, and they treat vulnerability as simply how that happens, rather than as something terrifying to be avoided. And I watch that video and I don’t want it to apply to me. I tell myself that it’s for neurotypicals and I’m on the autism spectrum and things are different for me.

Yeah, that’s a bunch of bull.

Not that things aren’t different for me, because they are. But the fundamental laws about how closeness functions and how we get there still apply to me, because they apply to everybody. And then I wind up thinking about how much I avoid vulnerability, or I dole it out in carefully controlled amounts because I don’t want to deal with the uncertainty of how people will respond. I fear that the response will hurt, and I fear that I deserve that hurt because of how different and weird and often clueless I am. I tell myself (or worry or fear) that people don’t actually want to see that vulnerable side of me so it’s best for everyone if I keep it hidden away, and in so doing I make it that much harder to form those close, intimate connections that I crave so much.

So I write, because ultimately I am trying to be a blogger and writing is how that gets done. I have to write and keep writing. It means writing when I’m inspired to write and writing when I’m NOT inspired to write but if I’m going to have something ready in time I’d better get typing. Plus I think better when I write and I like to write and my brain sorts itself out in writing in different and better ways than in other types of thinking, so blogging gives me more push to do a thing that I really should be doing anyway. It gives me structure and a goal and a public voice, and it makes me think about things that maybe I wouldn’t otherwise think about, and makes it harder to dismiss things that maybe I would have otherwise dismissed because they are uncomfortable.

And because it’s a blog, once in a while I post what I write so that anyone who stumbles across my little corner of the internet can see some little glimpse of me, and I can hope that they got something out of it.

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Bullying

It’s generally understood that bullying is a problem, especially in schools. It’s talked about, games are made on the matter, people wonder what to do about it. However, I consistently get the impression that the bully people are trying to stop is the bully pictured in the image above. The stereotypical “school bully” – usually male, low self esteem, physically large, generally mean and disliked by everyone beyond other people similar to him.

As a person who has been bullied quite a bit in my life, well into adulthood, I want to say that my experiences of bullying have not fit into that archetype. My bullies were often popular, well liked, and charismatic. Often even the teachers liked them, certainly more than they liked me. I can remember one instance when a student was chatting and laughing with a teacher and saw me coming and said something cruel in my direction. The teacher simply laughingly said “that was mean!” and they went right back to chatting.

As for me, I was painfully shy, socially awkward, and I didn’t shower often enough. People found it easy to dismiss me and hard to value my concerns over their general like of my tormentors. So, predictably, I was dismissed and few people cared about what was going on. I had teachers look on and watch but do nothing while other students repeatedly spat gum into my hair. Or watch another student physically shove me out of a desk onto the floor, and then take me out into the hall to scold me. Teachers can be bullies too.

It’s much the same story in adulthood. I’ve been targeted, and frequently the person doing so was popular and charismatic, so everyone was far more interested in looking the other way than in acknowledging the bullying and maybe doing something about it. I have found that the unpopular person with low self esteem is usually the one getting bullied, not the one doing the bullying.

Part of the problem (beyond the ever-present social awkwardness and anxiety) is that I am, and always have been, quite vulnerable. I tend to be naive and I take teasing very personally – I have a lot of trouble with things like “friendly insults.” Sadly, this makes me a target. Again, not a target for your stereotypical bully like you might think, but a target for the charismatic popular person who happens to be really cruel to some subset of people. I can’t say it’s something I understand, but it’s real, it happens, and it’s a problem. While I’ve worked on my vulnerability quite a bit and it’s much better than it used to be, it’s still there, and it means it would be all too easy for bullying to happen yet again.

I do not actually have any real answers to the bullying problem. Mostly I want to see more acknowledgement that bullying isn’t about a type of person, but about behaviors. I want to see people understand that the awesome person they really like might also be acting a bully towards someone else. I want people to recognize that however much they like that person, just looking away because it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge is the wrong answer. Also, I want people realize that bullying is not something that “other people” do. It’s altogether too easy to engage in bullying, given that targets of bullying often have issues and are so very vulnerable. I want to see people be more willing to really look at their own behavior and see where they might be acting cruelly, and realize that however much they dislike the target, that kind of behavior is not ok. I don’t think the solution will come from watching the trouble makers and problem kids. It will come from looking at ourselves, and seeing how we might be contributing to the problem. And then, importantly, changing that.

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On ‘Potential’

I find I suddenly have lots of things I want to talk about. This one is hard for me – it deals with things I find personally hurtful, as well as things I feel shame about, and the intersection thereof. I have no idea if I’ll manage to do it justice, but I plan to try.

I get told that I have potential. I am never sure what it means. Potential to do what? Potential is such a vague word for people to be throwing about as casually as they do. During my screening for Asperger’s, a friend said about me “she could do so much more!” I’m sure she meant it as a compliment. She was talking about this ‘potential’ people like to gab about.

Specifically, she was talking about the fact that I’m smart. And it’s true. I am smart. Not only that, but I am very confident in my intelligence. If I focus (and potentially have someone to teach me) I can learn all sorts of things, and learn them well. So in that way, I guess I have potential to do… something. Maybe.

Do I?

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Yeah, I have brains. Know what else I have? Severe social difficulties that I am only just beginning to really understand. Sensory defensiveness that interacts with my social difficulties in mostly unpleasant ways. Difficulties in understanding “normal” speech patterns, like metaphors or people’s insistance on phrasing requests as offers (why do that do that? It’s so frustrating!). Things other people think are rude I think are polite, things other people think are polite I think are rude. It’s very very hard for me to navigate the world, so at this point I mostly don’t do it.

Throw that stuff in the mix and it suddenly becomes more difficult to assess my ‘potential.’ Even more so because this is an extrovert’s world. Society has focused on optimizing for a population that is more or less the opposite of me, and I often feel like there simply isn’t room for me and my weirdness. Could I do ‘more’? Yeah, probably. If I had help, if I could find a niche, if I could still spend the vast majority of my time away from people or the risk of people. And admittedly, if I could find a job doing something I enjoyed that didn’t threaten my sanity the way interacting with the world usually does, that would be pretty darn cool. That is really hard to find, though. I haven’t managed it yet. Add to that, it always feels like a statement that what I do simply isn’t enough. Without getting into it too much, that is a trigger for me. Maybe I don’t do things that society says are the things we are supposed to do, and it’s true that I have internalized that message, but I still do things, I still challenge myself, and I still learn and grow.

The easy answer is to not socialize with people who say such things, right? Except it seems so common. I find myself worrying about with people I already know, and especially with people who are new. I cannot be anyone other than who I am, and I’ve tried enough times that I’m pretty certain of it by now.

Hm. I think I’ve reached the conclusion point of this post, but I am having trouble figuring out how to wrap it all up. I guess for me, I am going to try to avoid talking about potential. If I see a kid who did something awesome, I think I’d rather just focus on the awesome thing rather then throw in an extra “you’ll do so much when you grow up” type statement.

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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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