Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Entry 12: Social “Faux Pas”

Disclaimer A

July. 22. 2012

Social Faux Pas...they do hurt. However; when I take a misstep and fall down, I'm learning to hold my head up and get up; rather than remaining down and wallowing. The other day, I proverbially "tripped and fell" while I was in line getting a coffee.

I'm a socially motivated aspie; I can enjoy contact with people and am able to be social, more so when I feel up to it.  However, I'm a bit socially, ahem, challenged in some ways.

Although I try hard to self regulate and "put on the breaks" it takes a lot of energy. It takes energy to always have to think about what the most appropriate thing to do or say is. I feel like my brain and my current health issues/chronic pain/fatigue have caused me to grow tired of "putting on the act" as well as not being quite as good at it.

I'm trying to be more of my awkward, or in a more positive light, "unique" self. Of course I still need to be reasonably appropriate. There's always basic courtesy and one doesn’t want to overstep that line in any extreme...

So anyways, there's me in line; tired from a long walk to an appointment, and burnt out (which in an aspie/neurodivergent, often appears as "spaced out".)

Then, the Starbucks barista girl jokes about me trying this new roast that will "wake me up". So I go on and on about it back to her, reminiscing the information I have stored in my head about coffee beans and roasting processes. She nods, smiles and relates; so I'm still just barely winning at the game of appearing "Charmingly slightly eccentric, fun-to-talk-to, but with follow-able spoken thought processes".

I realize that if I go on any longer, she will be “weirded out.” So I stop, then turn around to go get my order... but then: something I want to add, which I personally found funny, pops into my head. I then turn back and speak it aloud to her: cutting somebody off from ordering, before realizing it.

Needless to say, both the customer and Starbucks girl give me "The Look" (the look that indicates my social awkwardness has become obvious; so in the game of "pretending to be normal" the character has just lost; ouch!) I was so embarrassed. I kicked myself inside...which hurts almost as much as being kicked for real. However, it's a step back from utterly beating myself up inside, which I've done many times in the past.

I'm a perfectionist; I've held it to myself, to present myself in a way that's acceptable and appeases others. Yet I have a neurological brain difference that makes it more of a challenge for me, to behave and socialize in a typical, "acceptable", manner.
Through years of learning by observation and experience, I had and still have (at times) become pretty good at passing for Neurotypical. It's been once to the point where I could even forget that I am not, though lately this has rarely happened. When I allow myself to forget, I forget when it's time to take a break and it bites me in the rear.

One is usually in shock and disbelief when I tell them I have Asperger’s' least for a little while; 'til somebody notices my quirks after talking to me for a bit. My energy level will often determine how long I last before the mask starts to fall off; sometimes it never does. So then, my emotions are often like "yay points!" and "good girl!" as if it's a level and I should be able to beat the next one. But, life isn't a game, and I can't base my self worth on whether or not I "perform" adequately enough in a social situation.

With aspies, it depends on how predictable the social situation is, as well as how one is feeling with energy and mood. If it's a situation type that we haven't handled before, or if we're more tired, down, or have had a bad day involving a lot of changes; the idiosyncrasies are likely to show...and it takes even more energy. Sometimes we're going to make a “misstep” and appear odd or awkward. So even though what we did or said may have been impolite, the point is; it wasn't intentional.

I'm tired of playing back social situations in my head and wondering whether I did the right thing or "was that too rude/weird?" because all I do is torture myself, and I can't change what has already happened. I need to know in my heart that I did my best and that was all could do, and say that to myself. Anyone should say this to himself or herself in order to avoid feeling like a failure, because it feels awful and weighs you down.

So there I was walking away, pride-wounded, obsessing over how I should maybe go back there and find a way to remedy the situation. How could I apologize and explain myself in some way as briefly and eloquently as I could sum up? But ultimately, I dropped it because it was too late to go back, and all I could do was forget about it.

For another time, and in the right circumstances where a person is not too busy and there's an opportunity; I'm thinking about and intending to make up cards that briefly explain and define Asperger syndrome, and the lack of awareness of it in women especially.

The card could also provide links to more information on the Internet, such as Dr. Tony Attwood’s’ and Rudy Simone (author of Aspergirls’) websites. This might have been a good thing to hand over to the recipient, in this kind of situation… only because I like the idea of educating people and creating awareness.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a brief “pardon me” to go along with the card, if it feels warranted, and as long as it’s understood by both parties that the Social faux pas wasn’t intentional. In the right situations, I want to do my part, so that each time I do, one more person on the globe might come to understand.

For now, I don't have those cards. I was tired and ready for home really, so I asked myself these things: "Does it really matter all that much what that girl thinks? You don't know her...sure she might think you're a weirdo, but you'll probably never see her again… you can't change the world today, you made a misstep, so what. Forgive yourself, you're tired, it happens form time to time. You know who you are, the universe knows; and that’s' what counts right now in this moment.”

Saying these kinds of things to myself is long overdue, but I'm starting now because as I've said before; I need to heal and accept myself.

See, being social, as an Aspie, takes a lot energy. We may not like having to use so much energy to socialize, but we don’t necessarily dislike being social, though we may after we’ve become too burnt out. Some aspies will seek out socialization through the performing arts, where they don’t have to get so close but can still communicate with an audience, for this reason.

I’m sure there has been many music artists, actors, stand up comics etc.…who have unknowingly gone through their lives with a little touch of autism. They’ll either never know or never come to terms with it, due to the pathetically stereotyped profile that continues to poorly represent Asperger Syndrome.

If one were to take the time to learn about “aspie-ness” they would be able to then have a fun guessing game on which famous people they think may have/had it...I think it might be about a third of them!

The mechanisms behind an aspie mind in social performance are complicated. They begin with a quick, astute and even sixth sense driven observation of the type of person we're talking to; so we know how to approach them (the details of this will take another blog.) This is called "Mirroring." I think some mild mirroring, for communication purposes, is ok and effective; but we often do too much of it and this can be very unhealthy. 

Female aspies especially, can be so good at mirroring that they become completely lost in themselves, leading to depressions and identity crises. When in conversation, we begin trying our utmost to remember when it's another’s' turn to speak, trying to modulate our judgment by the persons’ speed of speech, and other parts of their demeanor. We have to make extra effort to bring our thought process into what the other is saying, knowing when to move on to another topic etc…

None of this is because we don't have the capacity to care about other person, it's because our brain has a harder time shifting and our thoughts (for me) move quickly and are visual. Our thoughts often need to be "translated" into a script with words in order to be expressed, as opposed to a fast-moving and flickering web of concepts.

This is so even we can understand it, sometimes. We can even forget something, or blurt it out so we don't forget it. This is classified as “interrupting” and doesn’t make us look to good.

However, despite the misconceptions of “selfishness”, once we put our mind into the other parties’ “there”, we can develop the theory of mind, care and concern for that persons’ point or mission.

I'm not making any excuses, to say we're completely entitled to go on about ourselves in the extreme, or on one topic without letting another person speak at all; or on the flipside say almost nothing and have a person feel as though they`re "talking to a wall" and that we don't care.

Aspies, depending on personality and whether introverted or extroverted, can appear to do either. We can have trouble regulating. I'm only explaining that if we do these things: we're not intentionally trying to be offensive, and that treating it as such only adds insult to injury.

A lot of the time we already know, in some way, that we’re making “social missteps” without being told. If we don't, it's because we are unaware and likely undiagnosed. However, a more gentle way of making us aware, without traumatizing us, is possible.

Sadly, there are many undiagnosed Aspies walking around, but thats' a whole other blog. People with ADD/ADHD, NLD and other  invisible neurodivergence (diagnosed or undiagnosed) can sometimes come across with social awkwardness as well, not that it's their fault, either.

I believe that our neurological challenges can modulate reasonably (though not be changed unrealistically) with awareness, practice and maturity, as well the other party setting boundaries kindly and gently. In retrospect, we’d do the same with them, because we need to have things clarified in certain ways… we have communication needs too, from them. It doesn’t just go one way.

It should all happen naturally and peacefully, not be forced out of guilt and shame. This is the way of going about it, which hurt me, and many other aspies, for so long. It causes a hole in the self-esteem and even the identity.

I think now, that the best way to deal with it is to laugh off our "social errors", and either lightly explain ourselves in some situations (for the purpose of education) or if that's not the most appropriate thing to do in that moment, forget about it entirely and accept it for what it is. Ultimately, how much did a little “social hiccup” really hurt anyone after all? Aren't there more important things in life? 

When we socialize, it's often like acting in a movie or TV (not so much a theatre) because it feels like scene-to-scene, plus it's realistic, more subtle, and needs to pass for “real.” Well not that it's not real, because it is. I mean “real” as in “communicated in the NT language enough to make sense to them.”

It's definitely easier when you like this “acting”(though this is not the same as lying, FYI.) Some aspies do, some don't, for many it depends on the social context. For the ones who find it enjoyable, this is how you could describe the more “socially motivated” aspie. Nevertheless, whether it’s enjoyable for a time, or not at all; actors do get tired of reciting script. It's tiring after awhile. In addition, if they get too into their roles, they can become emotionally drained and maybe even confused or disconnected from their own selves.

It's not a natural process to show up on set, with a script, and to specifically capture, maybe even propel, tonal moods into yourself in order to express and them unto your character's representation. It’s done to effectively communicate with the audience. If that were entirely natural, we wouldn’t call it "acting."

However, this is a coping tool, and it does not mean that what's being communicated is a “dishonest act.” A lie...No, It's not. Aspies are honest. It's just that the execution of it isn't natural, because we the inherent emotional/linguistic processing and ececuation that we use is divergent, goes against the grain to what's accepted, and is ultimately met without being understood.

So, we have to “translate.” It has to be thought through, and applied with effort to be carried out. This is simply because the way in which we naturallly communicate doesn't make much sense to the NT; it's even judged and frowned upon. It doesn't follow an “expected” social context, and therefore, the communication between us and them can break down, if effort towards translation is not applied. So, we have to “translate” first, which is an exasperating but currently inevitable reality.

That is, until “they” learn more about how we naturally communicate, so that we don't have to be the ones doing all the leg work. This includes, incidentally, not jumping to offense at the way in which we execute our wording, tones and expressions. At this time, it's unfairly imbalanced; we're doing most of the leg work, here.

Ultimately, it's a “different language” thing. It's a translation thing. The seemingly “acted” behaviour, instead of being thought of as deceptive, could be thought of as an “accent” whence “speaking” a language foreign to us. In the situation of now, it can almost be seen as a “no win.” Either we're thought of as rude, flat, blunt etc.. or, we're being accused of being phony, possibly sinister, insincere..becuase our “accent” is too thick.

It's important in saying all this, to point out that some aspies are especiall motivated and do, to some extent, enjoy it. Just like an actor. The hard work applied doesn’t mean that the actor doesn't enjoy it, put parts of themself into it, and actively seek it out in passion (to some extent.) This is when the time is right and especially when they like the script/scenario.

Also, a working actor may have to take roles that they don't like, that they find mundane and even irritating; an aspie would relate with that too. Some roles are played out of necessity, to bring the bread and butter, to survive. This is necessary, but more draining than the roles that are enjoyed. In the end, both roles will tire the actor out at some point, at which point they need to rest.

Usually when they finish a long day of work they go home and take some down time. The often don’t want to see or hear from anyone else besides themselves or immediate family if they have that at home. We do that too.

So being an actor: it could be comparable to the social life of an aspie, especially the extroverted, or "socially motivated" ones (that's apparently about 30% of us. The strong Actor Aspies are the ones going undiagnosed the most often. Of course this would be the case whence it overrides and masks autistic stereotypy.

However, it’s also a lack of awareness and ability to be astute on the other side. Usually, some social awkwardness and idiosyncrasy can be seen in the aspie, albeit subtle. Often, if looking closely, the “socially trying” is evident. However and sadly though, this can be erroneously judged as “being manipulative.” It may be so in some ways, but not in the ways assumed. It’s a complex thing to explain, but the obvious is that it is “to get by and get through.”

The biggest difference between actor by professional, or for more “snaky” reasons, and the aspie is: the part we most want to play is ourselves. An actor might find it fun to play a role that are very different from him/herself; whereas we might be more averted to that.

In retrospect, we may want to play characters quite different to ourselves, in order to try and gain a better understanding of it, to question whether we should “change” and/or even to escape ourselves. This can sometimes be true when people are more deeply internally suffering inside.

Either way, we still feel like we're somewhat on a set, only because to us; back and forth conversation doesn't feel as inherently natural. The problem is when we bend too far back, because we're not sure of ourselves enough to express as much of our true selves as we can.

I think we can still be true to ourselves, while still keeping in mind the social rules enough to come across clearly and have general courtesy. It’s a happy medium that we often feel too scared to believe in, and to practice.
I have hope that it can eventually be achieved, to whatever level one individually desires, for the sake of wellness.

One has to really think hard about what it means to "have courtesy". Most of us take it literally and think it means exactly adhering to the other person and losing ourselves entirely, out of fear that we might come across as "too quirky to handle."

I think we need to positively hope that the person will accept us and understand that we are quirky and different, and if they don't, allow that to be their problem and give them no more of our time or energy.
Otherwise, we end up feeling repressed and depressed; because we know it's a lie...that we did not present as ourselves, but as a completely phony persona, in which was mirrored from the other person.

Furthermore, in many of these scenarios, we know that this person whom we are dealing with seems highly unlikely to accept us as we are. Our instinct flashes red with: “no; don’t you dare let go.” There is a sense that a guard needs to stay up, for one reason or another, usually because we’re sensing that this person is potentially closed minded and judgmental.
Keep in mind; this may also be, to some degree, distorted and/or exaggerated due to bad past experiences. Oftentimes it is real though, at least to some extent.

Remember; we have a harder time reading faces. Combine this with bad past experiences and an oversensitive intuition; this can be scary…like the twilight zone even. It can take some specialized trauma therapy, and/or some strong awareness, to work through some of that stuff. 

We may doormat ourselves when we're scared into a corner…reacting by either hiding, or performing like a puppet. We doormat ourselves when we pretend to agree with something we may not even agree with, just for the sake of being deemed "acceptable" to someone else. In turn, this can cause even more pain, confusion and depression/anxiety.

The question for ourselves has to be "If I were myself; is that person not likely to be able to handle it? If not, do I need to care or give that any of my time or energy?" The more social and people interested the Aspie is, the more stressful, overloading or lonely the desire to socialize can become... especially if we let it.

Again, we need to start being met halfway too, in the ways of awareness and tolerance; but also by meeting ourselves half way. If the kind of question I just mentioned above comes up, then I think the only healthy and self-respecting way to answer it is to try being ourselves with that person.

If it doesn’t go down well, we could politely educate them about Asperger’s' and/or Neurodiversity and then forget about it. Or even just forget about it without that first step I mentioned, if that’s not important to you. If the person has tolerance for your differences, enjoys and even attempts to seek out your company, it's a worthy acquaintanceship or friendship. There’s even a good chance that this other person who tolerates you may also be an aspie *winks* Not necessarily though.

Doing our part in the development of that relationship would be: letting that person like us...developing the trust. That's hard to do after having been hurt and shut down many times in the past…we almost don't believe it could be any different. The aspie has a hard time with change...although so do many others who have experienced traumatic events and relationships, and have learned to cope by “taking control.”

I speak from personal experience, the hard way, the getting hurt way. For me; too much performing caused my health to break down, and caused me to feel the need to medicate due to being overloaded by too much social/environmental pressure, and due to intense fear of rejection that could sabotage my "performance." 

When I realized that I had been doing nothing but over performing and scripting; "outside in" rather than "inside out…I shut down. I didn't want to do it anymore, I didn't want to exhaust myself doing it; yet I didn’t want to exhaust myself with the fear of rejection either.  However, I wish to put anything that prevents my healing, to a stop. Of course, this is all about something millions, Aspie, NT or whatever, can relate with: fear of rejection.

Ultimately, the fear of rejection, and thus the “social faux pas,” gets weaker with self-confidence, self-assurance, self-love and faith. We can have faith in the fact that we are loved by those who matter. Those who are closed minded, and pass judgment, simply shouldn't count.

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