Autism Communication Relationships

The Detriment of the Doubt4 min read

“I hope I can read this tomorrow without getting upset,” a friend of mine recently wrote in a chat.  Inside my brain, I felt the cogwheels start creaking and gaining momentum.  I scrolled up the chat history to see if I wrote something stupid, inconsiderate, tactless, offensive.

Nope, none that I could attribute her reaction to.

This was my usual reaction for years and years, Thinking, “Did I say something stupid?” I would go into defense mode, wonder if {person} was about to unfriend me, ready for the inevitable scolding.

In recent months, however, I learned better.  I simply asked, “How do you mean that?” Her answer was a simple, “I just went over a speech I prepared.  As it is quite emotional, I am not sure if I can read that on a lectern without bursting out in tears.”

Then It dawned on me: By virtue of my aspieness, or whatever trait in my persona is responsible for this, I take many things literally.  And if there is some ambiguity, I am ready, eager even, to interpret it in the worst possible way.

Mostly, I was ready to concede that I was saying something ignorant, that I did something wrong, that it must be my fault.  What ultimately made it painfully clear was the fact that I, not being a native English speaker, mentally translated the “upset” in the least favourable way, in the translation we have learned in school: “angry”.  (To all you English teachers: you owe me a pint now.)

So there I had it – not only did I interpret the sentence according to my happy-to-be-bashed condition, I also translated the “offensive” word accordingly.  And my logical reaction (cue Spock Eyebrow) was that I must have done something wrong.  Because everything makes perfect sense this way, now doesn’t it?

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A similar source of frustration surfaced when I was eating out with my wife.  It was a cold Novembery evening, and we went to some reasonably un-posh French restaurant.  On the menu, I spotted Soupe à l’oignon (“onion soup” doesn’t do this delicacy justice), and somewhere later down the list they had Clams Marinière.

Wifey and I chit-chat, comment the menu, and she asks me if I had found something.  I told her yes, I’d be ordering soup and the mussels.  “Are you sure you want two ‘wet’ courses?” she asks.

And all I can do is roll my eyes and think, there we go again– I am not even able to order my meal in a restaurant.  “Why sorry, I didn’t know I needed coaching when ordering from a menu,” I blurted out, and she got sad and whispered, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to lecture you.  You can have peanut butter on it if you want, for all I care.”

Needless to say, it took a considerable effort from both of us to steer that boat into calmer waters.

Why?  Why? Why is it that I constantly jump to the worst-case-scenario conclusions?  A “normal” person might say “Yeah, odd, innit?” or “Sure bet I do!  I am a Neanderthal.” Instead, I feel attacked, I feel the urge to not only explain but rather defend my decisions.

I can dismantle and reassemble a motorbike, sew a party gown, bake a three-tiered wedding cake, and all that shit– but as soon as someone comes and wonders about a decision of mine, I’m toast.  I feel accused.

And it’s not just my own decisions:

Scenario: The family goes on a vacation.  I am the Person With The Wallet (and the Black Belt in Computing), thus I am to book hotels in advance along a loose itinerary.  I do as commissioned, we pack, we fly, we fetch the rental car (“it is a tad big/small/sporty/old-peopley”), we drive interstate (“bland”), country roads (“slow”), we arrive (“…this?”), dine (some moans about the menu), and sleep (“stiff mattress”)…  you get the point.

Why, why, why the heck do I think I have to assume responsibility for someone else’s car rental flyer, someone else’s roads, someone else’s hotel, someone else’s shithole town?  My mind knows, knows it, and yet I feel attacked and offended if someone (rightly so, partly, there are shithole towns) is not happy with something along their route.

I have analysed this back and forth, some people helpfully suggested I might be a borderliner and my limbic system was out of whack, and my best guess as to why someone might react this my way is this:

  • you “do” something, and thus you assume responsibility for your deed
  • your logic dictates that all that cascades down from your initial “doing” (booking → hotel → food) is your responsibility, too
    (I learned that many religious books have similar concepts)
  • your silly brain wiring will always choose the most negative interpretation because…
  • …  a co-morbitity of your spectrum disorder are issues with self-esteem, depression, and countless other consequences

So, there you have it.

Now, what paths will get you out of that swamp of self-fulfilling prophecies?

(I was about to make one list for autistics and one for their partner, ;but hey, they were congruent)

  • Give each other the Benefit of the Doubt.  Most folks mean well.  And repeat this mantra ad nauseam until it “sticks.” 
  • Check your attitude.  Is it non-judgmental?  Most people can’t easily slide out of their skin and might take offense at being lectured for what they assumed to be good.
  • Assume responsibility for your immediate action, like suggesting to eat out.  Refuse responsibility further down the road.  It’s not your fault if the menu is not to your partner’s liking.
  • It is not always about you.  Even if you are the only person your partner can address their rant to.
  • Be gentle with failures and mishaps.  Not everyone is a gifted handmaid, or a cook– a competent President, even.
  • “The Others” are not your enemies.  This is not a conspiracy.

5 comments

  1. Two wet courses upsets the feng shui or something, what, like a bad food-wine pairing?  I had no idea that was a thing.  How wet is wet?  Is it a question of moisture content?  I can totally imagine myself stumbling into something like that, but would it be a case of my autisticness showing, or my working class roots?

      1. in essence, both courses can be classified as “soup”.  I wasn’t aware that starter and main course must be in contrast.  Maybe seafood salad followed by fish would be a fauxpas too.  lol.

    1. This comment made me laugh so hard…mainly because I had the same thoughts almost verbatim 😂

  2. I love this because I’m the exact same way.  I’ve had DBT, and it’s helped a great deal in keeping from jumping to conclusions, but I always think it’s something I did.  It’s always the worst-case scenario with me.  I completely understand.  Thank you for sharing this.

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