Bitterness is a trap Aspies and Auties can easily fall into; it’s entirely understandable, but it doesn’t help the healing process. There is something that can be quite embittering for many of us on the autism spectrum, something appallingly undermining. For a start, there’s the stigma, the social taboo, the fact that to some people, you are now an embarrassment, and some of them show it.
On the inside, it’s a horrible feeling of vulnerability and helplessness to know that the non-autistic world sees you as seriously impaired, and there are a million and one ways it will try to make you feel as if you are not a fully functioning human being. At best, you know you’ll never be quite “normal”; and in a herd-mentality society that subsists on the fragility of social acceptance, this knowledge can a times indeed be a bitter pill to swallow.
This feeling of being vulnerable, confused and a bit lost, still happens to me every day, even after more than forty years of dealing with it.
I was not diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome until adulthood, but well before that I did not produce appropriate emotional responses on meeting other humans, and that led to a disastrous cascade effect – I lost contact, became withdrawn, and fell off the cumulative ladder of social-emotional learning.
To this day, I have significant degree of impairment with social-emotional skills. I can’t be sure I am reading people’s signals accurately. Indeed, often I know I haven’t, even before they become guarded and then pissed off – I’m not at all sure I fully understand what they are saying, especially if they are “being polite” or trying to imply something rather than saying it straight out. I need direct, literal communication: and on this cagey, dodgy planet I seldom get it, which means that much of the time I can’t be sure that I did in fact “get it”.
I often have to ask for clarification, which can lead people to think that I am a “please explain” duh-brain; it also leads to conflict because they think I’m just being awkward in not accepting what they think they have said, or not coming back with what they deem the appropriate emotional response.
At such times, my underlying high IQ is not obvious to the casual observer. This can all add up to a very embittering feeling of insecurity – the feeling that I am condemned to a position of permanent and humiliating disadvantage, of seeming to be a bit of an idiot.
Bitterness can set in when living with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. But is it possible to leave the bitterness behind, to work through it to a sunnier place? I hope so. I’m still working on mine: here are some ideas I’ve found helpful.
The first point is one that actually elongates the process rather than shortening it. I have often been told that I need to forgive, to let go, to move on. That is true: but it is utterly pointless trying to do that unless we have first fully, honestly and laboriously worked through all the negative feelings, all the grief we have about not fitting into this world. It is vital and indispensable that anyone who is on the autism spectrum has the absolute right to go through our own grieving process in our own time, and let go of it all only when we are REALLY ready to do so.
Forgiveness is not an instantaneous action, a simple stroke of volition. It is a difficult emotional process, and it simply doesn’t work if we try to jump stages. It is easy to say we must forgive, let it go. Yet we cannot forgive until we have let the anger up to the surface and expressed it. And don’t ask whether or not your feelings are reasonable – feelings are never reasonable. They are not meant to be reasonable: feelings are feelings, not rational ideas. Don’t get the two confused, they are very different phenomena.
Thus, to get to the stage of being able to let go of our resentments, we must work through all the powerful stages of grieving – the denial, the depression and hopelessness, the slowly mobilizing anger, the growing reconciliation to our new, impaired daily reality, the radical reassessment of our goals, life experiences and interpretations. It takes time, often a lot of time – and we need to allow ourselves to do it in our own impaired time, not on a schedule suggested by well-meaning (or otherwise) helpers.
At all times, I try to keep one guiding principle in mind and that is that the fact that I am an Aspie does not make me less of a human being.
Nor does it detract from my indelible human rights – including above all the right to make a positive contribution to the betterment of the human condition in whatever ways I can.
I may be different but I’m still a human being and just like every other human being I will have my good days and my bad days and my own unique ways of processing past hurts.