My autistic perspective.
Word! This is what people sometimes write in a comment – or exclaims when they feel someone said something they deeply resonate or agree with.
I thought a lot about the difference between words and meaning.
How I often used the metaphor of me coming into a room where they speak Korean (because I don’t understand a word of Korean – which is why I picked this language for my metaphor) – and I am assumed to understand and speak it. I used this metaphor to try to catch the essence of how I often feel in conversations with people.
But it struck me, it isn’t that I don’t understand the words, it is the meaning that is lost on me. I hear you. I understand your words, but they do not make sense to me. It isn’t WHAT you say (I understand your words), but WHY you say it. WHAT you mean by saying them.
The mystery to me is WHY people say and do the things they do. WHAT it actually means. To me, people often seem sloppy with their words. And they often say things they do not mean. It is as if what they really mean is covered up, hidden behind social niceties (or rudeness), in codes of various sorts. Or they just speak in half said sentences assuming the other in the conversation would pick up on what is meant. There is a lot of implying, hidden meaning, requests to read between the lines, often using cultural or other contexts without being aware of it. Things are said out of context.
I don’t do those things. I hear you – every word you say – and I think you mean every word you say, why would you else say them? Did we humans not invent words to convey our meaning with them? So we can share what we feel, think, and experience? To be understood and understand each other?
The only time I don’t say what I mean straight out – is when I write poetry. But I still mean every word, I just condense the meaning and use more figurative language.
When I say exactly what I mean, it is taken as rudeness, bluntness, disrespect, as me being unkind and inconsiderate. At intention and a state of my mind is read into what I say that is not there.
But when people speak to me and only say half of what they actually mean, feel, think, and experience – and use strange nicety codes – I am assumed to understand what they mean. And if I got it wrong, I am the one at fault?
I do ask for clarity. Clarifying questions are my best friends. But… I can only ask so many questions. Until people get tired of me. I am told I pay too much attention to detail and “get stuck” on words. Well… in my world – the words mean something. They are not just decoration. And if you say something, I want to understand what you say. What you MEAN. I even want to understand the process that got you there – so I also get the context. So everything is clear – so we can understand each other.
Can you see how different ways of functioning makes a conversation break down? I am not saying your way is wrong and mine is right, or the other way around – they are just different. And that difference is important. It isn’t a difference in opinion, in perspective – it is a fundamental difference in how we think, understand, and communicate. Having those differences disregarded or denied – will set us up for communication failure and breakdown.
I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining what I mean, choosing the right words – and then this is met by some cryptic short message where I have to decipher what is meant, what the person REALLY feel, think and experience. But which of course is where often get it (all/some of it) wrong (given my background growing up in a context where what people said and meant was not so nice, I tend to use my experiences to understand what is said today, by using old templates for interaction – I get now that is not helpful, but it is what humans do, fall back on experience when trying to figure out a new situation. I am aware of it – and have therefor spend a lot of time learning to ask clarifying questions, but then I seem annoying – and people do lose patience with me (as they stop to respond).
I have no idea how not to be rude or blunt – but still speak what is true for me. As people seem to read a lot into what I say that is not there – the same thing I am told I do.
I am not saying that my way of functioning (autistic, ADHDer) or other trauma related neurodiversities or consequences from trauma – or even my very uneven intelligence profile, where I actually score very high on verbality and abstract thinking – which kind of tells me I am not “word”-dumb, or not even generally “dumb”, is an excuse for me misbehaving, being rude, etc. But it explains to me why I am so anxious in social situations where I don’t understand why people do what they do (or say), and I can’t get an explanation. I am slowly learning to ignore it. I have spent way too much time trying to understand things from other’s perspectives, accommodating their needs and figuring out how I am allowed to be and behave. But I am not met with the same courtesy. As I am the outlier here.
So instead of changing – I am going to stick with being a “meaning person” a “process person” over a “word person” and a “result person”– and I am not going to stay around to be taught how to behave better. I am not misbehaving, I am different. I can of course be very rude, blunt, mean – whatever. But I am not going to let others tell me when I have those intentions. I know from where I come. I know when I want to be rude or not.
I am done investing in relationships that want me to be different or where people do not have the time or interest in communicating with me in ways that works for me. Not because I think people always need to accommodate my needs, but because I simply do not get anything out of it. The amount of time put in to understand the other is huge and it makes the relationship very uneven.
I think we all want to be understood and accepted as we are. You might perceive me as over-explaining, being too open (over-sharing), direct (even blunt or rude), too occupied with myself – or whatever you think (I also know people appreciate me – often for the nicer ways of putting these very same things), but from a wound from my childhood – I seek people who refuse to be present in my life and accept me for who I am. Not doing that anymore.
What about being an over-sharer? I believe in showing myself – my processes. How I reflect – openly. I do not share everything, of course – you don’t really know me just because you read what I write here – but I believe that if humans in general could just share more of what goes on for them, we would not feel so isolated, so strange, so alone. We would know that what we go trough are just normal human experiences. That there is nothing wrong with us. Life is just not always so easy – and things happen to us that hurt. We tend to blame ourselves for those things. I shouldn’t have said, done, dressed like that, been there. It is better if I take up lesser space, do not talk, do not ask for anything. That I adjust better, I should be able to fit in, who do I think I am?
That is not a life. That is not living. I am like this, neurodivergent – autistic, ADHDer, with a shitload of childhood trauma (that I have worked hard on to come to terms with), very smart in some ways – not so smart in other ways. I am okay. I have grown into liking myself. I am not perfect. I don’t have all the answers, my way of being is not better than anyone else’s – but it is mine. And I need and want to live my life according to me. And that includes making choices that are scary. I will still make them.
And I want to say – I NEVER write openly for you to pity me. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I am not bitter. I always move forward (at times I do run in circles because I can’t find the way out). What I look for is honesty and transparency. For sharing human to human. For supporting each other in our respective growth paths. And I leave it up to you to decide what works for you. Take care!
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