DEALING WITH RESENTMENT
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 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 runs on the fragility of constantly questioned and
reiterated ego dependent on social acceptance, that is a bitter
lost on a cagey dodgy planet
This feeling of being vulnerable, confused, a
bit lost, still happens to me every day after more than fifty years.
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- I lost contact, became withdrawn, and fell off the cumulative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 socio-emotional learning.
To this day, I have significant impairment in the socio-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 circumlocuting, “being polite”,
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. 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.
Strategies for handling bitterness
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
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.
When we have worked through the grieving stage by stage, then it
may be possible to finally let go of bitterness, forgo judgment,
relinquish our desire to punish those who don't understand us, and
let the past go. But it often happens that the process cannot start
until we have at least resolved to desire to let go, even if that
mental resolution sits uncomfortably against our feelings. It’s
like walking on two legs: the intention is necessary to start the
emotional releasing, but is useless without it.
Who do I want to be?
A major challenge for many of us is choosing where
we want to stand. I can proudly claim my right to be an aspie and
not see this as a disability, or needing to change at all to fit
into a non-aspergic world. I can meet with others over the Internet,
find a job where I don't have to socialize with others, and indulge
my favorite obsessions without messing anyone else's life around.
At the other extreme, I can humbly acknowledge my crushing disability,
and make extreme efforts to learn compensatory strategies that will
help me become as "normal" as possible to fit in with
everyone else. Neither of these suits me, and I've taken a middle
position on the spectrum, which makes sense that I have a spectrum
A spiritual angle
I have found it helpful, in the (hopefully) final
phase of emotional healing, to seek some spiritual meaning for the
whole process. Was this event one which I should bother to analyze
rationally, seeking a legally framed story of cause and effect,
or was it just one of the unavoidable hammer-blows of fate? Or was
it, perhaps, a challenge from the gods, designed to shift me into
a different mode of functioning?
The divine (if you can accept the possibility that it exists - and
I may still be looking to blame God for what happened to me!) characteristically
chucks us curly ones that throw our previous plans and understandings
off balance. The difficulty of rising to meet such challenges is
no different for us auties and aspies than for the “normal ones”
- or rather, for us it may be easier. The normals still have the
luxury (or obstacle?) of being able to hold on to their comforting
views of the world, of themselves, of the purpose of life: whereas
we are foreigners in a strange world in which we are reminded a
hundred times a day that we are visitors to this strange place.
But, could that become a strength? We may be able to think outside
the square - let’s face it, we have little choice, since the square
may now be closed to us. My need for literal and straight communication
meant I had to be skeptical about anything anyone said to me, go
back to first principles and seek truth with logic - an unpopular
quest in a social milieu where the admission ticket consists of
already knowing and accepting the consensus view, however illogical
or untruthful it may be.
Making sense of it all
Can we, whom the gods have chosen to bless with
this challenge, make any positive sense of being on the autism spectrum, and painfully carve out a new direction? Was it a divine
intervention to force us to learn a very different way of being
to the way of most on this planet? Is it all karma for actions we
perpetrated in a past life? Can we learn from our dire experiences
some new compassion for the suffering many?
I haven't yet completed the long process of making sense of it all,
and it will probably take me some years. But I have found that it
helps to keep myself open to the possibility that I needed to learn
something, probably many things, from the many unpleasant things
that happened over the years - bullying, taunts at school, abusive
father, social alienation, constant sacking from jobs to name a
few. I hope to gain insights that will make me a better person in
a spiritual sense, perhaps that the direction I had been headed
in during my recent incarnations was in need of change, and that
I needed to take on board some painful humility about the common
suffering of humanity which will help me become a more giving, forgiving
and compassionate person in the end.
At all events, I try to keep one guiding principle in mind every
day: the fact that I am an aspie does not make me less of a human
being, does not detract from my human rights - including above all
the right to make a positive contribution to the betterment of the
human condition as a whole. It’s difficult, especially in the face
of constant adverse reactions from judgmental types - but maybe
they too need to learn the lessons this disaster is trying to give
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