When I first shared with some close friends that my next blog entry was going to be called “Rejection is the story of my life” a common reaction was something like:
“Is that really true? I mean, you have friends. People care about you. I’m sure you often feel rejected but is it really your defining experience?”
Well actually, if I had to name the defining Aspergers experience, rejection might very well be at the top of the list. It’s obviously not a nice thing to talk about, but neither does it help to pretend it isn’t there. The fact that even my closest friends can’t really believe it goes to show how hard it is to see. Most of the time the struggle is completely invisible. If it’s visible at all the phrase ‘tip of the iceberg’ doesn’t do it justice!
(FYI: the tip of an iceberg represents roughly 10.7% of the total volume depending on the salinity of the water – I’m sure you all wanted to know that!)
The best way I’ve found to try and explain this is in terms of the constant message I get from the world around me: “What’s wrong with you?”
The frequency at which I hear this message is directly proportional to how freely I express myself. From my earliest memory the consequences for ‘being myself’ ranged from social exclusion to clashes with authority. This was a powerful form of negative reinforcement and I quickly learned to censor all my feelings and actions – only allowing myself to express those which would lead to a favourable reaction from the people around me.
(FYI: My earliest memory is of my efforts to ‘figure out’ how to play with the other kids in kindergarten – age 3).
Whenever I do something too unexpected, whenever I’m too abrupt, too direct, too interested, too disengaged… too anything… Whenever my actions are judged ‘inappropriate’ (or just plain weird)… the message may be subtle, but it’s always very clear… it’s my fault. I didn’t follow the ‘rules’. In other words, my actions were too far outside the standard range of commonly acceptable behaviour and I therefore brought the negative reaction upon myself.
This is especially true when it comes to relationships and I have therefore learned to become very good at making sure I do everything I possibly can to make sure people respond favourably to me. Everyone does this to a degree. We all self-censor when impulses are not ‘appropriate’ for a given situation. The difference with me is that I’ve learned (the hard way) that I need to censor/filter virtually everything at all times. The minute I don’t the reaction is inevitable… “What’s wrong with you?”
Well something I’ve come to a much deeper understanding of recently, is that relationships are a two way street. If someone doesn’t want to accommodate me there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Forever going out of my way to accommodate the other person is not a friendship. The minute I run out of energy, the minute I need help, the minute I need to actually receive instead of constantly giving… everything falls apart. Of course it does! It was never a genuine friendship. It was me moulding myself to be what someone else could ‘handle’.
Unfortunately it’s really difficult to find a middle ground. The fact is that most people can’t handle me. I’m just too ‘unexpected’ for them and they don’t know what to do. If I become all cynical and stop making an effort to fit in and demand that people ‘accept me as I am’ then I will surely ostracise myself completely. Yet I need to somehow find a way to break my lifelong habit of seamlessly fitting in.
There have been so many instances (several as recently as this year!) where even what seem like close friendships break down the minute I make even the smallest request for reciprocity. I guess those people were never really my friends to begin with. Perhaps you can see my dilemma tho. Which relationships do I test? Am I willing to risk losing those closest to me for the sake of building a genuinely reciprocal friendship? I know the answer must be yes, but that doesn’t make the reality any easier.
It’s kind of ironic, but I’m so good at ‘being a good friend’ that it means I don’t really have any…