Being Too Direct

Being too direct is a very common Aspie trait. Today I want to discuss a few things including why this causes problems and how it sets up a self-reinforcing pattern.

As you do (as I do anyway!) when attempting to explain human behaviour, I’ve drawn a flow chart. This is what happens when I take a direct approach to resolving conflict.


Briefly explaining the visual… First, there is some kind of conflict, i.e. the actions of another person are hurting me in some way. I have two choices. Do I tell them? Or not? It’s pretty clear that if I don’t tell them, the behaviour will continue. If I do tell them, the next question is do they care? But caring is not enough. Can they actually do anything to change their own behaviour? If not, this is where things get interesting, and a direct approach often leads to less than desirable consequences.

Let me explain how it works using an example that happened to me recently.

I had a housemate a little while back that would occasionally use my milk in the fridge. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it would have been fine, except that I would frequently wake up in the morning and have nothing for breakfast. I have a pretty organised routine in the morning. It’s very efficient and I don’t waste time. You can imagine that opening the fridge to discover that I don’t have any breakfast is more than just a little inconvenience. I’ve just woken up, still half asleep and not even dressed yet, and now I have to go out to the shops? What a way to start the day! It throws out my whole morning!

At first this was only a minor thing. I wasn’t too angry. I asked her not to use it and I explained why such a seemingly little thing had a large effect on me, including why simply replacing the milk at a later stage was no good, since the damage had already been done. So, where are we on the flowchart? I’ve told her, she does care, and she’s promised not to do it again. Great! Except… the next question is “Can you do anything about it?” Unfortunately, as it turned out, the answer here was no. She was physically and psychologically incapable of fulfilling her promise and the problem continued for some time.

Here is where I went wrong. Due partially to ignorance, I took a direct approach. I spoke to her again. Things clearly weren’t working. We needed another solution. How about you can borrow as much milk as you like, so long as you tell me about it? That way you can still use it, and I don’t get a surprise when I open the fridge. Sounds reasonable? Great! Except… again, she was physically and psychologically incapable of meeting this commitment either….

Now we had two problems. Stolen milk and broken promises….

The next question on the flow chart is “Can you accept your inability?” It was becoming increasingly apparent that the answer was no. We were friends, we had a good relationship, we cared about each other…. but all those factors only made the situation worse.

My direct approach was exacerbating the problem in two respects. Firstly asking such a direct question compelled her to give a false answer. “Can you do this simple thing for me?”… “Yes! Of course I can!” Secondly, I was compounding the problem by giving her the benefit of the doubt. When she said she would do something, I believed her. I kept giving her another chance, which only led to greater and greater failures. The first clue that a person cannot accept their inability is that at this point, words and actions diverge significantly (i.e. promises are made and not kept).

Foolishly, I didn’t learn my lesson. I kept trying to solve the problem in a direct way. I would talk to her about it, offer solutions, try to meet her half way and find the reason previous solutions weren’t working. If you take milk and then forget to tell me, how about you tell me first? If telling me first sounds too much like asking for permission, and you don’t want to have to ask for permission, then maybe send me a ‘thankyou’ message instead? I’ll do it too whenever I use even the smallest amount of anything of yours. “I borrowed one of your eggs today! Thanks for that, it saved me a trip to the shops :)” I was bending over backwards and getting nowhere.

In hindsight, the underlying problem was that she could not be honest in those conversations because she didn’t want to admit to herself that she was incapable of leaving my stuff alone. This inability was quickly masked by defiance, excuses, and blame. “I don’t want to have to leave your stuff alone. I shouldn’t have to! You’re being unreasonable!  It’s not stealing, it’s just borrowing! Why do you care so much anyway? It doesn’t really affect you. You’re being too sensitive. Stop asking me for such little things. Why do you keep getting upset? Will you just leave me alone!” This type of disproportionately large violent outburst is often a sign of triggering an unconscious defence mechanism (e.g. denial).

My point here is that all this was due to my direct approach. I was asking her to do something she was incapable of doing, and I was asking her to admit to that inability, which she was also incapable of doing. In this way a direct approach can often lead to denial, blame, and relationship breakdown.

I was showing her a side of herself that she didn’t want to see. Why would she want to be around me?

Now at the start of this piece I said that this sets up a self-reinforcing pattern. Once we get to this point I am being blamed. I am being told that I am the problem. I’m too sensitive. I’ve misread the situation. Hearing this message repeatedly amounts to something called Gaslighting (essentially questioning a person’s perspective and judgement until they begin to doubt themselves). The result is that I never feel confident to trust my interpretation of the situation. “The other person is upset. It’s probably my fault. I’ve probably misread the situation again.” This chronic self-doubt leads a person (and I’ve seen this in many aspies I work with) to simply accept whatever the other person says. We don’t want things to be ambiguous. When things are ambiguous we get it wrong – all the time! I just want someone to tell me directly what’s going on, to set me straight, correct my misunderstanding, and give me an accurate description of the situation.

Hopefully you can see how this self-doubt results in the desire and preference for being more and more direct. And then, unfortunately, it leads to the same place, of denial, blame, and relationship breakdown. “It’s my fault again. I’ve misread the situation again. I really wish people would just be more direct with me to save me from myself.” I even had an aspie friend the other day tell me that she couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t tell the truth (i.e. be anything less than 100% direct).

Recently, I’ve learned that the only way out of this pattern is to trust my own judgement. When I see (through evidence) that a person is incapable of fulfilling their promises, I need to treat them as incapable, regardless of what they say (i.e. regardless of how capable they WISH they were). This is very difficult for me because I like to give people second chances. Ironically, withholding a second chance, is the more forgiving option. I realise I probably haven’t explained how I made that last jump to forgiveness…. haha… but I’ve written enough about this for one day.

If you took the time to read this I’d really appreciate some feedback as to if it made sense to you!



37 thoughts on “Being Too Direct

  1. You weren’t too direct. You weren’t direct *enough.* There’s no point wasting your time trying to be reasonable with some people. My “direct” response, once I knew this person was never going to give an inch would be to fasten a note to the milk bottle, preferably in such a way that she’d have a real battle getting it off. I’d say something along the lines of “Keep your damned hands off my milk.” Except maybe not so polite. And there is no way I could remain friends with someone who obviously doesn’t understand friendship, or even basic concern for anyone but herself.

    Liked by 3 people

    • She did understand friendship and she had (has) a lot of concern for me. So much that she was giving me everything she had. Being rude to her (i.e. punishing her) just because of her poor mental health would have been needlessly mean on my part, would have caused many more problems in other areas AND perhaps most importantly would not have solved my milk problem. I’ll write more about alternate strategies another day 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      • It’s hard for me to understand how someone can be a true friend in some areas, but refuse to acknowledge a problem that you made very clear. I guess if I’d had the problem, maybe I would have thought of alternate strategies. I hope you did.


      • “It’s hard for me to understand how someone can be a true friend in some areas, but refuse to acknowledge a problem that you made very clear. ”

        me too, but its a human condition. and its not just nts that do it.


      • I’m not saying that this is the case in this particular scenario but my aspie husband makes too many, what seems to me, unwritten Aspie rules that I can’t keep track off. Probably in the same way that Aspies can’t keep track of the NT unwritten rules. So it may be that she genuinely forgets what the rule is about the milk. You are not being unreasonable about your milk! Make it simple for her as she has had enough opportunities to get it right. Just say I love you but please don’t touch my milk anymore!


      • Pour the milk over her head while she is sleeping. That should get the point across. Stop being nice. Nice equals weakness. Kind equals strength.


      • But how do you resolve the problem if it is the one with Aspergers who’s making empty promises to the rest of the family example I will get up in the morning I promise I will go to school I promise will clean my room I promise,
        Please be kind I’m only trying to understand a new situation in our home, to be honest everybody is driving everyone mad


      • Something like that sounds like a coping strategy for someone who is horribly overwhelmed and has every intention of ‘doing it later’ but has been too optimistic in that prediction. A little bit like ‘I’m sick today and taking the day off, but I promise I’ll come in to work tomorrow’.


      • However, this is just a first impression based on very little data. If you’re after something more comprehensive we’d need to schedule a coaching call to make sure we go through all the relevant background to the situation.


  2. i think youre certainly blaming yourself too much, other than that i think youve got an extremely firm handle on the situation.

    also your flowchart is *the* very sh**. i would model one after it.


  3. Amazing Paul. You’ve just decoded why my marriage failed. Interestingly, I was you, and my ex husband was your housemate. I feel amazed, and a little melancholy mixed with latent grief. There is a huge sense of relief in understanding where I went wrong too. Thank you 😘

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love this, it’s really eye opening. Please post those alternate strategies soon. I’m having a difficult time with my roomate!


  5. You really make it appear so easy together with your presentation but I find this topic to be really one thing which I feel I would by no means understand. It seems too complicated and very vast for me. I am having a look forward on your subsequent publish, I will try to get the hold of it!


  6. Nice blog right here! Additionally your site lots up very fast! What web host are you the usage of? Can I get your associate hyperlink for your host? I want my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol


    • I’ve asked an NT about this, and another way they deal with it is quite subtle. They’ll end up labeling everything when the direct approach doesn’t work. Still don’t know if that counts as petty or not.


      • I always label whatever I put in the fridge so that noone would accidentally use mine in case they ever get something identical. I don’t think it’s petty since it’s only a precaution.


  7. Paul, I know this is an older post, but I was curious about the reason your roommate was taking your milk?

    I tend to give people a few chances when they make mistakes like that, but after that I tend to solve the problem myself. I’ve lived with people who would help themselves to any food and I eventually just kept important items in my own room in my own mini fridge. The money I spent on that saved me money in the cost of stolen food, and the friendships, in the long term.

    I suppose what I wonder is, was it worth skipping breakfast to save the friendship? I might do that myself in some cases, but it would really feel like a violation of trust if it happened a lot.

    I really appreciate your blog posts and youtube videos and find them helpful and informative. I’m newly diagnosed ASD and I didn’t find out until I was 31. I was tested by the school system when I was 9ish, but was told that it wasn’t autisim, but a behavioral issue, so they school basically used aversion therapy to “correct” my stimming/ “odd” behaviors.


  8. Have the alternate strategies been written about yet? This is me and my husband. We are just now realizing that he is autistic. He would (will) ask me to change small behaviors that felt incredibly nitpicky and controlling to me. If I don’t agree to his request or if I agree but don’t follow through, he thinks I don’t love him and that I’m being deliberately callous and hurtful and he can become angry and hurtful in retaliation. But I honestly know I will not always remember to do what he’s asking me to do! (e.g. Don’t run over the corner of the lawn by the end of the driveway when you turn in. Don’t leave bits of paper or wrapping on the kitchen counter after I’m done cooking.) So we are stuck in this endless cycle of conflict. We both end up feeling, quite honestly, abused. I don’t know how we can both honor each other in these situations.


    • Sorry to hear that. The good news is that it is possible to both honour each other in that situation.
      Unfortunately I’m not sure if I can explain in a post comment.
      It’s important to constantly remind each other that you’re on the same team – even when you can’t do what the other wants. Simply giving in doesn’t work. You have to work out a solution together. And when it feels tough, just hang in and keep reminding him how much you love him and how you want to both be on the same team. Sorry I can’t do more. You may want to check out my material on EQ – it’s exactly these type of skills.


      • Thank you for using up some of your energy to reply. I am also feeling like the only way we will be able to avoid the conflict cycle is if we constantly remind ourselves that our differences are neurological and not moral. We are not, through malice or neglect TRYING to hurt the other. I will check out the EQ material you mentioned!


  9. The friend in your story was “stealing” milk from your fridge and you are to blame because you took a ” direct” approach to solving the issue? If my best friend stole my milk, they will have a punch in the face, how is that for a reaction and a direct approach? 🙂 or have I not “read” my friends correctly? 🙂 I am now being direct – It is called disrespect and lack of consideration on their part and you are way too normal and delicate for them. You are too normal because you take people at their word and seriously. That is how it should be in a perfect society. Otherwise, what now, honesty and direct approach are equated with rudeness and inconsideration, and taking others’ stuff and constant forgetting are being normal? If that is so, what a utopia we have built, and what a great world we live in now then. It is the majority of people that need changing. I wish everyone were as delicately direct as you in your story. You do have too much faith in “other people” and “society”. In most cases, they are not worth it or you. Honestly.

    I am sorry maybe I too have the syndrome, but every person you ever described in your video or post when you talked about “other” or “normal people”, “friends”, etc. to contrast them with you, seem to be very “abnormal” to me.The people you describe and term “friends” or “others” or “without any syndromes” in your examples and situations appear to me always very troubled, insensitive, controlling, demanding. They are never what I consider to be real people. I never knew that such people could exist, honestly. Let alone focusing on your behaviour when reading as you try to explain your reactions, I am much more shocked at theirs. That is the impression I always have when watching your videos and reading your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I really enjoyed reading this. I had a very similar experience with a roommate. It’s nice to think about from the perspective that they aren’t capable. Being upset or feeling negative towards people just makes me depressed with myself, so again, it’s nice to get a different perspective and reframe my mind. Thank you.


  11. I’ve seen this happen in my career and relationships a million times. I hate ambiguity! I think your explanation is great, and I’m looking forward to learn more about how you deal with the constant ambiguities of the humans in your life.


  12. I am having trouble understanding how to solve these issues, I am aspie and my husband is NT with ADHD, so he is especially bad at saying he will do things and broken promises and I am almost always upset. Are you saying I should just accept that he doesn’t do the things he says he will do even though it makes me miserable? That doesn’t sound fair at all.


    • No. It’s important to take steps to make sure it doesn’t make you miserable. (but simply wishing and hoping that he’ll change is unlikely to be an effective step).


  13. Have you written the rest of it somewhere? About how you made that last jump to forgiveness? Or maybe things you can do in those kind of situations? Like, if the friend can’t accept their inabillity, what do you do?


  14. this makes perfect sense. I found your blog through your Facebook page. I believe I have aspergers (never had an assessment- I’m 35) , also my son (now 12 , never had an assessment … as my rational was – sure he’s just exactly like me , nothing unusual there 😆) and my youngest daughter (5years old). We all function just fine … until we don’t- then we hibernate at home for a while …
    Id love to know if you feel if there is any point in getting an assessment at 35 or even 12 … does it really make any difference other than the label … My son has told me he can make it to 1.30 at school but that last 40mins he is just done … id love to take him home early everyday and I think maybe I could just do that without having him assessed… but also people might be more understanding if I can say “because he has aspergers this is how I want to support him. “


    • many places will not require to see a formal diagnosis, and unfortunately many will also refuse requests even with a formal diagnosis. There are benefits and it can make advocacy easier in some instances, but getting that piece of paper definitely doesn’t fix everything (in terms of being understood or accommodated).


  15. And here i was thinking I am not oversensitive, not impacted by changes to routines/things, not finding it difficult to reorganise myself around plans cancelled at the last minute by others, or wondering why i just do things by myself because its easier. Your videos, and now your blog, is making sooo muuuch seeense to me. I’m just starting to recognise why I’ve never fit in or felt comfortable around most people.


  16. Damn, why didn’t you just store two bottles of milk in the fridge? One for you and one for her. If needed with name stickers on them?


  17. Do aspies ever gaslight? I get the sense they wouldn’t because they value directness. I experienced a lot of gaslighting in a long-term relationship with an NT, and yes, found myself capitulating on everything. Now that I’m diagnosed, I want to have a sense of what people in the aspie community are capable of. Thanks.


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