Safety is a basic human need.
This might seem obvious to a lot of folks, but bear with me, it struck me as something not everybody might have considered.
I participate in several online forums about autism, mostly these groups are aimed at older adults since my parenting days are over. I am still fascinated with learning about autism and finding clues to my own past and using new understanding to improve my life going forward.
I hope to share insights here that might help others.
When I started this blog I wanted to be
a sort of information sharing resource so that those older adults new to autism could find out more without having to spend countless hours on research and analysis of facts.
I do read papers, articles, studies, presentations, books, and spend many hours a day doing this and interacting with other autistic adults on line.
If you question statistics or information I provide please send me a message and I can provide links for you to look it up yourself, etc. I am interested in fact based information and prefer to use well documented sources when possible. reading other blogs and interacting with other autistic folks online helps give perspective and insights which I would not otherwise have, and heaven knows most autistic individuals love to share information!
I am still exploring ways to serve those of us older folks who are just discovering we may be autistic, helping find diagnosis, sorting out all the “what next” questions we have.
Since I am only recently diagnosed myself, ( coming on 3 years ago now- amazing!) I am continuing to explore new ideas and insights into my own life as autistic.
I am looking and finding new perspectives on almost every aspect of my own past.
I am still pulling insights out of remembered experiences, seeing them in new ways and having that wonderful “aha” moment of finally understanding one after another emotional “thorn in my paws” from my past experiences.
Last night as I waited for sleep I began to think about some of the members of groups I participate in. Some are so angry! Some are so defensive! Some are so completely distraught, caught in grief and suffering! What could be done to help? Why are these people seemingly trapped in these cycles of pain and upset?
I have been reading this morning about rumination and perseveration. I have been reading about basic human needs.
Perseveration is when we continue and persist as a pattern of thought and or behavior and have a habit or cycle of repeated thoughts, feelings, actions, which become almost automatic responses in certain situations. It is part of autism’s “rigid thinking or behavior” which must be present in order to obtain diagnosis. Not all perseveration is bad, but it can make it more difficult to break patterns of unhealthy thoughts or behavior which are not helpful or healing, or which causes us more struggles and pain.
Rumination is perseveration of thinking, cycles of bringing certain thoughts, beliefs, ideas, memories or emotions forward into our minds and working at them over and over.
We can develop a mind set of feeling resentment or anger over what we see as unjust treatment from others.
We can re-live moments of multiple experiences of emotional or physical pain, re playing the hurt and the frustration, the despair and the trauma of previous experiences.
This can be true of each of us in different ways depending on our lives and how we have interpreted the things we think we understand and what we believe.
We have all met people who seem to be consistently angry, looking for reasons to fight,
belligerent souls who seem to have “a chip on their shoulder”.
Anger is never under the surface for long. I realized these people are trapped in perseveration of the “fight” part of trauma response series: “fight, flight, freeze, fawn” . They seem to feel they need to constantly defend themselves over everything. They are always ready to attack any perceived insult, feeling of threat, opposition or disagreement. It is all personal, it is all over anything seen as a challenge or an obstacle to one’s ideas, thoughts, desires or activities. They react immediately by getting angry. They are hypervigilant to protect themselves and their interests, or of those they care about.
We have all met people who are always sad and who never see anything as good. They are worried about everything, afraid of what will happen next to make them feel used, abused, neglected, abandoned, or otherwise in emotional pain and insecure. They feel the injustices of the world, they often cry or feel constant suffering and misery. There is constant worry and fear.
These sad individuals dwell on “what next?” “what will happen if” and constantly anticipate the next trauma. They are frozen, waiting in fear for the next painful event and feeling helpless to prevent it.
I have realized these folks are trapped in perseveration of the trauma response of flight, freeze or fawning, simply waiting in dread for what they are sure is coming their way and expecting it all to be bad.
Sometimes we might meet somebody who has both anger and sadness.
I must say I relate and have been a perseverative thinker in the past.
I had habits of rumination about being treated unjustly, rejected, scorned and punished without ever knowing or understanding why these things happened. I believed I was singled out for such things, and I was right! I had deep sorrow over being so mistreated and misunderstood. I thought constantly about how hurt I felt and how sad I was that I could not change it. ( I was wrong about that!)
The rumination began, I believe, as an issue in my mental and emotional processing because I was trying so hard to come up with reasons WHY and to find ways to escape or overcome these experiences.
Autistic rigid thinking kept me from seeing I had alternatives to the strict pattern of behavioral responses I had learned in an unhealthy environment growing up and in the first part of my young adulthood. I simply could not see that things might not be the way I understood them and that the way I responded to all my life experiences could be managed in multiple other ways.
The problem was that I had developed misunderstanding of so many things about what life actually “is”.
Nobody knew about my autism or that of other family members, nobody understood the family dynamics that brought me to being such a dysfunctional mess as a young adult.
I had no alternatives but to use my own understanding and develop my own survival behavior even as a young child before I could speak.
I did not understand human emotions or behavior, I did not understand how it was that I always made others angry, or why they reacted the way they did.
I did not understand what I was persecuted and punished for, except that people said I was bad and evil and mean and deliberately did all sorts of things to them to harm them, hurt their feelings, make them feel bad! I could not understand how that was so.
Simply put, I was not able, by myself, to understand so many things without an outside interpreter until I got therapy and had so much of it explained to me. This was long before my autism diagnosis but even not knowing about the autism the therapy helped me understand much I had missed growing up. I got a lot of good explanations about healthy behavior and learned communication skills.
The biggest part of my own perseveration was fear of not being prepared for the perceived onslaught of anger, punishment, rejection, abuse, and scorn. I thought about it constantly, was quite sure i had been misunderstood, (not realizing I also misunderstood others) and I had absolutely no social skills or “tools” for communication to help myself. I was unable to see beyond the cycle of pain and upset and unable to do anything for myself but dread and remember, preparing myself for flight and becoming more and more submissive, hiding and feeling so anxious, and becoming more passive and people pleasing, appeasement responses.
I learned those responses as a helpless child and until I was taught that I had alternatives I could choose, I was trapped in that cycle.
When I began to learn I could choose my responses to others in any situation and that I could safely and successfully say NO, my life began to change.
I believe this will be the same for those of us who are trapped in anger. Life has been a fight, everything has been a struggle and a confrontation. Mindset says that one must be constantly prepared to defend oneself, to fight for rights, for access to what is needed, for recognition, for every little corner of life, one must defend oneself and one must push forward to make sure one is heard and responded to. I have not experienced this particular pattern of perseveration but I think I can understand it. I am thinking that explanations and teaching healthier self assertive communication could help with angry people’s rumination and perseveration too.
Now I come to the point I am going to make. Perseveration of emotional rumination seems to be a response to trauma and fear. It seems to be an attempt to understand and prepare for the next traumatic event. (in other words it seems to me to be a form of hyper vigilance, where we repeat these feelings over and over trying perhaps for better understanding of “what happened” as a way of being ready for the next trauma, which we are sure is coming soon). These behaviors must be based in the experience of fear.
I have said repeatedly that I have lived my life in fear. It took at least 40 years before I began to feel safe in even part of my life. I was afraid of the consequences of every single action I took, every single day. I dreaded the potential for drawing attention to myself and thus exposing myself to attack. I was afraid at home, I was afraid at school, I was afraid going anywhere in the car or walking in the community where I grew up and where I lived later. I feared encounters or interactions with others, I feared saying the wrong things, being caught in the wrong places where I could not find shelter (being bullied in quiet corners of school or being attacked walking down the street, playing on the playground, reading a book or playing in some corner of my home growing up), etc.
No place was safe. No person was safe, There were no alternatives but to face these things alone and not understanding how I could do anything differently until as a 30 year old I got a few basic explanations and began to find ways to make myself safer.
I have been reading about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Look here! https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html#:~:text=There%20are%20five%20levels%20in,esteem%2C%20and%20self%2Dactualization.
Those of us who did not feel physically safe, who grew up hungry ,( who worried even as small children about our homes and our security without the protection of the adults in our lives, and/or who were often victims of physical and emotional abuse), who because of our autism were perhaps more traumatized by these experiences than a child with “normal neurology” developed our own ways of self protection and care.
No wonder we could not feel safe!
Note that feeling safe or secure is one of the most basic human needs.
Now we are adults, how can we change our lives, our situations, our selves to find safety?
How can we help those ruminations and perseverative beliefs we mostly gained in childhood or before our diagnosis?
How can we find the tools and the understanding of our world as adults so that we can help the helpless child in those of us who are needlessly suffering repeated replays of trauma and emotional pain?
Do you recognize yourself in anything I have written here today?
I think that is the first step to self understanding.
With self understanding, we can look for new ways to live our lives. We can seek out new skills to communicate, new insights to help find our way through the complexities of adult lives. We can find explanations, we can learn new ways.
We are no longer helpless. Diagnosis is the key to self understanding and self help. We can find safety and we can find healing.
I know I have left a lot to think about. The idea of feeling safe is so important. This is all so new in my mind.
More about feeling safe as I am able to process this idea and to find studies and information about this topic.
One thought on “Feeling Safe”
How wonderful to read your insights Debra. You have such a great command in getting your ideas across to others. Thank you.
I am one of the fortunate ‘elders’ in that my diagnosis came 21 years ago – and yet, I am still uncovering misunderstandings of the past! As I’m ageing, I’m discovering the truth that far distant memories resurface and I’m having trouble remembering what I did yesterday!
From what I’m experiencing, reading and discovering our uniqueness will never become ‘old hat’!
LikeLiked by 1 person