Autistic negative feedback” baggage” and learning to love ourselves.
Self love is a very difficult concept for me.
I think it is difficult for many other elder autistic people too. The very idea that we deserve anything as an individual has been driven out of our thoughts by negative feedback for too long.
From my earliest memories I recall feedback from others about my selfishness, laziness, thoughtlessness, worthlessness, my failures and my seemingly deliberate wickedness.
Those negative statements about me and my behavior, plus early and continual childhood training as a Christian (where everything is about taking care of others, service to others, selflessness, giving and humbleness) were absorbed early and taken to heart. Having no other guidance and trying to understand the rules for living life, it is no wonder I got so much of it wrong.
In a recent online discussion and subsequent blog ( Was there Love?) wrote thoughts about how most of us in my autistic forums on line felt unloved and unlovable. This is sort of continuing the theme and enlarging on it. What do we do with all of those negative feelings about ourselves and our lack of worthiness?
I got therapy at age 30 due to suicide attempts and depression/anxiety I could no longer control by my willpower alone. The therapist probably had his worst problems in me with my self worth and my inability to stand up for myself.
I did not understand that my thoughts and opinions or preferences had any value. I had to learn that I had worth as an individual, and then I had to learn how to express my thoughts and preferences, set healthy boundaries and above all, learn to take positive actions to keep the boundaries and to take care of myself instead of sacrificing my self in response to other’s demands and desires. I had learned to appease others when I was very small, to avoid punishment and anger. I had to be taught that I was a person in my own right and that it was OK to want things, to ask for things, to have my own beliefs and ideas. Autistic rigid thinking was at work, and I had no idea that I had alternatives. It was terrifying to suddenly be responsible for my self.. I had to take responsibility for my thoughts, my behavior, my ideas, and above all to take action to enforce boundaries to declare myself a person and not a servant, slave, or accessory. ( among other roles I was expected to play )
I was not able to get past the idea that I was at all worthy of being more than a puppet for others to use as they chose.
I ended up having to look hard to find the time in my childhood when I began to learn the negative things and believe them.
I ended up seeing myself between ages of 5 and 8, and being able to find the little girl who was so afraid and who felt so unloved and unwanted. When I was able to do this, ( and remember I can not picture a thing in my mind, so I need visual aids such as photos, models, maps, or drawings to “see” things), I purchased a sad looking child-doll (not a baby!) and put her near my bed so I could see her and think about that child and how I was now able to give her what she had need and not got. I took care of her in my mind and heart. I took pleasure in giving her new clothing, imagining her being cherished, supported, fed and cared for, helped with struggles and given love. I was able to transfer those feelings first to my childhood self, who had missed it all, then to my middle school and teen years and the years of my early 20s.
Breaking though that initial barrier of feeling unworthy took a lot of time, though, and emotional homework. I cried for that little girls a couple of times, but not for long. I had been trained to believe my feelings were not worthy of being recognized and taught to hide them deep within myself. That was yet another skill to learn, to identify my own emotions and to recognize them properly, and to learn to respond to them properly.
Autistic people have many struggles identifying emotions and sorting them out as it is,
our proprioception/ interoception neurological issues being common to most of us.
I was taught to deny my emotions or to redirect them until my whole idea of self was buried deep in what I hid, and never thought or understood that there were other ways and that other people handled these things differently.
It has taken a very long time and lots of hard work to develop new behaviors and to find new ways of thinking. I am certain that many of us, especially older people who have never considered they might be autistic, grew up with similar training… and with similar results.
Years and years of negative feedback from family, neighbors, schoolmates, co workers, spouse and other contacts in our experience have led to our deep self hatred. How could we get things so wrong? How could we fail over and over to perform as expected? How could we mess things up so badly. It was our fault! We were useless, stupid, worthless. Years of negative feedback is a lot to overcome.
When I learned about my autism, suddenly things began to make sense. No wonder I could not do what they wanted me to! I have neurological struggles which they do not have! They expected me to behave as they do never knowing, any more than I did, that I simply was give a different “tool box” from which to do what they expected of me. So amazing!
No wonder I failed! No wonder I could not work to expectations ! No wonder everything was so hard!
Diagnosis changed everything for me, even though the therapy 38 years ago helped me survive and do better in the world, it was not then that I discovered how much my autistic struggles contributed to the difficulty and distress in so many parts of my life.
Here is my message.
You are worthy of respect. You are worthy of caring, you are worthy of love and friendship.
You are an amazing survivor of so many things that were so hard to understand and so difficult to live through, never knowing about autism and about how it has worked in your life to cause so many struggles that others simply do not have.
There are so many new ways to live and to care for yourself, to assure your needs are met and to give your life a richness and fullness you might never have thought you could have.
Please take the time to explore the options, to feed the needs inside of you for so many things you have been missing all these years. Take time to find self care, self comfort, self accommodation, self interest!
If you struggle with self care, I suggest that you think about a stranger you might come across, who has had a very hard life and is full of hurt and feeling un-cared for and misunderstood.
How would you help that person?
Would you punish, shame and chastise them?
Would you be constantly angry at them when they struggled to do things that were difficult for them?
No, I doubt you would.
Instead you might try to help and encourage them, wouldn’t you?
I hope you can look at the lost stranger inside yourself and be at least as good to them as you would be to any other person .