autistic self blame, autistic depression, autistic guilt
Or why I must always be right.
I grew up in fear of failure. I grew up feeling unworthy of love, feeling the anger
of my family, my peers, my teachers. I grew up feeling a desperate need to appease and please.
If I made a mistake, i felt absolutely pounded and persecuted and hounded by whatever that mistake
may have been.
Family especially, Repeatedly throwing my failures in my face and reminding me what a miserable crumb of an excuse for a real person I was.
Family structure was built around how bad I was, how wrong I was , how every aspect of me was undesirable, disgusting, inept, a failure. There was no excuse for my wrongs. I was the worst person on the planet. I wanted to die. Every night from about the age 8 until I was in my late 20’s I went to bed hoping and praying I would not wake up and have to face still another day in this hell. I feared all of the constant corrections, blame, anger, frustration, punishment, criticism, bullying, threatening, and humiliation due to public castigation (at school, church, and at home, the worst was to have other “good” people observe and approve the punishment, corrections, humiliations, etc.
Perhaps there was praise. Perhaps there was approval, perhaps there was encouragement. I missed it completely if there was. I think there might have been.
I clearly remember my sister( I must have been around 12) telling me that when she asked my mother why she complimented my drawings, my mother told her it was because “I needed it”. Clearly sister resented that I could gain praise for something and sought to negate any positive feelings it might have brought to my mind. To point out how little I deserved anything because I was bad and wrong, the family’s assigned role. I did not deserve positive attention of any sort. If I got it , that was a lie. Well, it worked. Family dynamics were a mess. I learned from that not to trust anything good i was told about myself. I wonder if that is why praise did not register? ( If I was praised or if I sought praise or recognition at all after that?).
I learned years later that I was the family’s “focus” or “scapegoat” whose failings were blamed and punished so that the rest of the family was free to deny their own weaknesses and shortcomings .
In such an atmosphere I developed not only fear of criticism, but huge self contempt and self blame. I knew I was different! I knew I could learn, and I spent almost all of my time striving to “get it right” and to be right, in every situation, learning every fact, whatever I did… I was afraid to fail. If I suspected I could not be perfect at a thing, I refused to even attempt it. To fail would bring shame and painful criticism down on me.
I read and posted in an earlier blog about how deeply I was moved when I read about the relief that older autistic adults expressed when they learned of their autism diagnosis. It was so good to know that all your struggles and pain was not ” ALL OUR FAULT.” What a relief! This was expressed over and over again. Having been given labels all our lives as failures , it was such a relief to know it was autism which played a part in our struggles.
I could not fail. I lived with huge anxiety all my life, fearing I might make a mistake, make a wrong choice, make a bad decision, get less than a perfect score on a test, be wrong or bad in any way. It hurt too much. I became reclusive and extremely watchful for any signs of persecution, mockery, blame or criticism. I was angry and defensive. I was hypervigilant to make sure I was as perfect in every statement I could make about any topic. Mostly I did not try anything within the realms of social behavior, because by age 10 it was evident that I could do nothing right. I did not even try.. learning was my only strength and I strove to be right in all facts and information . Sharing information was the only way I was able to interact with others. ( see how autistic rigid thinking worked here?) Nobody spotted any of this, it was deeply embedded in the dysfunction of my family and my incorrect autistic understanding of the world and its ways. I understood what was wrong with me in every possible way and understood it deeply. I felt huge shame and guilt for being such a failure. I could not even get it right in a family , (who sometimes said said they LOVED me!!! what a crock, I couldn’t believe that!!! ) how could I possibly function in any way outside the arena of failure? That was then, today I understand how it all happened.
Fast forward to today, when I tried to find information besides the article about the huge relief older adults find in autism diagnosis.
I wanted to see what discussion there was about the huge burden of guilt that so many of us evidently carry. I was at first surprised to find article after article and page after page about the burden of guilt that parents carry for their autistic children. How they feel guilty over everything about their child’s autism, about how their child’s autism affects them. How horrible their lives with autistic children have been, or still are.
I found one study done around 2017 that decided that autistic children did not feel guilty because they had, supposedly, no theory of mind… not a thing more.
Knowing and being told repeatedly as a child that I caused my parents such misery, that I was the problem in the family, that I was wrong and bad in every possible way, that I was the one who needed “fixed”, that I was a huge pain and trouble and cause of disgust, anger, and annoyance, pain and loathing…. supposedly I did not feel bad about that. Supposedly I had no idea. ( shaking my head)
Parents of autistic children, I am sure, go through every possible emotion and have many struggles. Many of them are autistic or have other issues to contend with as well. Life offers struggles for everybody. I understand now what happened all those years ago within my extremely dysfunctional family as well as in the greater context of my autism diagnosis. I see much more clearly now how it all happened. Nobody knew!
Wouldn’t it be great if we could find ways to stop the blame and learn how to work together to find the best possible ways to make life better for all of us?
In my day, nobody knew! Not my autistic mother, who went to her grave never knowing of her autism, nor my other family members, nor almost everybody in my level of society at the time I grew up.
I like to think that today’s autistic children have somebody who explains everything to them,
who encourages them, who accepts them and appreciates their best, and who lovingly and patiently guides them toward greater skills and successes.
I like to think of today’s autistic children growing up knowing and understanding their own strengths and struggles and being understood, educated, and supported. Maybe there are more parents who don’t blame the child, parents who are also supported, who understand and approach with humor, patience, and kindness instead of blame and anger.
I like to think many of today’s autistic children are likely today to have better success and a better start in life. I hope so. Knowing about autism at an early age seems like such a useful thing to find tools and techniques to better succeed in the world.
Parents: don’t just talk about your child, talk to them! Tell them they are not alone, that you are in this with them and that you as families will figure out ways to make it by working together.
Explain everything down to the very smallest detail. Explain why. Explain how, explain when and where.. explain what you understand about struggles and overcoming them. It is crucial to your autistic child’s understanding and success.
Parents: Don’t talk to others about your child’s weaknesses and failures anywhere that they will overhear and misinterpret how difficult life is for your whole family at times. Your child did not choose to be autistic, it is not his or her fault. He or she struggles with all of it, too. Struggles in life are part of living. Autistic struggles are part of many people’s lives. Making this the responsibility of the person with autism is blaming him or her for a choice they did not make. Seeking miracles or expecting behaviors the person is not capable of only adds to the shame of the blame. “if only” . Living in wishes , dreams, hopes, of what might have been if only… can’t help.
No answers, no solutions, don’t blame, lets all work together to find the way to a better life for all of us.