Saturday, October 29
I remember giving feedback to my autistic home teaching companion on something he had done. We had visited a family and he had mentioned multiple times that the room needed to be vacuumed, even going so far as to suggest that we could help them choose a good one to purchase.
I knew that he had said what he said with the intent to help them, because he honestly cared. And that's why, as we drove back to his home, I told him what his words had likely meant on the other side.
He was devastated.
I remember watching him cry as he asked me if the people were able to tell that he didn't mean it. That he hadn't intended to communicate a negative message. That he actually loved them and was now concerned about saying the wrong thing in a dozen different situations. He has far more visibly autistic mannerisms than I do... and so they likely did understand. I explained that to him, encouraged him to keep trying, and promised to continue to give him clear feedback because I knew what he was going through.
It's not often that people give feedback like that. In today's culture, it's not enough to have people care a lot about me. Giving clear feedback about broken personal expectations is seen to cause intense pain... which, in practice, means that in most cases people have to be really, really hurt to voice what I'm doing wrong.
People gave me feedback this week.
I don't know exactly how my companion felt while he cried. But I know that I cried instead of sleeping most of last night. And right now a huge part of me wants to curl up in a ball and never come in contact with another human soul again... because I can't handle being the source of so much pain.
The first feedback I got was when one person voiced honest feelings that I was overbearing, unkind, and exuded a feeling of moral superiority. They communicated that when I'm around people I dominate them and take what I want, rather than what they want. That I break social norms and don't have adequate regard for others.
That shook me. But I tried to shake it off. The feedback had focused on my assumed negative intentions, and I tried to assure myself that I honestly do care about people... because I believe that I really, truly do. Even so, I found myself wondering who was right. There was real pain there. And if I needed to change, then what?
Then another, completely unrelated person told me some of the same things and more. The second person was clearer... and this feedback, while it still talked about my negative intentions, was more specific about their experience. They told me they had felt used. Manipulated by a hypocritical sense of moral superiority. And that I had taken what I wanted with no regard to what they wanted.
That's my definition of abuse.
I doubt I'll ever forget my own experience being sexually abused, or the intense emotional pain it caused me. I still remember that as one of the worst experiences of my life. My words don't really capture that... or even graze the surface of how much pain it represents in my life.
Everyone sees life through a different lens. But when multiple people tell me that I've set up abusive relationships - that, like my own abuser, I was taking what I wanted without consent...
I'm not sure how to even process that. When I think about myself, I see a guy who just cares about people, wants them to be happy, and is willing to do anything to make that happen. Realizing that my efforts are, in some cases, actually abuse takes all the pain I've ever felt and turns it on my own, raw emotions.
Maybe I honestly shouldn't be close to people if something like this can happen without my meaning or even knowing. Maybe it's not worth it. If trying to get close to someone has the potential to cause them pain like that, then maybe I should honestly keep to myself. That's the part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and disappear.
And maybe it's been this way all along.
Maybe girls felt used when they realized I had never been interested in them and was dating just because I felt the need to date. I've always assumed that starting the conversation with that information, or waiting until they found it on their own, was potentially unfair to giving myself and them a chance, but looking back I can see that there are deep emotions at play when you get close to someone... and it's far more unfair to not chart out honest expectations. People don't deserve to get their hearts broken.
Maybe guys felt used when I tried to invest in a friendship without their really understanding that I brought baggage that would likely inflict pain and that would probably make it far harder to last. Autism is a major social disability... and while I may be upfront about my vague awareness of the impact it can have on others, the feedback I got this week illustrates how understated my comprehension is. Most people don't believe I'm autistic even if I tell them... and so I find myself in a tough place. I can navigate many of the social expectations to get close to people, but I lack the ability to read cues that color the one-on-one relationship. If I were more visibly autistic, then maybe my missteps would be ascribed to the condition and easily forgiven because of the lessened pain. But since I don't seem autistic, when those cues get misread and I do something wrong, it causes far more pain because the other party feels I consciously made the choice. It becomes an issue of character rather than an issue I face.
Maybe people even felt used when I listened to their stories, helped them make changes in their lives, and then disappeared just as quickly as I arrived.
I think, if I'm honest with myself, I realize that there isn't really a maybe. Definitely some people don't feel used when I'm around them. Either they love me deeply, or have worked with adults with autism, or they forgive easily... whatever the cause, they're able to see the real me, and willing to overlook the brokenness I bring to the table. But others do feel, or have felt, used and abused... and at the end of the day my actions affect others regardless of intent.
So what's the answer? What am I supposed to change? I've realized that I've broken assumed social norms yet again, and, unlike my home teaching companion, I've caused immeasurable pain.
It's bitterly ironic. I can just barely handle being gay and potentially never having a family of my own. I can handle being suicidally depressed and wanting life to end. I can be ok with being different from seeing the world in a different light. I can deal with feeling alone every day of my life from autism.
But this... this is something I really, really don't want. My soul bleeds for people, yet I am coated with sharp barbs that rip those I so easily love.
Which is probably exactly why God gave it to me.
I realize that running away isn't the answer. That cutting ties and breaking relationships may staunch the bloodletting, but doesn't heal the wound. It's far more mature, albeit painful, to fix what has been broken. Perhaps I didn't choose this, but it's still mine to face and conquer.
So I guess I go through repentance. Acknowledge what happened, determine the extent, ask for forgiveness, and then identify methods for change in my own life. As far as my relationships going forward, I think that honestly, candidly, and clearly charting out mutual expectations - at the beginning, throughout, and whenever conflict arises - will be key.
Dear world, and people I love, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for inflicting pain and suffering. I'm sorry for misleading you. I'm sorry for burning you. I'm sorry for ripping your heart out when you gave it to me. I'm sorry for manipulating you. I'm sorry for making you feel like less.
I'm sorry for everything.
I hope that you can forgive me... and that next time we meet, I can be a better man.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 7:26 AM