Long before I was officially diagnosed as being Autistic with Social & Communication difficulties I started reading Self Help, Mindfulness and Communication Style books. At first I was trying to make myself less different and more like everyone else (able to read social cues, tonal inflection and body language). After completing my psychology degree it was clear to me if not to the medical field at the time that I was Autistic and no self help book was ever going to teach me to be neuro-typical (e.g. normal).
So my purpose in reading self help, mindfulness, communication style, conflict resolution, relationship advice and strategy books shifted to using them as a tool to unlock the what I view as baffling array of behaviours or responses to my behaviour that I have to deal with on a daily basis to survive in a neuro-typical world. Some of the books have occasionally given interesting insight into how others think, feel and how they either project their own insecurities into a situation or reflect back what they think you are aiming at them. Considering most people with Autism or Aspergers either show nothing or possibly frustrated confusion as our reaction we are as baffling to neuro-typicals as they are to us because they can’t get a “read” on how we are most likely to react/respond in a situation, which apparently heightens the neuro-typicals stress levels.
Mostly I’ve found the advice to be crap. Just about every single book in this genre gives 4 peaces of really bad advice:
- Pollyanna Syndrome – if you want to be happy and have people like you then you have to find the “happy” and be the “happy” in all situations. Every cloud has a silver lining and you are not looking hard enough if you can’t find it
- SMILE – people will be nicer to you and more responsive to your request if you SMILE
- Fake it till you make it – project to the outside world what you want them to see you as and eventually that is exactly what you will become.
- Stepford Wife – you as you are not perfect enough – don’t step out your front door looking anything but perfectly made up and always be polite/nice/helpful
The Curse of Lovely – how to break free from the demands of others and learn to say NO (full book title) is the first book in this genre I found to actually be useful to me. I have no idea if it’s an Autism trait, the environment I grew up in or the fact my maternal Grandmother drilled into us the rules of being a “perfect young lady” at all time but I find I have problems saying NO without feeling guilty, I can’t ask for help due to fear of rejection and I am terrified of angry responses or bad vibes.
- Despite the fact I honestly can’t stand most of the people I meet and would be happy to just not talk to them I find the “PERFECTLY LOVELY” me suddenly appears and I’m standing there smiling and making “mmhm, oh really” noises while someone talks at me telling me shit I don’t want to hear and couldn’t careless about.
- I will let people in line in front of me because they are making lots of “I’m tired/harrased/fedup and just want to get out of here” statements despite the fact they have a cart full of groceries and I had 2 items, just to shut them up and then I realise I’m going to end up being late and get stressed about it.
- I say yes to events I do NOT want to attend and go even if I’m sick so as not to upset the host.
- I get volunteered for shit I do not want to do and I don’t say “yeah nah not doing it” because I don’t want the person telling me I’ve been volunteered to be angry with me despite the fact I want to kill either them or the person who told them I’d do it.
- When people interrupt me while I’m in the middle of doing something I don’t as I want to do say “fuck off I’m busy” and instead I plaster a smile on my face and give platitudes of “no no I’m not that busy” the whole time thinking “go away I’ve got shit to finish” and somehow always end up helping them out despite the fact it just screwed up my entire schedule.
- If I don’t return a phone call, email or text message I get stressed thinking that the person sending it to me will be angry with me for not responding immediately.
I think by now you get the picture that the inner me is a scathing bitch and the other me is “perfectly lovely” and occasionally I forget to be nice and the scathing bitch comes out and she’s mean, nasty, sarcastic and verbally cutting as all hell. The Curse of Lovely teaches in a very readable way that you don’t have to be perfect all the time, it’s ok to be just good enough, that disappointing people won’t kill you, to say a gracious NO without guilt and that self love is not selfish. One of the most useful things was her theory that a lot of your adult reactions are really Toddler Terror Responses you learnt as a child when you had no control over a situation and you can with some effort change them.