Well, still no novel writing going on here. It’s been a difficult few weeks for me, bordering on traumatic if I’m honest, but I’m not ready to write about that yet, I’m still processing it all. Still, I wanted to write something here because… I dunno… it seems silly to have a blog and never write anything in it. So here I am.
This is my effort at a bit of pop psychology, another post related to Aspergers. Not really sure why I wanted to write it. Maybe just to understand myself better, or help you guys understand me, or in a roundabout way help you understand yourselves, from a neurodivergent point of view.
So, it happens sometimes that I’m talking to someone and their manner towards me changes and I have to think back to what I’ve said and try and work out how I’ve offended them, or what it is about my words or my manner that’s turned them off. Actually – scratch that – it doesn’t just happen sometimes, it happens a lot.
I can often work out what I did wrong, given the time and space to think about it. Too late, of course, to change that person’s perception of me; and without much hope that my no-longer-particularly-plastic brain will adjust enough to avoid repeating the mistake next time, all I can do is get frustrated with myself.
One of the mistakes I make is to be overly negative. Yeah, just like that ^^
From what I’ve read, negativity is a pretty common problem among those on the spectrum. Together with literal thinking and too much honesty, negativity and a pessimistic attitude are probably what cause us so many problems in job interviews and the like. These are behind our (perhaps justified) criticisms of previous companies/ bosses, our cautious assessment of our own abilities and ready admission of our faults.
So I’ve been mulling over why. That is to say, I’ve been thinking about why I tend towards negativity and how that ties in with my own personality, on the assumption that it might be similar for others. Let’s explore a few hypotheses:
- We’re a bunch of miserable depressives
Maybe this is how it seems to others, but no, I’m not buying it. It can’t be the whole truth because when people call me out for negativity, it usually comes as a surprise to me. Generally speaking, when I made the negative statement I wasn’t feeling particularly miserable or blue, nor was I intending to be that kill-joy who ruins the mood and gets everybody down. It’s actually rather upsetting to realise that’s the way I’ve unintentionally come across, when I was just trying to make conversation.
Admittedly, they do say depression is a common co-morbid, but not all of us are sufferers. People just mis-read us when it comes to mood, as they mis-read us in so many ways. There has to be more to it than this.
- We deal in truth and logic
For reasons that I won’t go into here, many of us keep our emotions dialled down to zero. (Incidentally, this is why we can have trouble making decisions – because we’re trying to work through all the variables using only facts and logic, without the moderation of feelings). It also means that when we talk to you, we’re likely to favour statements of fact.
In that millisecond before an utterance passes my lips, my mind runs through a checklist, something like this: Is this statement true? Or does it fit with the available facts? Is it justifiable? Can it be logically implied? What others take as a pessimistic comment may be, for me, a simple statement of the facts as I see them.
- We can’t foresee people’s reactions
Running through that mental checklist takes time, and people don’t want to wait forever for me to speak, so I might not finish the list. Sometimes you just have to say something, anything, before they decide you’re cognitively impaired or mute. So I might not get as far as asking myself “Is this statement appropriate in the circumstances?”
And because my emotions are dialled down to zero, I might not think to make another important check: “How is this statement going to make people feel?”
Hence you get James Damore pointing out to Google that women are less able than men to work in tech. The poor guy had the double Asperger whammy of taking Google’s freedom of speech policy literally, and no understanding that such comments, however logically justifiable, are bound to offend.
And you get me, just trying to make friendly conversation, saying something which fits my idea of truth but is implicitly (or even explicitly) critical, of others or myself.
The trouble is, people don’t want to hear uncomfortable truths; they want to feel good about themselves and about what they’re doing. They’re not going to continue a conversation that makes them feel awkward. If we want a favourable reaction, we have to make our interactions positive and uplifting.
So how to people do it? This whole positivity thing?
My argument is that I’m just as positive as anyone else on the inside. Maybe even more so. The issue is one of communication, of displaying that positivity externally by communicating in a socially acceptable way. Hence my argument is that positivity is not only a mindset but also a social skill. And social skills can be learnt, in theory.
I say “in theory” because I’m a little cautious, nowadays, in assessing my ability to improve my social skills. I guess years of trying and failing have taken a toll. It’s tempting to just give up.
So when I read this paper on the value of learning to reframe negative statements more positively, my first thoughts were cynical. It’s hard to believe such a simple technique, learnt over a few 10-minute sessions, could have long-term beneficial effects.
But perhaps I should re-phrase that:
Experience has made me cautious about the benefit of social skills interventions, but what do I have to lose? This reframing may be worth a try.