Let’s talk about instincts. All too often we as autistic people get bullied or taken advantage of by the wrong people. Why? Because many of us let it happen and do not even realize that we are.
In general, I have a tendency that I have worked very hard to fight of being attracted to toxic friendships and relationships. Why do I unconsciously seek them out? Because I crave social cues from those I am spending time with. Somewhere along the way I confused controlling, bossy, and bullying type of behavior as social cuing.
I think many of us may attract to bossier people because let’s be honest, it is exhausting to remember social cues and deal with all the sensory. So when we find someone who appears to be helpful in that way we don’t mind being bossed around a little bit because the trade off is we get a break from reading all the cues. I also often find that I am taken advantage of because of the struggle I have with nonverbal cues. Because for me personally I was never able to read them and memorized every single one, I often doubt myself.
“They seem to be treating me poorly or taking advantage of me…but I don’t know all the cues so maybe I’m just misreading them.”
This is what I always used to say to myself. But here’s the truth. No matter what part of the spectrum you are on instinct is inherently different from nonverbal cues or empathy ability.
I think that as people on the spectrum, especially those of us like me that were diagnosed in very early childhood (and certainly people who go undiagnosed as well), have spent so much time mirroring other people to master the social skills and nonverbal cues that eventually it becomes second nature to compare ourselves and our behavior to everyone around us. While mirroring is a skill I am grateful for because it allowed me to learn the nonverbal language of neurotypicals to some degree, it also over time slowly lowered my self-esteem. Because if you are constantly mirroring and your way of processing is in the minority or sometimes “wrong” then of course you begin to doubt yourself.
This feeling eventually leads to and attracts people that will take advantage of you because they can easily write off bad behavior with the excuse “you don’t understand what I actually mean.” On some level, I think some of us fear that response and so we write ourselves off too early.
But I am here to tell you not to write yourself off so easily. We DO have the ability to have a gut feeling. Instincts and gut feelings are different because it goes deeper than just being able to generally read how a person is feeling or picking up in a vibe in a room. It is the oldest primal response our bodies have to situations. That is why it is separate and we should not assume that simply because we cannot pick up on other things we do not have the ability to have instinct.
Jennifer Lsi, another adult on the spectrum puts it perfectly:
“Before diagnosis I never questioned my gut instinct about people. After diagnosis I still don’t. Communication and interpretation is where I fall short. I may not get what they are saying but my gut feeling is still good. Super empathy power meets a tendency to be suspicious.”
We may not always be able to communicate or interpret nonverbal behaviors or feelings, but our gut feelings are still accurate. Give yourself credit. If something feels off, it likely is.
Lastly, I leave you with this: even if for argument’s sake you feel you may be misreading a situation and are ready to excuse behavior because you cannot pick up on the cues…your feelings are still valid. If you feel that a behavior is wrong towards you, that in itself is enough. Neurotypicals often offend each other without meaning to because of words or actions they did not realize would be offensive or down putting. And they address it. We must do the same for ourselves. Anytime someone puts you down or hurts you whether intentionally or unintentionally, you have valid feelings and reasons to address it. Autism does not change that.
I encourage everyone to give themselves more credit. I work on this every day. Ever since I started trusting my intuition and ending toxic relationships my life has drastically changed and taken off in positive directions. I know this is true no matter what neurology you are. Never let your neurology or others make you doubt your feelings. Believe in yourself.