When making new friendships it is important to be seen and to see others in context.
Consider how you wish to be seen. Is it sitting alone in Starbucks? Probably not.
A richer context for making connections is likely to exist in areas where you are fully engaged: when you are at the community centre doing volunteer work or at college taking classes or in your town, taking a tour of the art gallery, a historic part of town, or of the local flora and fauna.
People you meet while working in a community garden or volunteering at your local wildlife refuge or animal shelter are likely to be interesting, active and involved people who may make excellent friends.
The same could be true of those people you’d meet as a regular participant in a church group or continuing education classes or neighborhood events.
People need to know who you are and what is important to you and being alone in Starbucks may imply a story of vulnerability, isolation and aloofness.
I am guessing that is not what you want to convey; not what you are about!
Seeing others in context is equally important. If you do not meet someone in the course of a group activity, you may be missing several important clues about them: how well do they relate to others? Are they compassionate? Funny? Kind? Critical? Irritating?
Is their outlook mostly negative? Or is it mainly positive? Are they friendly and welcoming? Are they impatient with others who may have difficulty understanding instructions or performing certain tasks?
These questions can more easily be answered within the context of a social gathering. When we are always alone there are fewer clues about who we are.
Explore your interests and your options to find a social context—a club, committee or group of real live people that you can join.
By giving yourself a social context which honestly conveys what you value to others, you increase the reliability of their estimation of who you are and of interests you may have in common.
I handed the ‘Life Writing’ assignment in to my professor. It was entitled “The Fictional Story of My Life”.
He gave it a high grade, but asked me, “Why fictional?”
I told him, “because important factors have been left out.” I didn’t say what. Like not understanding how ‘social interaction’ worked. Or, like being repeatedly abused by a sexual predator.
“You should write the truth,” he told me. His name was Roy Miki, it was to be his last class before retiring from a long and illustrious career at Simon Fraser University. He knew all about hard truths. As a young Canadian of Japanese ethnicity he and his family had been interned during the Second World War. He had since fearlessly examined and written his own truths.
At that time I had in mind five books which I wanted to write. My life story was not one of them. But Miki’s words haunted me and I found I could not work on anything else. So, almost reluctantly, I began to recall and piece together my teen years.
“Focus upon an event or period of time that was pivotal, and write around it,” Miki advised.
So I did. I wrote about the summer I auditioned for a part as the lead actress in a National Film Board production. About the boys I loved and the numerous times I made an Aspie faux pas.
And about the humour and sometimes the horror of situations that arose as a result of not understanding the underlying messages in conversations or events, inferences that everyone else seemed to pick up on automatically.
The resulting book is not a fictional version, but the truth, or at least as much of it as I felt people could endure. As much as I could remember. As much as I could bear!
Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen is a book that is not so much about what Asperger’s is, but instead one which intends to illustrate the naiveté and social disconnection characteristic of Asperger’s.
I wanted to express how the realization that one is excluded from socially contextual understanding leads to strong feelings of rejection. And how this sense of isolation then denies a person those meaningful ties which would otherwise develop to allow a teen to have a sense of security within her immediate community: family, friends, peers and lovers. A social shelter without which, she is isolated and vulnerable.
And I wanted to express how, as a teenager, when I recognized this abandonment, and the full force of my emotional aloneness in the world, I found myself to be unforgiving.
To order a copy of Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, go to:
Do you often feel like an outsider? Unable to connect in a meaningful way with others? In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I talk about how, as a teenage girl, “the entire female species was as foreign to me as a zebra to a long-horned steer.”
Fortunately, early in my adult life I found Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it. His main lesson for social success is simply to get other people to talk about themselves while you actively listen.
And you may be surprised to learn that just being quiet while someone else is talking doesn’t mean you’re listening. Really hearing what the other person is saying is the key to social connection.
This is especially true for us Aspies, because real interest happens only when we allow someone else into our neural space. For me, this can only happen when I shut up and listen.
Only then can I ‘get’ everything the other person is communicating.
For instance, if the other person is speaking about the weather, or their vacation, that’s probably a good indication that, at this particular time, they don’t want to hear about world affairs, software engineering or other complex subjects with which you may be currently obsessed.
And if you think you may like to get to know this person, you need to keep the conversation on their level. You need to ask specific questions related to what they’ve just told you, and you need to do so in a way that expresses your understanding and interest.
Some people are lonely because they haven’t learned to listen. They believe they are right–more intelligent, educated or experienced–and they bully their way through conversations, correcting people, and boring everyone with what they know on the topic. Sound familiar?
This conversational hi-jacking impresses no-one. The fact that these people are knowledgeable, intelligent, highly educated and/or experienced in their field may be both true and appreciated. But it does not override the other person’s need to be recognized.
We all enter into conversations to feel validated. And if that validation doesn’t occur, the brilliant intellectual is going to find himself or herself alone in a room full of uninterested people.
Listen. But do not stand quietly waiting to say what you have to say. Actively engage the other person while being polite, and attentive. Take care to address what they are saying.
You want attention, right? So does the person speaking with you!
And if they really have nothing to say that interests you, excuse yourself politely and move on. Do not be rudely dismissive. Everyone wants and needs to feel important. It is not always all about us.
The professor and the other students in the class stared at me, appalled. In true Aspie style, I had directly expressed my complete and total disagreement with the lecturer’s statement.
Fortunately, that professor was open-minded and willing to listen to counter-statements, but in many classes that outburst would have netted me a failing mark for the semester. People in general, and especially those in positions of authority like professors and managers, supervisors and bosses often do not like to hear dissenting opinions.
As Aspies, while we need not ever remain silent when we have an opinion which we wish to express, it is important that we express it in a manner which is most likely to be effective.
Consider this: If your response is considered confrontational, it is likely that the listener will simply shut down and shut you out. Would it not be more advantageous to encourage the listener to engage in dialogue with you?
So what is the most effective way of NOT agreeing with someone’s statement, and at the same time putting forward your own questions about their position?
A friend of mine, when he was in university learned to say, “It seems to me…” This allowed him to advance his own opinion without either directly agreeing or disagreeing. The beauty of this opening is that it allows for the advancing of a personal point of view along with evidence that backs up that point of view, in a non-threatening fashion.
“It became a sort of a trademark of mine,” he said. “And it helped me navigate my way through some pretty touchy conversations.”
I have also heard of a very successful person who, when questioning practices in the workplace, would use lead-ins such as “I wonder…” and “I’ve noticed…”
This is a far less abrasive approach than exclaiming “No!”, or saying something like “Why do you do it that way?” or “Shouldn’t you …?” Both of which are considered excessively confrontational by non-Aspies. (Go figure!)
When you convey your position in a non-threatening fashion it allows the listener to ask to have it clarified, to assimilate it, consider it, and perhaps ultimately, even to change their position.
My daughter phoned. Her oldest son had been diagnosed ADD, ADHD, had been on Ritalin, and barely eight years old, had been the subject of repeated bullying and school yard ostracism. “It’s Asperger’s Syndrome, Mom, and you and I have all the symptoms!”
That was seventeen years ago, but I vividly recall the conversation.
As we discussed the list of traits of people with Asperger’s, relief flooded through me. At last I knew what it was that was “wrong” with me!
Anger came later, as I processed the information and with it, an understanding of my nature and how the very people who were close to me had taken advantage over the years.
And then grief. Oh yes, I grieved the loss of the possibility of ever being ‘normal’. I grieved for the child I had been, for the loneliness and isolation of all those years of trying to join our societal mainstream and just not getting it.
And I felt rage, too. A deep anger at being shoved aside, at being made an onlooker, a non-participant, when I so poignantly wanted to belong.
And pride. Pride in my ability to accept, even as a teenager, that the best I could be was ME, with all my faults and failings, my oddities, my strengths and weaknesses. Yes, Asperger’s made me an easier target for my abuser, but the different way of thinking helped me to end that abuse as well.
And so I felt joy. The joy and satisfaction of finally belonging somewhere. Of finally finding that there were others, many others, like me. Of understanding the close bond between my daughter and I. Of finally feeling that I was, in my own newly recognized niche, a part of a larger entity. I was not alone in my weirdness. in my unusual way of perceiving situations, patterns and people.
As an Aspie, I was fine, just as I was.
I still struggle some days. As one of my friends says, “Margaret will always default to the Aspie truth.” It’s his way of recognizing our straight forward approach to life.
He also says, “I know your intentions are always good. That’s a no-brainer.” So no matter how wrong something turns out, he understands that it was not my intention to create havoc. This is the most reassuring response to my Asperger’s that I have ever had, and I bask in the glow of it.
Acceptance. That’s what we all need. To not only be accepted, but to be celebrated for who we are.
As I note in my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, it is easy to forget the most important thing: You are perfect, just as you are.
In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger’s Teen, I relate how I was often blasted for saying what I thought was expected of me!
Feelings of inadequacy don’t go away easily, so I’m always on the lookout for advice—especially advice related to conversing. Here according to leadership coach Lolly Daskal of Inc.com in New York City, are five words to avoid:
Won’t: When you say that something won’t work it conveys a defeatist attitude. Instead say something like, I have some concerns; let’s work through them.
Maybe: Saying maybe gives the impression of an inability or unwillingness to commit, (not good) and may signify a lack of intention or direction to your listener. A better approach, if you have reservations? I’d like to hear (or see) more details first.
Sorry: This is the perfect word if you have an apology to make. But if you’re asking for something? Sorry does not belong. Phrase your request without apology.
Just: When you say, I’m just concerned… you may sound tentative, even apologetic to the listener. You will come across as much stronger and more confident if you say, I’m concerned….
Usually: This is a word that not only lacks energy, but indicates resistance to change (not that we know anything about that, right Aspies? A friend bought me a charming new hat and was disappointed when I would not wear it. I told him Aspies need time to get used to new things. We need to have it around for awhile before we can deal with it emotionally. The same applies to ideas, changes in schedule, routine, proposed menu—you name it!) So, watch out for the word It will give us away in the twinkling of its four syllables. Instead, gather up your courage and say something like, Let’s give it a try. And mean it.
Aspies, I admire each and every one of you. Thank you so much for following my blog. I’d love to get your input on my posts, so don’t be shy about commenting!
Remember, just getting up each day and going through the motions is important. Even more important? Having a purpose. Read next week’s blog to learn more about that.
Margaret Jean Adam.
This blog is from material published in January 9, 2017 Financial Post Column by Rick Spence, Free Advice to Live By.
Aspies, want to give yourself a Christmas break? How about forgetting that you’re not socially astute and just spend the day being yourself? Relax into who you are, and listen, really listen when others communicate with you.
So what if you aren’t perfect? Neither is anyone else in the room!
Here are some words of wisdom sent to me by a friend who follows this post:
Wearing a mask wears you out.
Faking it is fatiguing.
The most arduous activity is pretending to be what, or who you know you aren’t.
Trying to fit some idealistic mould of perfection is a fool’s game.
It is much wiser to simply be yourself – faults and all!
Take off your mask and begin to be unapologetic about who you really are.
Remember, imperfection is beauty; madness is genius.
It is far better to be ridiculous you,
than ridiculously boring
by trying to be the same as everyone else.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and the best of the New Year to those who follow my blog.
Remember, the key to happiness is having compassion for others and for yourself.
Do you believe that being kind could relieve anxiety? Researchers Jennifer Trew and Lynn Alden of the University of British Columbia might have suspected this was a possibility.
Recently the two did an experiment involving 115 socially anxious university students. The students were divided into three groups. Each group had a different directive.
The first group of students were required to perform 3 acts of kindness two days a week for four weeks.
The acts of kindness included activities like washing a room mate’s dishes, mowing a neighbour’s lawn and donating to charity.
The second group was required to insert themselves into a social situation (after taking several deep breaths to calm them down). These insertions could include actions like asking a stranger for the time, or asking someone to lunch.
The third group? Was asked to journal about personal events.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that people in the first group had less instances of avoiding social interaction due to fear of rejection.
This makes sense to me, since asking someone to lunch, someone you don’t know very well seems somewhat risky in terms of the possibility of being rejected, whereas asking your room mate if she’d like you to do her dishes? Is hardly a thing anyone would say ‘no’ to. And the room mate is likely to look more favorably on you after you’ve cleaned up her scullery debris, whereas the person you asked to lunch? Might be avoiding you so they don’t have to let you down again.
So, Aspies, to improve your sense of social connectedness and ease your way into social situations, try an act of kindness. Why not?
Then you can work your way up to asking the recipients of your kindness out to lunch.
In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I include a couple of poems. Here is one that arose from a Business Networking Meeting I attended every Friday. It’s just how I felt, being an Aspie on the outside of all the conversation:
I do not wish to tip toe around the polite perimeter of social exchange,
To avoid intimacy and understanding.
I do not wish to abstain from participation in the
socially connected sea of humanity;
to be silent when I am eager to speak,
To smile with others without knowing why,
Or listen to the negative impreachments of my peers.
I wish to connect
To find and open the portal to your innermost reality.