Part of my own journey into integrity and authenticity is the exploration of the “bounds” of socially “genteel” behavior, which for myself as a severely autistic person, requires high degrees of resource investment and near continuous concentration and control anytime I am interacting with anyone other than my partner, closest friends and mentors.
That’s not a big circle.
I don’t need it to be big. Rather, I am highlighting that, for most of my life, 99% of my life is spent marionetting myself to appear socially conforming a.k.a. not autistic.
I have been pushing those bounds, hard, in recent months.
One of the themes I explore often with clients is, “Don’t we need to make sure that we integrate with the rest of neuromajority society?”
My answer has, and I suspect will always be, “Yes, but not at the cost of your integrity, your self-respect, self-love and mental and physical health.”
If conformity comes at the price of any of those, then what you are setting yourself up for is an unsustainable pattern of self-denial, self-repression and basically, dishonesty.
You are not being you. And it’s costing you to do so. Sooner or later, that cost will start to wear you down and when that day comes, and the true you is revealed, what do you think is going to happen?
Are the people that you have worked so hard to deceive into accepting you… going to accept you when you drop the façade?
We would both like to say, “I hope so,” but I am not willing, any longer, to bet my physical, mental and spiritual health on a mere hope with that high of a price tag.
Self-sacrifice for the sake of pretending to be something you are not to be accepted by anyone is anything but noble. It is an act born of fear, and such an act cannot be healthy nor constructive, for yourself nor for your relationships. It is in fact a self-defeating act.
When I first started coaching, I was obsessed with being *coughcough* liked. Well, I thought I had a good reason to—This was my income on the line!
So I invested incredible amounts of energy into monitoring everything that went into interpersonal interaction—Every word, every facial and body expression, every moment of every working hour, in person or through text.
It broke me. I experienced autistic burnouts, shut downs, over and over again and what did I do? I blamed myself. I blamed myself for not working hard enough, not being good enough.
Today, I look back and I can’t believe just how unbelievably cruel I was to myself.
As an autistic person, I cannot explain to a non-autistic person how such a toll gradually destroys all daily function to the point where the simplest acts of self-care become impossible.
And in recent months, as my workload has steadily increased, I have been pushed more and more to consider the question, “My health or my appearance?”
Some may say without “appearance” or semblance of social acceptability, there is no chance of social survival. Well, I’ve got something else… month after month after month of autistic burnout and shutdown is not survivable either and is in fact less survivable because then I can’t even work. At anything.
I can survive with people not liking me. I can’t survive if I can’t get even formulate language when non-verbal, much less get out of bed.
And so, more and more, I have been letting my “social friendly” façade slip and it has been scary as all fuck. And it has been amazing to witness just how much anger comes out with it, how much stored anger I’d been hiding away all these years out of sight because if I did see it, if I was aware of it, I would not have been able to continue with the charade.
Anger that I’ve had to sacrifice myself and my quality of life for the comfort of others who do little to nothing to meet me halfway in social responsibility.
For example, some say that it is my responsibility to fit in. I challenge that. Interaction is a two-way street. The minute the responsibility falls completely on the shoulders of one person to compromise and compensate for any two-way interaction, it is irresponsibility on the part of the other. Would a marriage survive if only one partner pulled all the weight for both? Of course not! Well, it is not different for any social interaction, however brief or long, shallow or involved.
I have been taught to hate my autistic self. I am extremely blunt and forceful. I have been told that my personality can shock and wind others. I have been taught to be ashamed of that, that my “making others uncomfortable” is “my fault”.
Yet apparently I’m supposed to bite down and keep quiet and keep smiling when others make me uncomfortable when they expect me to make eye contact when I can’t, expect me to understand unspoken facial and body language when I can’t, expect me to listen for hours when they won’t even listen for minutes… Hypocrisy much? Why am I expected to bear the brunt of that?
Anger, anger, anger. Legitimate anger. Anger I am proud to finally be able to work on releasing. I don’t need to hold on to this any more. It does not serve me.
Just as fear does not serve me.
Will I choose to believe that no one on this planet will ever accept me for who I am?
Obviously not. I have already found people who genuinely do, whom I love and cherish to the end of my days.
Will I choose to believe that no one on this planet will work with me as a coach if I am who I am?
Obviously not. I have already found people who have genuinely reflected back to me the worth and value I have helped contribute professionally to their lives, just by being unfiltered, uncensored, unadulterated me. But I am not for everyone. And why would I need to be?
I am constantly reminding myself of the dichotomy that is Gary Vaynerchuk. Boy, does he incite a black-and-white response. People either love him or hate him. I don’t know if many are ambivalent. I also suspect he’s not easy to get along with and I don’t mean that as a pejorative, but rather just as a statement of fact.
There is nothing wrong in being difficult to get along with. Steve Jobs was infamously not easy to get along with. But people worked with him, for him, and together they created Apple.
I wonder how accurately Steve Jobs would have been able to birth his vision of technology had he been consuming 75% of his psychological and physiological resources every single day “to be more likeable”. Ha. He would not have been as creative, much less productive, I suspect.
I think… the biggest challenge about a “conundrum” like this really boils down to, “How much do you trust yourself? Believe in yourself? Your intrinsic worth? What value you provide and how?”
It really boils down to how well do you know yourself?
When we do not know ourselves well, we defer to others because it feels safer. It’s never more accurate, just safer. Always safer to follow directions than to figure them out yourself. Always easier too. Less challenging, less uncomfortable. But less fitting, less fulfilling as well.
For me, the biggest challenge and question is, “How much value do I really believe I can bring to the world as I?”
Do I really bring more value consuming myself, body and mind, to appear—become!—less autistic to the world?
I can’t see how that would be the case. Some may argue that what I produce then would be more palatable and therefore more accessible to the world. But if genuine value is found in authenticity, as everyone preaches *coughcough*, then obviously palatability and accessibility at the cost of authenticity is not genuine value. It is at least part fake and fake is not value.
I care about my tribe. I don’t even need to know who they are or by what labels they are called. I need only know that when I am I, my tribe will resonate, and benefit and that’s all that matters.
What if they don’t exist? I hear some people ask. Ha. Statistically impossible. Plus, hey, there are actual despicable people out there doing actually harmful things who have tribes, so… being likeable as an argument is losing steam fast. Likeable is relative.
I realise in writing this post that I’m not even writing it for me! I am writing it to answer the same old theme of, “But I can’t, I won’t be accepted,” because more and more, I am startled to realise that I am starting to care less and less about being accepted, much less liked.
I will still do enough to function in the world but I will do nothing that will compromise my well-being. And living in an autistic body is challenging. It is a delicate system. And I always seek help where I need it when I need to integrate but will cause undue suffering if I force myself to make it work on my own.
The beautiful thing about not giving a fuck anymore, or rather when one really reaches the point of not giving a fuck, is the anger, resentment and us-versus-them mentality naturally melts away. Why? There is no need any more. Don’t feel attacked any more.
Freedom begets compassion begets love. Want to experience unconditional love for others? Start with uncompromising love for yourself… and do it your way. Not following a book, a teacher, whatever. Your way. You figure it out.
As for me… more authenticity means more autistic. I am still working through the anger. It is natural that it arises. I honour it. I am also wrestling with the decades of conditioned worry. It is difficult.
But I would rather get to my dying day and be able to say, “I did not fake it just to make others happy, comfortable or accept me. I was free and happy with myself as myself.”