Minimalizing: Unintended, Compassionate Gaslighting

This has not been a good week for me at all.  This past Tuesday, we started having problems with our internet going off and on.  I had to make three different phone calls to our internet provider to get someone to make an appointment to have it repaired.  The earliest someone can come out here to repair our internet is next Monday.  That means for nearly a week, we have to rely on our iPhone's hotspot to power our internet connection.  I have called the supervisor for the internet repair for our internet provider.  All we have gotten is excuses and the standard "we apologize for the inconvenience."  

I personally have had it with the "we apologize for the inconvenience" from service providers.  That apology has become so over used by the customer service industry.  It is not meant to make it better for the consumer.  It is used to minimize the responsibility of the companies that use it.  Internet interference is more than an inconvenience.  It slows down progress, holds up those of us working at home.  Those of us with very small businesses get stopped in our tracks. Especially when many of us live in multi-unit housing where our internet providers are decided upon for us.  We do not get to make a change there, that is why our internet provider can make all of those excuses and the empty apologies for the "inconvenience."

These things are more than an inconvenience to us Autistics, they are a major routine change that upsets many routine changes.  It isn't just some small matter, it is many matters that are all turned over on their heads.  They upset our sensory processing, our attempts to stay calm, and make our anxiety spike. 

All of this has me thinking about how many well-meaning people tend to minimalize how Autistics should feel about things.  When Autistics are experiencing overloads from crises, we are not making it up as to how and what we are feeling.  Our feelings and personal reactions are real.  They are not fake.  They are not exaggerated.  They are an important part of our neuro-difference.  We don't need people to minimalize what we are experiencing.  We need people to support us in our feelings, and let us decide what we need or do not need. 

This past Summer, I published the four shows for the Summer of Self-Care Series with my superb guests Becca Lory Hector and Zephyr James.  Becca was my guest for the three shows about Self-Care during seasonal depression, crisis and an election year.  Zephyr was my guest to talk about Self-Care during sensory overload/meltdown.  There were many things that they both said that are spot on.  The one constant that they all made clear is that what we are feeling is real.  It isn't about what others feel.  It is about what Autistics feel when life hits us hard in the face. 

The title I chose for this blog is harsh.  And I want those great caregivers out there, including my husband who is my best support to not get the idea that they are unintended abusers.  The problem is not just that minimizing itself is necessarily abusive, it is that the neurotypical majority appears to have a notion that they know better as to how we should feel and/or respond to things.  Our unique neurotype means that our brains process things differently.  There is something about neuro-differences that tends to freak the neurotypical out when Autistics experience and respond to things as strongly as we do.   So, many neurotypicals will try to minimize it by saying "At least you were able to use your hot spot."  The other one that is so popular "It isn't all that bad."  The problem is, that for many of us Autistics, yes it really is that bad.  Many Autistics, including myself get fed up with getting dumped on by neurotypicals getting to do everything they want with minimal damage to themselves, that have the most harmful consequences to us.  

Minimalizing things is not meant to make us feel better.  Minimalizing things tends to serve the purposes of the individual doing the minimizing so that they can minimize their own responsibilities for their own actions.  Minimalizing things is a type of toxic positivity, to indirectly say those famous words from the song in the 1990's "Don't worry. Be happy."  Minimalizing things like that is unintended even if it is also compassionate gaslighting.  What may not seem like it should be that serious to you, is a serious reality for us.  If you attempt to alter what our reality is, that is gaslighting.  It is a way of suggesting that if we are feeling the way we do, and it is different to you, then somehow you have the answer; we are crazy.  As Candice Christiansen said in the show Online Dating: What Autistics Need to Know, "Gaslighting is crazy making."

Rather than giving us your advice as to what we should feel, just keep an open door policy incase we do want your input.  If we ask for your input and you give your advice, then we were the ones who asked, and you answered.  Let us feel what we are experiencing, because as long as we are feeling things, it probably won't be possible to listen to what you have to say.  The more you try to prevent us from how we experience our feelings, the worse we will feel, and the less likely we will ask you for your help when and if we do need you.  If there is an Autistic in your life who doesn't seem to be feeling anything, that doesn't mean we aren't feeling things.  In many cases, we may not complete understand what we are feeling, and need time to figure them out. 

Each Autistic person experiences things in their own unique way. Be sure we have those stims that we can bite down on, so we won't bite our fingers.  Let us have a pile of wood and an axe to chop each log if we need to hit something.  If pounding clay is something that helps us release our energy, let us pound the clay.  It is okay if we are angry and need a way to express it.  Help us find those safe ways to stim or fidget when we need them.  But, please don't tell us or teach us not to.  

We Autistics should be pround of how we feel, experience and express what we are feeling.  Rather than try to change us, why not learn from us and help us celebrate who we are?  Who knows, you just might learn something.  

May you have an Autistically Amazing day.