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Monday, July 29, 2013

Guilty Conscience

Give this post a look-see on youtube, where I read it aloud:
Guilty Conscience Video

I had a request from a reader to address the topic of guilt. As Aspies, we sometimes get the guilty feeling that someone is mad at us, but either we can't figure out what we did wrong socially, or we are misreading cues and our friends are not mad at all.

Alternately, our friends get mad at us, and their nonverbal cues go right over our heads. Or possibly, our friends ask us if we are mad, and we are simply being quiet and concentrating hard, and the "serious" look gets interpreted as a "mad" look. Or one Aspie leaves abruptly, forgetting to say good-bye, and a sensitive Aspie friend assumes the other is mad at her.

These are examples I have heard or observed among my friends. In my own case, my biggest problem is in using words to express my own feelings of being mad. I tend to let a dirty look say it all, or become sarcastic, which does not accomplish the goal of communicating my hurt feelings to the person I'm mad at. When I get mad at someone with just cause, my goal would be to produce guilty feelings in that person without hurting their feelings back automatically . . . but I'm not very good at it.

If you think a certain person is mad at you, it's okay to ask. If you ask frequently, and especially if they are your friends, you are likely to get a lot of "no" answers. Believe them.

If you get a "yes" answer, then follow it up by asking, "How did I hurt your feelings? How can I do better next time?" You don't necessarily have to explain your Asperger's traits, unless you think it would help your friends be more patient with you. You may want to say, "I'm not using my Asperger's syndrome as an excuse, but it's an explanation for why I can't tell whether or not you're mad at me and how to fix it if you are."

My own ongoing sense of guilt could be interpreted more as regret, or a sense of failure. This ties in with the Aspie trait of perfectionism as well as the experience of being raised in a Christian home - in my case, in a missionary family. What I try to remember is that I don't have to be perfect, because Jesus was perfect FOR ME. He died in my place for all the wrong things I have done and the poor choices I have made, while He was completely free from guilt Himself. So even though I want to do my best, make good choices, and avoid mistakes, my motivation is meant to be my love for Jesus - not my own pride.

One way to find freedom from guilt and regret is to replace should thinking with could thinking. When you catch yourself thinking, "I should do things this way," you can rephrase the thought to read, "I could do things this way. I would like to do things this way. I choose to do things this way."

The could-for-should substitution idea is not original to me; I read it in a book by Timothy L. Sanford, whom I met when he gave me a few counseling sessions back in 1999. The book, titled I Have to Be Perfect (And Other Parsonage Heresies), is written specifically to preacher's kids and missionary kids (I'm a missionary kid). I believe much of the content was helpful to address my Asperger's way of thinking as well, specifically: perfectionism, struggling with emotions, and rule-bound behavior.

Here is a quote from I Have to Be Perfect that explains why you would want to replace should thinking with could thinking:

"It's not just a word game. When you exchange the shoulds for the coulds, you give yourself options. When you have options, real options, you have real choice. When you have choice, you have freedom. When you have freedom, you have the responsiblity that comes with choosing. Sometimes that responsibility comes down to choosing between wisdom and foolishness. Most of the time though, it's a matter of choosing from several options that all have positive and negative elements to them. You are free to engage the brain God gave you to choose freely" (Sanford 104).

If you're interested, here is a summary of I Have to Be Perfect from the blog "Thoughts of a Third Culture Kid": The Perfect Lie  (I have not read the entire blog, but I read this specific post and recommend it. It includes a link to purchase the book.)


Justice Oriented

The Asperger's traits addressed in this post include:
* Rule-bound behavior
* Getting misunderstood

I have drawn many of my blog posts from my experiences in elementary school, when my Aspie traits were the strongest. Here is a story from my fourth-grade year, prompted by the following quote. The quote was posted in the Facebook group Aspergers Syndrome ASD by my Facebook friend MJBH, with his comment:

"He or she will not accept a particular school rule if it appears to be illogical, and will pursue a point or argument as a matter of principle. This can lead to a history of significant conflict with teachers and school authorities" (Dr. Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome).

"MJBH: It's not that Aspies are rebellious; it's just that they are attempting to behave or act out behavior that reflects what is logical or makes sense. Aspies, in fact, are very justice oriented."

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher was very strict and very fun. She gave us plenty of movie time and extra recess time as motivation to get our work done quickly. She took us on lots of field trips. She also required us to hide our answers to discourage cheating. And one time I got in big trouble with her. 

It was very unusual for me to get in big trouble, even though I attended a strict, conservative Christian school, where kids got in trouble as a matter of course, for fairly minor infractions. As mentioned in Emotional Meltdowns Part Two, I liked following instructions. Rule-bound behavior is a common trait for Asperger's syndrome. However, knowing the reason for the rule can be essential to the Aspie's obedience to the rule. Since I was an only child, my parents had the available time to explain the reasons behind their directions, and I was typically compliant, even what you might call a people-pleaser.

So when I repeatedly forgot to return my parent's signature on papers that had been sent home from school, I didn't feel that guilty because it was the result of simple carelessness and not defiance. But it did mean I had to stay in from recess. Another girl who was my classmate had to stay in from recess for the same length of time - and it was pretty long, 15 minutes, if my memory serves me. Our teacher then left the classroom to do an errand, telling the two of us to come out to the playground when the timer dinged.

I knew that recess typically lasted only 20 minutes, so when the timer went off, I looked at my classmate and said, "They'll be back in 5 minutes. We might as well wait here." She agreed, and so we waited and watched the clock. But after 9 minutes had gone by, the room was still empty except for us two. "Maybe we'd better go outside," I said, and again the other student followed my lead.

Just as we were exiting the building, our teacher came striding across the playground and scolded us sharply for not coming out exactly at the time she specified. Then, when we were shepherded back to our classroom, she continued to scold us in front of the rest of our class. The words she used over and over were: "Direct disobedience!"

Frankly, I was dumbfounded, even amused, at my teacher's reaction. Here I had voluntarily extended the length of my own punishment, and I was judged as being defiant to my teacher's explicit directions. 

For years, I wondered what was so wrong about what I did. Just as I was preparing to write this blog, the answer suddenly occurred to me. My teacher needed to know exactly where to find each of the students she was responsible for at any given moment. If she could not rely on us to be where she thought we were, she could get in serious trouble herself for not making sure we were okay. Maybe it took becoming a mom (which happened to me four months ago) for me to finally see my teacher's perspective and realize that her response was not an overreaction after all.

How this topic applies to Christian living:

Genesis 26:5
Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.