Monday, July 29, 2013

Guilty Conscience

Give this post a look-see on youtube: Guilty Conscience Video

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

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.)

How this topic applies to Christian living:

2 Corinthians 5:17, 18a, 21Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ . . . For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.