My Asperger’s/autism is further shaped and shaded by an INTJ Myers-Briggs personality type. One interesting feature of the INTJ type is a pervasive theme of dichotomy, of yin and yang, of opposites that, despite their…well, opposition, are stitched together without so much as a wrinkle. The people around us are often baffled by it, but it tends to make perfect sense to us.
One concrete example of how this dichotomy reveals itself lies in a lifelong sensation of push and pull, in terms of how I relate to people, how they relate back to me, and how close I let them get to my inner core.
On the surface, to some, it might look a little “bipolar” or even “borderline personality”, but it’s much more subtle and involves a lot less outward drama (on average), especially when compared with the latter condition. But it’s neither.
Deep down, it’s more of a…dance? Battle? A little bit of both? Occurring within myself.
The thought-train usually goes something like this…
I like them… I think…let me watch them for a little while longer before I make a firm decision. OK, I think it’s safe to proceed. Here we go (cue the self-pep-talk)… Remember: small talk first; don’t get too deep or complex too fast. And relax; it’s nothing but an ice-breaking getting-to-know-you stage, and it will pass eventually.
I want to help this process along, so I want to participate in the back-and-forth sharing, but I always get stuck. How much should I share?? People in general tend to prefer bite-sized chunks of information, so when it comes to sharing mine, how should I break it up?…
(On a sidenote, am I really breaking it up, or am I actually breaking it down? Or either/both? It’s interesting how, in the English language, words that generally have opposite meaning can actually be used interchangeably to mean the same thing. But I digress, as usual…)
When it looks like a bond is beginning to form, it can get a little scary for me. I think this is because the idea of letting someone in through the layers that make me “me” is such an uncommon occurrence; it feels weird and foreign to me.
The inner yin-yang begins: how close should I let them get, how many layers do I expose, and according to what timeline? How much sharing is too much? How close is too close? How intense is too intense?
Part of me yearns for the closeness, the contact, the connection, the kinship. It’s not that Aspergian/autistic people are distant or aloof or cold or emotionless or any of the other prickly and inaccurate words that stubbornly surround us. We generally do want to build these relationships and form these bonds; we just don’t often know how to do it, and it feels awkward. Information gets jumbled and scrambled, much like when two different computer languages are trying to read each other’s files. The coding and rules are completely different. Operating on our own respective coding, there’s bound to be misinterpretation. (It’s nobody’s fault; it just happens.) But in the end, as much as I may feel like a machine at times, I know that I’m not; I’m human, just like anybody else. And humans are generally tribal beings, roaming the planet in relatively close-knit groups. And so, we generally desire and thrive on at least some kind of human contact.
The other part of me, however, wants to freeze up, shut down, shy away, and go blank. I can become so petrified at the very idea of being outside my most familiar elements and modes of operating/being, that I feel the urge at times to push back, to push away. Because making contact and forming those sought-after bonds with other human beings requires, well, that I make contact, which usually requires some kind of reaching out on my part; the other person can’t be the only one doing all the work. I have to make a reciprocal effort, too.
Part of my desire to push away comes from an insecurity borne of painful past experiences; as I have let people in, I have set myself up to be judged, and judge they did. This never turned out well.
Another source of my reactive defensive instinct is an offshoot of the above: a self-protection mechanism.
And still another might lie in the desire to not appear too desperate. I don’t want to come across as dependent upon anyone (except my partner) and I also don’t want to come across as too clingy, because that would end up being a dead giveaway for my insecurity. It’s OK if I’m insecure, as long as it isn’t visible to others. Thankfully, no one can read my mind, and if I avoid eye contact as much as possible, then they can’t glean this information against my will. So, if I appear to be slightly distant, I will project an air of stability to the other person. People like those with self-confidence.
It would be so much easier if people simply operated the same way I do: be yourself and be honest, genuine, and real. If you like the person, say it, or at least show it clearly. I don’t understand all of this posturing and I don’t like having to do it. I wish both parties could just be ourselves. I wish that I didn’t have to hide part of myself for later (what are they, some kind of dessert that only comes after you’ve devoured the main course?). And not only am I having to do it to/for them, they feel like they have to do it for me! I wish that I could tell them that it’s not necessary. I wish that these arbitrary social protocols weren’t expected.
In the end, it’s all a bunch of assumptions and expectations, and it can get very tiring. Very few people off the spectrum are worth that kind of effort. Of course, there are certainly a good number who are (and pretty much all of the people on the spectrum are as well, except that they don’t require that level of effort). So, I continue to do it, except that these days, I’ve given myself permission to be choosier and more selective about who I’ll actually make that effort for. Being gentle with ourselves is a good thing. ❤
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(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)