“You’re so smart; why can’t you do this or that?”
“You could have gotten an A, if only you’d done your daily work/homework.”
“I know you’re capable.”
“You can do better.”
“You’re better than that.”
Uh, thanks? But when people said these things, I still felt greasy and heavy inside.
Because those statements aren’t actually compliments at all. The source-person of the comments might intend them to be, but they’re not.
That’s why I felt a little “off” about saying Thank You. In fact, I just stared, making agonizingly uncomfortable eye contact, trying not to look “guilty” but failing, because I know that somewhere, somehow, despite my most concentrated efforts, I had screwed up. So as the seconds slowed to a syrupy crawl, I would pull all of my internal willpower together to maintain my composure, the best I could muster being that uncontrollable sheepish guilty look, the only expression I’m consciously aware of when it happens.
I sat there because to thank them for their praise would’ve been inappropriate; I would’ve actually been thanking them for a criticism. People don’t respond well to criticism. I respond worse than most. As much as I may despise being sensitive, I am. When the design committee of humanity was handing out sensitivity, I got in line twice. Except that my amplified response doesn’t show much through the tiny cracks in my then-newly-hardened surface; the torrents of emotions and currents of feelings simply ricocheted off the inner wall of that shell, pummeling back into my insides instead.
That didn’t make me glow inside. It made me wither, just a little, every time it happened. Which was too often.
And the criticism itself being launched at me is unreasonable, making assumptions that are incorrect. It’s a hand-grenade that I didn’t see coming, and didn’t feel I had coming.
One skill or ability does not always automatically come bundled with others.
Just because I could read long before kindergarten doesn’t mean I felt like tracing circles on worksheets. Just because I was ready for multiplication in pre-school doesn’t mean that I felt like adding up single digits in the classroom.
Scoring high on placement tests doesn’t automatically mean that I’m going to ace kindergarten or have slam-dunk stellar scholastic career, with a scholarship to an Ivy League school as the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the academic rainbow. Because there are arbitrary–and at times, unnecessary–bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Like daily work assignments. Like homework. Like semester projects and papers. These elements simply threw roadblocks into my learning path, useless and distracting. I aced my tests/exams, so why bother with the exercises? The exercises were for practice. I didn’t need practice. You don’t need practice when you already know the material.
How sick is a societal system that penalizes you for not needing practice?
How unhealthy is a system in which a quiet, well-behaved child who is eager to please and is comfortable playing, working, studying, and learning independently ever finds him/herself in the disciplinary crosshairs of the teacher?
How demented is such a system in which a child who loves to learn for its own sake actually begins to dread school?
How pointless is a system, educational and otherwise, that penalizes you for being ahead of the pack? That only gives you an atta-kid for meshing within the mediocrity, for being/acting/performing “average”?
What kind of system is that? How healthy and constructive can that be? What kind of messages does that send to a growing, forming child, a budding student? Or a young impressionable adult, who’s just gaining their footing in the world? How learning-centered or encouraging is that? It’s not.
Other peoples’ expectations can be destructive and damaging.
It’s even worse when those peoples’ expectations are wrong.
This excruciating phenomenon carries its roots into current life, having “upgraded” to an adulthood version.
Expectations are made of me that fail to make sense, yet remain exempt from peer review. The powerlessness can be staggering. The same assumption is that if I’m outwardly able-bodied, literate, and I’ve mastered the basics of math and life, then I should automatically be able to do anything.
The expectations are higher if you’re perceived as “bright”. Sure, I may be “bright”, but sometimes that’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes its reputation gets a little ahead of itself. I always feel like I’m adding unspoken–and sometimes unconscious–“fine print” to my life.
For example, just because I’m a hard worker doesn’t mean I can easily switch tasks on a dime.
Just because I can smile, make intermittent and momentary eye contact, and come across as personable doesn’t mean that I can meet with people on short notice.
But people see the surface. They don’t see the dip in the rest of my cognitive functions and resources as I divert the extra energy toward making that eye contact. They don’t see the struggles within. They don’t realize the enormous amount of energy it takes to do the simplest of things in the outside world.
It can be difficult for someone who is Aspergian/autistic to operate within the world at large, mostly because of different wiring. I’m wired to engage thoroughly with a person, activity, or topic. While most people are left- or right-brain dominant, I’m both. This means that my brain has to engage from both the scientific/logical and creative/intuitive hemispheres. That’s engaging twice. That takes twice as long. Thus, Task-Switching Sucks(TM).
And that’s where what seems like my “hyper-focus” actually comes from: the engaging of both sides of my brain. But it doesn’t stop there. My brain also wants to put things in order. Not necessarily a linear sequence (unless that particular situation/topic calls for it), but my brain wants to build what I can best describe as a “thought-cloud” – a 3D array of numerous elements and concepts, proportionately interconnected and hyperlinked, properly labeled, and ranked by priorities and comparisons. When you’re submerged deep within the abyss of a thought-cloud and someone tries to ask you a question unrelated to the topic you’re swimming in, it’s IRRITATING.
But because I’m “bright”, I “should” be able to switch tasks, right?
I “should” also have great Executive Function. Given my desire to systemize, it would stand to (conventional) reason that I “should” be able to put my daily tasks in order and carry them out flawlessly, right?
But therein lies a bug in my system, dripping with sour irony: the systemizer (me) with piss-poor Executive Function. I know. It baffles me, too.
It blows apart the assumption that just because I can order things into a thought-cloud in my mind, that somehow I’m automatically able to knock out every item on that day’s to-do list.
I don’t often get scolded by my parents and partner anymore (thankfully-yet-surprisingly, that only ended mostly with the Asperger’s/autism diagnosis last year). I have long known that I had way too many people, around whom I spent way too large a percentage of my life, who were way too all-up-in-my-business.
So why do these ironic system glitches exist? Why can I do “this” but not “that”? Why does someone who is “bright” fail so often to do the most mundane things.
Because maybe my brain is on an ego-trip. Maybe, it subconsciously tells me that “that’s piddly every-day stuff; you’ve got more important things to ponder”.
Or maybe my brain is a thrill-seeker. Maybe it’s saying, “that’s boring. Do something interesting instead. Give me a thrill-fix.”
Or maybe I’m just fine, and it’s society that’s a little screwed up. Maybe society makes shabby connections between skills, on which it then bases incorrect assumptions, atop which it then builds unreasonable expectations.
…I’m just human. 🙂