People say that to live a human existence is traumatic. Many normal human experiences are inherently life-altering and depending on one’s sensitivity or vulnerability or resilience to/practice with enduring change, these experiences can cause trauma. Fortunately, within the post-trauma dissembling/chaos, we are generally able to re-assemble ourselves over time, experience post-traumatic growth and carry on, a changed, but still functional human being.
But trauma also inherently implies loss, and the traumatic experience is often prolonged by our clinging to that which used to be, but is no longer. It is not possible to forget about or ignore the loss, or to pretend it did not happen. The only way out is through.
Autistic people, in general, are more susceptible to PTSD as a result of “normal” human experience-based trauma precisely because we are more sensitive. We are easily hurt by others’ actions and words, even when they are not intended to harm. We may put on a brave face, or take on more responsibility for misunderstanding the message, but over time, these coping mechanisms simply serve to prolong our trauma and prevent us from experiencing the growth and healing that remains just out of our reach much of the time.
We also tend to place trust in others to behave and care for us/others with the same amount and type of “good-for-the-whole” intention that we have. This is a very quick way to make ourselves more vulnerable to being disappointed, at best, or hurt/traumatized, at worst, when others reveal their different agendas. Without a close network of allies to prop up our desires for justice and need for movement toward a fairer system, we will inevitably experience the fallout as a breach of trust.
The worst effect of this sort of interpersonal trauma is that we autistic folk tend to take every opportunity to find our own accountability for the situation. We make excuses for others and find ways we are responsible and WE ASSUME others are doing the same. Unfortunately more often than not, the other party did not experience the breach of trust in the same way or to the same depth that we did, and is unlikely to feel they have anything within themselves to examine or to improve upon.
This leads us to lose TRUST IN OURSELVES! How could I have been so stupid to trust that other person in the first place? Why did I allow myself to be vulnerable with them? What is wrong with me for someone to treat me this way?
I have been told that the way to pull myself out of this crisis of confidence is through positive affirmations. Write something positive on your mirror… but I don’t look in the mirror, if I can help it! Write it on a notecard and put it on the fridge… but I will avoid it at all costs! Be kinder to yourself… but it doesn’t matter, because if I can’t BELIEVE my own judgment of others, why should I BELIEVE my own judgment of myself?
When you have been in an unsupportive environment, dealing with people in a system where other people’s incentives are set up to put down conflict rather than resolve problems at the root, and you are the person willing to self-reflect, you will be expected to self-reflect yourself out of your own experience… right out of your own self-confidence. I don’t know who I am anymore, and I don’t believe my own words, even when they are kind words about myself. I need evidence. I need validation that others see what I think I see, because my eyes and brain have been trained to believe that they lie. These are the effects of gaslighting.
Recently, I have received a couple of comments, affirmations from people I trust, those who have truly SEEN me. These statements of constructive, caring, positive SUPPORT are just beginning to have an effect. And no, I’m not ASKING for others to go around positively commenting on my blog or my work. If you do that disingenuously, I will know and it is entirely unhelpful. Any messages of support need to be given with time, place, context, relationship, etc. in mind, and if that is all too complex for you to grok, you aren’t the person I would love to hear from.
This is also not just about me… In the last two years, WE HAVE ALL BEEN TRAUMATIZED! You cannot have gone through the pandemic and not experienced an existential change to your being. And living through wartime in the internet age is absolutely traumatizing for anyone who has even a passing notion of current world events. You cannot ignore what you have lost; you are a different human being than you were two years ago. As we have just passed the 2nd anniversary of the beginning of the Covid pandemic lockdowns, I would encourage EVERYONE to take some time and reflect about who you are now, and who you were, but cannot possibly be any longer. You must accept these losses as they are irreversible. Going through this process may help you show grace, kindness and empathy for others who are struggling in the haze of post-traumatic chaos. We all need to care for each other’s humanity and emotional wellbeing at this time. Caring for others is not optional for anyone any longer.