The Detriment of the Doubt5 min read

“I hope I can read this tomorrow without get­ting upset,” a friend of mine recently wrote in a chat. Inside my brain, I felt the cog­wheels start creaking and gaining momentum. I scrolled up the chat his­tory to see if I wrote some­thing stupid, incon­sid­erate, tact­less, offen­sive.

Nope, none that I could attribute her reac­tion to.

This was my usual reac­tion for years and years, Thinking, “Did I say some­thing stupid?” I would go into defense mode, wonder if {person} was about to unfriend me, ready for the inevitable scolding.

In recent months, how­ever, I learned better. I simply asked, “How do you mean that?” Her answer was a simple, “I just went over a speech I pre­pared. As it is quite emo­tional, I am not sure if I can read that on a lectern without bursting out in tears.”

Then It dawned on me: By virtue of my aspi­eness, or what­ever trait in my per­sona is respon­sible for this, I take many things lit­er­ally. And if there is some ambi­guity, I am ready, eager even, to inter­pret it in the worst pos­sible way.

Mostly, I was ready to con­cede that I was saying some­thing igno­rant, that I did some­thing wrong, that it must be my fault. What ulti­mately made it painfully clear was the fact that I, not being a native English speaker, men­tally trans­lated the “upset” in the least favourable way, in the trans­la­tion we have learned in school: “angry”. (To all you English teachers: you owe me a pint now.)

So there I had it – not only did I inter­pret the sen­tence according to my happy-to-be-bashed con­di­tion, I also trans­lated the “offen­sive” word accord­ingly. And my log­ical reac­tion (cue Spock Eyebrow) was that I must have done some­thing wrong. Because every­thing makes per­fect sense this way, now doesn’t it?

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A sim­ilar source of frus­tra­tion sur­faced when I was eating out with my wife. It was a cold Novembery evening, and we went to some rea­son­ably un-posh French restau­rant. On the menu, I spotted Soupe à l’oignon (“onion soup” doesn’t do this del­i­cacy jus­tice), and some­where later down the list they had Clams Marinière.

Wifey and I chit-chat, com­ment the menu, and she asks me if I had found some­thing. I told her yes, I’d be ordering soup and the mus­sels. “Are you sure you want two ‘wet’ courses?” she asks.

And all I can do is roll my eyes and think, there we go again– I am not even able to order my meal in a restau­rant. “Why sorry, I didn’t know I needed coaching when ordering from a menu,” I blurted out, and she got sad and whis­pered, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to lec­ture you. You can have peanut butter on it if you want, for all I care.”

Needless to say, it took a con­sid­er­able effort from both of us to steer that boat into calmer waters.

Why? Why? Why is it that I con­stantly jump to the worst-case-scenario con­clu­sions? A “normal” person might say “Yeah, odd, innit?” or “Sure bet I do! I am a Neanderthal.” Instead, I feel attacked, I feel the urge to not only explain but rather defend my deci­sions.

I can dis­mantle and reassemble a motor­bike, sew a party gown, bake a three-tiered wed­ding cake, and all that shit– but as soon as someone comes and won­ders about a deci­sion of mine, I’m toast. I feel accused.

And it’s not just my own deci­sions:

Scenario: The family goes on a vaca­tion. I am the Person With The Wallet (and the Black Belt in Computing), thus I am to book hotels in advance along a loose itin­erary. I do as com­mis­sioned, we pack, we fly, we fetch the rental car (“it is a tad big/small/sporty/old-peopley”), we drive inter­state (“bland”), country roads (“slow”), we arrive (“…this?”), dine (some moans about the menu), and sleep (“stiff mat­tress”)… you get the point.

Why, why, why the heck do I think I have to assume respon­si­bility for someone else’s car rental flyer, someone else’s roads, someone else’s hotel, someone else’s shit­hole town? My mind knows, knows it, and yet I feel attacked and offended if someone (rightly so, partly, there are shit­hole towns) is not happy with some­thing along their route.

I have analysed this back and forth, some people help­fully sug­gested I might be a bor­der­liner and my limbic system was out of whack, and my best guess as to why someone might react this my way is this:

  • you “do” some­thing, and thus you assume respon­si­bility for your deed
  • your logic dic­tates that all that cas­cades down from your ini­tial “doing” (booking → hotel → food) is your respon­si­bility, too
    (I learned that many reli­gious books have sim­ilar con­cepts)
  • your silly brain wiring will always choose the most neg­a­tive inter­pre­ta­tion because…
  • … a co-morbitity of your spec­trum dis­order are issues with self-esteem, depres­sion, and count­less other con­se­quences

So, there you have it.

Now, what paths will get you out of that swamp of self-fulfilling prophe­cies?

(I was about to make one list for autis­tics and one for their partner, ;but hey, they were con­gruent)

  • Give each other the Benefit of the Doubt. Most folks mean well. And repeat this mantra ad nau­seam until it “sticks.”
  • Check your atti­tude. Is it non-judgmental? Most people can’t easily slide out of their skin and might take offense at being lec­tured for what they assumed to be good.
  • Assume respon­si­bility for your imme­diate action, like sug­gesting to eat out. Refuse respon­si­bility fur­ther down the road. It’s not your fault if the menu is not to your part­ner’s liking.
  • It is not always about you. Even if you are the only person your partner can address their rant to.
  • Be gentle with fail­ures and mishaps. Not everyone is a gifted hand­maid, or a cook– a com­pe­tent President, even.
  • “The Others” are not your ene­mies. This is not a con­spiracy.

5 Comments

  1. Two wet courses upsets the feng shui or some­thing, what, like a bad food-wine pairing? I had no idea that was a thing. How wet is wet? Is it a ques­tion of mois­ture con­tent? I can totally imagine myself stum­bling into some­thing like that, but would it be a case of my autis­tic­ness showing, or my working class roots?

    1. Yeah. I don’t get it, either. lol!

      1. Author

        in essence, both courses can be clas­si­fied as “soup”. I wasn’t aware that starter and main course must be in con­trast. Maybe seafood salad fol­lowed by fish would be a fauxpas too. lol.

    2. This com­ment made me laugh so hard…mainly because I had the same thoughts almost ver­batim 😂

  2. I love this because I’m the exact same way. I’ve had DBT, and it’s helped a great deal in keeping from jumping to con­clu­sions, but I always think it’s some­thing I did. It’s always the worst-case sce­nario with me. I com­pletely under­stand. Thank you for sharing this.

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