Autistic folks are taught that we need to please others. We mask, we fawn, and we have to deal with the fallout from all that trauma training us to cut ourselves off.
It makes it hard to navigate this world. But many of the autistic folks I’ve met are also warriors with an inner instinct to circle back and save their peers from the collective despair. We’re advocates, teachers, and leaders.
So how do we deal with the anger and hatred that we will inevitably encounter as we seek to protect ourselves and our community?
Boundaries are Self-Care
Setting good boundaries for yourself and others will go a long way in helping you advocate without burning out. It’s a practice and a process, but here are ten tips to help you get started:
- You don’t have to make everyone happy. If you’re an advocate, it shouldn’t even be your plan. It’s painful to have your worldview challenged, and anger is an easy emotion– so it usually shows up first.
- Let other people have their emotions. We know how intense suffering feels, and that it can cause people to lash out. Let them have their process and set boundaries with your empathy. Their emotions are theirs to manage.
- Your emotions are valid. You have your pain and there will always be things that hurt you. Discrimination is real and systemic and hard. The truth is: you are not what’s bad about this situation. The more you embrace that, the easier it’ll be for you to stay connected to yourself.
- Interact with people on your terms. You aren’t required to stay silent, nor do you have to argue with someone until you’re unwell. Your time, energy, and emotional labor has value. My personal boundary is to disengage before my fight or flight is activated.
- Not responding is not a rejection. Reflection is a very powerful tool, so look for ways to create space for it. Strategic silence is a great way to encourage thoughtfulness and maintain self care boundaries.
- You don’t have to agree. Dissent helps progress. Let people disagree with you and feel free to disagree with them. Practice sitting with the discomfort and let reflection help you grow. You’ll be better prepared to respond in the future.
- People, and their opinions, are not scarce. There are billions of them, and even if most of them don’t like you or your message, there will always be more. Let them come, stay as long as they can, and then go if they need to. It’s natural.
- Scarcity is a term used in marketing to create a sense of value in a product. Your time and energy have more value than the opinions of others (refer to #4).
- Plant seeds. Ask questions so that people might think about what they’re saying. Encourage discussion in spaces you occupy, but don’t expect conversion. Real change takes time and processing. You may never see what blossoms from your efforts, but it will always be out there.
- It’s okay if you’ve been canceled. Your reputation is not as fragile as people might make it seem. It’s a myth that we have to be perfect. Learn from your mistakes and keep working. You’ll get way further in your goals than the people who cancel you in the comments instead of working on themselves.
- Don’t assume the worst in people. It’s hard to change, and many of us have been surrounded by cruelty and dismissal our whole lives. Unpacking all of that is messy. We don’t have to convert each other, we just have to keep putting out our information. Some people will want to stop your message, but it doesn’t matter. Move around them and let them catch up if they can.
You and I, we have work to do.
Dear Skeptical Hearts
Some of these might be hard to connect with or believe. That’s okay. You’ve got your process, and I have faith in your ability to suss out what will work for you.
- Work Hard and Catch Up: Patterns in a Neurodivergent Career — June 27, 2020
- Teenage Rebellion: An Autistic Teenager’s Guide to Revenge Through Self Care — March 13, 2020
- 10 Good Boundaries to Have as an Autistic Advocate so Haters Don’t Burn You Out — February 7, 2020