Moving on to elaborate about the “controlling person” bit that was briefly introduced in last Saturday’s post, from my journaling ~4 years ago:
The accusation that I was controlling has always baffled me. More than a couple of people have had that opinion and yet… in order to be controlling, one would actually need to have the inclination to try and control people, correct?
If I were controlling I would need to actually give a flying flip what other people did and care enough about it to try and change them.
It’s enough work just keeping track of myself and trying to listen to people and navigate the world. Adding in trying to control other people’s actions… well, not only do I not think I would succeed, but I’d probably end up destroying or losing myself in the process.
Well, okay, having read a bit more about how Autistic people can come across as controlling to other people, I might have to revise the whole “knowing I’m not controlling” part, but only to a point, since I don’t actually intend to be controlling. It’s also, to my understanding, not possible to truly control another person’s behavior without going to great lengths (drugging them, etc).
So, in my case, I understand that there’s a distinct lack of energy and know-how that prevents me from subtly manipulating people. However, Autistic people can sometimes be perceived as being controlling even when, from our perspective, we’re just being straightforward and/or trying to prevent a situation we know we won’t be able to handle.
An example from my previous journaling: I couldn’t handle any more artificial lights after working all day in the fluorescents so I insisted on everyone using candlelight at home when I was present, which seemed to me to be a completely reasonable thing to insist upon. The fallout would’ve been difficult to cope with for me if I didn’t insist on candlelight.
My thinking went about like this: I needed an accommodation, I stated my need and the reason for it, and expected folks to respect my request. After all, I try to respect other people’s requests when they clearly *make their needs known to me.
In all honesty, I didn’t care what our housemate did with lights in her own space, as long as she didn’t use electric lights where I could see them because I couldn’t deal with being around them at the time. Unfortunately, she perceived this as me being mean and controlling.
Whereas, in my mind, I was just being straightforward about my needs and trying to protect myself from a situation I wouldn’t be able to handle; she thought I was being unreasonable.
In hindsight, my meltdowns or shutdowns, which were extremely frequent for most of my life, probably looked pretty controlling as well.
However, when I’m melting or shutting down, it’s not even remotely about the other person and their behavior. It’s about me being overwhelmed and unable to stop or control the feelings. My reaction is not intended to be manipulative – it’s not actually about anyone else. I’m usually just generally upset/overwhelmed and it’s more than enough work to handle myself at those times, let alone think about other people and how to somehow get them to do anything.
With more knowledge of what tends to trigger my meltdowns and shutdowns, they’ve become easier to avoid and have gotten much rarer in recent years. I’ve also started to be able to better recognize when I’m getting close to that point so that I can remove myself from a situation ASAP and get some relief before I’m completely overloaded.
I cannot overstate how important self-care and self-awareness are for my personal well being. A huge part of that self-awareness is the knowledge that I’m Autistic. Being Autistic is the answer that was missing previously and preventing me from being as self-aware as I needed to be. Knowing about that one, all-encompassing, thing has made a hugely positive difference in my life.
Before I knew I was Autistic, I was still Autistic, but I was lacking the vital information I needed in order to fully live my life, take care of myself, and understand who I actually am.
*Of course, at the time I didn’t realize that it was possible people actually thought they were making their needs known to me. If someone doesn’t specifically tell me what they need, I don’t usually realize they need anything. I didn’t know, at that time, that people were expecting me to “pick up” on hints or body language so I simply thought people didn’t need much from me and that relationships were super easy until they ended abruptly; usually without a decent explanation.