Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Silent Scream

I had planned to move away from adult topics for a little while and concentrate on children's issues but the following comment provides such as good opportunity to explain an integral part of the aspie condition that I'll stay with the topic a little longer...

If you feel your wife's smile is like the warmth of the radiating sun (what a lucky woman) do you experience the need to show her that you feel that - in the moment, I mean? In one of your answers to the comments in Part 3 you wrote: "I feel that aspies have a greater strength of emotion than many NTs but that we often lack the means to show it (or we're "afraid" to show it). So where does the emotion go? And what is the fear about in showing it?

You've really hit the nail on the head here and I realise that I have probably left too much unsaid.

As I described in my post, even though aspies aren't all that great at reading facial expression, a simple smile from my wife is enough for her to express her love for me.

The trouble is that I can't do it. There is no "look" from me that I can give in response. Believe me, I've tried but it's as if my features are modeling clay and I can't find the shape. Any expression I give in response is more likely to be "scary" than loving.

I must therefore resort to words and again I've tried. After all, words are very much "my power", particularly the written variety. I try to express myself but my wife simply thinks that I'm waxing poetic. I can say all manner of "pretty things" but ultimately she either doesn't believe me or treats what I say as simply metaphor. My words end up meaning nothing compared to her simple smile. I've long since given up trying verbal expressions of love since I'm so clumsy at it and it as all the subtlety of a mime jumping and waving frantically for attention.

Writing
Where I do excel is in writing and I'll often use special occasions as an excuse to write a poem. My wife and I also write love letters occasionally and I find that these are very successful too. There's something more forgiving about writing; perhaps it's the fact that the little "reading voice" in your head is more able to manage the right tone or perhaps it's being able to re-read the text over and over again.

Whatever the reason, despite my successes, I still find that more than half my message is lost.
In fact, it's worth comparing this text to my last post. Much of what I've said here is actually there but the deeper meanings are buried perhaps too deep. Aspies tend to assume that everyone is a mind reader - and my posts are obviously no exception.

One interesting example was a poem I wrote to my wife when we were going out. We'd been going out for a number of years (on and off since our school days actually) and we were planning an overseas trip. Her parents weren't too keen on the idea believing that we should be married before such a trip. I, of course, had other ideas. As an aspie, I had everything meticulously planned out.

I wrote my wife a poem shortly before our departure. She loved it and read it out to her parents - and to mine. Not one of them twigged on the fact that the poem outlined my plans for the trip. I was stunned. In any case, less than a week after our arrival in Paris, we got engaged on top of the Eiffel Tower. To this day I still get the occasional ribbing about how her parents expected me to ask their permission - it was in the poem - and I was in the room when they both heard it.

Sometimes being an aspie is like shouting in a soundproofed room.

Prevention
Another thing that impacts greatly on the aspie's ability to communicate are the rules. Aspies have rules for everything. They generally develop by themselves and usually due to outside influences. What is important though is that that it's like a "mortal sin" for us to break them. The rules are developed over the course of years and among other things, they prevent aspies from repeatedly making the same social mistakes.

If you think of one of the first rules that your parents instill. "It's naughty/rude to point". This is a very important social rule which can save the aspie from embarrassment in their early years (and prevent them from being bashed up in adult years). Many aspies will generalise that rule over time and will instead nod their head or simply "refer" to an object without pointing. Somehow, it transcends the person and becomes a rule about everything. When that happens, it's almost unbreakable.

In my case, I've got rules about making personal remarks which made it almost impossible to tell my wife how beautiful I found her when we were going out. She'll often mention this in conversation and I'll find myself unable to explain to her why the rule simply couldn't be broken. Over the years, I've made a bit of headway and been able to stretch the boundaries but of course, saying these things for the first time ten to twenty years down the track is just a case of "too little, too late". It's impossible to explain to an NT exactly how much effort it is to break a rule. After all, my wife thinks nothing of breaking her own "rules" much to my annoyance.

Honesty and Absolutes
My wife breaks rules... or is it that she's simply less honest? No... it's neither. It's simply the way that NTs operate. An NT will say "I've had enough of that particular group of people, I'm just a sucker for punishment but.. no more... I'm not going back". Of course, one week later and their "rule" is forgotten and they go back to being punished.

An aspie by comparison will say... "sorry. this resturant has lost three points. It's out. We're not coming back here again". That's it, end of story. We never go back.

I've used two very different examples here because it shows that the NT won't even make a rule about the big things while an aspie will develop rules about the smallest things.

There's other aspects to honesty too. When asked a specific question (eg: Isn't this just the best day ever?), I'll consider it. If I think of a "better day", I'll say no. Romance doesn't deal in absolutes though. An NT male will "score points" by telling his girl that she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen but an aspie male will know that sunsets are rather pretty too.

We have the same feelings - perhaps even stronger than some of our NT counterparts but our expression is hamstrung by rules. There's just so many barriers to communciation that we can't get the message out.


Wider Repercussions
What these particular examples highlight is the distance between aspie and NT thinking. When my wife hears a song, she'll like the music and possibly the chorus. When I hear a song, I hear layers and layers of metaphor. A song can make me feel sad and in fact, as I've gone through life, I've picked up a wide variety of songs, all of which have special meanings and special memories. A simple tune can make me cry, even when a great loss doesn't.

Everything to aspies seems to have extra meanings but in order to get to those extra meanings, it all needs careful anaylsis. I might have to hear a song or read a poem ten or twenty times before I feel like I understand it. We don't get the same number of chances with conversation as a listener.

On the other side though, as a talker, there are just too many non-verbal things to manage and we don't seem to have control over any of them. Sure, I can control the words, but I can't match my tone, I can't control my facial expression and I've only got marginal control over my hand movements. It's only when I'm writing that I can control all of these things - and that's mainly because there's much less non-verbal stuff in writing.

The silent scream explains a lot of other aspie behaviour too. It's not just a silent scream of love. There's a silent scream for irritation, frustration and agony. It's only when that silent scream has gone on for too long - and it suddently errupts into shouts and rage that it gets noticed. Then the silent scream becomes a meltdown. If we could make ourselves heard and understood, then perhaps they could be avoided.

25 comments:

wrongshoes said...

This is a fantastic representation of the complexity of my inner world. It is interesting how you can so confidently say NT's don't have the same thing... I've always thought it must be that way for everyone (but then, like you say, we expect people to read our minds, too).

LizzieK8 said...

What a fantastic post. You were able to put into words so much of me I haven't even explored and named yet. Thanks!

Silk said...

Now THAT was an exceedingly useful post, for both NT's and Aspies. Thank you. Excellent job of expressing issues in such a way to be completely understood by both sides.

Anonymous said...

Gavin - I'm so touched by your honesty and your ability to convey something that must be a great source of frustration to you. I have never heard the term "Silent Scream", but it's a powerful descriptor. I've had inner experiences that are not allowed external expression, but only due to self restraint regarding socially sanctioned, albeit unwritten rules that we all must abide by at one time or another. But you seem to be speaking about something much more internal. An impediment that is imperceptible to others, but nonetheless is very much influencing your manifestations. I'm rather amazed that you are able to describe this so vividly. You have a gift.

I have one comment and one question regarding honesty, absolutes and NT behavior. I would say it's not so much that we have forgotten a rule. It's that our state changes, and when we are in one state, different rules apply than when we are in another. If I'm in a more emotional state, and I say, "I'm never going back", that doesn't take into account when I'm in a more thoughtful state, and perhaps can begin to see another side to the situation. And then I can be more flexible, or I can interpret things differently, or take another person's perspective into account. Usually, if I say "never" it's a sure sign I'm simply having an emotional reaction that won't hold water later, once I've calmed down a bit. Do you ever have this kind of change in state with regard to your rules?

I know you want to move on to another topic...so I'll stop here.

Gavin Bollard said...

If I say never, I usually mean never. It's rarely anything else. You'll note however that even my language here isn't in absolutes.

The problem with absolutes affects aspie honesty. Often we feel that NTs are very dishonest or untrustworthy simply because they use absolutes in generalisations but fail to carry them out.

On the other side however, we aspies tend to come across as non-committal. Ask an aspie if they'll love you forever and you'll probably get a stunned silence. This isn't us being non-committal, it's hesitation about making a promise that you're not positive you can keep.

When we were dating, my wife used to ask me things and I'd respond that "I'd do my best" (in fact, I still do). She'll usually accept this but she also knows that if she really wants something done, she needs to press for a promise. Of course, I won't promise anything that I can't deliver.. and sometimes she has to modify what she's asking to make it a "deliverable".

As far as having a change in the rules is concerned, it's rare.. very very rare. I've been in situations where I'd do almost anything to break a rule but I can't. Sometimes I know that I made a wrong choice when I said "never" but it's locked now. There's no way back. It just becomes a new inner pain for me.

It's only when I can prove beyond all doubt that the rule was made without access to all the evidence that I can pass it. A simple change of heart or "cooling down" after an argument won't make the grade.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, I can't help myself. You wrote:

"It's only when I can prove beyond all doubt that the rule was made without access to all the evidence that I can pass it. A simple change of heart or "cooling down" after an argument won't make the grade."

Are you saying you don't loose your cool and say things you don't mean? And if you do say something in a rash moment, that proves unstable after a cooling off period, that you will hold yourself to it nonetheless? I mean, why would you want to add to inner pain? Is there not a way in your point of view, to allow for shift in perception, based on change of perspective?

Even physical science tells us that if we simply change the place at which we are standing, the trajectory of our vision alters substantially. That's a rule (or law) as well. : )

Gavin Bollard said...

I'm not saying that I never lose my cool and say things I regret. I'm saying that I generally don't talk in absolutes.

If I lose my cool, I'm still much more likely to say "You're acting like an idiot" rather than "You're an idiot".

I'm very unlikely to say - "I'm not going to talk to you ever again". In fact, I don't remember any time past my teens where I have said something like that.

You're right about not being able to go back though. How could anyone's word be their bond if they could break it any any time for the most frivilous of reasons? I have no way - other than proven lack of evidence to deliberately break my word.

It's certainly not my desire to create a new pain but to break a rule, particularly a base-level rule like that is usually much more painful than to break a "promise".

Some of those promises where I've stuck to my guns and retained my honesty and/or integrity have cost me dearly and I've lived with their painful reminder ever since. Some have pain which has lasted two decades or more and shows no sign of abating. They become inner turmoil, hidden from the outside world but completely affecting my perception and motives.

If I have pain like this resulting from not compromising myself, then how could I contemplate compromise over anything smaller? Once the precedent is set, there's no way back.

Anonymous said...

Well, here is where we part ways. Your thinking in this regard sounds very idealistic to me. Of course, I'm talking about relationships and people, not restaurants.

You asked: "How could anyone's word be their bond if they could break it any time for the most frivilous of reasons? I have no way - other than proven lack of evidence to deliberately break my word."

Human beings are like jello, all sticky and gooey. We don't fit into neat little packages of black and white. Of course, in an ideal world, we try to mean what we say and say what we mean, especially in the important arenas, like marriage, where we make a sacred promise. I agree, that should not be broken for a frivolous reason.

But let's pose a hypothetical. Say you and I are good friends and I have an argument and I say, "I'm so angry at you I'm never going to speak to you again." But then I wake up the next day, and experience true remorse of conscience for making such a hurtful remark. Isn't it more of a moral obligation to speak to you and to apologize for my rash remarks and to ask for your forgiveness, than it is to keep my word?

And if your response to me was, no, you don't get to do this over, your word is your word, and you walk away (permanently) as a result, then does the concept of forgiveness enter your world?

And if the concept of forgiveness can enter this hypothetical, and you are willing to forgive, then why wouldn't you allow yourself the same latitude with regard to say, sticking to your guns, which sounds very stubborn and sometimes causes you to shoot yourself in the foot? Why not acknowledge human beings make mistakes, forgive yourself and move on without the pain and inner turmoil?

Anonymous said...

P.S. I rather think we are speaking about differences between men and women, maybe even more so than differences between NT and Aspie. Women don't usually feel the need to prove how good our word is, especially to the detriment of our inner life. We are more interested in making things work out between people. Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

Gavin Bollard said...

Your scenario is quite a fascinating one.

Forgiveness of others comes very easy to me. If someone tells me that they don't want to speak to me ever again, I'll generally take them at their word and won't attempt to speak to them. If they come over and apologise (or not) and start talking to me, then there's nothing to forgive. I never decided not to speak to them again, they did it to me. As a result, I just carry on as normal - and speak to them and I just brush their previous weirdness off as an "NT thing".

Being on the other side of kind of incident doesn't happen to me because I won't speak in absolutes. It's not really something that I'd say - unless I really seriously meant it (and had considered all the evidence and long-term impact). As far as I'm aware, I've not said this, or anything similar in my adult life.

Forgiveness of others is very easy but I have major problems with self-forgiveness. For as long as I can remember, I've strived for perfection in everything that I do. Every time I make a mistake, it goes into my mental catalog. Sure, the tiny things slip away but I carry more than I need to. As an example of a small thing, I can cite the one and only time where I've unrecoverably lost a user's data through my own actions. The issue happened about thirteen years ago and I saved nearly everything. I just forgot the person's address book contacts (about 150 names and addresses) which were stored elsewhere when I wiped their computer. I don't beat myself up about it all the time but whenever I wipe a computer, it bobs into the forefront of my mind as a "failure". I'm sure that if I met the person involved today, they wouldn't even remember the incident but to me, it's like yesterday.

I don't know how much of this is just "me" and how much is the aspie condition but I do know that aspies have major issues with both perfection and depression.

It may seem like arrogance but it's not like I have any choice.

Anonymous said...

I think it's easy to overlook that when people are more centered in their intellect, and therefore less emotive, that they are in some sense more reliable and steadfast, or less reactive and probably more responsible. I'm not saying that's the ideal, but it does have that in it's favor. That's probably one of the many strengths of the Aspie mindset. But to hold an unforgiving attitude towards oneself, for a lack of perfect performance...well, that's not exactly a well thought out strategy, Gavin.

I mean, you do your best, and that's all you or anyone can hope for. Human beings make mistakes. It's not arrogant to expect perfection, it's simply unrealistic. Failure is how we learn...and therefore something to welcome. My son has a quote on his wall which says, "The only real failure in life is the failure to try." : )

Gavin Bollard said...

I'm aware that carrying guilt around because of wrong choices I've made isn't good and I am trying to change. It's not a "strategy" though because I didn't choose to do this in the first place. It just happened.

I'm not sure that this is necessarily a male female thing. On an occasion, way back in my past, I was told where the boundaries of a particular relationship were. As a result, I completely respected those boundaries even when I was told (in the heat of the moment) that they had changed. I decided that the person involved would not change her mind and that what I was doing was "protecting them from a decision/action that they'd later regret". Instead of being honourable, my actions were interpreted as insulting and it ended up costing the relationship.

I don't think that a normal red-blooded nt male would have behaved the same way.

Khelben said...

I would also like to say that the post was of great quality.

Good work!

Anonymous said...

Gavin - Your comments on rules, honesty, and absolutes really struck home. From the time I was child to well into adulthood I firmly believed that if I had a serious disagreement with anyone, then that person could no longer be a friend and was someone I no longer spoke to. If any words like "I'm not going to talk to you again" were exchanged, then that was the end of it. I was probably 40 years old before I came to realize that I could have this sorts of words with a person, later reconcile, and continue the relationship. Still though, no matter how good the relationship is today, I can't forget the temporary "falling out." The memory is always vivid, often to the point of being able to recite the disagreement line by line. I can never feel quite the same about the person again. It's as though the wound left a permanent scar in an obvious place that I see all the time.

These days I try not to get into serious arguments with anyone because I know how difficult it is for me to repair such a relationship.

CrazyGoat said...

Spot on! Thanks.

Randomchild said...

i just wanted to know what (nt's) stands for? please i must know.

Randomchild said...

I also like to say what a good post this. what you wrote is how i feel but i cant even write how i feel sometimes. so thanks

Gavin Bollard said...

NT means Neurotypical.

The mental "normal".

spunkykitty.wordpress.com said...

i am glad i found ur blog... i am a female aspie - so i guess my perspectives may be a different take on the same things... but i DO hv problems figuring out 'adult game playing'... and yes, i was attracted to the title of ur post, since i adore the painting by ed munch of the same name... cheers!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you wrote what you did about the no pointing rule. I've been struggling recently because I made it a rule not to dominate conversations by talking about myself. Now I find I can't talk about myself. It didn't occur to me that it was because I'd made a rule.

April said...

this one made me cry. so glad im in my room

ntwife said...

Gavin, I'm a recently new follower of your blog, and am just so excited about reading all of your posts and learning about AS, which my husband was just diagnosed with recently.

After reading your thoughts about music being more meaningful to you than the average person, I wanted to ask you a question about something similar that relates to my husband's personality.

He has always been one to get drawn into sentimental movies like ones where he feels he can relate to the characters. He can almost see himself being one of the characters. The more unusual part of this is that he will sometimes consider making his life decisions based on a movie he's seen that he associated himself with, because it worked for that person and he feels they are alot alike. We've always wondered why he does this, and most other movies he has no interest in (such as romantic movies or even comedies, etc.) In general, he's not a movie kind of guy, but these really affect him.

One last thing...also, since he hasn't had a good relationship with his parents and siblings, when he sees a movie about a family with good relationships, it depresses him that he can't have that. I understand to some extent, but we both feel like it's more extreme than most people feel.

Would you please let me know your thoughts? I would so appreciate hearing from you about this!

Gavin Bollard said...

ntwife,

It's quite common for aspies to blur reality with movies. In fact, people with aspergers very regularly talk in quotes from films, books and TV. It's just that they leave no clues and people around them just think that they've changed their voice or said something weird.

Unlike conversations in real life, conversations on film can be watched over and over again. Sometimes the line between reality and movie blurs.

We always know that the movie is just a movie but in our minds, sometimes we take the events in a film as definitive and/or achievable.

Sometimes we bring them into our lives and sometimes we accidentally form rules around them.

Gavin Bollard said...

ntwife,

It's quite common for aspies to blur reality with movies. In fact, people with aspergers very regularly talk in quotes from films, books and TV. It's just that they leave no clues and people around them just think that they've changed their voice or said something weird.

Unlike conversations in real life, conversations on film can be watched over and over again. Sometimes the line between reality and movie blurs.

We always know that the movie is just a movie but in our minds, sometimes we take the events in a film as definitive and/or achievable.

Sometimes we bring them into our lives and sometimes we accidentally form rules around them.

ntwife said...

Thanks for your response, Gavin!

Do you know if there's a term for that? Just seems like it may be called something when somebody almost feels like they could be the movie/book character. Just a thought. I tried to Google to find other people with the same feelings, but it's just a hard search without a real term.

You're right; I do think he just thinks that if it worked for someone else's life, or if certain conditions made them happy, it would work for him. With truly analyzing it, I think he knows the difference in reality and the storyline, but immediately following a movie, or the next day when he's replaying it in his head is when he starts wondering about how it relates to him.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts!