Sunday, October 21, 2018

Some people just want a Reaction


It's a funny old world that we live in and it's full of people that I just don't understand. For the most part, I get along really well with just about everybody but every now and then I encounter "rogue people" who just want to attack me for reason unknown. 

It's something I've noticed since I was a kid and I've never felt that I had a very good handle on why this happens. I don't read people terribly well. I'm improving but I've got a long way to go.

Recently, it's been suggested that it's something to do with the way I present as emotionally unreactive. I thought I'd use this post to explore this.

The Unreactive Child

When I was growing up, it was very much the norm for parents to say "boys don't cry" or "boys have to be tough". Of course, I did cry, especially when I injured myself but after an early life of tantrums and meltdowns and I learned to suppress my emotional responses.

There's also the idea that bullies attack people to get a response and that the best responses for bullies were "no response at all".

At some point in my primary school years, I stopped reacting badly to things that weren't pain -- and I stopped responding to a lot of pain in itself. It wasn't total stoppage of course, if people kept at me, eventually they'd break me but it meant that for the most part, words stopped having any visible effect on me.

Controlling your emotions to such an extent when you're barely into double-digit ages creates a lot of internal stress and torment. I quickly learned that being around people made things so much more difficult and at every possible moment, I retreated to the world of books instead. 

Bullying Doesn't Stop if you Ignore it

At age 12, I was moved in class to sit next to one of the worst of the bullies of our year group. I sat next to him all day, every day and I used to come home with lots of bruises on my arms because he enjoyed punching my shoulder. Eventually, after months of copping abuse, my parents announced that they had to go to a parent-teacher night and they asked me if there was anything I wanted to say.  I asked if I could be moved to sit with someone else.

When my parents got home, they told me that they'd mentioned it to the teacher and that the teacher had said that he'd moved me there because I was the only one who could stand up to the bully. Unlike other people he'd been seated next to, I didn't cry and I didn't seem to be emotionally affected by him. The teacher couldn't move me because nobody else would sit next to the bully.

It seems ridiculous to think about this now because essentially it meant that I, the victim, was suffering on account of the bully's bad behaviour. Regardless, I finished out the year in that position. 


Restoring Emotions

I was sixteen before I gave myself permission to cry again over non-physical issues and when I finally did, It felt like a dam had burst and I cried, out of sight of others, for weeks. It was a big turning point in my life and I emerged a very different person.

Unfortunately by then most of the damage was done. My reactions were numbed and while I'm now able to convey my feelings to a small group of very trusted friends and family, my general reactions in day to day life are those of nonchalance - unless it's an issue of huge proportions.

People often used to say to me, aren't you happy about this (insert whatever happy event), why aren't you smiling?  I don't know exactly what it is but I guess my face has a "resting blank look". Yes I was happy but it just wasn't showing on my face.

The same goes for sad events. Just because my face or my voice don't show issues, it doesn't mean that I'm not drowning in a sea of unhappiness or self-criticism. 

This is me in 1994, It's my ecstatic face. I'd found a Doctor Who museum during a trip to Wales.

Pushing for a Response

Recently I was talking to my wife about an issue in which a colleague was taking every opportunity to pick on me. I was putting on my usual "brave face" but was having some very dark thoughts. I was stunned when my wife turned to me and said, "perhaps she keeps attacking you because you're not reacting".

When it became clear to her that I had no idea what she was talking about, she elaborated; telling me that sometimes in the past, if we had disagreed on something and I was dismissive or didn't put up a fight, she would be so angry with me that she'd push me as hard as she could trying to get a response.

This was news to me but it certainly explained some of her "rogue" behaviour.  Perhaps it was the explanation for others too?

Selecting Responses - Or Not

In exasperation, I asked my wife what I was supposed to do for a response, cry, shout, somehow look dejected?

I've kept my emotions in check for so long that I really wouldn't feel comfortable letting them out, particularly not in the workplace. As for displaying emotional responses on my face, I doubt that I'd be able to figure out how exactly to place my face and in those situations, I'm too stressed and upset to try acting.

We talked about alternative coping strategies or other ways in which I could let people know when their responses hurt me. There are certainly some options available, such as telling someone that their behaviour is hurting you but I don't think I'll be using them. I know enough about bullying to know that showing any sign of weakness can make things so much worse.

I also feel that no matter what I did, I'd still end up being the victim. 

The best I can do is add this person to my mental list of rogue people and limit my interactions whenever possible. After all, it's worked in all other areas of my life.

Sometimes nonchalance is actually the brave face. 

Just a quick final note: Burying your feelings or suppressing your emotions is actually very poor advice but controlling outbursts and being choosy about who to show your feelings to is not. Make sure that you have an outlet. Make sure that you have people that you can talk to. It's okay to hide from bullies but it's not okay to hide from family and friends. 

5 comments:

Bob said...

Hi, Aspie here too. First time responding to a story of yours. I had a sorta' similar situation in my life dealing with others.Now, I prefer to be alone most of the time and luckily I can be, since I'm retired and live with my dog in a motorhome. We're traveling around the country.
I have these certain individuals or should I say I had. Now occasionally I'll run into some or even a group of them but mostly all is OK

Bob

Angel the Alien said...

When I was a kid I heard the same thing, or "Just ignore them." I took it very literally, so I mastered the art of completely ignoring them, as if I were deaf, not looking at them or responding to them in any way. That did not work at all... it just made them bully me even more, because it was obvious that I was trying to ignore them.

Mark Kent said...

bullying is very very common with aspergers .i was very bullied .i have aspergers

and m.e .i do a blog,http;//mark-kent.webs.com

i take part in a lot lot research

Dan Man said...

I highly recommend learning from Jordan B Peterson, the Maps of Meaning lectures on YouTube are great and the recent book 12 rules for life is also excellent. Many NTs suffer with the same issues so an understanding of the causes and adopting or adapting some of the strategies may also help. We do need to tame our emotions and primal instincts to bring order to the world but we also need to be less agreeable when it counts!

Anonymous said...

I've had similar things happen to at work and school. I have been thinking about this and believe often their behavior is aimed at creating an "in group" that the bully is a part of or even leading. Identifying and isolating an "outsider" allows them to do that.

This is one of their social strategies and they have practiced it enough that they know how much they can get away with. I do think these are learned behaviors that they don't consciously think about and that often have nothing to do with you personally (other than you being easily identifiable as different.)

What is frustrating is that people see what the bully is doing, but do nothing. It's totally up to you to either tolerate it or try to stop it.

In my experience, a head on confrontation will make it worse (unless it's physical pestering. In that case, get physical back at them.) The best result I ever had was when I ignored the comments, criticisms, and insults, but at an opportune moment, during a presentation, in front of a large group of people, I got up and showed everybody how much I knew and what I could do. He lost all credibility. This was at University though, there is more at stake in the workplace. You have to be careful about who they know and what position they are in.

Sometimes the subject matter they choose is taboo and difficult for you to address unofficially. Race and sexuality for instance. Thankfully, the workplace is becoming more reactive to official complaints concerning those.

There are other reasons for bullying. Once it seemed to be because my circumstances were so far outside of the other persons life experience that she really couldn't understand or accommodate them.

Finally, there are times when it really is you. Something you do irritates the other person and, in their mind, justifies their actions. You can try to accommodate them or just let them tough it out. If you can figure out what it is.