Skip to main content

SELF-ESTEEM! Can you hear me shouting yet?

I cannot emphasise this enough: self-esteem is fundamental to aspergers in adults. Yes, it's very important to aspie children too - who isn't in need of some self-esteem, aspie or not? But for the aspie adult, it underpins every single negative feeling and thought process they have ever had. I'm not exaggerating.

You can be a fruity-loop aspie, like me, who loves to shoot off and do creative things without a backward glance and only half an eye on the consequences. You can be a super-introvert and only talk to those you trust the most, always conscious of yourself and your surroundings. You can be living in happy oblivion, just thinking you're a bit odd, like Great Uncle Horace, and it never did him any harm. You can be any version of aspie you like and self-esteem is with you every step of the way, like a small dog after your biscuits.

I mention my own version of aspie-ness first as, to the untrained eye, I am probably the least visibly affected by self-esteem issues. I go about my business, my mood swings are often on the up as I have filtered out any negatives from the situation at hand. As I've said before, in my life I have normal responsibilities which I fulfill to the best of my abilities. I don't look like I have self-esteem issues. If you ask me about something I'm doing, I'll usually tell you the positives and leave out any downsides, so you come away thinking I don't have any big issues.

In the comfort of my own mind, I also try to ignore the negatives and carry on as if life is a bed of pansies (last longer than roses and no thorns). I'm confident in my abilities and can do what needs to be done.

Yes. Hmm. So, has it ever occurred to you why some people are relentlessly positive? I am not, by the way. People close to me hear the other side of it, the downside, the worries. So, that means other people, who show their sunny-side first, they have their worries and anxieties too. But does the world see them? No.

Positivity is a brilliant, life-giving force. It can inspire people, it can carry you along in the midst of dreadfulness, it can be the fuel you need to get by, let alone succeed. This is the secret known to the relentlessly positive. You'll often find, if you dig deep, that the more positive, upbeat, annoyingly optimistic people you know have a depth of sadness within them. They will have experienced pain and loss. They probably won't talk about it often. They still feel it, though. The reason for the upbeat part is that they know life is too short, and sometimes too hard, to let the dark cloud get you. Keep moving, keep jogging, dance if you have to, but don't stand still or it might catch up.

What does this have to do with self-esteem, you may be wondering. Everything, unfortunately. For, while a person may elect to be upbeat after hardship, as a way of coping with life, it is their self-esteem which prevents them from coming to you, their friend, and admitting how bad they feel today. If they had self-confidence, you would know how they felt, they would tell you things more often. And then you could help them.

It's a sad kind of closed-off world where the more jolly types, always with a smile, are the ones least likely to burden others with their problems. You don't want to know about them! Much better that they know about you, so they can help you and spread some more positive energy about.

The reason for such spreading is that they have received rather less kindness and good energy themselves than they needed. They have been left adrift, in some way, perhaps by circumstance, more likely by other people. To be fair, if you are already the sort of person who can present a public front - and so many aspie women are - then you have not given others the chance to know you need support. But there is always a starting point for this front, for the pretence and the belief others won't be there for them.

As a child, it can start very early. Most children soak things up and learn quickly how other people are. They'll learn that Grandpa is grumpy and Grandma gives them cake. They'll know not to bother cousin Henry's chickens or he goes purple in the face. They know that Auntie Lucy doesn't like her ornaments touched, but will let you watch cartoons when you visit.

The aspie child is no different. They also learn these lessons about people, but they are already processing lessons about everything - how you cross the road, how to tie your shoes, why you don't keep your coat on indoors, how not to slam the car door, where to sit when you visit people, when to speak and when to be quiet.

Imagine growing up with so many ongoing lessons in your head. Each new one is added to the list and recited, consciously or not. A bit like an old film reel, it spins past, each image adding to the whole, each sound supposed to connect to the right scene. Then, on top of this, you must remember how to behave with people too? It can be a little too much.

So, sometimes, because of the overload, you forget about not touching Auntie Lucy's ornament. It doesn't break but she's not very happy. She's kind and explains to you how sad she would be if you had broken it and that's why she doesn't let you touch them. She promises, when you're older, you can hold them.

You like Auntie Lucy, you are horrified that you've upset her. You vow never to touch the ornaments again, and because you remember her being upset, you remember not to touch them - that part is fine. But you remember it was you, you forgetful, silly thing, who upset her in the first place. The rest of the visit is spent under a cloud. You know she'll let you touch them when you're older; this translates as when you're good enough to touch them, when you can be trusted. That turns backwards and comes to mean now, at this moment, you can't be trusted and you're not good enough.

Yes, it may sound convoluted, but the mind of the aspie is constantly turning, doubling back, re-processing everything in order to make it all understandable. Even if you do understand it, you're so used to getting it wrong, you repeat the process anyway, to make sure you have it right this time.

Even a simple thing, like a harsh word, sticks to an aspie like a burr on a dog's coat. You look at cousin Henry's chickens and he says, 'No!', giving you a look. You were never going to touch them but you feel the sting of his tone and his expression. It's a small thing, but away it goes, on the never-ending film reel, waiting to pass by a few times, so you can spot it amongst the rest.

You see, due to the over-sensitive nature of most aspies, when they are properly plugged in and listening, or when an event makes them remember something (like upsetting Auntie Lucy), they hold onto it like nobody's business. And you can't run that film reel in an eternal loop past your consciousness, not without a gargantuan memory and no ability to focus on the outside world. So, as time passes, earlier events are shelved away and new ones take their place. Strong, brightly-coloured memories, stay on the reel and pass by occasionally.

What remains are the feelings engendered by certain situations and the lessons those feelings taught you about yourself. You add the feelings to the image you have of you, the person, the personality. You become the clumsy one (this is possibly true) and the knowledge you are clumsy, or perceived as clumsy, becomes bundled up in the sad feelings from the past.

Without ever realising it, you have inserted a little, muddy, nasty brick in the wall of your life and there it stays, only visible when you go close up but still a part of the whole you.

So, by the time you're an adult, your endless learning process has already incorporated many negative lessons about your personality. You are always ready to learn more, too. As an adult aspie, you still haven't got a grip on the world and how it works. If someone says 'this is so' then it its, because someone else said it, and other people know things you don't.

I suppose it's true to say that self-esteem, for the aspie, is tied up with self-trust: you learn not to trust yourself, after all the times you made mistakes, so other people, by definition, are more trustworthy. Follow this on and it means that whatever they say about you must be true. If someone else gives you conflicting information, confusion ensues and you tend to believe whoever you're with at the time, being left with the negative sense of still not knowing who you are.

I don't have the answers to this problem, I'm afraid. I do have some answers for people living with their aspies, and who feel frustration at trying to build the self-confidence of their loved one. It can seem like, no matter what you say or do, your aspie will throw it back in your face, by word or thought or deed. It doesn't matter how much you love them or what proof you have they are a good, kind, intelligent, creative person: your aspie will deny it, even if that denial is only happening within their own mind.

You can't undo years of bad education here. Your aspie has learned relentlessly and is still learning. Yes, your opinions and words will be filed away on the current film reel, and they'll probably appreciate you making the effort. Unfortunately, they may also resent you for bringing up their personality again and harping on about how good, kind etc they are when they don't want to hear it!

Sometimes, at a later stage in life, aspies have done such a good job in learning who they are via other people, they reach overload and can only process new information which seems relevant. If they have bad self-esteem, then good feedback may not appear relevant, as they know good things don't really apply to them. This is why you will sometimes get the tetchy response when you're being nice to them.

What can you do? The short answer: not much except be there. But the long answer, that's a good one...

The long answer is great. Give it time, hang in there, be subtle in your building-up of your beloved's self-esteem. Barely let them know you're doing it. If you have definite proof of their brilliance (ie the computer is working again because of them), include the proof in your words. They may still brush it off but proof is gold to an aspie and often gets filed away when your words don't.

If other people have said good things about them, mention it at the same time as you backing up the comments. Hearing that more than one person thinks they're an okay person is often more persuasive. BUT, do not stand there, with that other person, and tell the aspie together. That means an instant irritation and overload - two people talking at once is a terrible thing! You'll lose any benefit from the negative reaction to being overwhelmed.

I'll leave it there for now. You can see by the length of this post that self-esteem is a major factor in aspie life and aspergers behaviour. I will re-visit it later and cover the areas I've had to leave out today.

I'll finish with one thought: aspies do not see themselves as being the same as other people, which means good words and opinions may only apply to others and not to them. If you say something good to them, don't make it a blanket statement of 'you are good because...' Instead, always say, 'I think you are good because...' Making it your own, specific opinion helps a little when it comes to them believing you. It's a subtle difference, but it can work when other words fail.


 A Guide to Your Aspie

 How to talk to your Aspie

My books and writing blog, with free stuff.
Find me on Facebook.and Twitter!

Popular posts from this blog

A Guide to your Aspie

So, you have your new aspie and are wondering what to do with him/her. Depending on size and gender, some of these instructions may need to be followed with caution but we are confident that you will be able to get the best out of your aspie for many trouble-free years to come!

(Disclaimer: we are not responsible for any physical, emotional or financial harm that may come to you when following these instructions. Once unboxed, your aspie is not eligible for our guaranteed swappage and refurbishment policy. Please have a good look at the aspie through the window provided before unboxing).

1. Unbox carefully and without making physical contact with the aspie. Pull down the box using the flaps provided and allow them to step free by themselves.

2. Allow your aspie free rein, to explore their surroundings. For ease of capture, we recommend not unboxing in an area that is too large or too small. Open fields would not be suitable, unless you are a long distance runner. Small rooms are to b…

Aspies don't like surprises!

Interwoven in so many of my posts and comments about aspergers has been the notion of aspie reactions to life, the universe and everything. It always seems to be reactions, have you noticed that? The aspie, in defence as usual. This is because we don't often expect the outcomes we're presented with, so we do end up defending ourselves against yet another surprise.

This is why aspies don't like surprises - every blooming day has them and they're very rarely nice. I don't mean that every day I open the post and I've won the Reader's Digest draw or there is a bunch of flowers from a secret admirer on the front step. Neither do I mean that people shower me with unexpected compliments or the cake turns out better than expected.

No, I mean the kind of surprises that are small enough to act like bullets, slipping through the mithril vest of aspergers and into the defenseless heart.

The sort of surprise that happens in conversations with people who should know bett…

Spotting an aspie adult

Have you ever wondered how to spot an aspie adult, at a distance, without having to get too close? It would be so convenient, wouldn't it? To be able to detect the aspieness before you are drawn in, before there is any danger of becoming part of their mad world and waking up one morning, trying to work out where it all went wrong and what happened to all your socks.

Bearing in mind there are always exceptions that prove the rule, here is what you should look for.

In the supermarket I often wonder if I have spotted a fellow aspie. Walking along the aisles, it's easier to people watch than shop, usually because I've forgotten what I need. The supermarket is a good open space where you can spot aspies as they grapple with the complex practicalities of staying alive by food shopping.

The walk: Yes, from a distance or as they pass by, the walk is a dead giveaway. It seems to veer towards extremes, either a fast paced booster effect from A to B, or a meandering wander with no vi…