One of my favorite ways to explain autism is that it’s like there’s always a background program running, analyzing everything you do. Even as I’m talking to someone, my background program is analyzing how it’s going, what I’m doing, if I’m doing it “right,” and more.
This level of self-analysis has its benefits. It helps me to be more self-aware and think critically about things. However, sometimes the thing I’m thinking critically about is myself.
Sometimes my self-analysis can turn into relentless self-judgment. I’ve also read that autistics experience higher levels of self-judgment than neurotypicals. I think there are multiple factors that contribute to this.
The amount of “background programming” happening
We absorb neurotypical norms and expectations, and then assume we must meet them. We can then become upset when we cannot. There’s often a large gap between who we are and who we would like to be. For example, I would love to socialize well in groups, but that is not the case for me.
Lifetime experiences of being “othered” often cause us to internalize shame and guilt about our differences.
We think multiple thoughts at once (what I call constellation thinking), which can lead us to quickly find supporting evidence for our supposed faults and self-judgments.
Our overactive brains can occlude any of the positives or goods when we are trapped in a spiral of self-judgment (I write about this in my essay Sunshine and Detours)
I experienced a bout of extreme self-judgment when I was recently interviewed for the Autism Stories podcast. After the interview, I was especially hard on myself. I thought I didn’t speak slowly enough or with smooth or eloquent language. I worried I overshared or wasn’t clear. There was a lot of self-pulling apart.
Then, the interview was released and I listened to it. I was pleasantly surprised - even impressed with myself. It was nowhere near as bad as my self-criticism (you can listen to my interview here).
Experiences like this give me hope that I can become more compassionate with time. While I know I will not be able to eradicate all self-judgment from life, I do believe we can improve as autistics.
The more we drop neurotypical norms, heal our wounds of being othered, and accept our unique way of being, the less there is to be judgmental about. The more we do this, the more we will be able to look at ourselves and think we are doing just fine.
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