Learning to Listen

Balance in conversation is an odd thing.

I often find myself somewhere in between two extremes:

1) “No one cares, so I’ll just keep to myself” and the tension builds, and it builds, and my sensory issues go into overdrive and my head hurts and my arms hurt and my feels like its on fire and the pressure builds behind my eyes and I can feel the tears coming, and then some kind stranger says “Hello” and I tell them everything

Then the other extreme which ironically has the same end result:

2) “Don’t think, just say it. Who cares what they think?” and I tell them everything and then I apologize for sharing everything and then I hope to God they won’t repeat what I’ve just said.

In both of these scenarios, both parties lose out. I lose because I made myself vulnerable to someone and I end up inadvertently hurting myself and I doubt I have to explain to you why the other person loses.

One thing I see that is the same in both scenarios, is that I’m not exactly thinking about the other person really. I’m thinking of how to respond to them. Big difference. This is something to remind myself. Maybe I’m too hyper focused on myself- ouch- you know this self reflection kind of stinks? It’s becoming more and more humbling.

People have looked at me and say “You have Aspergers? Really? I never would have guessed” This is of course until they actually try to talk to me beyond “Hello” This is where everything shifts from “She’s normal” to “She’s a little on the weird side.” and then “Gretchen? She’s nice but too intense”

I remember how many times growing up people’s response to whatever it was was a lifted eyebrow, a snicker, or “Umm, Awkward?” I remember wandering the halls of people’s houses at sleepovers looking at family photos and sitting with their family pet and not realizing what was so odd about it. But to me it made perfect sense. The dog seemed to understand more than the kids my age.

My brain makes word associations at a very fast speed but when I try to join a group conversation that is what I hear: words. So while they are jumping from topic to topic I hear only words or fragments of sentences “Cats”, “Music”, “TV show”, “umbrellas” and my brain races to find a story or fact I know that goes with one of those words. By the time I find a pause for me to speak, some random story about an umbrella comes out and the response? Silence. I still don’t get group dynamics, but I like to feel included.

This is where a new challenge lies that is one of my biggest weaknesses. I need to learn how to actually listen even when it’s not one of my really strong interests. I’m going to try this out. The problem I forsee is that I am not often asked questions, so I will need to learn to breath, and stay calm and put all of my attention on not their words but what they are saying. Maybe if I can let myself off of the hook so I don’t feel like I have to contribute to the conversation then I won’t feel this intense urgent need to say everything on my mind.

It was also suggested to me recently, that I try taking breaks alone at work to just be still and write. I found that thought very lonely and possibly another self fulfilling prophesy of my fear of being left out. If I go off on my own, I need to feel sure that I am not somewhere down deep inside wishing someone would come and find me.

Because I can recognize my fear of being alone, when I am not in the moment, I also know that if I go off to be “alone” I may be also hoping someone is going to come and find me. This idea screams “This is going to hurt you more than help you” to me. Some people love solitude. I do, at night, but not when Ive been silently staring at a computer for hours.

So this does not seem like a good option unless I can adjust it a little. Maybe I can go outside with a goal to get something quick done. A walk? I’m going to think about this one. There has to be a way to balance conversation like other people. I just have to figure out where that balance is.

My guess is its somewhere between really listening to others and keeping personal information to myself. Much easier said than done. But, you know, tomorrow is a new day. I’ll give it another try.

What do I have to lose? Don’t answer that haha. (No, seriously don’t )

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About Gretchen Leary

I am 30 years old, I live in the Boston area, and I am writing from the perspective of an individual with Asperger's Syndrome.
This entry was posted in ASD, Aspergers, Autism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Learning to Listen

  1. gardenlilie says:

    Hi Gretchen..I just read this n frankly I didn’t see an obvious problem here. Not kidding, maybe I have or had Asperger’s Syndrome. I think many people have what you described above, or maybe I come from a small town. Actually, I’m a nurse, a long time working nurse, n I do know the social fear people suffer from n others are so frank n mindlessly brutal in their speech. Maybe in our day, my day, we called it sweetness n angel like, people that are so dear. Society changed n needs to be more human, real, n get away from the coldness n callousness that it has become. Everything, TV, is breaking down a door, shooting, yelling, no compassion. A teacher can’t even touch a child n yet as a nurse therapeutic touch to a pt. in ICU was vital to their life. Thanks for your voice n poetry. In no way do I want to take away your difficulties, okay?! I only want to understand your affliction more. Thanks.

  2. raeme67 says:

    I have been told I am a good listener. What I try to do is ask the other person something to expand the conversation. If they talk about dogs, I ask something like, “Have you always like dogs” or “which breed do you like best?” If I know something about the breed, I will contribute what I know. I will listen for their response and ask questions to help me understand what they are saying, if necessary. This way both people benefit from the conversation.I hope this is a help.

  3. Gretchen, I have to answers for you, only admiration that you are sorting this stuff out. Riley (Aspie daughter) often says, “Awwwwkward!” when describing a conversation at school or wherever. She is seeing a behavior modification PhD who is helping her on the concentration front as well as learning to vent, to cry (me, I’m the waterworks; she’s the opposite), and to address your main concern: How to balance those extremes – the “full Monty disclosure” and the “hide it stuff it until it explodes.” Also, she feels pp do tend to judge her when she discloses her Asperger’s. I don’t get why pp are so weird. If anything, Aspies are often the most gentle, most artisitic folks I know. Like you, kiddo. Keep on writing, babe. Amy

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