To parents and adults on the spectrum: “If they don’t make you stronger, get rid of them!”
Life is too short and fragile to waste it on negative people who hold you back and drag you down. Whether you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, or on the spectrum yourself, you are going to run into people who do not understand you, with negative attitudes, who pressure you to change, or invalid your self-worth. People who try to tell you what to do, what is best for you, and how you should act. These same people well make you second guess yourself, make you feel weak, and can make or break you. Whether you on the spectrum or a parent to someone on the spectrum, the feedback you get from those around us drastically effect how you view yourselves. Individuals on the spectrum, as well as many parents, often suffer from severe anxiety and depression, because of constant invalidation.
Given that we are all somewhat a reflection of the feedback we receive from others, it is important that we recognize the importance of building a network of people close to you that accept and validate who you are, and what you are doing. Forget about comparing yourself to those around you, who do not accept you, and who do not help you feel stronger. Forget about changing to meet the expectations of those who do not value you. Your differences and challenges do not need changing, they need support and strengthening. Your differences can be strengths if developed correctly, and are only challenges because others define them as so. Those who focus on invalidating your weaknesses, trying to change you, and dragging your down, get rid of them!
You need to build a social network of a few good friends who understand, accept and validate you. Who support you and help you to feel stronger. Negative, invalidating feedback, will be all around you; however, it should not be part of your immediate support system. Whether a parent or individual on the spectrum, know yourself, define some goals and short term objectives of what you want to do, and where you want to go with your life, and keep you focus on this plan. Be very clear to people that you understand that you have differences, but they are either with you or not worthy of you. You do not have time for those who invalidate you, and try to pull you back or change you. First try and explain your situation and direction; however, if they do not understand, then leave them behind. You can only succeed if you have strong support around you. We all need help and assistance from others to move forward. If the person doesn’t match that need, then say “no thanks” and politely ignore them.
I know, easier said than done! We cannot always determine who is around us, who are in power positions that affect us, and we cannot avoid many of the invalidating feedback that is constantly bombarding us. That is true, but I find that there are three main tools that we can use to avoid being affected by this.
1. Have a vision of who you are, where you are at, and where you are going. Know your strengths and weakness, and how to use your strengths to better you life. Have a plan on what you need and where you are going. Have some long term goals and short term objectives to help you stay focused on your vision. This becomes important when deflecting negative criticism. The more resistance you experience, the more important that you have concrete goals that keep you focus on what you need to do. Without those, you get sucked into all the negativism around you. When you have a clear vision you can more easily deflect the negative feedback. Also, you have to have a concrete vision and plan in order to measure if others around you are there to help you or hold you back. They either validate or support your efforts (vision and plan) or they are not part of your vision.
2. You need to find a small group (only needs to be one or two people) who accept and validate you and your vision. If helps to have family members and close friends that support you, but often that is not the case. You may need to look outside your immediate network to establish support. For parents I recommend local autism support groups of other families facing the same challenges, and for adults on the spectrum seek out adult support groups or join clubs around your special interests. Find others who think like you, and/or support your differences. Others who define your differences as strengths, and help you develop them. It is ok to be different, a little weird (different than others). In this day of age, many find differences exciting! Seek them out, and surround yourself with them. Different is good! You may need to step outside you immediate family to find these people. However, these people will make you stronger, validate your vision, and provide the needed support to build strong confidence.
3. You cannot always choose who is around you. You may have invalidating family members, relatives, coworkers, etc. who you cannot escape, for one reason or another. However, if you have an image and vision for yourself (step 1), have developed a strong support system around you (step 2), then you can deflect and ignore the negative feedback you cannot avoid (step 3). You may not be able to choose all of those around you, but you can choose whether their feedback affects you. If they do not understand or accept you, they are not a “credible source”. You don’t have to be angry at them, just write them off as ignorant (not understanding) and unworthy of attention.
You cannot become stronger without understanding who you are, advocating for what you need, and choosing who will support you. You are always going to be a minority (as a parent or individual) and always going to fight negativism and invalidation, but you can choose to reject it and learn to build a stronger support system around you. However, you have to have a true vision, and a plan of action to move you forward. You may need help with defining a plan. You may need to seek out a life coach, or counsellor, to help you define that vision and plan. You do not need “therapy” for this. You need a counsellor or mentor to coach you in identify that vision and developing that plan of action. Whether you are a parent or individual on the spectrum, having help in developing this vision can be very important.