• Benjamin

Navigating Interpersonal Relationships

As some people are gifted in navigation, others cannot memorize a route they have been on many times. Different people are amazingly different in what they are good at, and what they are bad at.

Social hierarchy and structure have been present in human history as many different forms. The form it has taken in recent history has unfortunately been molded in a way in which many people are just tossed to the side. People excel in different forms of communication, but unless you can conform to the mainstream, there is no effort put in for you. That is why different types of therapy (art, music, etc.) has been so beneficial to a wider array of people.

Once again, that is why Representation in Media is so important; to show people out there that relationships are not always as simple as what is currently the ‘norm.’ People need to learn how to express love in ALL forms in addition to Romantic, including Familial and Platonic. Navigating all these things can be hellish for anybody, but the less of a cultural and societal baseline we have for learning, the worse we feel about ourselves, and less successful we are in making meaningful connections.

Past trauma and expectations play heavily on any relationship, so when you are already sensitive to certain things it can blindside the other. There was a lot of language used in the relationship that I never knew would affect me so deeply. It would affect me deeply because of the bias and experience that I had already faced in past interpersonal interactions. My wife, Kyla would have to bear the brunt of mistakes made by people in my past, and likewise I had to do the same.

That is not uncommon at all in relationships, especially those of the romantic kind. Things like this can create friction and turn petty squabbles into yelling matches.

For me, I had a lot of issues feeling like my opinion was listened to and valued. This was because growing up with Autism, you are often spoken for; people will make assumptions about you without even learning about you. We are often told that we are just too difficult to understand, when in reality we are yelling, into a seeming void, everything about us. So, when Kyla and I get into a disagreement, I get extra sensitive when I feel like I am not being heard.

Our solution to this was learning what things deeply upset us most in arguments. We broke that down and saw that many of our seemingly petty arguments that would get out of hand, stemmed from us feeling these issues. It was important for us to communicate these things, and actively work on them together. The more we were aware of these feelings, the easier it was to pick them out before escalating.

In these instances, it is also immensely important to pay attention to your own emotions. I am personally a very emotional person and the stronger they are, the more overstimulated I get. Once I am in these states it is harder for me to control my tone and volume, and I am less likely to listen to what Kyla is trying to say. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stepping away and taking time to de-stimulate before continuing any conversation.

Set up a way to communicate your intention to step away and de-stimulate, or places that you would for sure go to in order to de-stimulate so that the other person knows you are safe. This will help with any tense feelings that would otherwise arrive from suddenly stepping away from an argument.

Going back to communication for a bit. It is so unbelievably vital, and it is important for all people in a relationship if you want to create something meaningful. However, communication is often placed in a singular ‘norm’ and anything outside that must find a way to fit to be successful. Communication can be so much, and it is ridiculous that we must look at it in such a narrow way. Why is it always us who must meet 100% of the way?

My wife and I, in addition to some of my platonic relationships have found a balance and a way to meet in the middle for us. Kyla has learned so much about how I can communicate in different situations.

It was genuinely like we spoke different languages and had to learn each other’s to be successful in our marriage.

Another trouble that I have always faced in all relationships is something quite common in people with Autism. It is a trouble with our Theory of Mind. This is a fancy way of saying that we can have trouble understanding at a subconscious level that other people have lives outside of our perception. This can manifest in so many ways to varying degrees of severity but is unfortunately often mistaken for a total lack of empathy in people with Autism. Widely, this just is not the case; or at least it isn’t that simple.

Let us use myself as an example. I do not lack empathy, instead I have an issue naturally (without extra effort and practice) understanding issues that people can face outside of my personal realm of experience. This can manifest in several different ways. This one I won’t elaborate much on in this post; that is stepping out of my own privilege and understanding different groups will face varying degrees of issues from bias.

Another way it affects me is understanding that other people’s emotions and mental health are not directly attributed to my actions in some way. I can take shit REALLY personally when I see people close to me upset or suffering in some way. When someone I care about is hurting, often I will try to ‘fix’ those feelings because I also feel responsible for them in some way.

This leads to an important thing for me to learn: Boundaries. I can often overwhelm the person by constantly trying to ‘fix’ issues or emotions that often I have no place involving myself in. In these instances, I can often take on and almost over-empathize with their ‘negative’ emotions. This can cause my own issues with the depressive side of Bipolar, throwing me into the thralls of depression for an undetermined amount of time. Also, some things just aren’t my business, and it is disrespectful to insert myself into situations that don’t involve me, and I wasn’t asked to be involved in.

Speaking of Bipolar though, that plays a massive role on all my relationships. The problem is, when it is particularly bad, I will go through months of talking to nobody. Followed by time where I feel so amazing, I forget to take care of myself, and I make empty promises of “I’m better now, and we’re gonna hang all the time now.”

It is tough to be held to any routine, and it’s tough to hold onto relationships when your own brain can betray you and just sweep the rug out from under you at any time. Thanks to medication, therapy, and hard work I am at a point where it is not as severe, and I feel more in control of seeing it coming. It’s like I get a button prompt now when the rug gets swept out from under me.

The final barrier that can stand in the way of navigating interpersonal relationships: Energy Output. I only have so much energy to allocate each day. Different things will take different percentages of my daily energy output. For example, spending nine to ten hours in a workplace where you must stay masking and customers can be incredibly open about how little they think of you; that’s-a-lotta energy. So, when I am in a situation like this, I have truly little to allocate into things that are necessary for taking care of myself. Chores would start piling up, and so would unread messages.

It is important to find a balance, and it is important for society to let people strike a balance. Some people will also just take less energy to interact with socially than others, this can be because of your natural connection with them. This can also be because they are also putting in effort to understand how we think, and what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable. Remembering these things about us and genuinely caring that they are very real to us.

Remember, it takes everyone in any kind of relationship putting in effort and genuine understanding to make it succeed. Also, as much as we must learn for ourselves how to meet in the middle from where we are, that is not all. Respect yourself and understand that you deserve to have relationships where the other party(s) are putting your feelings into consideration too and wants to meet you in the middle and understand you. If somebody is not willing to do that, maybe they aren’t meant in your life.

Respect yourselves this week, even in the little things; and have a fantastic day.

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© Copyright 2020, Benjamin Imlau