There’s a little back-and-forth echo that’s popped up between this site and Julia Bascom’s. This entry aims to amplify that little echo. Here’s Julia yesterday at her blog Just Stimming, after having thanked readers for recent comments and explained a bit about not having posted much lately:
“In the interest of directing you to something similar to read, an idea that needs to go viral, I’d like to link you to The Unbroken Spectrum: Stockholm Syndrome, over at Shift Journal. I did not write it. It’s important.”
The chain of echo runs backward from there to Julia’s Speech (without a title) republished here at Shift yesterday, to the “related” item I had placed at the bottom of her essay, which was my Stockholm Syndrome post that Julia was linking to. Their related-ness comes of the fact that they treat the same subject from different angles. Julia’s take opens outward from a more personal perspective while mine centers on parallels between hostages and autistics and expands to take in the whole of the spectrum. Both though deal with the breathtaking, terrifying extent to which autistics have been unable to avoid internalizing judgments made about us.
What strikes me tonight in fact, reading both pieces side by side again is how autistics are actually exquisitely sensitive socially. So much so that we are uniquely vulnerable to being “gaslighted,” to having our sense of reality undermined and replaced with one that better serves the purposes of others not like us. This exquisite social sensitivity has been explored by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg in The “Intense World Syndrome” Theory of Autism, where she quotes researchers who conclude, “the autistic person is an individual with remarkable and far above average capabilities due to greatly enhanced perception, attention and memory. In fact, it is this hyper-functionality which could render the individual debilitated.”
There’s more though. Once you’ve been rendered “debilitated by your hyper-functionality” in a sort of no-fault, passive process in which no one does anything to you, that’s when “debilitate” becomes a transitive verb requiring an object. And that object is you. It’s at this point that you become a hostage to society, not because you lack sensitivity, but precisely because you are so exquisitely sensitive, so eminently programmable — even when that program, reflecting the judgments of others, is self-destructive.
Yes of course we have strengths. We know better than you they’re what keep us alive. Know this though: much of what many of us do in order to live in the world is just pieces of suicide, just as Stockholm Syndrome hostages will self-betray and will a bit of themselves to die inside in order to stay alive in their captor’s world; just as autistics will smack their heads against the wall because it’s ultimately less painful than trying to convince themselves, let alone everyone else, that they are maybe, possibly, worth something just the way they are.
What Julia and I are both saying I think is that there is a cost accounting that isn’t being done here. It’s an accounting many autistics are acutely, painfully aware of — how much self-betrayal in order to have a place here, how much death in order to make this loved one happy — but of which non-autistics remain either blissfully unaware or, well, this is part of the problem too.
Autistics don’t really know how aware of this dynamic any given person is. Many of us though are aware that knowing-and-not-telling brings power, and that power is seductive, for all kinds of reasons. So having this seductive dynamic out there without being able to talk about it, without being able to hold others responsible to not require our piecemeal suicide, it’s … destabilizing. It makes trust near impossible. Which in turn makes intimacy near impossible. And that among other reasons is why, as Julia says, “It’s important.”
[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]
related: Speech (without a title)
related: Cost Accounting