Tuesday, August 25, 2015
The Tough Balance of Social Expectations and Personal Needs
A recent discovery in navigating relationships is the rawness and hurt feelings of other's who have social expectations of you, which may not be adequately met, despite our best efforts. An example of this could be a several hour dancing session, which often involves stressful variables such as strangers, fear of making mistakes, and the drain of being surrounded by people for a prolonged period of time. Each of these variables can act as a trigger, and stressor, to someone with Aspergers. Personal experience with this exact situation outlined the differences between a neurotypical and myself. On my end, I was proud of myself for putting myself out there in a social situation I would typically avoid, knowing it was important to someone I was close to. I was shocked, and hurt, to discover that being ready to leave after 2 hours instead of the complete 4 hour duration of the dance lesson, was interpreted as ungratefulness and self-centered behavior, despite stepping outside my comfort zone for someone else. I left feeling discouraged, and misunderstood.
While I make it a point to cultivate connections with coworkers, friends and family, sometimes it can be hard to find a balance between other's expectations, and my own needs. In the above scenario, I met someone's expectations to the best of my ability, truly, to my maximum capacity, before needing to shut down and remove myself from a situation that taxed my social battery, and when empty, triggered my anxiety. I needed to recharge, I needed the soft touch of the night air, after an assault of sound, stares, and sweat.
My advice to those who reach their threshold of social stimuli is simply to put in your best effort for people you are close to, but make it clear when you need your peace and quiet, if anxiety begins to settle in. When someone cares about you, they will often reframe their expectations, a theme I mentioned in my last post. Ideally, they will be understanding to your needs, and appreciate that you stepped outside of your comfort zone for them!
With coworkers, socializing often occurs on a less personal level, so find a polite, tactful excuse to make your exit. For example, after grabbing drinks or bowling with coworkers, you might say, "Great seeing you all, but I've got to get back and run the dog!" This will be interpreted much better than then bluntness around you being drained by their social activity.
What stresses you out in social situations? How do you manage this stress?