For some while now, I’ve been concerned about the number and frequency of quarrels happening in our autistic community, either between individuals or in various groups, and the resulting formation of ‘factions’.
Some of this in-fighting I attempted to address with my post last year on bullying. But lately I’ve found this goes even deeper and is even more prevalent than I thought.
Often, what I see is this. Person A says something to Person B, who then filters that through the prism of their own understanding – a filter that’s usually the result of various mistreatments they’ve suffered in the past. This filter tells them that Person A is being horrible to them in some way, or even bullying them. Maybe they are – and maybe they aren’t. It’s often hard for me to tell. (See my post on bullying, for more info on what actually is bullying, and what isn’t.) Anyway, Person A explodes, fires all sorts of angry statements at Person B, who then puts that through their own filter and reacts in kind.
One or both then go off to their friends, complaining bitterly about how they’ve been (mal)treated, garnering sympathy and a clique of supporters, few of whom, if any, bother to find out what the other side of the story is. Instead, almost instantly, factions line up. Rifts form, and then widen. Soon people on one side are arguing with, dumping, attacking, and generally hating on the other ‘side’.
And the original quarrel or misunderstanding? Soon forgotten, as the Other Person is demonised, painted as A Terrible Person, a Bully, a this or that, and on it goes. And because we are autistic, with all the perseveration and stubbornness and difficulty with forgiving that is intrinsic to our nature, it can be very hard for the individuals to get past it, and/or mend things.
Now I don’t have any magic bullet to resolve conflicts. And I fully admit that I too, at times, have joined these ‘factions’. I’m not perfect, and would never claim to be. I’ve also had my own disputes with people, and been badmouthed by them. I know how it hurts, especially when people are saying nasty things about you that you know aren’t true, but you can’t respond without making yourself look just as bad.
Lately however, I find myself pulling back from all of it, as it’s just too taxing (when you have CFS, stress is the last thing you need). So I’d like to share a few things that have helped me do that, and not get caught up in these things so badly.
If it’s someone else’s quarrel -
Firstly, take a deep breath, or several. Ask yourself if you really want to get caught up in their dramas. Try and stay calm.
Secondly, get to the root of the issue. Find out both sides of the story, if you can. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, but do try.
If you do feel the need to show support, then consider limiting your comments to the “I’m sorry you’re feeling so bad” type. In other words, don’t diss the other person.
Lastly, stay true to yourself. Don’t take on board other’s arguments or emotional states, no, not even to keep a friend. Figure out what YOUR true feelings are on the issue, or if you even have any, and stick to that.
If it’s your own quarrel –
Once again, stay as calm as you can, or regain that calm as soon as possible. It’s often hard I know, especially if some issue has been triggered, but do try. Meditation helps me with this.
Secondly, DON’T go badmouthing them, whether you name them or not, on your own page or in big, public groups, etc. If you must bitch, do in private, via PM or in some small private group, if you have one. Try to be the ‘bigger person’.
Thirdly, if you really can’t sort things out with them, and that’s not always possible, then just avoid them. Don’t respond, don’t ‘bite’ when they attack you. If this means you have to leave a group, then do it. Even block them for a while maybe, till you both calm down. Step away, rather than start a war. It’s better for your sanity, trust me.
Doing these things have helped me to stay, or get, a lot calmer than I used to be. And in the process, I realised just how often I’ve gotten swallowed up by other people’s issues. I now try to just avoid the more contentious types. I actually hate arguments, I’d rather just walk away, literally or metaphorically. Not to mention it’s better for my psychological and physical health to do so.
Maybe you’re like me, and hate arguing too, or maybe you love it. Still, it’s worth taking that deep breath or ten, before getting caught up in these conflicts. They have been known to lead to all sorts of horrible things – from general badmouthing, people being kicked out of groups, ‘hate So-and-So’ campaigns, right through to death threats even. It’s pretty awful folks.
Ask yourself, is this really how we want our community to be?