Who cares about what others think?

I seriously wish I didn’t.

Ok, so by this point, it should be pretty clear to my readers that I tend to stress out much more easily than most others, and that I am very perfectionist in how I handle many of my day-to-day activities. Additionally, if you’ve read “My Aspie Obsessions over the years,” you may be aware that I have a bad habit of looking up comments on the web concerning political or socially divisive topics (read the blog post if you haven’t already). It’s only recently that I’ve started to fully realize that these problems are, to a significant degree, caused by my concern for how other people judge me and how they feel toward various social/political topics.

Some of you who have been following my blog might not be too surprised by this, especially considering how I’ve said several times that I’m regularly worried about “not being good enough” and that I’m always trying to do what other people think I should do. It makes sense to say that this is partially because I care a lot about what others think and assume they “know what’s best for me”. It also seems reasonable to suppose that I keep wasting so much time by reading online comments because I’m so deeply worried about the views of my peers – wanting to see if my views correspond well with theirs. In other words, I seem to put a bit too much weight in the judgments of others, and refusing to fully trust my own perceptions.

Unlike many of the issues I’ve discussed before, I can’t say that this is a common thing for people with Asperger Syndrome. I have found a couple of articles* online that indicate that I may not be the only Aspie with this particular problem. Nonetheless, it could still very well be that this is something that I’ve developed on my own, independent from my disorder. Besides, nearly all of us is concerned to some degree with how other individuals perceive us, and plenty of people are interested in the popular consensus of certain sociopolitical topics. Regardless, I just want to make it clear that I am not suggesting this is something that all or even most Aspies go through.

Anyway, I will now attempt to explain why I concern myself so much with the opinions or judgments of others. I believe that my childhood may provide some answers. As you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly a very popular kid in school, and my behavior was often a source of ridicule from my classmates, as well as a source of frustration for my parents and teachers. It didn’t take too long for me to notice that I was receiving a fair amount of negative judgments from those around me, because I was behaving weird or annoying to them. I did not like this one bit, though I often went out of my way to show that I wasn’t affected by this at all. As hard as I tried, however, I could not hide the fact that I desperately wanted to be respected and accepted by other kids as well as adults.

Over the years, I developed an increasing desire to please those around me, or at least prevent them from judging me negatively. Simply put, I tried my best to do what they thought I ought to do, or what would make me look “good” or “cool” in their eyes. This applied to my friends, to my relatives, to my peers at school, to my teachers, and especially to my parents. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very successful in doing this most of the time. Despite my attempts to avoid negative judgment, I kept on behaving in ways that constantly annoyed, frustrated, or invited chuckles from other people. If I wasn’t causing my friends to shake their hands and laugh at me behind my back, I was testing my parents’ patience and driving them nearly insane. So in other words, being myself while at the same time being presentable to other people just didn’t seem possible.

In spite of this, I kept on trying really hard to be the kind of person that would make everyone around me happy. My desire to be accepted became even stronger over time, and I got increasingly upset with the critical reactions that I often received. This eventually caused me to behave a bit more submissively and apologetically toward others, going out of my way to not offend, annoy, or turn off anyone. Meanwhile, starting in my late high school years I believe, I developed a profound curiosity in how my peers in school and elsewhere felt about certain political and social topics that I felt very passionate about (e.g. LGBT rights, the War in Iraq, women’s rights, bullying, gun laws, and gang-related violence). For a while, I would sometimes ask my friends and acquaintances for their opinions on these issues, or get into a long conversation with them if they brought it up. If their views substantially differed from mine, then I would often get into heated arguments with them and tried to present my case as forcefully as possible. As a result, I had my fair share of verbal fights with people throughout high school and college, one of which resulted in the loss of a good friend of mien. I also got into quite a few arguments with random people online, often being the victim of falling for a troll’s provocative comments.

Then at one point, I believe my desire to please other people and my obsession with their sociopolitical viewpoints came into conflict with one another. I soon realized that it wasn’t possible to avoid making others uncomfortable or unhappy so long as I kept arguing with them and expressed my disagreement with their views. At the same time, I began to worry that I may very well be wrong about certain subjects, and I was losing confidence in my ability to evaluate them logically. Consequently, I stopped getting myself into debates with people about sociopolitical issues, and instead started simply observing what they had to say about them. This is what eventually led to my current habit of going online to search for and look at comments that challenge my own beliefs. I suppose this is my way of trying to be more “in touch” with popular opinion, as if I can’t be trusted to form my own independent conclusions.

In addition to this, I’ve become even more sensitive to the judgments of other people and anxious of their disapproval. As I mentioned in “It’s not good enough. I’m not good enough”, I keep assuming that others know better than I do about what I should be doing with my life. Whenever someone suggests that I do a certain activity in any context, I feel almost obliged to engage that activity, as if it were necessary for my health or happiness. Moreover, I continue to take whatever steps I can to make the people around me happy and respectful of me. This applies mainly to people who I know personally, such as my friends, professors, employers, relatives, and especially my parents. When it is clear that I’ve bothered them or they don’t agree with what I’m doing, I can get very upset. So I am always willing to make certain sacrifices in order to keep them from passing negative judgment on me; anything to win their full approval!

Having said all of this, I desperately wish I could be a little more independent and confident in myself. I hate wasting so much of my valuable time worrying about how my sociopolitical views differ from those of my peers, and I don’t like constantly sacrificing my own desires for the sake of making other people happy. Like many other individuals throughout the globe, I desperately want to be able to trust myself and not rely so heavily on the opinions of others. It would be nice if I could honestly say, “Y’know what, not everyone will approve of what I do and what I believe, and that is ok. What really matters is what I think.” I can guarantee you that I’d be a much happier and more productive person then!

*Articles on Asperger Syndrome and obsessing over other people’s opinions:
https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/new-study-finds-that-individuals-with-aspergers-syndrome-dont-lack-empathy-in-fact-if-anything-they-empathize-too-much/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/11/a-radical-new-autism-theory.html

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Not allowing myself peace: Anxiety and Me

Throughout much of my life, anxiety has been an unavoidable burden for me; a consistent obstacle to long-term serenity and self-confidence. No matter how much I try to escape it or reduce it by getting some work done, playing video games, doing a bit of exercise, and talking about it with counselors and therapists – it always finds a way to take over my thoughts and slow down my productivity. It is thus probably one of my more serious issues, and it’s one that my family and teachers have been trying for years and years to help me cope with.

I am not completely sure why, but it’s sort of like my mind has this continuous need to feel anxious or worried about something. It isn’t exactly that I’m always paranoid about the future or frantic that something terrible is about to happen. It’s more like I’m constantly under a presumption that there is at least something for me to be concerned about or something that I need to address soon. A lot of times, sadly, I cannot fully settle this issue that’s bothering me, or at least I’m unable to satisfy myself enough to soothe the tension. Therefore, it’s a little rare for me to feel truly at ease with myself or self-assured that everything is going to be ok.

I think that in most cases, what’s making me anxious is this lingering notion that I’m NOT doing what I should be doing. There is this consensus in my head that whatever I’m doing or wherever I am at the moment: I’m “not doing enough” or I’m “hurting myself” in one way or another. It doesn’t really matter what kind of task I am currently performing, there will be a voice in my head to incessantly remind me about all the other things that I need to work on or need to improve on. As much as people tell me to stop being so hard myself and not demand so much of myself all at once, it’s hard for me to let go of this ongoing sense of urgency; this desire to have everything resolved.

Let’s say, for instance, that I’m working on a homework assignment for one of my classes. I might be working pretty diligently on it and possibly even making some good progress on it. However, what will probably come to dominate my thoughts is the stress of my other assignments, other important tasks, other commitments- just about anything constructive that I could be doing. I will obsess over the fact that I still have studying to do for another class; running to do as part of my regular exercise routine; friends that I need to remain in touch with so that I have a social life; reading that needs to be completed for other classes; the fact that I am not up to date on the news; or perhaps I could be at some charity event that would make me a “better person.” As a result, the homework assignment will take longer than it should to be finished, because I spend so much time worrying and trying to vainly appease my own demands for perfection.

In any case, I’m frequently under the assumption that I am wasting time and sacrificing other things that I feel have to be addressed at some point. It seems that there is always SOMETHING for me to obsess over: whether it’s my lack of a fulfilling social life, whether it’s my heavy load of schoolwork, whether it’s a controversial social topic, or whether it’s my feelings of inadequacy when compared to other people. I can’t help but repetitively hear in my head: “Everything is NOT ok. You cannot feel at ease or allow yourself to simply let go. Something is wrong!” In other words, I always give myself a reason to be worried, upset, doubtful, or self-critical.

Of course there are moments here and there where I might be too distracted to be restless, like when I’m watching a movie or relaxing at the beach. Plus, it’s not like I’m so nervous and insecure that I’m completely unable to sleep or finish any task at all. Rather, my anxiety tends to take over whenever I am encouraged to add something to my schedule, or when I’m given a chance to analyze myself as a person. What makes it worse, I believe, is when I have a number of responsibilities and commitments at once, whether they be mandatory or recommended, and can’t be given specific instructions on how to manage them all.

There are three main factors that seem to be the most commonplace sources of my anxiety. They include tremendously poor time management, difficulty with focusing on single tasks, and lingering uncertainty over what I should do in a given moment. I might go over each of these issues in more detail in later posts, and I have a feeling they similarly affect several others with Aspergers. Anyhow, this mixture of problems not only makes it exceedingly difficult to avoid stress, but it also serves as a justification for having these fits of anxiety. It’s not at all easy to feel relaxed when you know that you are bad with keeping a steady schedule, you can’t concentrate on things you want to get done, and especially when you can’t figure out what you ought to be doing right now. How can someone who is constantly worried about their own productivity give themselves permission to calm down and go easy on themselves?

Fortunately, as of late I have found some hope in overcoming this cycle of stress and nervousness. After so many failed attempts in the past, it looks like my parents and therapists are finally starting to get through to me on how I need to stop being so harsh and demanding on myself. It seems that I’m actually getting the message this time that I don’t need to have every single concern resolved at once, and that I can only improve by one itty-bitty step at a time. Additionally, I am currently trying out things such as yoga, guided meditation, positive affirmations, and support groups. Trust me, to anyone out there who might be suffering from similar problems, these tools are infinitely helpful! Though my anxiety issues are nowhere near resolved, I have been making considerable progress so far. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I am able to handle numerous tasks without having to stress myself out in the process.