“I used a few of your pearls of wisdom in a group,” ShamanGal told me. “They all thought they were wonderful, that I was so smart.”
“That’s good,” I replied.
“Even though they thought they were cool, most of the people didn’t really understand them, though. Rather than letting them sink in, they just went on with the conversation as before, saying what they planned to say.
“I was just very aware of how much more I really listen now, after over three years of your coaching. I come with an open mind and an open heart, but most just wanted to say their piece, not to do the hard work of reflecting.
“How many times did you have to tell me that until I could listen to others, I wouldn’t be able to listen to my own heart?”
Kids can tell when someone isn’t really listening to what they are saying, can tell when they don’t understand. I don’t really have much memory of before I was verbal, though I do tear up when I think about my paternal grandfather’s one long visit, even though the details are gone, but I know my experience after that.
Most people, I suspect, believe that when they say something, they are heard. The world they grew up in was a world that centred around them, with parents who had the tools to keep a theory of their kids mind, listening and understanding. Kids learned to expect their sharing to be engaged and valued.
From the age of two, I knew that the world wasn’t about me. It was about my mother’s pain and my father’s distractions.
When people offer the kind of gentle affirmations that to most people acknowledge engagement, like “thank you for sharing,” I just don’t believe it. Those words don’t work for me; if you don’t directly mirror back what I said, I assume you weren’t really open, weren’t really listening, didn’t really get what I shared.
The solutions I developed when communicating with my Aspergers parents, the tools I used to be their translator and get through to them involve a huge amount of mirroring. I restate what I heard all the time, often even going out of my way to share the evidence and facts around the case I am making.
If I didn’t actively, actively listen and mirror them, I wouldn’t have been able to get through to them.
More than that, I wouldn’t have been able to train them without mirroring them. As they heard their own communications restated, they saw new ways to share the same content. They extended their understanding of how other people heard them, and got good feedback on the spin others put on their content.
I would love a good reason to get out of this basement. I routinely search through events listings to find places that might be good and affirming. To me, that means somewhere I can share part of myself, being seen and understood for something other than my surface, my externals, my image.
The need to be mirrored lies deep within survivors of trauma. That means, though, that I don’t assume that someone smiling at me and saying “Good point!” actually means that I was heard and engaged.
This is a problem in a social situations when most people just are able to do the standardized pleasantries, hearing what they expect to hear whatever is offered. They give what they can, share what they have, and that is a loving and considerate gesture from them, no matter how much it may not recognize our needs and our value.
My experience of not getting the mirroring I need shapes my expectations of what will happen in the next situation. While my assumptions are pretty accurate, living in them means that I fall out of the normal, simple, social swing that most people take as normal and healthy interactions.
If you grew up assuming that people saw and heard you, that assumption lies within you today. On the other hand, if you grew up without that kind of reflection, it takes a series of different experiences and a long time to move beyond that expectation.
Human lives are lived in only one direction; forward. We can never go back to a simpler time, never retire to something better. Instead, we have to create new circumstances, events and relationships which hold what we need and facilitate growth and healing.
The best thing about dysfunctional relationships, it is said, is how easy it is to recreate them whenever we need them. We pull out old scripts and recast the parts, allowing new people to replay old scenarios that affirm our lifemyth, our deepest beliefs about ourselves.
Therapy, or at least the kind of therapy that I have pursued in my very solitary endeavours, is designed to make us conscious of those patterns, allowing us to make better and more enlightened choices when we choose again.
Relationships, though, are never one sided. You can’t create them anew by yourself. We need the feedback, affirmation and mirroring of others to own the belief that we can come together in new and positive ways.
From my earliest days, I figured out that I needed to build a big array to sweep in as much information, as much human connection as could be gotten. If the best I was going to get was tiny bits of love, rather than the torrents of caring that many are used to, then collection and analysis had to be my first priority.
When other kids were learning to fly, I was learning to put my parents in context, filtering out the noise and scraping together as much of what I need as I could possibly collect.
The moment I entered school these habits set me apart. Other kids took the world at face value, but I searched it for meaning, for truth.
There is a classic story about me, at 4, telling my mother about a nursery school bus driver who took a banned route. He figured little kids would never notice, let alone figure it out, but he didn’t count on a kid who had to be an analyst at 3 years old.
When other people around me in school were just engaging others, I was scanning and figuring out the meanings, alone in my idiosyncratic pod. I was the kind of concept former you rarely find in school, as a 1980s boss who was trained as an elementary teacher told me.
ShamanGal knows this about me, seeing how much I give versus how much I get back. By this time, my scanning is so blazingly fast and astoundingly acute that I can get meaning in less than the blink of an eye, quickly integrating what I receive into a wider world view.
Standard pleasantries, like “Thank you for sharing,” feel hollow to me. They affirm my expectation that other people just don’t get the joke, that I am too hip for the room.
Creating new relationships, new possibilities where meaning is valued seems like a dream to me. Asking me to disable and destroy my highly developed scanner to get them seems like a nightmare. I declined a lobotomy when a counsellor offered it to me in the 1980s and I don’t see any reason to get one now.
I learned early to analyze what others gave to me because with Aspergers parents I had to. I learned to take what they shared and I learned to watch what they were receiving. I had to have enough Theory Of Mind for a whole family, which is way too much for one kid.
The wisdom I have gained offers me awareness. Sometimes I can share that awareness with others to help them see their lives in a new way.
But I am also aware that what I share can be challenging and baffling to others, because everyone heals in their own way and their own time. They need to be where they are now and will grow when they can.
It must be sweet to just assume that other people hear you when you speak. That’s an assumption, though, I never could make, from my earliest days as a child to today.