Sorry for Everything: Over-Apologizing to Survive with Autism

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If I could dispense advice to my younger self, I’d tell him:

“Bet all of your money on Leicester City winning the 2015-2016 Premier League title at 5,000-to-1 odds.”

Then I’d add:

“Get good at apologizing.”

Because if you’re on the autism spectrum, you’ve probably felt the need or pressure to apologize for everything.

You might contend that you don’t and you just “let people deal with it.” Ok, good on ya.

But if you’re not awash with friends or financiers or the kind of work acumen that would otherwise allow you to skate through and succeed in The Life Autistic 100% unapologetically, then you may be engaging in what I call “apologetic survivalism.”

Apologetic survivalism is saving face and preserving grace by being quick to apologize for the negative consequences of autism-driven circumstances — and I wish this didn’t have to be a thing.

I can remember on one hand the genuine apologies I’ve received as a result of others’ rudeness, shortness, ill-tempered outbursts, blatant insensitivity, disregard, etc.

The apologies I feel I’ve had to give on the same? Innumerable.

“I’m sorry for overreacting to this change in circumstance,”  I’ll begin. “It’s just that—no, I struggle sometimes with needing to adjust a routine really quickly, and I —” and by that point I feel stupid, regretful, and more vulnerable already.

But what else is there? Leaving a relationship strained? A bridge damaged? Do I just “turn off my autism switch” and negate where I’m prone to react to things that stir me innately?

I’ve tried; I’ve gotten better; I’ve vented in silence, holed up alone to send up a column of ire and flame through a silo.

It’s hard for us. We often don’t have the skill or social capital or charm to coast over our faults, and we can’t be expected to lock into a loop of apology for every unintentional transgression, aberration, misunderstood reaction.

To what extent should I apologize for shouting STOP in a din of argumentative chaos, knowing it’s going to trigger an untoward reaction from me? Or when I retreat from a group to ensure I don’t melt down and lose my bearings. Or step away from help under duress, knowing I’ll cause harm if I continue?

We can be sorry for when we’re doing wrong.

We shouldn’t be more sorry for who we are.

 

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