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Please Stop Apologizing for Begging for your Life

You're playing on hard mode and you don't even know it.

This essay was to the subreddit. It’s been updated and integrated into the Public Neurodiversity Support Center and this is now the canonical version.
Since I wrote the big [editor’s note: that thread is really old, and a lot of my thinking has evolved in nuanced ways — this website is a better resource!] I've gotten a steady stream of DMs from people who saw it and thought "Huh, wow, all of this sounds really familiar!"
So they send me a message, and it begins with "Hey, I'm really sorry to bother you, but..." and then they tell me a story of a life spent learning to minimize and ignore their own emotional truths.
And then something interesting happens: they'll start a new paragraph, and they'll say something like "...and yeah I've thought maybe I was autistic before but it never quite sounded right, and anyway I feel like I'm just making excuses..." and go on to explain why they've ultimately decided that they don't have a good reason to introspect their own behaviors beyond accepting themselves as deeply flawed individuals.
Then there's a closing, usually with yet another apology for taking up my time, thanking me profusely for reading and letting me know that my words brought them a fleeting moment of comfort wherein they thought — however briefly — that maybe they were okay as they are.
And friends, these messages break my heart. Because I've seen enough of them now to know that it's a pattern. That pattern is this:
You grow up as a kid with sensitivities and interests that nobody else understands.
Every time you try to talk about them you are invalidated. You’re told that you're not making any sense, or you’re boring, or you’re weird, or you’re a nuisance and anyway people have other things to do. And in those rare occasions were someone does give you some time, they can’t understand why you’re so adamant about the thing that you’re fixated on, and eventually you give up trying to share your inner life.
If you do have some sensitivity that causes you pain (”the lights are too bright!”, “the sound is too loud!”) you are assured that you're imagining it, because everyone else is fine, see?
Eventually you are forced to choose: do you believe your own body's signals that it's suffering? Or do you believe the people around you that love you and who have trained you to believe that they know best?
So you learn to tune out your own emotions. You learn not to listen to your body when it begs you to change something. You learn that 'suffering but ignoring it and mostly functional!' is 'normal'.
You're still different, but now you have been taught that you have to pretend otherwise.
You are bullied, and all of the adults in your life agree that the correct response to your pain is some combination of telling you to toughen up and telling you that if you weren't such a difficult person to be around you wouldn't get bullied so much. “You deserve it,” basically.
The more you learn to abandon/ignore those things about yourself that don't make sense to anyone else, the better you're treated by everyone.
Now you're an adult and you've invested 100% of your soul into the idea that your own needs aren't real, and anything that actually reminds you of the needs you're ignoring is enough to make you feel horrible anxiety that you can't explain.
You discover that you not only like but need approval from other people. Especially from people who are withholding or abusive, because love as you learned it was withholding and abusive (even if it didn't mean to be - if being invalidated was a part of your relationship with your parents, you learned to love abuse).
Now you find yourself panicking at the idea that anyone might disagree with you or not like you. You cannot provide your self with any kind of foundation because you've internalized that nothing coming from within is 'real'. This means you can only look at other people for approval.
This doesn't work. You spend years turning yourself inside out to gain the approval of people who wouldn't spend two seconds really thinking about what it would be like to be you. You get tired, you get burned out. You still ignore your own needs. You start resenting anyone who doesn't.
Love, intimacy, certain sensory experiences, stories about being believed all make your heart beat faster and your palms sweat and what the fuck? Relationships keep failing, friendships start unraveling, who even are you? Why are you 35 and reacting to random shit like a teenager who can't control their emotions?
Congratulations, you've developed a form of Complex PTSD! It’s not unusual for people who live their whole lives pretending to be someone they're not to build up trauma after trauma until they’re ready to burst. You are now either avoidant or angry towards many aspects of a meaningful and fulfilling life, and the older you get the more confusing this is going to become. (Read Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving to learn more about this specifically, as well as how to heal from it.)
One day, someone describes what it's
. you read and nod and nod and realize, wow, wait, that sounds like me! That little spark of YOU in you that has been extinguished to almost nothing briefly blazes up! You reach out, you say yeah, that's me!
Soon, though, the learned behavior and trauma avoidance that you've developed kicks in. You can't hang out in this liminal space, you can't give yourself hope that a core part of who you are is just fucking different because that's terrifying! And so even in reaching out you minimize and doubt yourself.
And friends every time I see this I just want to cry. Because if this is you, you're not being weak, you're not making excuses. You’re probably stronger than anyone else in your life, do you realize this? You’ve been playing life on hard mode.
You're recognizing, through a lifetime of being gaslit by the entire fucking world, that you DO have needs that you've not been able to meet, and you DO struggle with certain things, and you ARE really good at other things - and that all of this is FINE!
But you've got decades worth of counter-programming in your head telling you otherwise, and if you let it it's going to sweep you off course and keep you from really understanding yourself. And until you understand yourself you can only love yourself in a sort of surface level way, mediated through the approval of others, and that’s a very confusing way to go through life. (It also makes relationships hell in all kinds of ways that are hard to reason about until you’ve done the work of healing.)
So let me just say this: if this is you, please don't. Please don't apologize, please don't beat yourself up, please don't feel like you're taking something from anyone else by acknowledging your own struggles.
You are real, and you are valid, and even if it turns out you're not Autistic exactly, you're still living your life in a way that will make it impossible for you to be the person you were born to be. This whole site is here for you, and I want you to know that you can heal from this!
Maybe start with and go from there?


Who are you?
Thankyou so much. I needed to hear that. This is good work you are doing.

You have a great writing style - fluid and authentic, which makes it very enjoyable to read. Recently received an autism diagnosis (43 m) and am hurtling down another path of intense introspection. This time, though, I think that it’s the right one.
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