Handling conflict

Social skills are often a bit of a mystery to Asperger people. We misread faces and body language. We misunderstand certain instructions. We take a little longer to form friendships. That said, many people on the spectrum get pretty good at learning – or at least compensating for – skills like these. I like to think I’m one of them. But there is one social skill that I just don’t have yet: the ability to manage conflict.

In my last post, I talked about things that scare me. Conflict is one of those things.I sometimes wonder if it’s to do with early memories of family arguments, quickly followed by early memories of leaving behind everything I knew at the time. According to my mum, however, I was no better before then. My refusal to listen to any parts in Pingu story books in which characters got cross was a testament to that; my dear mother never tires of laughing at how often she had to change “shouted” to “said”. So clearly my personality played a part.

Is conflict particularly hard for autistic people? Look at it this way; any social interaction requires the brain to be on high alert for the implication behind words, and the very meaning of body language and facial expressions used. Now throw in some high emotions. Add a little anger, fear of making things worse, and a pinch of difficulty in expressing yourself eloquently. Sound hard to you?

As you know, AS people are often thought of as being logical and insensitive to people’s feelings. For me, the opposite is true. In the right frame of mind, I like to think I’m pretty logical. I can analyse myself, other people, and most situations objectively. Unfortunately, I soak up people’s negative emotions like a sponge. I’m bad at taking criticism, and I know it. I mean, when people have told me that, I’ve been offended, but I can believe it, with a bit of…well, objective analysis.

I’ve also had trouble setting boundaries for fear of offending, and it’s this that has caused many of my mistakes. At school, people would soon learn that they could help themselves to my stationery, or treats from my lunch, and be none the worse for wear. Yet anyone I complained to would offer the same crazy suggestion: say “no” to them, thus being selfish and hurting their feelings. I know, right? Unthinkable…

Fast forward to uni. The place where you form lifelong friendships. I thought the best way to maintain a friendship was to always put the other person’s wants and feelings before my own, and after a while, I became desperately unhappy. Which was a real wake up call.

I’d like to say I’ve learnt a lot since then, but I still find conflict hard. I want to be able to let other people’s quarrels wash over me. I want to know how to manage disagreements in a way that strengthens a relationship. But over the past couple of years, I’ve realised that standing up for your needs isn’t selfish, or unthinkable, because you can do so without tearing the other person down. Most importantly, everyone deserves to be heard. If nothing else, try to hold onto that.

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To the bride and groom!

IMAG0028 After spending at least a fortnight having nothing interesting to blog about, this weekend has been the stuff of legends. It’s not often that I allow my stepfather to help me fail at Ceilidh dancing (pronounced “kaylee” – no, I didn’t see the spelling coming either). And it was a once in a lifetime event for family and friends alike, but most of all for my dear stepbrother and stepsister-in-law, the newlyweds Mickey and Sarah.

Those of you who have been reading my blog since April will already know about Sarah. If you haven’t, she and I have been friends through letter writing, blog following, room sharing and, more recently, my visit to her student house in St Andrews. Thinking about it, her dating my stepbrother Mickey may also have been a contributing factor. She is also, next to my Grannie, my most loyal blog follower, as was shown by her reading and commenting on my last post even with the wedding day looming large.

My first memory of their relationship was of 12 year old me asking 15 year old Mickey to describe his new girlfriend, preferably without getting too sentimental about it, and him deliberately describing her as over-romantically as possible. Since then, other family members may have had a closer view of their relationship than I have. However, when pretty much everyone who gave a wedding speech recounted how Mickey is on the way to overcoming his fear of fruit and vegetables and how video games are no longer the main love of his life, I do know where they are coming from.

About a month before the wedding, my sister and I had the honour of attending Sarah’s hen party. It was an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party, complete with Alice in Wonderland themed garden ornaments and intricately decorated crockery with labels saying “drink/eat me”. Apparently there was a prize for the best decorated hat. Unsurprisingly my sunhat covered with foreign postage stamps, though showing my superior sense of originality, may have been put to shame by other guests’ mad hatter/wedding/flamingo themed handmade hats. The music was a combo of Disney, Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen, to name but a few, and I have a feeling this was Sarah’s way of saying a fond farewell to her favourite songs without Mickey there to intervene. All in all, a fantastic party.

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The wedding, on Saturday 13th July, was a huge success. The order of service sheets were said to be indicators of everything that would be happening during the wedding, but we all knew their real purpose: to be used as fans to combat the hottest heat the UK has had so far. As I witnessed the ceremony and marital vows take place, I was struck by how quickly the past two and a half years had gone since their engagement. I also felt a renewed sense of respect for how far Mickey and Sarah had come in their relationship and their obvious love for each other.

The Ceilidh dance was part of the wedding reception, along with cake, a bouncy castle, cake, getting reacquainted with Sarah’s friends, cake, etc. Maybe it was the few sips of champagne I’d had, maybe the heat was affecting my brain – but I, with my two left feet and fear of looking like a fool, somehow ended up dancing the evening away. And enjoying it. And leaving the building more tired than I sometimes am after a gym workout.

One of my favourite parts of the reception was Sarah’s sister’s bridesmaid speech. It was witty, informative and gave Mickey clear instructions on how to live with Sarah. So, to conclude, I would just like to wish Mickey the best of luck in finding ways to distract Sarah from things that over excite her, other than by playing dead or pretending there’s a fire. I also sincerely hope that Sarah is successful in preventing Mickey from naming their future children “Captain”, “Damaj” or “Danja” – I’ve told her she can go into hiding in my room until the birth certificates are signed. Mostly I would just like to echo what has already been wished a thousand times: a long and happy future together. All my love to you both.