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  • Writer's pictureNick Serro

THE REJECTION PROTECTION CLUB: CHAPTER 3

Updated: Apr 29



Welcome back to the REJECTION PROTECTION CLUB: a monthly blog that will take a broad but focused look at issues which arise from high-functioning neurodivergence as well as considering novel ideas about a modern reconstruction of mental health and how we look at it. No matter whether you have been diagnosed with a specific condition or just feel that things work slightly differently for you, the RPC has a goal of both further destigmatizing our perceptions of mental health and also learning how to actually see differences in our lives.


REJECTION PROTECTION CLUB CHAPTER 3

“INTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER”

THE UNDERDISCUSSED BARRIERS OF NEURODIVERGENCE


For our next section, we will begin to discuss some of the lesser known and further problematic aspects of neurodivergence. These include ancillary issues such as rejection sensitivity dysphoria, secondary symptoms, or internalized self doubt that cannot be seen in earnest as true "markers" of a condition, yet can truly can create far more discomfort than what is usually seen as the main “disability” pieces within neurodivergence. 


We can start this discussion by looking at the most common qualm that people who have physical disabilities face; ironically, paradoxically, cruelly, however you want to put it, the grand majority of people with physical disabilities report that they actually suffer far more issues from public misperception and social treatment than they do from the actual disability. It is the lack of allowed or perceived autonomy, the patronization, infantilization, complexes or judgmental preconceptions of others, and/or a myriad of other harmful and misguided “helping” strategies that are not focused on the person but rather the person’s inability to function in society per the norm of the onlooker. Ultimately, this leads to a very reduced quality of life for someone not due to the physical limitations that a person cannot overcome, but rather due to an external barrier of limiting and condescending outside perceptions that suggest it is the person’s differences from the social norm which lead as the presenting problem, not the actual differences themselves


When it comes to neurodivergence… we can unfortunately see many parallels. And with a majority of symptoms being invisible or misperceived… with new issues added to the mix as well!





SYMPTOMS YOU MAY HAVE PREVIOUSLY OVERLOOKED: 

“THE BIG 3”


So we will go through with explaining some of the real culprits for misery when it comes to neurodivergence. Note that this is just a list of some common issues I have repeatedly heard from the populations I work with, and the list is unforunately more extensive than just these 10. As stated in the previous chapter, it seems very common for diagnostics to be seen by one feature symptom– ie. ADHD is inattentive, ASD is social issues, etc etc– and therefore it is important to keep in mind that the following may be just as prevalent and arguably more internally problematic issues that often do not even get associated with the conditions that they arise from. 


We’ll start with what we will dub “The Big 3”


INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS 

Seen in: MOST FORMS OF NEURODIVERGENCE


One of the more interesting comments that I have consistently gotten as a therapist has been something along the lines of “I think I hear voices, but not like that”, usually with a concerned or panicked affect. Intrusive thoughts are most commonly seen to be connected to OCD, but seem to occur in most forms of neurodivergence, prominently ADHD, ASD, trauma-derived disorders, and anxiety issues. It’s very likely that most humans experience intrusive thoughts, but the frequency and extent of the extremities within the thoughts are what can create a far more uncomfortable experience for those who are neurodivergent.


Confusing as it may be, “intrusive thoughts” essentially describe the thoughts which we do NOT control, and come on more similarly to a sneeze or cough rather than formulating a thought we are intending to state. These are often negative, often taboo in the sense of being of gratuitously violent, sexual, dangerous, or other extreme natures, and can be very scary and confusing when not identified properly. Even after we can identify them, these thoughts often are the parts of our brains which “will not let us be at peace”, create rumination or perseveration, and unfortunately are a large vector for the next symptom… 


REJECTION SENSITIVITY DYSPHORIA

Seen in: MOST FORMS OF NEURODIVERGENCE


If you are someone who does not experience many or problematic intrusive thoughts, you can imagine it like this: say you are on some kind of team or about to give a speech or performance– you’re going to face your bitter rivals in a venue where most people will be cheering for the opposition. RSD is sort of like being in this situation at all times, and unlike some who will be further motivated by jeers and doubt from others, it is your own head which is heckling, discouraging, and criticizing you– much harder to not believe or create a contrarian reaction towards. While we can certainly build skills to turn the noise down, even to an unnoticeable degree, RSD is usually a constant presence. We will get rejected and not die; it is actually the rejection perceptions we avoid that start to constrict life.

 

The phrase “Rejection Sensitivity” is easy to misinterpret as someone who becomes extremely overwhelmed and inconsolable after a rejection– while this could well be true, it is not necessarily describing the largest barrier in full. What really separates RSD from the very normal experience of rejection is that the constant and unending presence of worry around rejection begins to diminish quality of life and dictate behaviors and patterns due to avoidance. The struggle of RSD is more precisely described as a constant and sometimes irrational fear of a terrible rejection looming at nearly all times, and it is the inaction that is prevented by this feeling which may be the most tangible discrepancy from the norm rather than larger rejection responses. To explain the chapter title and give an example of how this may be the larger barrier, ADHD is more accurately seen as an intention deficit disorder, as the process of initiation and execution of an intention rather than ability to focus on the intention is the actual preventative root.


RSD is possibly prevalent in most forms of neurodivergence not solely from actual brain differences, but rather due to more of an environmental influence– our vulnerabilities to invalidation and negative self internalization are dramatically increased when growing up with a brain that is not only functioning differently, but additionally when this root cause is not even known to anyone involved. It has been estimated that the average child with a developmental disability has received over 10,000 more redirections (“stop doing it like that, do it this way”, “why are you doing it that way?” “the way you do this is weird” “you HAVE to do this the right way”, etc) than the average neurotypical child, and this would make sense to explain a lot of the issues with both self esteem and not feeling good enough. 


THE GUILT AND SHAME CYCLE 

Seen in: MOST FORMS OF NEURODIVERGENCE


And just to complete this trilogy which is the bane of many existences, intrusive thoughts keep RSD a threat, and even when that is being managed, a permeating sense of guilt, shame, and similar feelings of inadequacy around our failures, our shortcomings, the idea that we have to manage these thoughts, or just simple existential dread of existence is ALSO a very common comorbid symptom with the first two. In some cases, these feeelings may permeate regardless of how well outside circumstances are going. This may look like someone who never feels they will be adequate or competent, an endless feeling that you are the burden, undeserving of anything in life, constant worry that you have somehow messed something up, or similar. 


Like RSD, it is possible to “lower the volume” on these constant nagging depressor feelings– but here we could argue that it is the constant mental energy it takes to continually and endlessly override the feelings of guilt and shame along with the damper that it can put on experiences that are largely positive on the outside that make this symptom most problematic.



SYMPTOMS YOU MAY HAVE PREVIOUSLY OVERLOOKED: 

HARD TO DISCERN


SENSORY ISSUES– MORE HIDDEN THAN YOU MAY THINK

Seen in: DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS


The topic that just keeps getting overlooked. I think the most universal way to explain sensory perception overwhelm is that everyone CAN imagine it– if any human had to go outside into 110 degrees Fahrenheit, 100% humidity, we can assure you would be massively impacted, and you can probably picture that. If any human stares at the sun too long, they will literally damage their eyes, and you have probably felt some negative sensation from looking at lights at some point. “Sensory issues” as we are describing here can be simplified down to these experiences happening at a lower threshold, and while the irritability can be clear in pronounced cases, neurodivergent individuals may not even RECOGNIZE that some mysterious, “unknown trigger” they have suffered their entire lives could actually just be mild sensory issues. 


Put it this way– you would see your sensory issue if you had panic symptoms in response to loud noise. But what if, seemingly erratically, you sometimes get extreme road rage when getting cut off and sometimes don’t feel anything in the situation? It is largely possible the mystery difference in this situation is that the times when you do feel road rage, it’s because the car is too hot, someone blared their horn, your clothes are irritating your body, or something similar. We are not usually trained to notice how minute sensations may lead to larger escalations, and even if we were, there are plenty of stigmas for why we “shouldn’t complain” or “tough out” or “be less sensitive” when it comes to something sensory related. 


While unfortunately there is only realistically so much that can be done in regards to minimizing or even avoiding sensory issues throughout the lifetime– especially considering social embarrassment factors– there is great benefit in understanding what putting yourself in a sensory– risky situation may entail, and great relief in realizing your emotional inconsistencies may actually have some kind of rhyme or reason to them. 


PECULIAR SOCIAL RESPONSIVENESS

Seen in: MOST FORMS OF NEURODIVERGENCE


This next one is very broad, but can make slightly clearer sense by looking at the nature and nurture sides of atypical social patterns. 


FOR DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS: Autism is a go-to diagnosis for any kind of social issue, but to expand on this, all brains born differently structured may experience differences in social perception. This may be more clear in seeing behaviors associated with Down’s Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, but may be harder to see in higher functioning individuals with developmental disorders. It is actually very common for people with ADHD to report not understanding the social rules, but typically in a way that could be described as “speaking a broken version of the language” rather than not understanding it at all. While these lessened differences do typically make it easier to blend in socially, they also can largely contribute to the “Big 3” symptoms internalizing within a person if they are not feeling fully connected or “typical” and can also easily create a sense of imposter syndrome within social situations. 


As will be discussed plenty as writing goes on, a large “red herring” to many cases where someone is high functioning yet does not fully understand social rules is the idea of “masking”, or learned neurotypical behaviors that an individual will present socially to prevent breaking social norms or being highlighted as different. With this interplay highlighted, we see much more risk for complications when it comes to confidence, identity formation, assertiveness, self-esteem, and similar negative self perceptions. 


FOR TRAUMA DERIVED DISORDERS: similar to developmental issues, trauma-derived neurodivergence conditions may struggle with social skills. But unlike these aforementioned disorders, the deficiencies are derived from environmental, or perhaps more accurately cultural factors rather than actual misinterpretation. For comparison’s sake, this could be seen similarly to how a dialect in language forms– the environment leads to an individual learning communication in a way that reflects the culture which taught it to them, and this may cause confusion and miscommunication when interacting with someone who is not familiar with the culture. Someone who grows up in a very controlling household may find far more thoughts “risky” to say out loud than average, while someone who grows up in a very emotionally explosive household may not recognize that their words or tones used in communication may be perceived as threatening or aggressive to the majority of other people.


The list of barriers that come from having a scenario where a person feels they should be understanding a social situation but do not see where they struggle to do so is extensive. Recognizing how our communication patterns differ from others and why can at times be entirely perspective changing for individuals who had never considered this as a possibility.


HYPERFOCUS AND SPECIAL INTERESTS

Seen in: DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS


A final ancillary symptom that may be more difficult to discern would be the concept of hyperfocus and special interests. While both are similar and perhaps the same neurocognitive process, the former describes the pattern that if one is genuinely interested in something, they can give indefinite attention and focus to that particular thing or activity than they otherwise would be able to give voluntarily, no matter how much effort, and the latter describes a deep interest, fondness and/or understanding of a particular concept beyond a typical degree that usually continues through life. From a diagnostic standpoint, hyperfocus is linked most commonly to ADHD while special interests are linked most commonly to autism.


To break the fourth wall here… I am finding these two concepts are actually more difficult to verbally explain than expected. Perhaps examples will do us best justice:


HYPERFOCUS SITUATIONS:

  • Someone who has never eaten pad thai tries it for the first time and likes it so much they order pad thai for 15 of their next 20 meals 

  • A teen takes a class about robotics and is extremely fascinated. She spends all of her time after school researching, building, and thinking about robotics. The teen ends with the best grade in the school in robotics, but the rest of her grades are subpar. 

  • A man sees a paint color he likes online one morning, the motivation to paint the house quickly overtakes all his planned tasks for the day, and he instead paints his entire house for the next 18 hours straight

  • !!PERHAPS THE LARGEST OVERLOOKED MANIFESTATION!!-- “How come whenever I get a crush on someone it feels like I am head over heels in love with them to an embarrassing degree?”


Hyperfocus is often acute, meaning that the extreme focus ability is limited to the scope of the task and/or has the risk of “wearing out” after so much time. Hyperfocus also is reducing the brain’s focus on virtually anything else– if you are doing activities so intensely you are forgetting to eat, take breaks, or even ignoring other responsibilities, that would be described as hyperfocus. Ironically, those suffering from “attention deficit” issues and “not paying attention” are most likely actually giving a lack of response due to OVERattention to another area.


SPECIAL INTEREST SITUATIONS:

  • The most obvious presentation of a special interest is perhaps the one with the most public awareness: a child has an obsession with trains to the point that they will only wear shirts with trains on them, most things that they own have some sort of connection to trains, and the child is exuberant any time he discusses the topic, often without regard for the social responsiveness of those around him.

  • A man has a fascination with the Civil War, and has read over 1000 books on the topic, attended dozens of re-enactments, and feels most connected to others when discussing the topic.

  • A girl is very immersed in following the WNBA, watches every night she can, and shows a profound ability to recall complex statistics, game outcomes, and player details with ease.

  • For a very notable real-life example, actor Dan Akyroyd, who identifies as autistic, has stated that his special interests are partially responsible for writing one of the most famous movies of the 1980s: “[symptoms like] my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement — I carry around a police badge with me, for example– I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born." 


Since special interests are harder to separate from common neurotypical “passions” or “hobbies”, the intangible sense of meaning, intensity and importance of something to a person may be our best differentiator despite not being measurable. It would be somewhat correct to view a special interest as a “permanent hyperfocus”, and both also share the correlation of seeing diminished interest in other activities outside of what interest the individual. Finally, special interests are not necessarily fixed for life, but often will be replaced with another fixation should a longstanding special interest stop creating the same passion to an individual.  



SYMPTOMS YOU MAY HAVE PREVIOUSLY OVERLOOKED: MISUNDERSTOOD



OBJECT PERMANENCE AND TIME BLINDNESS 

Seen in: ADHD, ASD


Oh man. These final two (three, actually) symptoms focus on areas which others may arguably see with most stigma and least compassion. And as is probably the case with the general concept of neurodivergence, I just ask anyone not experiencing these symptoms to read the following with an open mind and the understanding that compromise to both sides, not a drastic swing, as the ideal solution…


But in the case of time blindness: it is not inattention to detail, it is not entitlement, and it is certainly not a lack of regard to others time, but better seen as a literal inability to perceive how much time has passed or perceive how long something will take. In some ways, you could say it is the same as someone who cannot perceive depth perception-- things genuinely look completely different to someone who is timeblind. Therefore, these individuals often will suffer most from the breakdown in self-esteem or feelings that they are unreliable, even if they have improved strategies to mitigate the concept all that they can. It is probably additionally frustrating to the person who is late that they have altered the schedule, along with the obvious problems it causes to those expecting them to be on time.


And connected, the concept of object permanence is most simply described as the psychological term for the idea of something or someone being “out of sight, out of mind” or not. Object permanence as a symptom of neurodivergence refers to the difficulty or inability to perceive things if they are not present or apparent, which can offer further insight on how time blindness may be operating. This is often a major underlying root to many “inattentive” problems such as being forgetful, missing appointments, losing items, and similar traditional symptoms of executive dysfunction, but additionally may lead to certain social miscues, internal distress on not being able to “miss” someone who is gone, or even just general abnormal responses to situations in which we seem to feel differently than the expected norm. 


In the case of both of these manifestations, it can be easy for someone undiagnosed to feel poorly about themselves and even self-blame for their inability to do these things that may just be able to be managed at best from a neurological standpoint. 


NEVERENDING MOOD DYSREGULATION 

Seen in: MOST FORMS OF NEURODIVERGENCE


And as is most fit to finish, emotions are almost ALWAYS going to present differently in someone who is neurodivergent than someone who is neurotypical, and far more often these differences in emotional patterns are labeled in a negative or self-blaming manner than seen for what they are. Whether it is excess energy, increased inhibition, the need to work life around anxiety, or the damning, burdensome weight that we call depression, life works very differently for those who are neurodivergent and society is in many ways deterring towards our perception that we are allowed to manage these symptoms rather than ignore or push through them. 


When looking at emotional regulation as a concept, we are often (consciously or not) basing someone’s patterns around some arbitrary baseline which differs culture to culture, region to region, and even person to person. For example, you’d be a lot more shocked if someone who you have only seen act mild mannered and reserved burst into an explosive fit of rage yelling at someone than if you saw someone who you’ve known to show high emotions and no fear of confrontation do the same thing-- and this same concept is always true regardless of how well we know a person to make that deduction or not. To be more considerate of how emotions vary wildly from person to person and take more context of a scenario before assuming all large emotions must be the same is a sign of high emotional intelligence– but the ignorance of this viewpoint has led to many harmful stereotypes


All of this in combination with a very high misdiagnosis rate regarding emotional dysregulation being attributed to the correct condition makes it a little more clear on why it is hard to talk about emotions, let alone recognize the fallacies around why our patterns may feel “wrong” to us. But as I like to emphasize at any chance… It is those who are NOT acknowledging or identifying their emotional patterns which often create the most emotional issues.




SECONDARY SYMPTOMS CREATE SECONDARY ISSUES 


So just to review where we are at this point, while DSM conditions are accurately defined by their most pronounced and socially perceived symptoms, it is typical to see the lesser known or discussed ones create more permeating, overlooked day-to-day challenges for those who live with neurodivergence, particularly the unaddressed kind. If there was a way to look at this as one universal struggle, it would be that neurodivergent brains are running an entirely different system than the one which the world expects, and in almost all cases, there is guilt and/or shame in the neurodivergent person, beyond the baseline frustration and lack of accommodation, around the fact that their brain operates differently. For clarity, we will go through a few conditions and highlight just where it may actually be the small symptoms which ultimately manifest as larger, compounded issues in many conditions. 


ADHD

Core issue: Dopamine patterns leading to inconsistent emotional regulation


With ADHD, we really could put it this simply: the atypical ADHD dopamine patterns, in many ways, directly lead to behaviors which contrast a large amount of social norms and expectations, and this creates the conflict, self-doubt and misunderstanding which inevitably lowers the individual's quality of life. A deficit in attention is more correctly seen as inability to regulate consistent emotions in general, leading to a literal drain of capability to retain information without the presence of dopamine. Initiation, motivation, and assertiveness are all areas that ADHD individuals commonly struggle with, and this side can be explained by inability to rely on consistent emotional regulation as well as the intersection of rejection sensitivity dysphoria– if we want to do something…  the “anxiety around wanting it” is more specifically the lovely combination of internal doubt that we are worthy of what we want, the worry that a rejection which seems inevitable regardless of whether that is true or not will dysregulate us further to an even more “unacceptable” place, and the uncertainty of whether this is just a novel experience or something we actually want to do.  


And as for the inattention… it’s really more accurate to call it misappropriation of attention. An example to show this is that if someone with ADHD is hyperfocused on football, spends most of their time around it, understands the complexities and nuances, and also naturally gifted at playing it… you are most likely to see them as someone who is disciplined, responsible, dedicated, and extremely detail-oriented. 


Take the EXACT same person and put them in a strict, rule-oriented school with no football team… you possibly wouldn’t reach ANY of the same conclusions. 


AUTISM SPECTRUM

Core issue: Different motives and perspectives


Yet again, autism and the experience of being someone with the condition is really more about how the environment responds to neurodivergent individuals rather than the condition. First and foremost, the perception that lack of social skills must mean the person is suffering socially. While it is paramount to indicate that many, if not most people on earth do seek connections, and those with ASD find more barriers to reach those connections, the forms and frequency which people feel most comfortable doing this are usually seen through the neurotypical lens rather than a neurodivergent one. Especially in high-functioning cases, it is extremely common for me to hear someone report that they are not feeling socially connected despite making a lot of “social connections” with people– and this is often because while they are effectively “acting out a script” of how neurotypical people commonly connect without recognizing that their most powerful feelings of connection might just occur in completely different ways than they are expecting. 


And again in similarity to the ADHD issue, those on the spectrum are even more vulnerable to being misinterpreted if they just so happened to have “normal” tendencies– a 15 year old girl with autism who has a special interest in makeup and clothes and is good at masking is going to be extremely difficult to identify as such, and may just live life with a troubling feeling of never fitting in without any idea that her brain is in fact still operating very differently despite the facade that her brain is as typical as can be. 


In my opinion, a potential huge culprit for misinterpretation for how autism or similar conditions actually present comes from the overglorification of the term “GENIUS” historically– there are many examples since honestly the dawn of society where neurotypical culture has taken an individual’s earth-shattering discovery and dubbed them “a genius” in eternal deification without mentioning other equally important qualities that would make the idea that “discrepant intelligence may be a symptom of neurodivergence itself” much more clear. 


We know that Charles Darwin birthed the theory of evolution… but we do not hear about how he had very peculiar hobbies, preferred to breed animals than hold relationships, lived a large portion of his life as a solitary person, and suffered from insomnia and depressive issues. 


We know that Einstein discovered the theory of relativity… and we also hear “oh, did you know he actually did really poorly in school?” or maybe “did you know he actually didn’t walk until he was 3 years old? Crazy!”. Einstein is perhaps the most famous “mad scientist” of all time being known to have such complex and profound ideas that were very difficult for him to communicate to others and often presented with eccentric movements and tics. He was known to be a contrarian and struggled to articulate himself as well as hold friendships/relationships with people, and some reports even suggest he had many sensory issues


We know that Newton produced the theory of gravity… we probably don't know that he was considered “socially inept”, seemed to have no desire for relationships outside of his personal fixations, and was intensely schedule oriented and rigid. Michelangelo is known for his art… but his behaviors were described as solely focused on art, as he is described to have virtually no other interests, could not hold conversation outside of discussing his art, and regularly ignored sickness, eating, and bathing needs to continue painting without seeming to realize.


I am not officially diagnosing any of these historical figures; they are long dead and that is highly unethical. I am also certainly not arguing high intelligence as an expected manifestation of autism– that is harmfully damaging the other direction. But I do feel it is important to highlight that with the genius label… also came other deficits which assuredly reduced the quality of life and prevented another important connection that people who are of discrepant intellect tend to see other peculiar barriers in other facets of life. 


TRAUMA

Core issue: Brain is hyper protective regardless of real or perceived threat


And finally, trauma actually has an official term for a more accurate way to look at its roots in the concept of being trauma informed– most commonly, this is described as considering what happened to a person rather than why a person is acting maladaptively. The most critical (and difficult!) piece of accepting trauma from the inside comes down to understanding that traumatic responses are actually our body trying to PROTECT us… just presenting in a manner that is probably not appropriately matching the actual threat and therefore creating distress. While people may use harmful oversimplifications such as “hurt people hurt people”, the most important thing to remember in the case of any kind of traumatic response is that the person experiencing it is not doing so to attack, but rather in misguided attempt to defend. While certainly this is not an excuse or reasoning to justify any negative behaviors, it is important to recognize that a person who has learned to manage their trauma… first had to accept and understand its positive function before reducing the negative was an option. 


Trauma, along with most neurodivergence, also suffers from extreme stereotypes on both ends. It is unfortunately uncommon for trauma to be seen as either overblown or repressed; whether it is the dreaded ‘tik tok’ issue of those misinterpreting and "watering down" the definition of trauma, the hardened ex-military who “will never let it out”, or similar, there is plenty of reason to both hide and ignore our internal feelings around it. Trauma also can become harder to perceive when it presents itself in its many uncommon forms, when our experience is not validated around it, and/or we feel that we should just “suck it up” or “others have it way worse”. While there is nuance and truth around all of this, the bottom line is that we could certainly be more accepting and believing of others as well destigmatizing the idea that someone who would like to seek trauma healing has to hit a certain threshold to ‘deserve’ that. 


A PERFECT MIDDLE GROUND?

MASKING, ISOLATING, AND INTEGRATION


So I will pause here to say that this next point is one of the most important ones which can be drawn from this entire writing series. The nuanced understanding of this following idea is essentially what can allow someone who relates to the concepts of this writing to actually flourish and feel more assertiveness and autonomy throughout their lives. As with anything that holds a promise as enticing as this one, the task to find balance requires a great amount of work. But for simplicity, you can broadly look at the choice of how a neurodivergent person presents themselves in three ways: 


there is MASKING, or following the rules, norms, or 'script' of a situation for the lowest possible risk of being seen as different from others. Masking is safe, but masking is sometimes entirely suppressive of a person’s actual wants, or even needs. A person who is masking is objectively not presenting as their genuine self, so while comfort around masking is variable by individual, there is a very high chance that the person masking is not having the fullest or desired experience. A person who is masking too often may begin to feel that they don’t know themselves, can’t be themselves, and certainly will at the very least feel misunderstood. 


While masking may lead to far more interactions and connections, and that is probably “worth it” in many facets,  it is very common for a neurodivergent person to have altered or tailored their engagement to each individual person rather than show their “true self”-- obviously, this creates a lot of vulnerability via extreme people pleasing or disingenuous interaction, let alone the simple confusion and anxiety around identity. In dating, or even friendship situations, individuals who are masking are more prone to enmeshment and codependence, and ultimately in extreme cases these individuals may be actual cases of the cliche moment where someone realizes “my whole life is a lie.”


While masking is a crucial and important skill in many, many facets– an overcorrection of masking is also likely one of the largest and most misunderstood barriers to a neurodivergent person having the fullest understanding of self. 


However, on the other end of this spectrum, those who do not want to / do not understand how to mask to a degree which allows them to relate to others, we unfortunately can see the opposite extreme in ISOLATION


While many factors can lead to isolation, it is probably safe to say that most of the roots start with the isolated individual, in some form, not seeing a value in interacting. In the case of neurodivergence, isolation may be a choice, but likely a choice made out of the pain of failed interactions and not feeling connected rather than actual decision around what is most desired. A person may even still be interacting with others and feeling isolated if they become aware and disheartened by recognizing they are simply reading a script or just fail to feel any sense of connection. Isolation may be the only choice which feels safe, comfortable, or nonjudgmental, and some may become isolated due to unhealthy relationships with other activities or substances– again, likely due to feeling more connection with that than they have in interactions. 


As if isolation was not already one of the more difficult human emotions to cope with naturally, the person may feel even worse if others begin to notice and troubleshoot. “Just be more open to making friends! Put yourself out there!” is assuredly quality advice in many scenarios– it is potentially extremely harmful if told to someone who has continuously done that and received no reciprocal joy or success in making attempts to connect. Isolation is often just the last case scenario for someone who has not figured out how to connect in a way that is meaningful to them– not necessarily because they have not tried or do not know the strategies you may suggest


But of course, INTEGRATION is both ideal and possible. In my work with neurodivergent populations I have started to look at the idea that “people go to therapy to change” is actually better put as “people go to therapy to build confidence in what they already have but don’t know how to show”. Changing from a neurodivergent mentality… is in fact just masking, that thing we have probably gotten very good at in response to wanting to fit in and appear “normal”. Integration is the final step which takes our understanding and acceptance of our own wants and needs, considers what is realistically needed or expected in the culture of the environment they may be in, and finds an AUTONOMOUS way to blend the two where they can comfortably exist as themselves in the societal structure with boundaries around areas which may feel more uncomfortable and recognition of parts that realistically are still vital to the individual even if they do not feel as natural.


Autonomy is the key, however– there is a perception-shifting difference between someone behaving in a way they feel is going to best suit them and behaving that exact same way out of fear they will be judged or rejected otherwise. 




CHAPTER 3 IN REVIEW


I will reiterate once more that the purpose of this chapter is to highlight and possibly validate how lesser known, secondary symptoms of neurodivergence may be manifesting, not to argue that these symptoms should be the main criteria nor that they should be seen with special treatment by anyone but ourselves. To go back to the initial quote given for this series from activist Nick Walker: “neurodiversity is not about changing people. It is about changing society’s perception of people”.


If you have experienced any of these described situations or even just related to the scenarios, I again emphasize that this does not mean you need to make any drastic moves or changes– but rather to consider that the root of some of our self-imposed or self-blamed “weird issues”... may not really be so self imposed, strange or uncommon as we may feel them to be. 


To conclude this section, we will again mention that compromise to both sides– demanding neurodiverse needs to be seen and met is not much different the current expectation of neurotypical norms being imposed upon them– is going to be the best solution to destigmatization and expansion of opportunities. To look at people with less of a fixed mentality based on label and being more open to their own personal emotional experience is a great way to encourage the bridge between both sides. 



WHAT’S COOKING FOR NEXT MONTH 

THE REJECTION PROTECTION CLUB CHAPTER 4: “ALL I CAN DO IS BE ME– WHOEVER THAT IS”

For the next section, we will begin to discuss identity and perception factors for neurodivergent individuals and delve further into the many-faceted issues which come from trying to identify as something that some may not believe, some may judge, and nobody can really give a clear definition around. 



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For more information on Connected Roots or Nick Serro, please visit our website or contact us at 720-593-1062.


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