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Failed relationships & neurodivergence

Ahh, the wonderful weekend. I hope you're having a brilliant one so far.

This week, for something different, the team and I decided we'd share a conversation with community from my Facebook page this past week.

We touched on the challenging and raw topic of failed relationships and neurodivergence.

So, instead of me monologuing at you in a blog post this week, I'm sharing with you the video and transcript below of our my engagement with community; which I try and immerse myself in every single week.

If you have a topic you'd like to hear discussed, feel free to send it in by responding to this email.

 

-KF x


 

 

Transcript:

Kristy Forbes:

Good afternoon, everybody. I wanted to come on today and talk about something that happens so much for neurodivergent people. And that is, huh, the good old ending or failed friendships. I wanted to talk about, you know, when relationships end, all kinds of relationships. So whether they be romantic relationships or friendships, or business relationships, and all different kinds of reasons why they end. Sometimes it's because something went wrong and we don't know what it is. Sometimes people ghost one another. I can honestly say I've probably been in all of those categories. The tricky thing being neurodivergent for me in my own personal experience, particularly being PDA-er, is that my threat response is heightened all of the time.

Kristy Forbes:
And so when I come into a new relationship with another person, my brain automatically scans for all the things that could go wrong. Any teeny-tiny mistakes, something that someone says that might be triggering, anything. My brain just scans to assess for potential risk basically in other people. That doesn't mean that I believe it. It doesn't mean that I consciously agree with it or accept it. I've learnt now as a 42-year-old adult woman that that's what my brain does and that's okay and I accept that, but I don't have to buy into it. But there also is the importance of knowing the difference between intuition and trauma. Because when we've had this long backstory of traumatic, failed relationships with friends, employees or employers, colleagues relationships, family, all of that. And if you're neurodivergent, the likelihood of you having experienced that is far higher than the general population.

Kristy Forbes:
Sometimes we have this history of trauma behind that. And that can actually really be hard for us to go into new relationships with, when we have fears and phobias and sometimes rational anxiety about, you know, the same things happening again. So something that happens with autistic folks like myself, is, you know, we often are very loyal, and very enthusiastic in our friendships or relationships. And for me, I have such an intense depth and range of emotions and emotional experience, and thinking and analyzing my feelings consume me in a good way. Um, so when I love someone, I really love someone. When I'm hurt, I'm really hurt. But I've had to learn throughout my life to not jump in really, really quickly. And to just, you know, be cool, man be cool. It doesn't come naturally to me at all.

Kristy Forbes:
As soon as I make a connection, I'm like, "Yes, friend for life." And I remember being younger, and going into romantic relationships. And in my head, you know, I've got the future just planned out (laughs). And I wanna be real about this. I wanna talk about this because, you know, yes, there's embarrassment in there. And yes, there's shame in there, but this is very real. And I think it's a beautiful thing. I think it's a beautiful thing that we have so much love to give, but also alongside that is sometimes that we've been abandoned and rejected and disapproved of, and we've not experienced unconditional love. And so, you know, our brain latches on to the next best thing, or what we've had before, which is not always a good thing.

Kristy Forbes:
So, you know, for me today, I've been thinking a lot about maybe feeling a bit down actually, you know, when you just have those days and been thinking a lot about past friendships falling out. And, you know, this will probably be a part of my life moving forward as well because I am near to virgin. So, you know, reflecting today about the sadness that comes along with people ghosting us, or all of a sudden people not being close with us anymore or not wanting to hang out with us. Or, you know, for some of us, it goes back to childhood, primary school, where our friend's parents said, "No, you're not to hang out with that person anymore." Ooh, and that did happen, that did happen for me more than once.

Kristy Forbes:
What makes this harder, so we don't always get answers. And for me, part of my autistic expression is that I am a communicator, and I really feel safer with people when they are communicators, when they come to me and they tell me everything. Whenever people apologize to me for going off on a rant or saying too much, ooh, that is my, that's my love language. Communication. Because the other side of that is abandonment, absolute abandonment. And when I don't know why somebody doesn't want to be my friend anymore, why somebody doesn't want to talk to me anymore, then I internalize that it's being about me.

Kristy Forbes:
And here's the important thing that I was thinking about today. I do that because I'm autistic, ADHD, PDA, traumatized. I do that because I have a lifelong history of failed relationships. I also have great relationships that haven't failed, but I also have (laughs) a lot of friendships that haven't worked out. And it's not always about the other person ghosting me or not wanting to be my friend anymore. A lot of the time, it's me, too. I've been guilty of this. And here's what I've learned along the way. Not everybody has the ability to communicate, not everybody feels safe to communicate honestly. Not everybody feels able or is able to sit with uncomfortable feelings and have uncomfortable conversations.

Kristy Forbes:
I am the kind of person where I can have an issue or a hiccup or a really challenging period in a relationship with somebody and be able to say, "Hey, I need space right now." But when I say, "Hey, I need space right now," I genuinely sincerely mean exactly what I say, "I need space right now." That means I want to come back to this when I'm in a better space to talk about it, to process it, to move through it, to learn from it, to move forward in our friendship. But I recognize that not everybody is up for that. For many of us, we have that trauma. So what that means is when somebody says to us, "Hey, I need space," there is an excruciating experience of rejection. And especially, and I can already see people mentioning it there [inaudible 00:08:08], trauma mixed with rejection, sensitive dysphoria is so real. And it really, really is.

Kristy Forbes:
And I think that in neurodivergent spaces, there is this overlapping of all of that, the trauma, the rejection, the abandonment, the disapproval, and also so much internalized ableism. Today, I was thinking about this, and how I've had these experiences, even recently, really recently, and you know, I could spend hours and hours and hours and hours and hours like I have in the past, analyzing, going back through the entire history of my connection with these people and going, "What about when I said that? Maybe that wasn't okay." Or maybe they've become friends with that person who I'm not friends with anymore and they said something about me to that person, and they're believing it. And instead of communicating with me, they're just gonna ghost me or not be my friend anymore.
Maybe I'm too much. Maybe I laugh too loud. Maybe I find things funny that they don't find funny. Maybe I triggered them and they're too scared to tell me."

I could do that. It's- it's my natural way to do that as an autistic person with trauma, but I consistently practice now, radical acceptance. Acceptance of what is and I open up a conversation with myself. And I do that through drawing, writing, processing, feeling, feeling the pain and the sadness, and not getting into, "Well, you know, I've had so many friendships that haven't worked out, it must be me." Because that's not necessarily true. We all have different ways. We all have different experiences that we bring, and sometimes it's not just about us or one person.

Kristy Forbes:
So when I have friends now, and for whatever reason it ends, I still hold that person in my heart, and I love them. And I still celebrate their achievements, their successes. I still wish all the very best for them, and I radically accept that the relationship won't be moving forward and I don't have to beat up on myself over that. I just don't have to do that. Because doing that, obliterating myself, turning on myself, being ableist toward myself, discriminating against myself, is not gonna change anything. If anything, I'll move forward with this additional trauma, thinking poorly of myself with really low self-esteem and taking that, taking those wounds into new relationships, and being afraid that those things are going to happen again.

Kristy Forbes:
So I try and learn, I try and learn that not all relationships are forever. And I am grateful and thankful for the relationships that I have had and do have with others, because I always take away something positive. Unless it's an abusive relationship, let's be real. But it is so hard, it's so hard, and it's just not always about us.

Kristy Forbes:
You know, there are people that exist in the world that struggle with the word, no. And there are relationships that we will have with people, where they will accept us and love us until we say no. And then we might see a completely different person. Relationships are so very complex, so complex.

Kristy Forbes:
Nellie says, "My little nine-year-old PDA-er said the other day, 'If you're too much for someone, it means they're not enough for you.'" 

Kristy Forbes:
Yeah, maybe they're not enough for themselves. You know, that's really important, too, our relationship with ourselves. We take a lot of that stuff into relationships with others.

Kristy Forbes:
But also there's growth, there's personal growth, and knowing that I can't stay in- in particular environments, in particular crowds anymore. And an example for that, example of that, for me, is, um, the transition from being in immersed in the medical disorder model of autism community, and transitioning out of that into the neurodiversity paradigm. There was a lot of grief and sadness in that for me, because it meant leaving a lot of relationships, not attending, uh, groups anymore with other parents, because I just wasn't getting anything positive out of those spaces anymore. It was just doom and gloom and grief and sadness, and there is a place for that, but there's also an important place to be moving forward and celebrating ourselves and our children. So sometimes it's just about self-development and knowing that spaces we exist in no longer serve us and it's time to move forward. It's not always personal.

Kristy Forbes:
I remember the amount of times when I would, I would say to myself in internalized shame, gross shame, sitting in shame for who I was. I would say to myself, "Right, that's it. My mission from here on is to not be as intense. Don't help people so much. Don't love people so hard. Don't think so much. Don't feel so deeply. Don't care so much. Just dial it back. Be Cool. Just be cool." How boring is that? How boring is that?! (laughs)

Kristy Forbes:
And now that I'm immersed in neurodivergent community, I know that I don't have to dial back. I don't have to be cool. It's not coolness, it's boring. Honestly, mm-hmm, taking responsibility for everyone in the world. We find each other, you know... When we ground ourselves in our community, we find each other. That doesn't mean that everybody in the neurodivergent community are our people, because we're still just people at the end of the day. We're not saints because we're autistic. We're not these amazing human beings that never do anything wrong or, you know, don't make mistakes or mistreat people. We're humans. It's about finding people that we feel safe with.

Kristy Forbes:
And I think for so many of us, the further we get into our exploration of neurodivergent identity and culture and what that looks like for us, the older we get. Many of us, our- our circles close in and in and in and in. And that's not always a bad thing. It's about really cultivating that positive identity and culture and feeling safe, because that's what deescalates our anxiety and our threat response. That doesn't mean shutting ourselves in forever not communicating or taking risks or chances or being happy. It means really honing in on what's right for us.

Kristy Forbes:
Sarah says, "See, I get that, but I can't often do the friendship maintenance. That's where I find that others think I'm not enough."

Kristy Forbes:
Oh, yeah, I hear what you're saying. I think this is why I really appreciate my best friend who's also autistic. And we've had some really tricky moments over the last 20 years, but we can go six months not talking and be totally okay with that. And know that we still love each other very much, but there's no... I- I totally get what you're saying. There's often these unspoken expectations, those, you know, when we talk about the unspoken rules of socialization, because as autistic, as an autistic person, I prefer connection over socialization. And for me, that friendship maintenance, that's a part of socialization. That's not about connection. That's- that's too much, that's too hard for me, because I won't, I can't remember to do things.

Kristy Forbes:
And you know, when you bring things like object permanence into the periphery (laughs), which is a bit of an oxymoron, but not. Sometimes when I'm not confronted with something like this, or someone's not in front of me, I forget they exist. So I'm not good at remaining connected with friends. I'm not good. I don't remember birthdays. I don't remember important dates. I'm a moment person. I live from one moment to the next, and I give myself permission to not beat up on myself or feel shame because I can't remember every other human being that's entered my life and what their special day is. And yet, even if I write it down, I can't remember, I just can't remember. I've been trying this for 42 years, I can't remember. But I tell you what, I'm a loyal friend. I'm loyal and I am generous. And I'm always up for heartfelt connection, but I probably won't remember your birthday.

Kristy Forbes:
And you might tell me that you're having a baby, and I might forget six months on and be shocked when I see your tummy. And that can be exhausting too, that pref- preference for connection means a lot of burnout, because we engage with someone, a friend. Like my best friend and I we make jokes about this and say, yeah, we- we spend a weekend in each other's company maybe once every five years, huh, then we both feel hung over the next day just from laughing and talking, not drinking or anything like that. Just the intensity of connection. So many of us experience and we blame ourselves and think that we're not worthy of good connections and safe friendships, and me too. Finding PDA communities has finally granted me with light-hearted peers. It's given me permission to just be who I am.

Kristy Forbes:
(Reading from comments on page)  "I have a huge problem with maintenance too. I just assume once someone is a friend, that's it. I didn't realize the effort it takes. It's overwhelming." (Kristy laughs)

Kristy Forbes:
And I feel like that's a neuronormative friendship standard, that neurodivergent people internalize through so- social and cultural conditioning and masking. And when we don't know that we are neurodivergent, we get even better at it. I can't imagine having to mask socially like I once did. I just don't have the space for that anymore on any level. I really don't.

Kristy Forbes:
So here's the thing. When I feel like somebody doesn't want to talk to me anymore, somebody doesn't want to be my friend anymore, watching my brain go off into expansive mode where I think the whole world hates me and everyone's out there talking about me and Kristy are a horrible person and what are you doing with your life and all of that 'cause that's- that's where I'll go. I just focus on cleaning my side of the street, making amends, saying, "Hi, I hope everything's okay. Hope you're okay. Just letting you know I'm aware there's been a shift or I'm feeling a bit of a shift. If you wanna talk about it, that's cool. If there's nothing going on, that's cool, too." And then just moving on.

Kristy Forbes:
I learned a long time to communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate. And sometimes I think autistic people, PDAs specifically are very perceptive at picking up on people's energy. So people might say, "Yeah, we're fine." And we know, we know, intuitively we know whether things are okay or not, but we don't have to beat ourselves up for that.

Kristy Forbes:
(Reading from comments)  "I have no idea what is normal in any social situation. So glad COVID is giving me space to rebuild my social identity. I am radically different than January last year. Still a long way to go."

Kristy Forbes:
You know, Amanda, I don't think I have a social identity. I think I'm just a human being. I'm just my brand of person and I connect with people. I meet people's energy. I meet them where they're at. They probably meet me where I'm at. And you know, I still mask, but not to the point of hiding who I am or pretending to be something I'm not to please others.

Kristy Forbes:
Jenny, that hopefully will change for you over time. I really relate to that.

Kristy Forbes:
Thank you all for being here. It's always so nice to come on here and connect. Okay, amazing humans, have a wonderful afternoon and I will see you all again soon. Bye.

 

If you'd like to join Kristy for her weekly live conversations with community, you can visit facebook.com/intunepathways

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