Social expectations, Christmas and families.

As a woman with autism, I’ve become used to trying to work out and fit in with different social expectations.

I don’t always get it right. Most of the time, in fact, my reactions are slightly ‘off’ to anyone who pays close attention. But most people just see what they expect to see, so often I can ‘pass’ for someone who doesn’t have the same differences.

But there isn’t anything in my experience that tells me what to do when I am unable to comply with social expectations. When complying with the expectations means that I need to sacrifice myself.

And that’s where I am at the moment.

My father is going into hospital tomorrow for a major operation. He won’t be out before Christmas. Which means that I am expected to spend Christmas with my mother.

And I don’t want to.

We don’t get on; never really have done.

But the social expectation is that you spend Christmas with your family. The social expectation is that you respect your parents and do what they ask.

I can’t do what my mother asks of me much longer.

When I am with her, I am unable to manage my anxiety. I’ve developed some pretty effective strategies over the past couple of years – but I’m not allowed to use them. Doing anything that may make other people aware that I am anything other than completely neurotypical provokes an extreme and frightening reaction.

As I become more confident in myself – as I become increasingly aware of ways to meet my own needs – I move further away from my mother’s expectations.

I don’t know whether I am simply intransigent or whether her expectations are beyond what most people would expect of a fully autonomous adult.

I know that I am being selfish in my desire to be my own person. But I don’t have anyone else to prioritise my needs. I have never been a priority for anyone else; never been loved or accepted for who I actually am (instead of how well I can pretend to be someone else). I have received more kindness from complete strangers than I ever have from my own mother.

As a woman with autism, I’m used to being in the wrong when it comes to social expectations.

But, if the social expectations themselves are wrong, what chance do I have of getting anything right?

This is probably not the time to be thinking of major changes. The only way I am going to get through the next week or so is by putting on a mask; by being compliant; by agreeing to everything; by not rocking the boat.

I don’t know how successful I will be. I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to get away from the constraints and the stressors that trying to ‘act normal’ placed upon me.

But my mother is never going to accept me for who I really am. She is never going to accept how much autism affects me and changes how I need to deal with things. In her eyes, it is always going to be the dirty little secret that must be hidden from view.

I don’t have the strength for this fight at the moment. I don’t have a strong support network over Christmas and I can’t risk becoming suicidal again. And I can’t risk my mother taking her anger at my ‘disobedience’ out on my father while he is still so fragile.

The choice, yet again, seems to be made for me.

I am nowhere in this. My needs don’t seem to matter.

I don’t want to be selfish – more social conditioning; women need to be ‘nice’ and self-sacrificing. But the social conditioning is so difficult to break.

Now is not the time to think about this. But I don’t know when – or if – there will ever be a ‘right’ time. And I don’t know how much longer I can continue to hide behind the mask I have grown to hate.


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