Image description: Background is blue/white/grey ice crystals with the overlaying text reading, “Misunderstandings were constant, I could not get away. I pored over the dictionary to decide what to say. Unfairly, although we used the same words, We weren’t speaking the same language, their meanings unheard, my meanings incorrectly inferred. ~Mamautistic, 2016”
Being misunderstood is probably the single most effective way to get me to lose my words. I’m not actually completely certain why being misunderstood is so triggering of my mutism. When I’m misunderstood, that’s a situation when it would be most beneficial to have words! Not to completely lose them.
I suspect that this phenomenon has at least something to do with how confusing my life has been and how frequently I’ve been misunderstood throughout the years.
This topic has been sitting in my queue of unwritten posts for a while now. It’s a difficult one for me because when it’s been a while since a big misunderstanding, I often forget what happened – how exactly it went down, but when there’s been one recently, it’s often still difficult to find the words to describe it.
I’m working on being less harsh with myself after the fact about situations where I lose my words, but it’s difficult.
I wrote the following journal entry on the day after a recent (albeit prior to being evaluated) in-person misunderstanding after which I was able to actually somewhat analyze what had happened, which is a huge thing for me. This was the misunderstanding that caused me to realize that I literally could not make words during those types of situations:
Yesterday morning, [husband] and I had a pretty serious miscommunication. I was trying to explain to him how similar situations could be handled to avoid that kind of upset (it was a situation with one of the children and an electronic device) and he interrupted me to say that he shouldn’t need to “ask my permission” (not even remotely what I had suggested) and that it couldn’t all be “put on him.” (again, not even remotely what I had suggested)
We had a long drive ahead and I let him know that I couldn’t continue with the interruptions and taking it personally that he was doing.
I read my book silently for about half an hour and then put it down to watch the scenery and think.
Eventually (about an hour after the incident) I figured out why the original situation had upset me so much and that I wasn’t actually angry with husband. My mind was working pretty normally and I knew what I wanted to say – I’d formed the words in my head and repeated them over and over silently – but I couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth.
Once I was able to talk again (about two hours after the incident), I let husband know that I wasn’t angry with him, but I couldn’t elaborate any further.
Nearly 12 hours later I was able to talk about it a bit more, but all day long I felt less articulate than usual – usual being when not upset/trying to communicate about emotions – even when talking about topics which I don’t normally have issues articulating.
Prior to that incident, I knew that I often had to remove myself from similar situations and I would. But, having removed myself from the person’s presence I then had no reason to think that I was unable to speak because I had no reason to try. Being stuck in a vehicle during one of those situations gave me a perfect opportunity to confront what goes on in my mind and body during very upsetting in-person misunderstandings.
Misunderstandings online are a little different because, while I lose my ability to verbalize, I don’t generally lose my ability to type. Being misunderstood is horribly upsetting and I almost always end up overanalyzing what happened, trying to figure out how I possibly could have given the other person the impression that I said what they responded to – presuming that the other person wouldn’t just pull assumptions out of nowhere even if I can’t see it.
Sometimes I’m able to take a step back and return hours or days later and let them know that what they responded had nothing to do with anything I said, they apologize and clarify, and we move on. but then other times I just keep writing while still upset, creating another mess of misunderstandings that I often can’t even go back and look at until a good deal of time has passed.
It’s frustrating because, in my written communication, I’m extremely particular about wording and I usually err on the side of over-explaining my position as thoroughly as possible, yet these misunderstandings still happen regularly. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for people to just read my words and respond to what I’ve actually written. It doesn’t make any sense to me. In real life I understand that there’s body language and tone of voice that people can erroneously read into, but online there’s none of that!
Online, all we have are the words! To ignore the words and read something completely different – often even the opposite – into what was written just seems like a complete waste. Why even bother having a discussion at all then?
To me, communication is primarily about communicating my thoughts about interesting topics and coming to a greater understanding of someone else’s thoughts about interesting topics. That’s not really possible to do without carefully listening to the other person and trying to understand what they’re actually saying.
Not being capable of clarifying effectively (or sometimes at all) when others misunderstand me is a horrible experience. But I’m thankful to at least know now that it has a name and isn’t just me being sulky.
I truly need that time to regroup after such a stressful experience and that’s okay.
17 thoughts on “Being Misunderstood and Mutism”
It’s really hard to learn to be less demanding and judgmental about yourself. I haven’t had the chance/need to try it yet, but my counselor suggested keeping writing material at hand and see if I can write what I can’t say. And perhaps even read it out loud if I can write it. (Apparently that engages a different part of the brain.) It’s been a huge relief to find out that it actually has a name and that it happens to other people too.
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Yes! Finding out that it’s a real thing has been life changing as well as a relief for me. Knowing that has also helped a bit with the demanding/judgmental of myself aspects too, but it’s still hard sometimes.
I always carry a notebook around with me wherever I go. I need to remember to use it more often though. Make it more of a habit. I started a new one this year and I’m going to try and fill it up with all the things – notes, story ideas, journalings. I’ve tried having separate notebooks for different topics and writings in the past, but that usually just ends up with me carrying around multiple notebooks everywhere, which gets a little unwieldy, or I’ll want to write a story idea but not have that notebook with me at the time and won’t feel as though I can put that in the journaling notebook.
So, keeping them all together it is!
Oh, I didn’t know that about reading out loud vs talking, although it makes sense now that I’m thinking about it. I’ll keep that in mind too – thank you for the suggestion! 🙂
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I can relate! You’re not alone 😊 A wise autistic person told me that this is all part of self-care, which is super-important for us. I’m so glad you’re doing that ❤️ Take care of You 💜
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At first, it seems as though in person miscommunication could be due to misreading body language and other nonverbal cues. However, given that the same miscommunications will occur in a medium in which no body language is present shows that there may be something else causing the misunderstanding.
As you’ve stated, some people tend to read into your statements that which was never there in the first place. Basically, they have their own preconceived notions and interpret your statements out of that mold. The fact that you may be talking about something entirely different than what they’re thinking of is wholly irrelevant. This is not “communication” in the general sense of the word, it’s more along the lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy on their part (they expect to read something, so that is what they read regardless of what the words actually say or the meaning conveyed).
Understanding this, the same principle could be applied to in-person miscommunication. Rather than beat yourself up over improper use of body language, instead understand that they’re reading into it what they choose to read into it, regardless of what you do on your part. Even if your body language was perfect, they could still choose to interpret your words however they so choose. Because, unfortunately, human language is imprecise.
It is often said that autistics person lack “theory of mind”, or the ability to understand another person’s inner workings and unique perspective. However, after working with and studying neurotypicals and basic communication, it has become abundantly apparent that most neurotypicals don’t practice “theory of mind”, either. They may be capable of it if they apply themselves to it, but they either just don’t care or don’t think it’s necessary. Much of neurotypical communication is based on assumptions. This works when the communication partner is very similar to themselves. The method fails spectacularly when the other is from a different background, has different belief systems, or is simply neurologically diverse. Assuming what others mean rather than looking deeper toward true understanding is a cause of a great many ills in our world today and even throughout the history of humanity.
Learning to truly communicate with autistic persons will be of great benefit to neurotypicals as they can then begin to understand what it truly means to exchange understanding with other humans, and even non-humans (animals or AI).
Don’t be too hard on yourself for being misunderstood. Communication is a two-way street. For persons who are close to you, I’d suggest both parties working on learning to communicate better (counseling is one option; I took a class on interpersonal communication in college that was really informative; observing humans in the real. or online. world can be very informative as well; studying a bit of human psychology/sociology might also lead to an understanding of why people do what they do). For those who are not interested in you enough to care about changing themselves, I’d suggest not stressing over them and simply accept that you’re going to be misunderstood with them. Naturally, do your best, but if it doesn’t go well, then just move on.
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Thank you for commenting! That makes a lot of sense.
I tend to fare better with people who ask for clarifications and are interested in understanding what I really mean. Other people often react badly to clarifications and get defensive while doubling-down on their misinterpretation as if it is the only possible thing I could’ve meant. Very frustrating.
Since writing this post I’ve taken to not being around (online or in real life) people like that any more than is absolutely necessary. It’s made a wonderful difference in my life! I’m not taking nearly as much responsibility for their insistence upon making assumptions (it also seems to be the natural way their brains work so I don’t blame them either, but neither can I be around them much for my own well being).
Thankfully those allistics who are closest to me have been great about listening and doing better ❤
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