Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
What we got here is...
It’s a human desire to want to be understood. To be seen and accepted and loved too, of course, but those all spring forth from understanding.
I’ve been trying to be understood my whole life.
My autistic brain fundamentally works and communicates differently than a neurotypical’s brain, though.
I often don’t catch on to subtext, or if someone is speaking in code, saying one thing but meaning something else. I can be very direct, probably more direct than others are used to or comfortable with. And I often repeat myself again and again, trying to reinforce my point so it gets across without getting stuck in the mud.
Sometimes people think it’s rude, or too forward, or they misunderstand what I’m trying to say.
But I try so hard to be as clear as I can be when I communicate with people.
I write scripts in my head for interactions that I have, both big like setting a boundary with someone and small like chit-chatting on the sidewalk while I walk my dog.
I agonize over which words to choose to avoid any possible misinterpretations. I think about the best way to outline what I want to say so it flows logically. I try to anticipate potential reactions or places where people could misunderstand and tailor my words to either head them off before they happen or address them clearly and respectfully.
It’s exhausting having to put that much work into almost every conversation or interaction I have with people.
But it’s paralyzing, crippling when, after going through all of that and investing so much energy in being as clear as I can be, people still misunderstand me.
I shut down. I don’t know how to be any clearer, I don’t know what else I can do to refine and clarify what I’m trying to say, and yet it still doesn’t land.
So, my brain just turns off, overwhelmed by the twin challenge of doubling down and trying to refine what I’m saying even more, along with now managing a misunderstanding where the other person might have an emotional reaction to what they thought I was saying. Handling my own emotions and staying the course in that moment is hard enough, but then having to manage someone else’s emotions too and walk back the impression that they have of what I was saying is too much for me to handle.
I think, on the one hand, I’ve so honed my mental scriptwriting skills over the years because this has happened so many times and crippled me so often that I just keep working at it, keep doing what I can to pare it down, sharpen, clarify. It’s a trauma response, a defense mechanism that my brain has learned it needs to continue to work on in order to be understood and avoid those meltdown moments.
On the other hand, I think it’s a large part of why I’m a professional writer, storyteller, and communicator.
Because of this trauma response, my brain has become a translator, taking these wild, impressionistic, creative ideas and packaging them into clear, direct language.
It’s become a strategist, mapping out different potential scenarios, looking for the hazards, charting a course towards the endpoint.
It’s become a fiendish editor, a stickler, wielding Occam’s Razor with relish, critiquing the choice of every word, every phrase, every decision, asking if that’s as clear as I can make it, if people will understand that.
And, unfortunately, it’s been battered and rejected so many times in person, my performance not lacking in preparation but in resonance, in appeal, in reach.
That’s why I write, I think.
I still have that fundamental human urge, that need to be understood. But, by writing, I can scratch it at arm’s length, where people aren’t close enough to hurt me with their misunderstandings, with their negative reaction to the performance I give.
If they don’t understand my writing, I don’t ever have to know about it. I don’t have to get caught in the moment where I’m managing two people’s emotions and mine are tearing me apart. I can protect myself.
‘Cause I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/
Oh, Lord, please, don’t let me be misunderstood/