Thursday, June 27, 2019

Is She Really an Asshole?

Regrettably, Polly outdoes herself this week. On an average day New York Magazine’s advice columnist counts as the worst of the bunch… filling her column with essence of psychobabble. If you have a problem and you ask Polly for help, you have a bigger problem than you think you have.

In many cases Polly’s ignorance is harmless. After all, it’s like a bunch of young people sitting around sharing the silliness that their therapists have been offering. But, in today’s letter, we see a woman whose problems have little to do with psychology and more to do with neurology. Telling someone with neurological problems that she needs merely to get in touch with her feelings and to lard on a psycho narrative that purports to explain it all is grossly irresponsible. 

The problem, as best the letter writer describes it is: autism. The woman seems to be a high functioning autistic. Perhaps she has Asperger's syndrome. In any event, she blurts out inappropriate comments at the wrong time in the wrong place to the wrong people... often to people she doesn't know. She has no filter and, under such circumstances, she just says what she is thinking. By her reckoning, this makes her an asshole. It is not the same thing as being high functioning autistic. 

We do not know what the woman does for a living. We know that she is married. That is all we know about her life circumstances:

Last night, I went out with my husband to enjoy a big festival in town. We both noticed a sign from a distance, but as we approached, another reveler stood directly in front of the sign to read it. “Wow, I hope no one else wants to read that sign, maybe from another angle,” I commented to my husband loud enough for the reader to hear. My husband quietly chuckled and hugged me, saying “Oh, you.”

Later, a woman with a pram cut across our path, not looking where she was going. “We get it! You’ve spawned! You’re more important than us!” I said to her. Another quiet chuckle from my husband.

And I realized this is … common. My outbursts. Maybe too common? Throughout my life, I’ve been told I’m opinionated, brutal, delightfully honest, brave, have balls of steel … a bunch of words presented as flattery and accompanied by laughter, but underneath there may be discomfort from others when I open my mouth — but I don’t feel it.

I have friends who delight in my company, but only when I’m in the right mood. I’ll call out perceived assholes in public, tell men to stop leering at my friends, get impatient and roll my eyes when I am expected to nod and smile. And to be fair, it doesn’t take much for me to be in the right mood. Other friends will only ever take me out to dinner to get my advice. “I know you’ll be honest with me,” they say, and I am. Even more say, “Gosh, I wish I could be honest about my feelings like you.”

What is the problem? It turns out that her family knows what the problem is. Apparently, it has never received any treatment:

I learned my sister once told her friends, in advance of my visit, that I was autistic so they shouldn’t be shocked if I said something blunt or inappropriate. She may not be wrong — I struggle with social interactions, reading emotions, and connecting with people, but I also seem to miss the day-to-day filter that everyone else has, where your mind comes up with the rude thing to say but doesn’t blurt it out for all to hear.

Perhaps she should be a stand-up comedienne? At any event, most of her friends seem to understand her problem. They seem to be willing to tolerate her… up to a point:

And I’m not punished for my bullshit. No one calls me out. At worst, I’ll get a nonresponse, but many people encounter my commentary as some form of entertainment. When I was younger, I thought this was cool. I was witty. I’m starting to realize I might just be a plain old asshole.

The one redeeming quality in my outspokenness, I think, is that I will intervene if I feel someone is being treated poorly. I’ve scared off numerous creepy men from women I don’t know at nightclubs and gotten them home safely, put myself in the middle of stupid fights, and stood up for shopkeepers who were being abused. This kind of assholery seems useful.

But how do I stop being that asshole who punches down? I am, at heart, cynical. I have a deep distrust of others, a shitty upbringing, and worse genes that have stuck me with ongoing depression (treated). I am not that happy-go-lucky girl next door.

So how do I become a nice person who cares what people think and has patience and bites their tongue when someone cuts in line or has no awareness of their surroundings? But more important, how do I do all this without imploding from built-up rage?

Not Witty, Just an Asshole

As for treatment, one would normally suggest that she try some form of cognitive or behavioral therapy. These treatments have been shown to be helpful for children with autistic spectrum disorder. I do not know how well they work with adults, but clearly, some form of reconditioning, to learn some level of self-control would be helpful.

Polly, of course, knows nothing and is proud to regale us with her ignorance. She thinks that the symptoms are meaningful expressions of emotional conflicts. Thus, she offers up the old-line, now-superseded psycho approach to such disorders:

Because your rage is a manifestation of your sadness. Your distrust is a manifestation of the emotional neglect you experienced as a child. Your depression is a manifestation of your melancholy view of the world, your anxiety around intimacy, and your fear of your own insecurities. You can treat your depression, but you might find that it still leaks out no matter what you do. That’s true because some of the nongenetic underlying conditions that cause your depression (and rage and distrust) are still there. You need to address your deep-seated beliefs, your core fears, and your terror at being mistreated and misunderstood by others (who are presumed to be callous) in order to tackle your depression at a deeper level. You need to face your own callousness toward yourself, which lies at the heart of your callousness toward others.

For decades therapists were handing out similar bromides to patients who were suffering from a neurological condition. In France, they probably still do. The result has been that autistic patients were mistreated. In some cases they were denied access to the cognitive and behavioral treatments that might help them.

Normally, Polly just engaged in banal platitudes… worthless nonsense. In this case she did not even bother to research autism. No one would suggest that she ought to know how to diagnose a neurological condition... but the letter writer has offered the diagnosis herself. Polly simply ignored it. As a result Polly has become an obstacle to treatment. She should bow her head in shame for this one.

Will the real asshole please stand up....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is not a true believer in autism