Aspergers – ‘reluctance’/’freezing up’ explained

Unless someone has worked (or been) an Aspie, it is extremely difficult to appreciate the ‘reluctance’ factor.

To an outside observer, it often looks like ‘failure to parent’ or ‘spoiled brat syndrome’.  I assure you, it is nothing of that sort.

To the parent/teacher, it often looks like obstinance,  pig-headedness, intentionally not paying attention, rudeness, antagonism …well, you name it.

So, how does this ‘reluctance’ actually look?

Typically, when an Aspie is displaying ‘reluctance’ in a given situation, they will just sit or stand there, perhaps nod their head in acceptance when a task is assigned to them, and look kind of ‘not there’ (or, if this is a reminder/nagging to get something done, they may look extremely ‘guilty’ or ‘remorseful’).

Their face may display anything from ‘blank’, ‘looking bored’ or ‘spaced out’, looking ‘straight through you’ or ‘around you’, from ‘uncomfortable’ to ‘guilty’, from ‘doubtful’ to ‘compliant’ to ‘not really there’. Or, especially the younger ones, may throw a fit.  Or, the more resourceful Aspies may try to talk their way out of it.  But, most will have a submissive or passive demeanor.

Then, once the task is assigned, they will not perform it.

It may look like they are willfully avoiding actually doing it.  Fidgeting,  Staring into space – even if it means sitting at their task for hours, without getting any of it done.  Wandering off.  Changing the subject.  Or, just turning into a lump…

It is important to understand where this ‘reluctance’ comes from.  In this post, I will only address one of the many possible reasons for this ‘reluctance’ – but one I think that affects us more often than we’d like to admit.  (A lot of ‘soul-searching went into this one…)

Most Aspies like things to be exact.  According to rules (their rules).  Just so.

Personally, I would rather not start something if I know I cannot do it right – up to my standard, according to the rules.  Not succeeding fills me with very, very bad emotions of failure and inadequacy (something many of us, Aspies, experience more often than other people).  These emotions flood me uncontrollably and, in a weird way, interfere with my ability to think – and ‘do stuff’.

While we feel the same emotions as other people, I suspect that most Aspies process them very differently. We are not good at it.  We process emotions badly, and we know it.  Having an emotion, and processing it badly, and knowing we are failing at yet another thing – well, that makes us feel bad….so we try to hold the emotions back for as long as possible. (That could be why so many people think we don’t have them.)

Of course, when the emotions get strong, we usually fail at controlling them.  The emotion wins and floods through our system.  It won over us!  More failure, more bad feeling…

Many of us agree that we cannot stand being flooded by strong emotions – whatever that emotion may be.  And this is not just on an emotional level – it is a physical reaction.  Once it ‘overcomes us’, we have a sudden release of hormones into our system….and this is bad. It makes us physically feel sick.  Sometimes just a little ‘shaky’, or ‘antsy’, at other times it is stronger…and worse.  I don;t have the proper words to describe it….but it is, in its way, a physical pain.

Perhaps what is worst of all is that it interferes with our ability to think!

We can still see just how badly we are reacting, but can’t seem to stop it because our brain does not work right with all these chemicals streaming through it.  It is a horrible feeling, because by interfering with your ability to analyze, it is – in a very real way – temporarily cutting off a part of the essence that is you!  It is a partial loss of the self!

So, now that we have ‘frozen’, we are to ‘produce’!  Or ‘perform’!

How are we  now supposed to go and finish that very task we found beyond our abilities when our mind was clear and we were able to reason?

It’s just not going to happen…

Of course, what makes this even worse is that once we have felt that way about a certain task, the very memory of it will ‘push the replay button’ – so to speak.  We dread tackling any task that reminds us of our failures, because we will actually do this ‘guilt-flood of emotions-freeze up’ thing to ourselves!!!

The upshot of this is:  once something made us feel bad like this, we will do anything to block it, not ‘replay it’, pretend it does not exist…  And even if we honestly try to tackle the task, we will certainly not be able to concentrate on doing it, because we will be beaten down by the ‘refrain’ in our head:  “you have failed at this”, “you are behind even the ‘stupid’ people by not being able to do this”, “you will just fail again and humiliate yourself”….

I suspect the obsessive-compulsive bit of our brain (most Aspies have an industrial dose of OCD) just keeps us focused on the fact we are ‘bad’ at this, effectively preventing us from actually focusing on the task itself…

The weird thing is…  Sometimes, a perfectly ‘normal’ thing will – somehow – get ‘linked’ in our sub-consciousness with this ‘bad feeling’.  It could be something completely ‘not complex’ – something we easily perform in other situations.  But, here, in this particular instance of it, it has somehow started to ‘trigger’ this ‘negative reaction’.  And, no punishment, no real-life consequence, could make us go through with it and experience this feeling.

For example:  I love to cook, but I will NEVER follow a recipe EXACTLY.  NEVER.  There is no way anyone can make me be bossed around by a anything – especially a piece of paper!  I’ve been bossed around by… and so it goes.  And, once I get off onto this track, I will not cook anything.  The pain is just not worth it – even though I LOVE to cook.

Perhaps I used a bit of a hyperbole to describe this ‘freezing up’… but, in some instances, this is not that much of an exaggeration.  I hope it was helpful in getting across a little bit of the ‘flavour’ of the ‘reluctance’, or ‘freezing up’ we, Aspies, display in performing (or, rather, flatly refusing to perform) some specific tasks.

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6 Responses to “Aspergers – ‘reluctance’/’freezing up’ explained”

  1. Grannie-Lu Says:

    Thanks so much for this analysis! I’m not sure I have any “aspies” in my life, but it sure helps for the understanding those I might meet…

  2. justamum Says:

    Perhaps what is worst of all is that it interferes with our ability to think!

    We can still see just how badly we are reacting, but can’t seem to stop it because our brain does not work right with all these chemicals streaming through it. It is a horrible feeling, because by interfering with your ability to analyze, it is – in a very real way – temporarily cutting off a part of the essence that is you! It is a partial loss of the self!
    Yep this happens to me, my most recent historic brain gaga session was when I was in a courtroom of all places. I was self litigant cross examining this horrible expert witness. This guy came out with one outrageous answer after the next and because the occasion was so emotive for me (saving my child from fostercare) my brain went into mush mode. I fluffed and tripped over my words then the words I needed to find in my head had gone on permanent vacation. I was angry and scared and shocked rolled into one. When I think of that day I cringe in horror.
    Thank you for describing this awful part of Aspergers…

  3. Jack3d Says:

    Hi, I recently found this blog – thank you for the good work. I wanted to inform you that it’s not showing up properly on the BlackBerry Browser (I have a Tour). Either way, I’m now subscribed to the RSS feed on my home PC, so thanks!

    Xanthippa says:
    And thank you!

    As for the formatting – it is in the hands of WordPress, who host my blog….but I will look into it!

  4. MiddleAgedAspy Says:

    Excellent, excellent work.
    I have had these feelings for 40 years and never seen where any one, even myself could explain this, as well as you have.
    In fact trying to explain how I feel is my horror story.
    Thanks, I plan on using this page when explaining to people.

    Xanthippa says:

    Thank you!

    I must admit – this is a product of much thinking and self-examination…and, I am still having a hard time expressing it. If there is anything specific you can add – it would be greatly appreciated!

  5. Lynn Murray Says:

    You have described my 8 year old daughter’s reluctance to read at school beautifully. She hasn’t been diagnosed as aspie yet, but it’s only a matter of time and smarts on the part of the school system. She was forced to “learn to read” in kindergarten before she was cognitively ready to learn and now has a near phobia. I am going to print this out for her teacher. Do you have any suggestions for getting past this block?

    Xanthippa says:

    This is so, so very difficult!

    Each Aspie is a little different – the way they do things, the way things affect them….the things which will motivate them!

    One of my son’s had a problem learning to read. The thing that really worked for us was a video game, specifically, Zelda – the Ocarina of time. He was eager to play it – but, in order to play, one had to read the text, conversations the character had with others, directions and so on. We would read – sometimes. Slowly but surely, we read less and less….

    I am not sure what your daughter’s problem is: reading, in general, or reading out loud in front of the whole class?

    There might be different things to overcome in the two problems: if ‘reading’ – as in, comprehending printed or written material – is a problem, then you will need to work on building the cognitive bit; if the problem is with ‘stage fright’ in reading in front of a class, then you will need to work on the performance anxiety problem.

    It’s hard to suggest anything without knowing your daughter…

  6. Forrest Says:

    Well, here, four years after you posted it, this just now came in handy to show a friend why what happens to me happens.

    Xanthippa says:

    You are welcome!

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