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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