November 17, 2021

Autism and right and wrong

By rosieweldon

I have been told before that I try to be ‘too equal’ and try too hard to do the ‘right thing’. I am black and white when it comes to right and wrong and leave little to no room for any grey area in between.

This is common in a lot of autistic people (not all) that have a very strong sense of right and wrong and can’t cope when that line is crossed. I think this stems from our need for rules and boundaries. An action should or should not be done, something should or should not be said. It is or it isn’t racist, it is or it isn’t sexist, and if it crosses that line I have no tolerance for it. Often leading to social persecution for being ‘touchy’ around these things.

A few years ago, we were travelling when there was a problem with one of the seat belts. It was clicked in, but we knew it was not working properly. In my mind it was not right, and we should not be driving the car like that. I hit autistic meltdown and had to try to hide the fact I couldn’t cope with the problematic seatbelt, at the great judgement of the rest of the car.

I think people like to think I make big deals out of things. That’s how autistic reactions seem, I guess. Like I’m just being dramatic and wanting to cause a problem over something which to them is fine and they will sort out as soon as we arrive.

What people tend to not understand is what that feels like to an autistic mind. When something is, to us, categorically ‘wrong’ it has no place in our mind and seeks to cause havoc, and pain. It is physically painful to process something that has been done that is wrong.

When it is others that have done it, I am seen as ‘high almighty’ looking down on people. When it is myself who has done it, I am seen as ‘dramatic and overreacting’ if I can’t process that something has happened, at my fault, that I see as wrong.

No, I am not claiming to be perfect. Yes, I have been told that a lot. Autistic people with strong senses of right and wrong are not perfect. Of course not. Which actually makes it harder. I have the same tolerance of myself than I do others. I am hyperaware of my actions and desperately try to do the right thing all the time. Usually resulting in allowing myself to be vulnerable and manipulated to others benefit.

It is easy to convince me that what I have done is wrong, because I am so desperate to do right.

At the same time if there is doubt in my mind if an action is ‘right or wrong’ then I will veer towards wrong, and not do it, in fear of ever doing something unacceptable. I am nothing short of terrified of being a ‘bad person’ and desperate to be ‘good’. And at 30 years old I absolutely see a very clear distinction in who I try to be.

I know the world isn’t split into good and bad people, good and bad actions – but that is how my mind instinctively processes them.

When I feel like I have done something wrong it is an incredibly loud thought in my head that dominates everything. I can’t place the thought. I can’t process it. I have the normal emotional response of shame and guilt as well as the autistic reaction of ‘this doesn’t make sense and I don’t know what to do with this thought’. From an autistic point of view this leads to overloads of emotions and processing. Autistic meltdowns and thoughts of hitting myself. To me when there is a big thought in my head that doesn’t make sense and I want to get out of my head, it takes a physical form in wanting to get it out. This presents itself by wanting to hit my own head.

I am aware enough to know that hitting my head with my fist is dangerous long term and I should not do it. But the need and want to do it when a thought doesn’t make sense, is overwhelming. I am working hard at the moment to try and channel that urge into a different outlet.

Again, hitting my head is something most people just won’t understand. I could just not do it? Calm down? Try to rationalise my mind? Those things just are not possible in that moment. When my mind is screaming at me that it can’t cope with this thought, it is an overwhelming need to act on it.

Please have patience with autistic people struggling to process something. To have a thought, a big one, that we can’t place, can’t understand, can’t process, it is painful for us.

For an autistic person that has a strong sense of right and wrong, this can lead to some very painful thoughts to process.

Being autistic is nothing short of exhausting.

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