“I mask from the time I get up to the time I go to bed all day, every day.”
As an individual on the autism spectrum, you’ve likely experienced relationship challenges. Frequently, the challenges come from misunderstandings and disagreements surrounding getting your needs and priorities met. After frequent issues continue to occur, you may have lost confidence in your ability to have a successful relationship. Therefore, you decide to mask your autism and act as neurotypicals do to avoid getting hurt.
But, here’s the thing, wearing a mask and hiding your authentic self is totally exhausting. Especially if you’re doing it all day every day. Furthermore, it doesn’t truly solve any of the challenges you’re having. In this article, I want to discuss the reason behind your tendencies to mask your autistic traits, what happens when you take the mask off, and what you can do instead to have relationships that are authentic and healthy.
Masking and the Toll it Takes on Relationships
It is very common for neurodivergent teens and adults, like yourself to mask their autism to protect themselves from the pain of rejection and criticism. Doing this quickly drains your social battery because you spend your time constantly worrying about past social interactions, future social interactions, and rather your mask is on well enough to hide your autism traits. You try so hard to fit in and be liked that by the end of the day, you have nothing left to give.
When you work so hard to mask your autism, you need time to recharge your battery.
At the end of a long day spent masking your autistic traits, it’s likely you need time to remove your mask and be alone or engage in your special interest. But, in order to do so, you need a safe space and time to decompress without worrying about anyone else’s needs.
Problems often arise when others do not understand or respect your need to recharge your social battery. Other people, even if they are neurodivergent, may misunderstand this need as selfish. They may incorrectly assume that you’re ignoring them or being anti-social. But, what they fail to realize is that they are much more likely to get their needs met if you’ve had this time to regroup. For example, it’s common for a romantic partner to get upset when their neurodivergent partner closes themself off and engages in their special interest for hours at a time as they recharge their battery. They see this as selfish and resent their partner for not meeting their needs. This causes conflict and pain for both parties. Please note that these problems can occur in any type of relationship including parent-child relationships, work relationships, and friendships.
What Happens When You Drain Your Social Battery
If you’re not given time to re-charge your social battery after masking for so long, then you’ll find that your social battery dies and your mask begins to crack. When this happens you are susceptible to having an autism meltdown. This looks different from person to person however common signs of an autism meltdown include:
- Increased stimming or self-soothing behaviors
- Increased sensory sensitivity
- Shutting down
- Going mute
- Yelling or screaming
- Dramatic changes in speech including stuttering
- No eye contact
Autistic meltdowns are extremely uncomfortable and very distressing for the individual who experiences them. Furthermore, if they go unaddressed, then they can morph into bigger and more severe problems including autism burnout (also known as autistic regression). When this severe reaction occurs, you may find yourself completely shutting down. It’s like your brain stops working. Unfortunately, this burnout can last for days, weeks, and even months. In fact, have known individuals to take medical leave from their jobs while they have recuperated.
Communication is Key to Preserve Your Social Battery and Improve Your Relationships
So now that we’ve addressed the toll of masking and how depletes your social battery, we need to talk about what you can do to communicate your needs to others so they respect your boundaries and the need to recharge. The answer lies in both identifying and communicating your needs. To identify your needs you do some introspective work. Think about the details so you can communicate them to others.
After you have identified your needs, must talk to the people around you, rather that’s your friends, family, partner, children, roommates, co-workers, etc. This takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength so prior to doing so I recommend you do some prep work. This can be journaling or making lists detailing what you want to say or role-playing the conversation with a trusted person. This can help you build the confidence to talk about hard things.
Find Autism Support
If you’re a neurodivergent individual looking for support, I encourage you to consider autism therapy or joining a social skills group. If you are looking for autism resources in your area, check out my autism resources page. Here you will find some suggestions for places to look.
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Other Options at Open Doors Therapy for Individuals with Autism:
Our Palo Alto, CA-based Autism Therapy Clinic serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. More specifically, our therapists support those who identify as high functioning, having Aspergers, and ASD traits. We are also proud to offer support to the families of those with an autism spectrum disorder.
Currently, our services are exclusively offered through online therapy in California. Our services cover a wide range of challenges that individuals on the autism spectrum might experience. Our skilled autism therapists specialize in individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, group therapy, and countless social skills groups! Right now, we have groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, teens & caregivers, and gifted youth & caregivers. We also offer social skills groups for neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a mothers group, and a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college. Reach out to us for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.