Why Write For The Neurodiverse?
I write these blogs because although there is a need to raise awareness of the kind of issues that can affect people with neurodiverse differences, I feel very positive about what the differences give us and as a result I tend to write very positive blogs about all the great things we can achieve. For this blog I would like to concentrate on helping people who are currently struggling to achieve their potential and who may have a neurodiverse difference and no coaching support.
There is a real need to help people learn how to manage differences once they are diagnosed with things like dyslexia, DCD/dyspraxia, ASD/autism, AD(H)D and other similar neurodiverse differences. I have been told by many that adults don't always get that support so this is who this blog is designed for.
Anyone dealing with additional mental health issues such as depression, OCD, anxiety disorder or other medical condition which requires medical support should always ensure they have the support of a medical professional before undertaking this kind of change as there may be other factors they need to take into account.
As a neurodiverse life coach I am trying to reach out and give others the skills that helped me to get my life back on track. Not all the strategies will work for everyone, not everyone will work the same way, but I’ve written this blog for the few out there who could benefit from seeing how I now view my strategies. I hope some of you will be able to use the information in this blog to help you learn to better manage your life and achieve more positive outcomes for yourself.
This blog will focus on defensive strategies, how we make them, why we use them and how they affect us. Having known many people with neurodiverse differences one thing I know for a fact is that we are all great at using strategies. We just don't always use the right ones.
What Are Defensive Strategies?
We tell ourselves, usually on a subconscious level, that we can avoid experiencing that negative emotion again by being prepared for it. Theory is that if we see it coming we can put a defensive strategy in place to stop us from ever feeling that pain again. In some circumstances it works but sometimes we keep using them when they are no longer appropriate.
In my previous blog I asked 'are your coping strategies still effective?' I used 'avoidance strategies' as an example to highlight how continuing to use it in certain situations can be detrimental to your effectiveness and in some cases even to your mental health!
How Do We Recognise A Defensive Strategy?
There is nothing wrong with defensive strategies being used in some situations. If they didn't work we wouldn't use them, right?
How Do They Work?
How Can We Tell When They Are Going Wrong?
Blame Your Subconscious?
When our subconscious perceives danger it releases certain chemicals like adrenalin into our system to help us have the strength, endurance and stamina to either fight for our life or run for our life. The adrenalin increases our speed and even raises our pain threshold so it's great if we're facing a real danger like a lion chasing us but not only are these things useless in the case of a perceived danger, like your boss threatening to sack you, but they can actually prevent us from being able to access our more analytical, conscious mind.
Is A Threat Always A Threat?
Can Our Perceptions Affect Our Reality?
Sometimes these events teach us valuable information about ourselves but we often become unable to analyse our response because we've become overwhelmed by the emotions associated with the experience. Because of our fear of the emotional response to these actions our subconscious might perceived this action as a threat to our well-being. When this happens in the future our subconscious will want us to avoid that pain again so it will either consciously or subconsciously put strategies in place to prevent this from ever happening again.
Each time we're presented with similar stimuli our subconscious will most likely go straight for the fight or flight response, kicking out adrenalin into our system and shutting down access to our analytical conscious mind. This is a valuable physical response if your life is put in danger but totally counter-productive if you fear is not of a lion, but of for example, dropping something.
Let me explain...
Same Action But Different Emotional Responses
Let's say you have DCD/dyspraxia, Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, or any of the other differences that can affect your motor control and coordination. Now lets assume you drop things, bump into things and trip over things regularly because of this difference in your mobility. It is obvious to anyone who knows you well that you struggle to control your gross and/or fine motor functions.
Now despite knowing this about you and despite you having described yourself as a klutz in the past your friend still passes you a vase of her mantelpiece to look at.
you are trying to be careful having been handed the vase but your friend lets go of it before you had a proper grasp on it and the next thing you know is you've overcompensated and flicked it up in the air then punched it across the room as you flail your arms out to attempt to catch it. Despite your best efforts you can only watch on as it flies through the air and shatters to pieces on the ground. Straight away you fight back the urge to laugh at how it must have looked and you look at your friend to assess the impact of what has just happened.
Scenario one: It Was A Cheap Vase Of No Value
You will undoubtedly have felt frustrated with yourself when you failed to save the vase from falling and breaking but if your friend just laughs it off and tells you they didn't like it anyway it will probably be remembered as a funny memory. 'Do you remember that time you punched my vase across the room? You should have seen your face...'
Outcome: You gain a funny story to tell people and may outright refuse to let someone pass you things like that in future without first recounting the funny story.
Scenario two: The Vase Was Of Value And Is Not Easy To Replace
You will most likely feel frustrated with yourself just like in scenario one as you flail to catch it but as you look to your friend to gauge their reaction you instantly notice they are upset and do not laugh. This time you feel guilty as soon as you realise it was of value and you destroyed it. You may well feel full of remorse over breaking it and even offer to try to replace it for them as you feel so bad for breaking it.
If you are honest with yourself though you'll probably be a bit angry that your friend put you in a position to drop it in the first place as you thought they understood your difficulties. This incident will most likely be moved into the negative memory bank and could influence how you feel about yourself and/or your relationship with that friend.
Outcome: You will most likely view your clumsiness as having a negative impact on others and perhaps even feel ashamed of your difficulty in controlling your actions. You might even tell people how your inadequacy cost you money. You might even have started to treat your friend differently because they should have accepted half the blame, they did after all pass it to you knowing that you were clumsy.
Scenario three: The Vase Is Actually An Urn Holding Your Friends Loved Ones Remains
You will most likely feel more than just frustrated at your inadequacy in this scenario, you will most probably feel really angry at yourself. Seeing your friend looking devastated trying to get the remains out of the rug and putting what they can into the broken shards of the urn will not help the way you are now feeling as most people would probably feel overwhelmed by guilt and pity.
It is possible that after an event as unlikely as this that your subconscious will then perceive being handed anything as a threat to your emotional well-being and any time someone passes you something in the future your fight or flight response could be triggered as a result of that simple every day action..
Scenario four: You Don't Correctly Interpret Your Friend's Reaction
Many people with neurodiverse differences find it hard to read people’s reactions, be aware of their moods and predict their behaviours. Now bearing this in mind, let's take you back to the moment your friend lets go of the vase before you had a proper grasp on it and the next thing you know is you've overcompensated and flicked it up in the air, then punched it across the room as you flailed your arms out to attempt to catch it. Despite your best efforts you can only watch on as it flies through the air and shatters to pieces on the ground. Straight away you laugh at the hilarity of how you must have looked. While crying with laughter you notice your friend's reaction but only because they have become upset and most likely angry at you.
Outcome: your friend's anger will probably put you on the defensive as it was their fault for passing you the vase in the first place. The friendship will most likely be strained after this in all scenarios other than scenario one where the friend didn't seem to care about the vase and could see the funny side. In scenarios two and three however, it is easy to imagine how this event might not just associate a negative experience with the action of people passing things to you but you could even become prone to 'transference' - associating (or transferring) anyone who suddenly passes you something with the anger and upset you felt with the friend who forced you into the initial 'vase dropping' situation.
In the scenario where you drop the urn your reaction to laugh at the incident could be interpreted as being wholly inappropriate, grossly offensive, and it would not be surprising if the friendship came to an abrupt end, right there and then, especially if you stood your ground on them having been to blame for passing it to you in the first place. This would probably be stored as a negative emotional memory and like with the examples above, could impact the way you cope with handling things from that day forward.
Developing A 'Fear' Response To Every Day Actions
Problem is, once we put a defensive strategy in place how do we monitor its usefulness if we didn't choose the strategy on a completely conscious level? All strategies should be checked for effectiveness, appropriateness and whether or not they are still required or whether something more effective could take its place.
In the above example the outcome of all the scenarios should be the same. To learn that your motor coordination difficulties can make handling things more difficult so extra care needs to be taken, to treat everything you handle as though it is of value and will probably need to be replaced if broken and where necessary you might want to decline to take it. You might even find it easy to remind the person offering it that you have a tendency to unintentionally drop and/or break things so it's in their best interest that you not touch it. That doesn't mean to say you can't take things from people or hold items of value. What it means is that you need to develop strategies for handling things so that you know you are taking care of them while you handle them. This way you should be able, over time, to minimise the anxiety you feel about having to hold or carry valuable or delicate things
Perhaps it's just me, but I've sent so many things flying over the years that I had become (unbeknown to me), quite afraid to carry things. I never realised I had this fear until I had my first child. Every time I carry my children from one place to another, especially if it involves stairs, I go into panic mode. My palms start to sweat, my heart rate increases and I start to breathe faster. I also had a habit of shouting at anyone who talked to me when I was trying to concentrate on carrying my baby! Basically I used to go into fight or flight mode as soon as I picked the baby up and I would become short tempered with everyone around me. My subconscious had already told me that the stairs were a threat to me because I have fallen down them so many times. I hated carrying things up and down stairs as it's so much easier to fall when you can't use your hands to grab onto things or balance. All of a sudden once I had my baby in my arms doing stairs terrified me. Not only were stairs a danger to me but they were also a threat to my baby. Although it is a real threat the release of adrenalin and the anxious state that ensued each time did not help me or do me any favours going up or down stairs carrying a child. Eventually I realised this and over the past couple of years I've put strategies in place to make it safer and am pleased to report that I have reduced my anxiety levels so much that I no longer shout at anyone when I'm holding my baby. Better outcome for baby, me and everyone who has to deal with me!
Before having my children I used to try to hide my fear of doing stairs, I suspect I wasn't even aware of it at first but after a huge fall down the stairs I developed something more akin to a phobia of stairs. For years I felt anxious carrying things and my strategy I had inadvertently put in was that of 'avoidance', because if I tried to do it I would get so anxious that it could ruin my whole day. Once I had my baby I didn't want to avoid taking her up to bed! I wanted to be able to get up with her at night and take her downstairs whenever it suited me so it was at that point that I realised 'avoidance' wasn't helping me any more and that was the first time I thought to check a strategy to see if it was the most effective for me.
Check Your Current Strategies
2. Work out what you did that relieved the anxiety.
3. Ask yourself if there would be other strategies you could put in place the instant before the anxiety set in to help you avoid the anxiety phase completely and produce better outcomes.
Be Aware Of Other Defensive Strategies
* Not opening up to people so that you don't get hurt.
* Not taking risks or challenges so that you don't fail.
* Putting yourself down before anyone else does so that you appear to laugh at yourself.
* Making yourself the butt of the joke so that others laugh with you, not at you.
* Using Avoidance strategies to stay in your comfort zone and stop you from experiencing things that make you anxious.
* Not bothering to dress up because you know you'll look a state by the time you get there.
* Telling people you are 'useless' at certain things so you are not judged when you do fail to achieve them.
* Telling people to expect failure before attempting something new.
What Happens If They Are Used Inappropriately?
* Not taking risks or challenges can and often will lead to limiting your own experiences, both negative AND positive ones. The less you allow yourself to experience, the less you will do that makes you feel good about yourself.
* Putting yourself down can make it harder for people to treat you as an equal and talk to you with the desired level of respect. If you don't respect or value yourself you can't really expect others to.
* Making yourself the butt of the joke can also made it hard for others to perceive you as an intelligent and valued contributor.
* Using Avoidance strategies to stay in your comfort zone will most likely, over time, shrink your comfort zone until you are left with very little to experience.
* Not bothering to dress up can seriously affect the way others perceived you. Most will probably assume you are: a) lazy and b) you do not value their company or the event they wanted you at.
* Telling people you are 'useless' might actually signal to people that you are making excuses for something you never tried hard enough to learn.
* Telling people to expect failure before attempting something new might also indicate an unwillingness to try.
* Instead of not taking risks or challenges so that you don't fail try to take on one new small challenge each day and treat all you results as feedback rather than failure. All failure is feedback, if we didn't know how to overcome difficulties and attempt new strategies we would never have learned to walk!
* Instead of putting yourself down before anyone else does - don't assume that anyone will put you down and talk about yourself with the respect you want others to have for you when they speak to you.
* Instead of making yourself the butt of the joke so that others laugh with you, not at you, try to not give yourself such a hard time when things go wrong for you and be prepared to laugh at yourself on the odd occasion that it goes horribly wrong and you do something that looks or sounds funny to others.
* Instead of using Avoidance strategies to stay in your comfort zone and which stop you from experiencing things that make you anxious use your new found desire to increase your life experiences to broaden your comfort zone, one small step at a time. Do something new everyday or once a week to start off with so that you can check and adapt strategies as necessary.
* Instead of just not bothering to dress up because you know you'll look a state by the time you get there put strategies in place so that you can look as good as you feel on special occasions or for things like interviews where you really want to give a good impression.
* Instead of telling people you are 'useless' at certain things so you are not judged when you do fail to achieve them. Try telling them that you would like the opportunity to be shown how to do it first so that you can take note of the steps to the process and then practice doing it a few times so that you can perfect it because you might struggle at first but you will be able to perfect it with time.
* Instead of telling people to expect failure before you attempt something new just agree to give it a go and use the feedback from your results to develop effective strategies to help you do better next time.
The trick is to realise that failure does not mean you cannot do something, it just means you didn't do it that time. To succeed at anything you've got to work out a different way to do it so that you can get better results, the more ways you try - the more feedback you will get - the more likely you are to succeed.