Reaction Fail

Photo by Anne Worner via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I was in a situation two days ago where I apparently reacted wrongly to something. I didn’t even know until today when it was brought to my attention. I feel extremely stressed out now, reminded of how easy it is for me to get things wrong and not even realize it.

Two days ago, I heard a person who shall remain nameless yelling. I went to see what was wrong. It turned out she had gotten a minor physical injury. I was concerned, so I asked her if she was okay. I offered to get her some hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound and some antibiotic ointment, but she said there was no need, she already had some. I then set about working to remove the problem that had resulted in the injury. Not that it had been my fault at all, but at least I could be part of the solution. That accomplished, I went back to what I was doing. Oops.

For the last two days, the situation has been playing on my mind (not my reaction, which I didn’t even realize was a problem, but just the fact that it had happened in the first place), so I sent her an e-mail today asking if the wound was healing or if there were signs of infection, and I told her I’d been brainstorming of ways to prevent the same thing from happening again.

She replied that she was glad I’d e-mailed her, because she’s been upset at me for the last two days because I didn’t seem to care that she was injured. She said I seemed to have no reaction; I had appeared completely unconcerned and had just “walked away.” She said I should have paid more attention to her, and she’s been feeling hurt ever since.

I assured her I did care, and reminded her that when I walked away it was to try to solve the problem so it wouldn’t happen again. I only did that because I cared, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. I also told her not to ever look at me for “reactions” because I will always get those wrong. I just don’t have that — whatever it is — in me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything on the inside. It’s just that something is broken between the feeling inside and the outward manifestation of it.

I don’t think she really understood what I was saying.

I’m now feeling all this shame because I got that situation wrong. And I’m feeling anxiety knowing that I might get something like that wrong again. It’s so hard to know in the moment what is required of me, and to act out the correct response. And it would be an act, because even though the feelings are there, the correct actions are apparently not natural for me like they are for other people.

I understand now that I was supposed to show warmth and compassion, but even if I had tried I’m sure I would have gotten it wrong and it would have come across as fake, which probably would have done more harm than good. Again, I did care, and I did feel compassion, but I still don’t know how I could have authentically demonstrated that.

I wish I could just stay away from people so I don’t hurt their feelings all the time, but life circumstances don’t seem to allow me to do that.




7 thoughts on “Reaction Fail

  1. You were ‘supposed’ to show her more concern and ‘should’ have let you know you cared…but that’s only to rub a sensitive NT ego. You DID show concern and DID care. If your friend failed to see that then you have no need to feel any shame at all . You offered help, you removed the hazard and then followed up with an email.
    I apologise on behalf of NTs. I’m afraid our shallow egos get the better of us sometimes and if your friend fails to see that you reacted well then more fool you. I know which of the two of you I’d rather know in a crisis.
    My wife struggles with people sometimes and I do what I can to keep her from having to deal with them, not because I’m concerned that she’ll react in what she thinks is the wrong way but because I get tired of my fellow NTs forever letting the side down.
    Keep being you.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. In writing, I can express sympathy and concern. I know all about failing to act the “correct” response. So. Sympathy. And-

    possibly, you have not “got things wrong”. In the instant moment, you responded as she did not expect; but your actions also include the email and explanation. So by the end of this tortuous process you have “got things right”.

    She might have been showing emotional signs that she understood, rather than verbalisations. “I understand” would be a useful verbalisation, but with my lot that can sound unsympathetic as it cuts the speaker off. The point is that in any situation involving communication, it is the responsibility of both parties to establish that correct communication has taken place.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m sorry you’re stressing over this. I do the same thing and have had plenty of similar experiences where i offered help or sympathy but not in the ‘correct’ way and it can soooo backfire when the other person doesn’t understand. From your description, you did everything ‘correctly’ in addressing the situation except for the outward warmth…but that means so much to people. People on the spectrum can seem cold, but we’re not and NTs have no idea how much it hurts to anguish over these seemingly simple everyday things. I wish your friend understood when you tried to explain. You don’t say what your relationship is, so I’m gathering you’re not close. At least you let her know you were concerned by following up and she told you how she had been feeling for a couple of days. Maybe that’s a start.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Awh, I’m sorry this is stressing you out! But I didn’t see anything wrong with your course of action, and you’d be far better served by developing confidence in your instincts than by playing pretend for the sake of others.

    The people that matter will give you the time to explain, and to understand you for who you are–not make you play by their rules. There’s nothing at all wrong with what you did. Laying on an ‘act’ of extra sympathy would only be a hollow charade.

    You’re practical in nature. You extended an offer of assistance, and she declined it. To your understanding, she was in control of the situation. So you went and ensured the safety of others. The ways that you show you care are in your actions. That is always going to be your way, and you should celebrate it! There are very few people who would have thought to fix the hazard.

    Your ability to visibly display what other people want to see isn’t your problem. If they want to be offended, that’s their choice. Explain to those who will take it on board that no, your face doesn’t reflect what you’re thinking, and don’t ever apologise for it. If they have half a brain, they’ll ask you what’s going through your head next time, instead of getting their knickers in a knot.

    Someone here got their nose out of joint because you didn’t act the way they expected. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Until people realise there are more ways to react to a situation than the ‘right’ one, they’re going to keep getting hurt and offended–you can’t afford to take that on your shoulders.

    You be you. It’s a hard road, but we need your alternate way of thinking out there. Don’t let anyone shame you out of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is true for everyone – EVERYONE – no matter if autism/Asperger’s is a factor, and that is: you can’t please everyone. It’s impossible. I always say the wrong thing and act the wrong way in the eyes of my sister and have all of my life, but have been assured by everyone else in my life that I’m kind and considerate. She’s just exceptionally hard on me and there’s nothing that is going to make her accept me. I’ve stopped beating myself up. You should too. I mean, seriously – a two-day grudge because you didn’t make a bigger deal out of offering more help than you already offered and it was turned down? Dumb. Stupid. Ridiculous. That person is gaslighting you and trying to alter reality.

    Liked by 1 person

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