NVLD: I just don’t understand people

Sometimes I have to cut out advice columnists for a while, just as in the 90s I had to cut out talk shows (such as Montel), because they can be triggering.  (I had bad experiences in college which these talk shows occasionally reminded me of.)  However, this is almost impossible because my newspaper runs an advice column, and you can’t help but read it with the comics.  Because the advice column often has bad advice, I feel forced to go elsewhere–usually Carolyn Hax–for some sanity again.  So until newspapers stop running these things, or I stop reading newspapers, I guess I’ll keep getting triggered now and then.  Just as bullies and abusers in my life tried to tell me I deserved their abuse, I’ll read what seems to say, “You deserved to be abused!”  This is why I had to drop a forum back in 2008, because people who knew nothing about the situation made it sound like I deserved to be bullied and abused.  I’ll read somebody else’s letter in an advice column and the responses, and it feels like over again, somebody is telling me, “You deserved to be abused!”  Even though it’s somebody else, and usually the situation is very different, I get shaky and distressed, like it’s all happening to me all over again.

With NVLD (nonverbal learning disorder), which is sort of like Asperger’s (though not the same thing), I just don’t understand people.  I was reminded of this again last night while reading a recent Carolyn Hax column and the responses from readers.  I read the letter writer’s complaint at face value.  When she said it was “perfectly natural” to discuss work with a co-worker, I thought, yes, of course it is.  I could agree with her that the girlfriend seems possessive and insecure to get all upset over work conversations between her boyfriend and the letter writer.  So when Carolyn and even the many commenters, on Facebook and on the Washington Post page, started ripping into the letter writer, I was shocked.

I just plain don’t get it.  I get excluded from conversations ALL THE TIME.  Nobody does it on purpose, it’s just that I’m an introvert with NVLD, and most people are extroverts without NVLD.  So they’ll be going on and on about something I don’t know a thing about, or that bores me, or somebody else makes my comment before I have a chance to.  I don’t whine about it; I only notice because often somebody turns to me and says, “You’re so quiet!”  That annoys me.  If you want to include me in the conversation, ask me a question; don’t criticize me and make me feel like a freak.

It happens in cars, just like with the letter writer and her two friends.  The other two will be in the front seats and I’ll be in the back, which automatically excludes you from conversation.  They’ll chatter on and on and I can barely hear them; if I can hear them, either I have nothing to contribute, or nobody hears me when I do.  Richard and Tracy used to do this all the time, too, when they’d drive me someplace, and they’d be up front talking on and on about their right-wing politics or some other thing, and I’d be quiet in the back seat.  Or we’d be in my house or their house, and they’d start going on about things I wasn’t interested in, or politics I did not agree with, or people I didn’t know, or make comments I found appalling, so I’d just sit quietly and wait for the conversation to change.

(Which is why her complaints of feeling “snubbed” have always baffled me.  Nobody was snubbing anybody, and if it’s “snubbing” to talk about things she doesn’t know about, then she “snubbed” me all the time.  It was just the normal, natural progression of conversation, and if, when other people were around, I got a chance to talk to Richard about something I actually knew about and was interested in, it was so rare and wonderful that I was darn well going to take it.  Everybody else did it to me all the time in their house; it was my turn, dang it.  This is also why I preferred one-on-one conversations with him, because we had a rapport and interests that could keep us talking for hours, which is highly unusual for me except with a few people.  Because it is so unusual for me, I see it as a rare treat, a delicacy, the caviar of friendships and social interaction.  While extroverts apparently see it as Tuesday.  But unfortunately, Tracy had such strict control that it was hard to see him without her, except on occasion, so when we got together, I wanted some of that rapport again for 10 or 20 minutes.  The rest of the time, we usually all socialized together, playing a game or something.)

But back to the main point.  It happens when more than two people are sitting at a table and the others inevitably steer the conversation toward subjects I cannot contribute to, or maybe I could but I can’t get a word in edgewise before the topic changes.  Or they talk about something I have no interest in, or about people they know but I don’t.

That’s why I prefer one-to-one conversations, because I can finally get a word in edgewise and talk about things I can contribute to, by helping to steer the conversation, instead of other people doing it.  Or sometimes I prefer the larger conversations because I don’t know what to say, and this takes the pressure off me to contribute.  Especially if I make a friend who I can actually talk to easily, I like the chance to just sit and chat with this person.  Introverts are like this: We don’t do well in group conversations, and just end up watching and listening.  But one-to-one, we can do a lot better.  Well, can.  I don’t always.  Often with one person, I still just sit there not knowing what to say.  But sometimes “magic” happens that I can’t explain, and I can chat easily with this person, probably because of similar interests and temperaments.

As for getting excluded–I get excluded when sitting at a meal with a group of people.  Happened all through school.  My college friends would go on and on every day about choir or their sorority, neither of which I was in.  Happened in the SCA, especially if they went on and on about something like sewing or SCA stuff (I was a newbie) or some bit of medieval knowledge that I know nothing about.  Happens every time I go to a social event and people chatter about things I don’t know about.  Happens at church every week, especially since I go to a Greek church and the people my age often talk in Greek with their relatives and older friends.  If I go to the English-speaking table, they’re mostly 30 or 40 years older than me and I can’t relate to the conversation.

And you know what?  That’s just frickin’ LIFE.  I know people don’t do it on purpose.  You just frickin’ deal with it and don’t tell people what they can or can’t talk about, unless it’s something harmful, like making fun of someone or bringing up topics that are painful to you.  That’s being controlling and self-centered.  (Heck, the one time I asked Richard not to talk around me about some guys who sexually harassed me, he said no.)  I think that people generally expect you to fend for yourself in conversations.  If you don’t, you just sort of disappear.

The only thing that annoys me is when people turn to me and complain that I’m so QUIET.

So I’m baffled by the Carolyn Hax column, why people have so jumped on the letter writer and accused her of all sorts of horrible things for doing the SAME THING THAT ALL THOSE PEOPLE WOULD DO TO ME WITHOUT THOUGHT IF WE WERE ALL SITTING AROUND A TABLE TOGETHER.

I just don’t understand people.  This is why I “hermit” so easily.  Why I “hermited” so much as a kid, but actually enjoyed going up into my bedroom when the house was full of relatives, or being alone all day at home during summer break.  Because people don’t make sense to me.  Oftentimes I had/have to deal with bullies, too.  Just when I think I have people figured out, they confuse me again.  Cats are easy: Pet them and give them a warm lap, and they’ll be devoted to you for life.

The researchers found that the brains of children with nonverbal learning disability responded differently to the social interactions than the brains of children with high functioning autism, or HFA, suggesting the neural pathways that underlie those behaviors may be different.–New light shed on learning disorders

UPDATE 2:02PM:

Going through the comments some more, I am greatly relieved to see at least two people who DO get it and don’t understand why the letter writer is being vilified.  They are introverts and social misfits to whom exclusion in conversation is perfectly normal and just something you tolerate.  One extrovert scolded that they may not want to participate in the conversation, but extroverts do, so it hurts them.  Er…Excuse me, introverts WANT to participate, same as extroverts.  We just get naturally shut out, which is frustrating.  But we do not rage about this or treat them as if they did it deliberately, because everybody does this to us.  Our circles are small enough without chasing away all the extroverts we know.

One introvert, justaguy22, even sees the girlfriend as possibly abusive, possibly trying to control her boyfriend’s friendships and conversations, especially if she won’t let her BF see the LW without her, where they could talk shop!  That’s how I might see it, too–especially if the boyfriend uses the “we must pacify her” tone.

(In my case, I got a lot of “She’s jealous,” “She screams at the kids,” “She has to approve my friends,” “She’s emotionally abusive to me,” so seeing her reaction as controlling and possessive came from that.  I saw it myself when we were roommates for six weeks, and saw her become very hostile toward me as well, just out of nowhere.  I had no clue why.  And I was given a whole litany of things I did “wrong” around her that I could not even remember.  I said I needed help, such as her using words so I’d know when she wanted to converse with me, because I could not recognize it.  But no changes or help came from their side to help me change on my side, so I was continuously in the dark.  She continued to be displeased with my behavior, but without telling me at the time what I had done, so I had no clue.

(I did not monopolize the conversation when she was in the room, mostly letting them carry it; if he and I sat next to each other, I might chat with him for a while, but usually my husband was there for her to talk to, or she was on the computer or doing some other thing.  She did not start conversations with me.  She did not even try with me, but instead expected me to come up with conversation when I have trouble with this in the best of social situations.  Most of the time there was something else going on in the room, or she was talking to everyone or to somebody else or screaming at a kid, so I didn’t see it as a time for starting conversation with her.  She criticized everything I did.  She refused to accept that I was a shy, quiet introvert with probable NVLD, who had always been that way and always would be, that making conversation with her–especially with someone who bullied me and whom I had maybe just witnessed verbally abusing her husband, kids or somebody else–was practically impossible for me until she stopped the abuse and accepted me for who I was.  Feeling pressured actually closes my throat and cuts off my thoughts.  Even then, I needed to be accepted as a quiet person who will not say much most of the time, even among my best friends.  I tried to explain all of this to Richard, hoping that he would explain it to her and they would help make it easier for me to relax around her.  But nothing ever changed, while I got blamed for everything and continuously punished for not being extroverted.

(Also, after we broke things off with her, I had symptoms similar to PTSD.  As I wrote in one of my pages on the situation, I was afraid to make new friends, constantly felt on-edge, like people were judging me harshly for being quiet.  It was always a huge relief to be among people who did not even mention my quietness, did not call me horrible for it, did not keep their husbands from being friends with me for it.  Reading this column was like, after all that, people were saying to me, “You deserved the abuse!  You deserved PTSD!  You deserve to be lonely and sad!”)

I don’t know, maybe it’s just that this is an entirely different situation from mine, and far simpler than what I dealt with, so the letter writer’s actions get a different response from the public.  I know that my husband–who is allowed to disagree with me and give the other person’s side–saw Tracy as controlling, too.  Maybe this letter writer is monopolizing the conversation, while I generally sit quiet in a corner.  I’m not sure it’s so hard to talk about something other than work, but maybe it’s the only thing she can think of at the time.  We don’t really know from one letter what all’s going on, and every letter that gets written to an advice column can get completely misinterpreted.  It happens, as we discover when somebody writes in with the “rest of the story,” whether from the original writer or from somebody else.

I believe I will now edit the full story of Richard/Tracy some more.  Apparently readers need to be more educated on introversion and NVLD, and told up front that I did try to do what I could to not “snub” her but I’m a timid person who was very intimidated by her aggressive manner.  Otherwise, people will just assume you are well-versed in social rules, an extrovert, can read subtle cues, etc. etc., and judge you unfairly.  One of the commenters on the advice column, who is used to being around geeks, complained about this, because of how people remarked on the letter writer.  Someone may have suggested Asperger’s; if she honestly cannot think of anything else to talk about, that is a possibility.  Aspies can easily fall into talking about their obsession even when you’ve already told them not to, but it’s not meant to hurt you.  Maybe I should incorporate this post into the introduction.  This is what people all over are dealing with in social situations, not just me; all we ask for is understanding instead of vilification and writing us off.

My story of narcissistic abuse is here and here. My college memoirs (incl. stories of Peter, Shawn and Phil) are here. My other writings are here.

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