Socially stigmatized people still have to respect boundaries

Here’s something I’ve seen happen among autistic folks. I think it probably happens in other groups too.

  • Someone is subjected to a lot of social violence
  • People don’t want to talk to them because they’re autistic and weird
  • People mock the idea that people like them could ever be a good friend or partner
  • They’re very lonely and isolated as a result of social violence and discrimination

Then, as they’re figuring out that social violence is bad, this leads to an entitlement mentality:

  • They think that, since discrimination is wrong, other people owe it to them to be their friends
  • or to consider dating them
  • Or not to consider things associated with their stigmatized group dealbreaking (eg: if an autistic person who doesn’t understand social cues violates boundaries a lot)
  • And they get angry at people who reject them
  • And act like they’re doing something wrong
  • And then invasively try to explain why the person they want to be friends with is wrong and really should be their friend
  • and then persists, even after the other person has clearly said no

It really doesn’t work that way, though. No one has to be your friend. No one has to date you. No means no, even when it is motivated by bigotry or misunderstanding.

And it’s a lot easier to find good friends and partners if you stop pursuing people against their will.

Some things to think about after a bad interaction

If after interacting with someone, you feel filled with shame, or fear, or just generally feel like shit – it’s an indication that there’s a problem. Feeling that way tells you that there’s a problem, but it doesn’t in itself tell you what the problem is. 

It’s worth taking some time to figure out what’s behind it, and why you feel bad. For me, it helps to use words to talk or write to myself about what I think is going on, and these are the kinds of questions I ask:

1) Do you think that you *did* something bad?

  • If so, what?
  • Was it something you did on purpose?
  • Was it something you did inadvertently but culpably?
  • Was it a minor mistake that is being blown way out of proportion?
  • Is it something you would consider a big deal if someone did it to you?
  • Do people whose judgement you respect think you did a bad thing?
  • If you hurt someone who didn’t deserve it, is there anything you can do to fix it?
  • If you angered someone powerful, is there something you need to do to protect yourself?

2) Do you usually feel awful after talking to this person? (If so, that’s a major red flag.)

  • Did this person get you to agree to something you hadn’t meant to agree to?
  • Are you really confused?
  • Do you understand the interaction? Do you know what they said and what you said? If you always feel horrible after talking to someone *and* you usually have no idea what the content of the interaction was, there’s probably a problem.

3) Do other people you know have similar interactions with this person?

  • If so, do they know what is going on?
  • Are your trustworthy friends worried about your interactions with this person? If so, why?