Masking(acting) to the point I don't know myself

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Map84
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29 Mar 2019, 11:58 am

Hi,
After recently figuring out with my therapist that I'm likely high functioning autistic, and that in public I'm acting, which is how I've always felt, I'm not sure what is under the mask, or where to begin figuring it out, I'm like an actor playing a role, but not knowing what the actor is like out of the role. I hope that doesn't sound silly!
I don't really know what I'm asking, I suppose it's how to know what's underneath? It's hard work keeping the act up, and I suffer with social anxiety as a result.
Any thoughts or guidance is much appreciated. Mark


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PoseyBuster88
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30 Mar 2019, 10:12 pm

I don't have an answer really, but here is what I have been trying to do myself since having that same question/asking myself who I am in general when I am not just trying to live up to expectations:

I have been trying to think back to when I was a kid playing, and what I liked to do and how I behaved. For example, I loved playing with and grooming animals. I was essentially a free dog trainer and groomer for my neighbor. I also enjoyed art, reading, and creating things like my own board games. Loved puzzles.

So that has given me some ideas of activities I can try to reintroduce/devote more time to than "typical" extracurriculars.

I have also thought about general behavior. I used to always carry a book with me, and disappear into it when needed. I also carried a smooth stone in my pocket that I would hold when feeling nervous. I also sat on the floor more than in chairs, and was almost always fidgeting in some way (twirling hair, twisting/twirling my fingers around, bouncing on my toes, etc.). I have been reintroducing some of those as well, mainly among family and close friends for the non-subtle behaviors, to see how it feels.

I have also just been trying to give myself more slack when I struggle...when I can't figure out when to talk or even really follow a group conversation in a loud place, I don't worry about it and let myself disengage. If I get "caught," it will just have to be okay to tell people that I struggle with conversations in loud environments, and couldn't follow what was said. Stuff like that. I also bought high fidelity ear plugs based on the advice I got on WP. I wear them when I know an event will be loud, but I want to or have to attend. I am basically letting myself take a few "easy outs" instead of gritting my teeth and struggling through as much.

I think I will keep some things though...like smiling and greeting acquaintances, asking "how are you" even when it's dumb since everyone just says "fine," etc. I think making a little effort like that is more being polite than it is an unreasonable task (for me). I equate it to an NT person smiling and nodding when I overshare about an interest because they are being kind. And at work and with brand new acquaintances, I will probably keep a bit more of my "mask" on. I have asked some close NT friends, and even they said they have a work persona they use when they need to act professional.

And just FYI, I am not diagnosed by suspect I am ASD or at least have traits. Got a 32 on the AQ and 114 of 200 aspie, 95 of 200 nuerotypical on the aspie quiz. In case that helps you interpret my advice.


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30 Mar 2019, 10:44 pm

It's encouraging that you have awareness of this at a younger age. I was diagnosed autistic at 3 years old and was in denial about it until I was about 55. Therapists kept cautiously and tactfully asking me about being on the spectrum and I ignored in part because I was focusing hard on career, failed marriages, illnesses and other immediate challenges. So I've been acting like I'm normal for a long, long time to the point that I've split off and submerged the parts of me that are spontaneous and authentic and it's almost impossible to let go of the simulated normal behavior. It drains the vitality from life to be pretending almost all the time and pretending to have normal feeling reactions is enormously disempowering in interpersonal relationships. This topic has come up some before and I keep looking for solutions people have, but so far I've only seen variations on "just be yourself", which is nowhere near concrete enough for my literal mind. Just being myself would involve odd body movements, wagging my hands or rocking, doing compulsive-looking movements of my eyes and things that always got bad reactions when I was a kid, much less an adult. The approaches to overcoming the masking behavior that I have hope in involve: (1) telling a few trusted people in my life that I'm autistic and about behaviors I'm suppressing, (2) letting myself show some of the repressed autistic behavior with my counselor (who's great at understanding autism), and (3) not withdrawing when I get into sensory or social-related overwhelm at which point those suppressed behaviors become just about impossible to hide. I'll be extremely interested in the responses you get to this thread. My experience is that holding these behaviors in and acting like an NT all the time put me into massive 'autistic burnout' about 7 years ago.



Pepe
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30 Mar 2019, 11:45 pm

Map84 wrote:
Hi,
After recently figuring out with my therapist that I'm likely high functioning autistic, and that in public I'm acting, which is how I've always felt, I'm not sure what is under the mask, or where to begin figuring it out, I'm like an actor playing a role, but not knowing what the actor is like out of the role. I hope that doesn't sound silly!
I don't really know what I'm asking, I suppose it's how to know what's underneath? It's hard work keeping the act up, and I suffer with social anxiety as a result.
Any thoughts or guidance is much appreciated. Mark


Did the therapist mention dissociation or ontological insecurity?
I had both when I was young...

If you are "wearing a mask" and behaving the way you think society is expecting you to, you won't be able to develop a core identity/personality that is in harmony with what you actually feel, think and want...

When I was in therapy the topic of mind/body dissociation came up...
I.E. What you think and what you feel is dissociated/disconnected...
To a large extent, this happened through a psychological trauma...
Has this happened to you?
Add autism into the equation and things can get complicated...



PoseyBuster88
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31 Mar 2019, 12:00 am

Pepe wrote:
I.E. What you think and what you feel is dissociated/disconnected...


Can you explain that a bit more? I thought it was relatively common for those on the spectrum to have trouble identifying emotions...is this different than that?


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Pepe
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31 Mar 2019, 12:19 am

PoseyBuster88 wrote:
Pepe wrote:
I.E. What you think and what you feel is dissociated/disconnected...


Can you explain that a bit more? I thought it was relatively common for those on the spectrum to have trouble identifying emotions...is this different than that?


Yep...
Most auties have a low EQ in comparison to most NTs...
I.E. We have difficulty processing emotions...

What I experienced as a child was more profound than an autistic emotional dysfunction...
A traumatic psychological event when I was 5 probably started the dissociative disorder which affected my mind/body cohesion...

Having trouble sorting out what one is feeling and suppressing those feelings or even being unaware of one's feelings aren't the same thing...

But remember, this is my experience...
Other's mileage may vary... :wink:



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31 Mar 2019, 12:34 am

I wore my mask through Uni, a high-pressure career, a nervous breakdown, then nearly a decade of life-threatening abuse.

I had another autistic breakdown in 2014 and a stroke caused by stress in 2015. I have not recovered from the breakdown / burnout yet, although it's been five years and I have been virtually reclusive in my own little bubble.

I have only been able to remove my mask when I am completely alone for extended periods of time, in a sensory controlled environment where I don't have to worry about undue noise or smell or light or interaction. By "extended periods" I mean months of relaxing, and allowing the pressure to seep out like air from a balloon. I've yet to release all of that pressure and it's been five years since this breakdown began.

I didn't know I was autistic until last year. That was another learning curve. My personality has started to come back with much reflection and with the help of WP where I can write my feelings and memories anonymously. I can connect with other people who share the same pain of masking.

It also helped to look at old photos of my childhood. I can see the pain in my eyes and remember what I was going through at different stages. I'm learning to comfort that 'younger me' by understanding why I was masking, and how I can avoid it in the future.

I also gave up on giving a **** what other people think when my mask is off. That's a huge step for most of us.


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31 Mar 2019, 7:59 am

I feel like I've noticed layers of mask falling away over the two years since my diagnosis.
Honestly the mask wasn't working very well anyway. I don't know if I was ever able to cover up my communication issues at all. But stimming, I guess, is what I've realized I do a lot more of than I ever allowed myself to before. I think I started by just letting myself do things like rub my head, or rub/twist my fingers, or rocking. When I noticed I was starting to do one of those things, it was like some part of me would say "don't do that!", and I'd try to take notice of what I was telling myself not to do and then not listen to that part. If that makes any sense.
I think I got told not to act like that so much so early in my life that I blocked all of that out and never realized that I did any of it in the first place. I would just stiffen up my whole body instead.



magz
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31 Mar 2019, 8:40 am

Map84 wrote:
Hi,
After recently figuring out with my therapist that I'm likely high functioning autistic, and that in public I'm acting, which is how I've always felt, I'm not sure what is under the mask, or where to begin figuring it out, I'm like an actor playing a role, but not knowing what the actor is like out of the role. I hope that doesn't sound silly!
I don't really know what I'm asking, I suppose it's how to know what's underneath? It's hard work keeping the act up, and I suffer with social anxiety as a result.
Any thoughts or guidance is much appreciated. Mark

I could just write your post myself, only changing the name :D
Two years of therapy later, I can notice my own feelings if I pay attention.
I found out the word - overstimulation - to describe my frequent distress. Not bad, knowing what was causing me feeling bad, I learned not to let people speak to me simultanously. And to avoid noisy places. If unavoidable, I carry an emergency pair of earplugs.
My friend told me I'm calmer when I use earplugs in public transport.


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jimmy m
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31 Mar 2019, 9:07 am

PoseyBuster88 wrote:
Pepe wrote:
I.E. What you think and what you feel is dissociated/disconnected...


Can you explain that a bit more? I thought it was relatively common for those on the spectrum to have trouble identifying emotions...is this different than that?


There is a tool that some Aspies have stumbled across quite naturally over the centuries. It helps us. The human brain is composed of many components. The outermost layer is sometimes called the social brain. In middle school, I often found myself daydreaming. Staring out the window and traveling to an imaginary world, a better world. This is a type of mild disassociation, a separation of body and mind. But from this evolved another type. Under extreme stress, I found that I could separate my social brain into two parts, the emotional brain and the analytical brain. I could completely turn off my emotional brain and then spin up my analytical brain and look at the present problem or predicament analytically from a thousand different perspectives all at once. I would then pick the best solution and then implement that solution. As a result I was never helplessly trapped, and I never again experience panic attacks or "tonic immobility". In this process I shut down all emotions - fear, hate, revenge, terror, panic. Under great stress, my emotions are no longer there to cloud my response. I am fearless. As a result, life became a grand adventure and I live it as I see fit.

There are a couple forms of masking. Many Aspies mask their introversion by pretending to be extroverts. The stress of doing this is quite great. They are always second guessing their decisions in order to fit into society. After a few years the stress can turn into distress, anxiety and produce psychological behavioral problems.

I personally feel this is a wrong approach. Trying to turn an introvert into an extrovert is like trying to smash a square peg into a round hole. It can be done with a big enough hammer but there is a lot of damage done in the process. Fifty percent of the worlds population are introverts and fifty percent are extroverts. Introverts can be happy just being introverts.

I mask but in a different way. As a child grows up they pass through many distinct phases of childhood development. One of these is called the "Pleasing Four". For some reason my development halted at this stage of development. I am like a child. But a very bright child. So I just put on a mask of an introverted adult. There is very little stress in wearing that type of mask and I now 70 years old and happy with my life. Most Aspies are taught that they have to conform to society to be accepted. But I have found that to be false. I am me and I expect society to conform to me. The strange thing is that in general they do. I am a nonconformist.


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31 Mar 2019, 12:23 pm

jimmy m wrote:
PoseyBuster88 wrote:
Pepe wrote:
I.E. What you think and what you feel is dissociated/disconnected...


Can you explain that a bit more? I thought it was relatively common for those on the spectrum to have trouble identifying emotions...is this different than that?


There is a tool that some Aspies have stumbled across quite naturally over the centuries. It helps us. The human brain is composed of many components. The outermost layer is sometimes called the social brain. In middle school, I often found myself daydreaming. Staring out the window and traveling to an imaginary world, a better world. This is a type of mild disassociation, a separation of body and mind. But from this evolved another type. Under extreme stress, I found that I could separate my social brain into two parts, the emotional brain and the analytical brain. I could completely turn off my emotional brain and then spin up my analytical brain and look at the present problem or predicament analytically from a thousand different perspectives all at once. I would then pick the best solution and then implement that solution. As a result I was never helplessly trapped, and I never again experience panic attacks or "tonic immobility". In this process I shut down all emotions - fear, hate, revenge, terror, panic. Under great stress, my emotions are no longer there to cloud my response. I am fearless. As a result, life became a grand adventure and I live it as I see fit.

There are a couple forms of masking. Many Aspies mask their introversion by pretending to be extroverts. The stress of doing this is quite great. They are always second guessing their decisions in order to fit into society. After a few years the stress can turn into distress, anxiety and produce psychological behavioral problems.

I personally feel this is a wrong approach. Trying to turn an introvert into an extrovert is like trying to smash a square peg into a round hole. It can be done with a big enough hammer but there is a lot of damage done in the process. Fifty percent of the worlds population are introverts and fifty percent are extroverts. Introverts can be happy just being introverts.

I mask but in a different way. As a child grows up they pass through many distinct phases of childhood development. One of these is called the "Pleasing Four". For some reason my development halted at this stage of development. I am like a child. But a very bright child. So I just put on a mask of an introverted adult. There is very little stress in wearing that type of mask and I now 70 years old and happy with my life. Most Aspies are taught that they have to conform to society to be accepted. But I have found that to be false. I am me and I expect society to conform to me. The strange thing is that in general they do. I am a nonconformist.


I decided not to cut down your post because I can relate to virtually everything/k you wrote...

Quote:
and look at the present problem or predicament analytically from a thousand different perspectives all at once.

Impressive, though I appreciate you are using hyperbole...
In my 20s I formulated a methodology involving precisely 3 different perspectives...
It served me well...

Self-actualisation for us auties involves rejecting the imposed toxic/foreign neurotypical social mindset and refining our own unique autistic perspective ...surely...
"...trying to smash a square peg into a round hole" isn't the path to effective personal healthy development, agreed...



grahambaster
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31 Mar 2019, 12:54 pm

Can relate. I find that slowing down helps to unravel the facade. I suppose that would be like mindfulness practice as in paying attention moment by moment. I am isolating a lot more recently in order to create space and that seems necessary despite what the mental health industry says.
I am asking the questions "How is the experience of trauma for a spectral person unique? Is trauma fundamental to being on the spectrum or would dissociation due to alienation or abandonment or confusion be a better term?" Insight sometimes comes when you ask questions.


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31 Mar 2019, 7:30 pm

grahambaster wrote:
Can relate. I find that slowing down helps to unravel the facade. I suppose that would be like mindfulness practice as in paying attention moment by moment. I am isolating a lot more recently in order to create space and that seems necessary despite what the mental health industry says.
I am asking the questions "How is the experience of trauma for a spectral person unique? Is trauma fundamental to being on the spectrum or would dissociation due to alienation or abandonment or confusion be a better term?" Insight sometimes comes when you ask questions.


Are you talking to me?



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31 Mar 2019, 7:50 pm

OP. You're not alone. When you mask throughout your life out of necessity, ie being someone that others want you to be or that you think others want you to be and you do this all the time, where is your real self? Do you even have one? Do you even have an individual personality at all or are you just a patchwork of superficial "masks" with nothing real? In a sense, are you an automaton?

Those are all thoughts that I've had about myself. The scariest of which, at times has been wondering if I missed the opportunity to even form a personality and having stark feelings that I was devoid of anything real.

There are a smaller number of us who are over age 40 on WP but many of them, myself included seem to reach a point where we burn out. My burnout was gradual over a period of about a decade. Like Isabella, I also draw on my past (childhood) to a time when I was very happy in my own world and those memories help me realize that of course I have my own personality. It's there. I'm an archaeologist now, chipping away at the many years be being who I'm not. It's helped that I'm at a point in my life where I don't have to "mask" (nearly as much) to get ahead in my career. Like Isabella, I'm also at a point in my life where I really don't care what anyone thinks of me. I gave enough in my life in that regard.



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31 Mar 2019, 9:30 pm

magz wrote:
Two years of therapy later, I can notice my own feelings if I pay attention.


Ah, this just made me realize something. I am always confused when people say autistics have a low EQ like Pepe just put a few comments before. Reading that, I thought no, I am hyper empathetic. Of other people. But I never actually think about how I feel for myself. I need to do this ^ a whole lot more.



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31 Mar 2019, 9:35 pm

Pepe wrote:
Impressive, though I appreciate you are using hyperbole...


An Aspies brain is wired differently. We have more interconnects. In a sense we operate using parallel communications where an NT uses serial communications.


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