(Part 2 of 2)
When we recall our experiences attempting to receive or extend care, many of us encounter negative feelings as a result of past social traumas. Learning to receive and extend emotional care can bring up feelings of insecurity, fears of rejection, or even anger. These types of self-reflection are essential tools in developing self-awareness, the foundational skill upon which to build social abilities. We must then use our skills of self-awareness to develop other-awareness. Providing care and understanding other people are skills that can be learned over time with dedicated effort. Extending care is an essential relational ability for both autists and allist. When we extend care to another, we enrich the very fabric of safety and trust between partners.
Let’s go over an exercise to help us learn to better extend care to others.
If you are in a relationship: Make an agreement with your partner(s) to provide small acts of care for each other at least once a day for a week. These could be things like asking your partner how their day went when they get home before sharing your own topics; writing a list of things your partner does that you’re grateful for but don’t always acknowledge (e.g., changing the toilet paper roll, watering houseplants) and sharing it with them; offering a back massage unprompted; watching the kids so your partner can have alone time; and so on.
If you are not in a relationship: Commit to providing small acts of care at least once a day for a week. These acts may be things you do for friends, colleagues, strangers, or even yourself. Maybe you could provide extra care for your cat by cleaning the litter box daily, instead of weekly; you could call your parents, or a friend you haven’t talked to in a while who would appreciate hearing from you; perhaps check your Facebook to check if there’s any friend you could wish a happy birthday; even saying “thank you” to your bus driver counts as an act of care!
Keep a record of your acts of care. After the week is over, review your list of good deeds. Share with your partner(s) (or a friend, a diary, or the internet) how it felt to commit these small acts of care. Did you feel like you were “faking it,” or did your acts feel genuine? Did you start out “faking it” and eventually feel more comfortable? Were some acts harder than others? What made these different?
Do you feel the acts of care were appreciated? How did you decide which ways to extend care? Did you care for others the way you like to be cared for? Did you do things you know they would appreciate even if you would not like being treated that way? Were your acts a mixture of these two methods? What are some strategies you can use to figure out what kind of care a person appreciates? (Do they ask outright for specific things? Do you follow general etiquette rules? Are there clues in their clothes, hobbies, or mannerisms that help you guess?) What are the ways in which other people could guess what kind of care you appreciate?
With every relational process, reflection drives new insight and increased self-awareness. If you find yourself comfortable with what you have discovered, do a little more of that. If you notice areas were you are dissatisfied, learn and grow from this self-reflection.
See you soon!