This post is going to be a little more personal, but hopefully it’ll be a useful window into how someone’s autisticness can change basic social needs.
I don’t really have any interest in apologies. Most of the steps of a “good” apology are entirely irrelevant to me. Expressing remorse? I don’t care; that’s no use to me. Asking forgiveness? First of all, I am not obligated to forgive anything and secondly… useless. The actual words, “I’m sorry” aren’t useful either.
“I’m sorry” is a great way to pacify someone who is upset without actually investing thought or effort in understanding, let alone doing better. And when “I’m sorry,” isn’t a conscious attempt to manipulate someone into putting their feelings away… they can be a result of a trauma reflex, the reflex to abase oneself to stave off disproportionate consequences. To show suffering so that hopefully it’ll be deemed adequate suffering by whomever is in a position to add more suffering on top.
This is also, to the person impacted by a screwup, entirely useless. (Worse than useless, if it turns into reassuring the person apologizing that actually everything is fine and they’re fine and nothing is wrong.) It’s primarily useful to abusers who want/need to see suffering in my experience, and to be entirely blunt… fuck those people. Suffering doesn’t actually have inherent value. How much someone is hurting is an entirely separate matter from whether they are going to do better.
So if none of that is useful to me, what should people do if they realize they’ve done something that’s… well, that wasn’t ideal. What should they do?
Accept this new information exactly as you would accept a new effort-saving way to do something in Excel. “Ohhh that makes sense. Thanks!” or to be even more informal, “Oh shit, good call, thanks.”
If you are going to add anything, you can do a comprehension check. Make sure you actually understand what someone is suggesting you learn, instead of assuming that the lesson is probably just that you are garbage that everyone should just exile to Cancelvania. It’s okay to be curious about how something you did may have caused harm.
Time for a fun tip! Get excited, because it’s good. Imagine this in a weird font atop those random gross images that show up in chumbucket ads at the bottom of websites:
One weird tip to grow from social mistakes!
Codependents hate it!
If you’ve ever seen one of those memes that suggests thanking people when you might reflexively apologize, that applies here! If, “sorry I’m late,” can become, “thank you for your patience,” then “I’m sorry I did the thing,” can become, “thank you for saying something.” Of course you have to actually mean it, you have to actually want people to tell you uncomfortable things.
Aside: Yes, you have to actually want it. I know that it’d be better for all of us to just never make a single suboptimal choice, and it’s easy to say that that’s the actual practical desired outcome of every interaction. But it’s not possible and as a benchmark this is only useful as a tool for self-punishment. Here are your real options.
- Make suboptimal choices and have to learn a new thing about them.
- Make suboptimal choices and have nobody dare to tell you, and learn no new thing.
You have to actually want option 1. If you can only grudgingly acknowledge that 1 is better you suppose, practice reminding yourself what your real options are and which one you prefer. Write it on your mirror if you have to; I don’t care how you do it as long as you do.
Once you have solidly consciously decided that it’s better to know unpleasant things so you can maintain a certain standard of behavior for yourself, it’ll be easier to thank people who trust you enough to actually engage with you in that way. They are helping you learn. The lesson may suck, but they’re still opting to be useful to your learning process instead of just writing you off. They are giving you the opportunity to practice your actual values and priorities. Thank them. MEAN IT WHEN YOU DO.
I know that for a lot of people, swapping in, “Oh that makes sense, thank you,” for the ritual of self-flagellation is going to be less satisfying. It’s going to feel too small a response to a wrongdoing. If this is you, please remember: your misery has no inherent value. You do not need to preserve it or perform it or induce it. Misery and being better are not actually causally linked; I’d argue they aren’t even correlated.
As an autistic person, I don’t care about anything other than what’s actually going to happen to the pattern of our interactions. People say a lot of nonsense for a lot of reasons other than its accuracy, and I’m done pretending to believe all of it just because it’s impolite to consciously know how much of it is nonsense. I don’t care about hearing the words, “I’m sorry.”
I’m not pointing out an area for improvement to hear, “I’m sorry.” I just want it improved. I’m not rejecting an apology to be terse or mean or unforgiving or punishing. I just literally don’t care about anything but how things are going to be in the future. If things improve, the conversation is over and the matter is closed.
I guarantee you that as an autistic person I am aware that we are all social works in progress. We are all going to do things that we don’t realize in the moment are beneath our standards for ourselves, and we are all going to have to choose whether we learn from those situations.
Go write down somewhere that your actual options are for people to tell you uncomfortable things or not to tell you uncomfortable things. Your wish for there to simply be no uncomfortable things is a silly trap you are locking around your own foot and you can just not do it. Know your real options. Either you learn and do better or you don’t. Everything else is just noise.
Feel free to be very suspicious of anyone who “needs” to see your misery over a thing you did that in retrospect you could have done better. Your misery has no inherent value; only your continuing evolution has value.
If instead someone helps you learn that you hurt them, they are investing in your evolution. Appreciate them. Thank them once you do appreciate them. They took a risk being real with you and they deserve to know it was and will be a safe thing to do.
That’s how you use a screwup to rise in the esteem of whomever you hurt. That’s how you use a screwup to learn. “I’m sorry,” doesn’t do the work; a genuine, “thank you,” absolutely can.