Thursday, November 30, 2017

There is Hope for Happiness

David Finch's marriage was on the rocks. His wife, Kirsten, was bewildered; she thought her husband had changed, when in reality he had reverted to his original form. Because of her specialty, she figured it out: Asperger's.
Oddly enough, that diagnosis helped immensely. Kristen was the perfect candidate to help. 
Autism spectrum disorders are not cured with medication, but their associated behaviors can be worked with. What I needed initially were communication skills and a sense of empathy, neither of which, in my case, had been factory-installed. Fortunately, I was living with a highly qualified therapist with a strong motivation to help. Her objective: re-invent our marriage. Her first mission: figure out how to get me to communicate.
They tackled that. And empathy, too. 
Acquiring empathy seemed a taller order, given that my Aspergerish point of reference is myself in every circumstance. (Someone just slipped and killed himself in the men’s room? I see. How long until they get him out of there so I can go?) But I’ve learned that people can develop empathy, even if by rote. With diligent practice, it can evolve from a contrived acknowledgment of other people’s feelings to the real thing. . . Soon these started to feel like real rather than manufactured emotional responses.
If someone who is born incapable of communication and empathy can learn these skills, I'm sure those who are "normal" can perfect them as well.

Modern Love celebrated an anniversary by reprinting this article, along with a follow-up with Kristen. A woman writes to her in frustration and sadness, that she believes her husband has Asperger's and she's depending on his changing for her happiness. 

Kristen, however, drops some unpleasant truth on her: He is not responsible for her happiness. She is. 

During one particularly frustrating encounter with David's "quirks," Kristen was able to pull back. 
I zoomed out to see that Dave was a human being, someone’s child, someone’s brother, someone’s father. When I took that bigger view, I found compassion. That may sound like a simple revelation, but it’s anything but. . . until [then], I hadn’t once told myself the story of how I had been so judgmental. I had to zoom out to see that story line unfolding, and once I did, I wanted to revise it.
I knew for sure I didn’t want to feel mad all the time. I didn’t want to be so resentful. And I really, really wanted to figure out how to like my husband again.
I discovered this myself a few years ago, with family members. People are different, and they aren't cognitively trying to torment others, they see and react in other ways than I see and react. 

I learned that I can't relate to people on my terms. I have to relate to them on theirs. That means not saying what I want when I want in the name of "honesty." It means holding back and revisiting issues from a place of calm and thought (Rabbi Tatz says this too). 

Personal happiness cannot depend on others. It comes from within. It means flipping the perspective, valuing others strengths instead of harping on their weaknesses. We are all human. We all have both.  

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