Setting Boundaries and the Autism Spectrum

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I am on the autism spectrum and have coexisting conditions, including PTSD and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). Because of my prior history and the nature of my neurology, sometimes I find it hard to set boundaries. Furthermore, it is a challenge to recognize when my boundaries have been crossed. Sometimes it takes me days, months, or even years to recognize I have been violated or mistreated.  That’s why it’s important to have a sounding board, like a support group or a trusted friend. And why it’s important to continually practice setting limits.

Being I am autistic, interpreting another’s behavior and intention often proves difficult. In addition, others might interpret my kindness, soft voice, and stature as a sign of weakness. Even as I am strong and confident, my demeanor and inability to notice when another has crossed a line puts me at risk. Examples include a supervisor criticizing and yelling at me, a to-be business partner asking for 100% rights to everything I have written, a housemate displaying narcissistic behaviors, a family member stealing money, a relative making derogatory comments. For these reasons, it is essential that I study boundaries and know how to set limits.

Today, in my personal life and vocation, I work hard to understand what another has said or meant. I make every effort to foster clear communication and remedy a situation, when I surmise I have been wronged or misinterpreted. All in all, I check in with myself to ensure my needs are being met and that I am being treated fairly and justly. I disengage with people who display toxic behaviors. I steer clear of drama. I evaluate relationships to determine if they are in my best interest and in the best interest of my loved ones. I recognize my best interest matters.

I treat myself well. I implement self-care. I understand that I cannot expect others to treat me with respect if I don’t respect myself. I set the example of how I wish to be treated. Daily, I practice patience, integrity, honesty, self-awareness, and kindness. I admit when I have made a mistake. I apologize. Unfortunately, due to my nature, there are moments in which I don’t remember that other people aren’t like me–that they don’t have my best interest at heart and that they aren’t thinking about (or care) how their actions affect others. There are time periods that I actually forget that predators and mean people exist. For much of my life, I thought the ‘bad guys’ were only in the movies.

I forget that not everyone is trying their best to follow the golden rule, that people can be cruel, and perhaps even ‘evil.’ In addition, I have a tendency to think logically and possess a huge capacity for compassion; these character traits allow me to easily forgive. The way my mind works, including my expansive reasoning, high fluid intelligence, and ability to connect patterns and ideas, might result in me overlooking others’ transgressions. I find I easily rationalize unwelcome behavior and readily find reasons for another’s actions, e.g., troubled past, addiction, need to be in control, lack of self-esteem, abandoned as child, etc. In fact, it’s easy for me to care about someone and want to support them, despite the potential for them to bring more cons than pros to my life.

There is more to the complexity of setting boundaries. Even after decades of personal study in the field of mental health therapy, communication, self-help, psychology and the like, setting limits and voicing my opinion isn’t easy. I am self-assured and love myself, that’s not what stops me. It’s more over my heart. As I was bullied and hurt in my youth, I have great empathy when it comes to not wanting to hurt someone else. I never want someone to hurt the way I hurt or fear the way I feared. Even as I no longer am afraid of conflict (indeed, I find it necessary and healthy), I still avoid conflict at the risk of hurting another. I don’t mind if someone is angry at me, or doesn’t like me, or no longer wants to be an associate or friend. I just don’t want them to hurt.

The concept of time and when I’ve reached my limit, is a challenge as well. When is the right time to tell someone something? At what point do I speak up? Do I wait minutes, hours, days? Is my tolerance level too low? Is this my autistic brain or would this bother other people? Am I practicing tolerance? Am I too picky? Do I give them a chance to change their behavior on their own? What if I am overreacting? What if it’s just me? What if they are already under enormous stress, and my request is the breaking point? What if their esteem is very low, and I add to the potential for depression or suicide? I see this as a combination of extreme thinking and extreme empathy.

After yesterday’s writing on kindness and compassion  I realized how the concept of boundaries is still a vital area to explore in my life. This morning, I put together this short list in efforts to gain clarity and provide myself with further tools for setting limits. It’s something I plan on referring to often.

Boundaries Come in Many Forms

Some boundaries are visible to the eye and some boundaries are not. I have a right to my own beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. I have a right to excerpt energy in ways I see fit. I have a right to reserve my energy. I have a right to my personal space and how my body is touched. I have a right to protect and take care of my material possessions. I have a right to my way of being, thinking, and existing. No one has the right to violate me in any manner, under any circumstances.

My rights include protecting my:

  • Body
  • Psychological well being: emotions, thoughts
  • Energy
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Personal space
  • Sexuality
  • Material Possessions
  • Ethics
  • Culture

 Preparation

When I set out to create limits remember these key points:

  • Respect myself.
  • Respecting myself might be interpreted as selfishness. It’s okay if others interpret me as selfish. I am taking care of myself. That’s what is important.
  • Take care of myself first. Putting myself last can lead to illness, discomfort, bitterness, anger, mixed messages, miscommunication, and perpetuate a problem. Not putting myself first exposes me to burnout and feasible endangerment.
  • Healthy people put themselves first. It’s not unkind to put myself first. It is a kind act to put myself first.
  • Examine roadblocks to healthy boundaries, e.g., discuss with a professional or trusted adults, read literature.
  • Examine feelings associated with setting boundaries, e.g., I am afraid of boundaries because I __________ (fear hurting another’s feelings, fear rejection, fear confrontation, will feel guilty, am afraid of what others will think about me).
  • People aren’t mind readers. It’s wishful thinking to believe others will meet my needs if I haven’t stated them.
  • Avoid stuffing emotions, needs, and wants.
  • Remember passivity can lead to miscommunication, bitterness, and resentment.
  • Setting healthy boundaries is not the same as creating conflict.
  • It is unfair to myself, and those that care about me and those I care for, to neglect my own wants and needs.
  • It’s okay to feel uncomfortable setting boundaries.
  • It’s okay if setting limits does not feel natural. It might never feel natural. I still must set boundaries.

 Analysis and Support

Use the following to analyze and support my thoughts, emotions, and feelings:

  • What emotion(s) is underneath the initial discomfort, e.g., anger, sense of danger, feeling invaded, personal space violated.
  • Practice recognizing and identifying my emotions when I feel someone has violated a boundary.
  • Because of my neurology my recognition of a boundary being crossed might be delayed. Don’t shame myself about something I cannot help.
  • Work on increasing my awareness level when my boundaries are violated.
  • Check in with a trusted someone or support group if I am uncertain if a boundary has been crossed.

Action

Use the following tips when implementing boundaries:

  • Expect high standards of how others treat me. Set the tone, walk the walk.
  • Treat myself with respect if I expect to be treated with respect by others.
  • Practice behaviors that demonstrate personal integrity.
  • I have the choice of ignoring someone and walking away.
  • I don’t owe anyone an explanation or justification for my feelings.
  • I get to determine the who, what, where, and when of my life without explaining the why. It’s my business. I don’t owe anyone anything.
  • Be as direct as possible.
  • I don’t have to smile. Smiling could send a mixed message or indicate submissiveness or weakness.
  • My body language, including facial expressions, might not represent how I am feeling.
  • Don’t assume others know or understand my limits.
  • State limits clearly and precisely, with as few words as possible.
  • Don’t provide more information than needed.
  • Don’t engage in an extended conversation, unless in an invested and important relationship that I wish to keep.

Canned Responses

Keep handy a list of canned responses to refer to and practice.

“No I cannot _______ because I have to ________.”

“Not cool. Don’t do that around me.”

“I understand that you need ________. That doesn’t work with my schedule.”

“This is my boundary. This is how much I can take.”

“You know my thinking about that. We talked about this yesterday.”

“I need to go now.”

“This is not what I want to do.”

“I don’t think you meant that the way it sounded.”

“No. Thank you.”

“No. I am not okay with this.”

“No.”

“It won’t work. Thanks anyways.”

“I’m not comfortable with that.”

“I’d like you to stop.”

“Stop!”

“This isn’t working for me anymore.”

“I’ve learned it works for me best when . . .”

“This is not acceptable.”

“Some people see it that way.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.”

“You think _____. Why do you think that?”

“I noticed you keep asking _________. Why are you asking me that?”

“I disagree and no longer am going to talk about this.”

Deadpan, single word: “Fascinating.”

 

Stay Calm and Repeat

Tips to keep in mind when setting limits or responding:

  • Keep body language and posture as neutral as possible.
  • Stand tall.
  • Use a calm voice. Relax jaw.
  • If possible, look in center of person’s forehead in order to appear to be making eye contact.
  • If needed jot boundary on a piece of paper and read aloud.
  • State boundary clearly, calmly, and with as few words as possible.
  • Do not justify.
  • Do not get angry.
  • Do not apologize.
  • Set a limit and repeat. “I would like you not to cook in the kitchen after 10pm. Please stop cooking in the kitchen after 10pm.”
  • Repeat limits.
  • Avoid words and phrases that take away from being direct, such as: “It would mean a lot to me,” “I was wondering if,” “Can you do me a favor?”, “No big deal, but . . . “

Advocate for My Limits

Implement self-care and actions to ensure I stand by my limits:

  • Know what I will and will not tolerate.
  • Listen to my gut and stay true to self.
  • Stand my ground and don’t drop to their level.
  • Note my emotional and physical reaction.
  • Have support systems and tools in place to process my reaction to setting healthy boundaries.
  • Avoid debate, argument, shaming, and threats.
  • Cut it short.
  • If repeating limits does not have desired outcome, seek remedy; e.g., leave, walk away, state consequence, solicit help, tell someone.
  • Set natural consequences for the other person, e.g., I need time to think if I can be in this relationship; I need to speak to someone about this situation before I make a decision; I have had enough and am no longer tolerating your behavior; I will get back to you; you didn’t respond to repeated requests, so I am not renewing the lease; I cannot help you.
  • Make an ultimatum, when necessary, e.g., “I have asked you three times and you have ignored my request. This is the last time.”
  • Never remain in a dangerous situation. Leave and seek help immediately.
  • Reassure myself I did the right thing by standing my ground and looking out for myself.

Toxic Behavior

Understand when to leave a situation or relationship. Beware of individuals who display toxic behavior and know that some individuals will not have the capacity to respond to boundaries in a healthy way. Take into consideration circumstances and reasons to a degree but not at risk to your own mental well being and safety. Avoid toxic people at all cost. Don’t invest time and energy in rectifying or building a relationship with a toxic individual. Steer clear.

Be on the lookout for the following toxic attributes:

  • Displays violent outbursts to setting boundaries
  • Ignores repeated requests
  • Blames everyone else but themselves, take no responsibility for actions, doesn’t apologize
  • Takes advantage of others for their own personal gain
  • Often reacts to boundaries in defensiveness. Reacts with tantrum (e.g., stomping, slamming, storming, throwing, silent treatment). Reacts like a sulky teenager (e.g, slumping, frowning, dragging feet).
  • Reacts to boundaries with putdowns and criticism
  • Reacts to limits with astonishment or disbelief
  • Attempts to manipulate the situation
  • Demands repeated justification for boundaries
  • Entitled, thinks the world owes them something, expects everyone to meet their needs
  • Bullies
  • Is dishonest
  • Undermines another’s hard work or efforts
  • Inconsiderate of others’ property
  • Acts in repeated anger or aggression
  • Brings a lot of drama
  • Thinks the rules don’t apply to them
  • Plays the victim
  • Does not keep agreements
  • Gaslights
  • Love bombs (e.g., a pattern of smothering with love and making the object of their desire feel like they are the person’s entire world, only to later criticize, degrade, belittle, or violate.)

 

by Samantha Craft of Everyday Aspergers. Learn more and find more resources at myspectrumsuite.com 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries and the Autism Spectrum

  1. This is invaluable advice. ASD or NT. Child or adult. Male or female. This resonated with me and my current situation and trying to identify, set, and maintain boundaries. I even sent it to a fellow trauma survivor struggling with the same issues. She’s NT and said she needed to read that today. I will be saving this for future reference and reminding. Thank you for a thorough yet concise, practical and informative piece that should be read by a larger audience.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very interesting and insightful piece that is helpful for everyone no matter where they are on the spectrum. Thank you for sharing your learning so generously.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. So great to read wonderful new posts from you! Your original blog was instrumental in leading me to the conclusion that I’m Aspie (discovered very, very late in life).

    If you think it would be interesting (to you, or anyone!) I’d love to read your thoughts about the dichotomy of being on the spectrum–and what that means about our ability to read people’s ‘motives’–while also leading with our intuition.

    I feel I can often instantly –somehow– read someone’s entire soul, *while at the same time* be completely unable to tell if they mean me good, or ill, or even if they’re ‘just joking’.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I enjoyed reading your post. I too struggle with reading people. Being on the spectrum sets challenges and boundaries are difficult. I find that I ask for clarification a lot because I don’t understand sarcasm or read into intentions. Assumptions are a normal way of life for many, but I find them terribly confusing and problematic. I have ASD, PTSD, OCD and really the list goes on. I try my best to remain positive and work through obstacles. Thank you for sharing! It is comforting to read of similar experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you. I am preparing to get out of a 25 year marriage to a man who displays all of the toxic behaviors above.
    I am probably ASD myself. My 16 year old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s at an early age and I’m pretty sure my daughter (ADHD DX) is on the spectrum as well. My husband’s behaviors spiraled downward 6 years ago after I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and through the therapist I got that go around learned I was in an abusive situation (I was always told by him that I was the problem in our relationship…so I was always in therapy but never couples). My health was so bad that I thought I couldn’t leave. I started to change mentally. Set boundaries. Spoke up for myself. My husband started to do drugs and alcohol. He lost his nursing license, our house, etc. I thought I had the support of my own parents to leave but then I realized my own Dad was abusive towards my son. My husband bought a business with the money from the house sale. ((Mistake # zillion- wish I’d taken half… meager as it was and run then!)When the kids and I were kicked out of my parents’ house (they were afraid my son would retaliate against my Dad…sigh…based on Sandy Hook….Long story, they just didn’t know my kids period. We had never lived remotely near them. Still, I wouldn’t have stayed.) When I got to the apartment in the state where my husband got for us, he was on HEROIN. Business was almost failing. I covered for him. His own father and his mother separately came down to help get things in order. Now he’s off the heroin but still abusing other meds…Running the company almost on his own. Not communicating with me very well about the finances. He’s very disorganized, a slob to live with—same thing as usual.
    I told him if he was not in therapy by the time the lease was up in December that he needed to be prepared to live on his own and to provide a three bedroom apartment for his family. He insists it’s not financially possible. He has a history of threatening suicide, etc. in front of the kids. My mom suggests I be prepared to go to a shelter. I think I can plan BETTER than that at this point. The kids are getting stable again in their schools. Right now he has the only car. He says he is getting one after we get our tax return but then promises DISNEY TRIPS( There’s no one to run the business but us?!)…I am getting one regardless of whether or not HE follows through!
    Sorry about the rambling. I’m new, AGAIN, to another state. I’m done being told I’m yelling at him when I’m asking a question he doesn’t want to answer or being called a witch for following through on my word. My children deserve better models than either of us right now.

    Please contact me if you have any ideas for a woman with Asperger’s having to go through the process of divorce. The thought of putting my trust in a lawyer is scary. Then, my husband has no care for how he scars or manipulates the kids as it is NOW. He makes threats of shutting down the business all the time. We are already on Medicaid and food stamps….How much worse will it get?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a quintessential autistic thing. I have trouble with boundaries and have to invent them for myself. I’m getting better at this but it’s not foolproof yet and I don’t think it ever will be. Therein lies the problem. When I don’t have the energy to maintain the force field.

    Liked by 1 person

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