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Do un-traumatized NeuroDivergent People exist? Would we know them if we saw them?
The medical language below (which I pulled from two different medical sources) talks about signs someone may be struggling with one medical condition… What human condition would YOU guess I pulled these “signs” from?
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Social withdrawal
- Impulsive behaviors
- Compulsive behavioral patterns
- Feelings of depression, shame, hopelessness, or despair
- Memory Problems
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
What condition or conditions did you guess this list was describing?
Did you guess that all of the signs on the list above are signs a person may have experienced emotional trauma and may be suffering from the aftereffects of the trauma they experienced?
… or did you think these signs pointed to something else?
I admit it’s a bit of a trick question, as I didn’t pull the entire list of signs, leaving out the ones that would make the answer “too obvious” and chose items from the list of traits that I know other are common in NeuroDivergent circles, who often have co-occurrent trauma experiences.
Before we go any further, I want to clarify two points:
First: I am NOT saying trauma causes (all) NeuroDivergence (though it can cause SOME forms of NeuroDivergence, such as PTSD).
Second: I also want to clarify that I believe NeuroDivergent People who aren’t traumatized exist. However, because society and its systems are often set up in ways that exclude and traumatize NeuroDivergent People, these cases are, unfortunately, the exception, NOT the rule.
Those of us who tend to do best in life or go undiscovered as NeuroDivergent (since NeuroDivergence is often defined only in a negative context) frequently do so by staying in our lanes, doing only what we’re good at, catering to our NeuroDivervgent natures, while avoiding things we struggle with (therefore avoiding the scrutiny over showing uncommon weaknesses NeuroTypical People don’t understand).
In a medical context, where NeuroDivergent People are defined by their weaknesses and struggles, NeuroDivergent People who avoid their weaknesses and struggles are often ignored until they’re faced to force those weaknesses.
For most of my life (after leaving school), I stuck to work and career paths well-tailored to my needs and interests as an undiscovered NeuroDivergent person.
In high school, I used my interest in skating to get a job as a roller-skating waiter. Then I moved into management because of my intense need for autonomy. Management allowed me to have more control over the environment around me (and accommodate myself without anyone above me on my shift to gatekeep those needs).
For most of my work career, before I knew I was NeuroDivergent, I could thrive by finding roles and organizations I was a good fit for without having to out myself (since I didn’t know what to out even if I wanted to).
Since learning I was Autistic at 29 and then receiving an ADHD diagnosis only a few years later, I’ve been on a self-discovery journey, trying to get back in touch with who I was before I was traumatized by the world around me.
Children come into this world sweet and pure, but then the world’s cruelty can stifle that sweetness.
Some parents feel they must toughen their children because “the world won’t be gentle with them.” Those parents become their child’s first bullies, teaching their kids they’re never safe, not even at home.
I was fortunate in early childhood not to have guardians who wanted to beat the softness and sensitivity out of me (though the teachers and other students at school tried their best).
I was a sweet, sensitive child who entered the world nieve and sheltered, unprepared for the cruelty I would face.
People weren’t always good (and were often horrible), but I had a refuge (because my grandparent’s home was a safe space) where I could relax, exist, and simply be.
School wasn’t a safe space. School was a space that exhausted me because of all the walking on eggshells, not knowing when something I did (speaking or getting out of my seat at the wrong time, answering a question “wrong,” asking the “wrong” question, or “too many” questions, or displaying any obvious NeuroDivergent traits) would set off my teacher.
I was on high alert in the classroom, and was on high alert in the halls, at lunch, and on the rare occasion I got recess (because my peers were equally horrible to me).
When the teacher picked on me in front of my peers, she put a target on my back.
When I told the teacher the other students were picking on me, she told me it was because I wasn’t “acting normal” and if I wanted them to leave me alone, I should “stop drawing attention to myself” and “act normal” – but I didn’t know what normal was.
Because I was young, sweet, naive, and Autistic + ADHD (but didn’t know it), I thought I needed to make myself “more like everyone else” without knowing why being “like everyone” else was an unrealistic and unfair goal for me.
My teacher and everyone else at school treated me as if I was the problem, so I (believing I needed to follow the directions of the authority figures I’d been told to “obey”) internalized the belief those around me projected upon me that I was the problem.
Before learning the truth about myself, when I believed I was not enough, I settled for less than I deserved. I learned to fawn, camouflage, and make myself palatable to the people around me so they wouldn’t abuse me.
Fawning wasn’t in my nature, but trauma is one hell of a mind-altering substance. To keep myself safe, avoid conflict, and stop the harassment, I became a people-pleaser, to my detriment (because pleased people rarely lashed out at me).
To avoid conflict with other people, I took the conflict inward, instead creating conflict with myself, forcing myself into corners and situations that suffocated me.