Some Thoughts About ‘Meltdowns’

by Peter Boger, M.A.

As Greg and I began to work together one of the things he would share with me that he struggled with in his relationships was the issue of ‘meltdowns’.  As I began to learn more about what it is like to be on the Spectrum I developed an appreciation of how this is extremely common and something most if not all people experience.   

So in the beginning I tended to  hear that this was one of the problems Greg would  have in his dealings with others, whether it was family or friends or co-workers.  However, lately I have been having some different thoughts on the subject and I wanted to share these with you in this article.

I would be very interested in getting feedback on this and I would appreciate it if you could let Greg know on his website if you have any comments to share with me.

My new thinking on this subject has come from my observations on how challenging it is to be on the Spectrum in a world dominated by and basically controlled by ‘Neurotypical’ people. In a world where most cultures and societies determine what is ‘normal’, and most people accept this without much if any thought, people on the Spectrum have to deal with the difference between what you see, hear and experience and this cultural definition of ‘normal’.

You may have heard about a young lady named Greta Thunberg who is on the Spectrum and has sparked an international movement among young people to address the issue of global warming or climate change. Her story illustrates what I am trying to talk about in this article.

Greta, like most on the Spectrum, is an extremely intelligent and sensitive person who, as she was growing up and becoming more aware of the world around her, began to hear about global warming, and the dire warnings coming from the scientific community about the threat is posed for human life (and life in general) on our planet. It wasn’t long before she also began to realize that in spite of the fact that this information was widely known, most people and especially most people in government didn’t seem to be taking the issue seriously and Greta was really bothered by how totally crazy it seemed that something so important was basically being ignored as the scientists kept sending the warnings as well as telling the world that time was running out on the chance to take action before it was too late.

So Greta did something only someone on the Spectrum would do: she made a sign asking her government why they weren’t doing their job, and since she happened to live in the capital city, she went to the building where the government met and sat outside the door with her sign. Every day the members of her parliament passed by her and her sign and paid little if any attention to her. But Greta, being on the Spectrum, didn’t quit and go home as many of the adults who did stop to speak to her suggested. She just became more determined to continue with her efforts. Finally, the local news stations heard about this young girl who was sitting by the door of the parliament with her sign and began to spread the word about her protest.

What began as one young girl sitting on the sidewalk with her homemade sign, asking why all the ‘normal’ people running her government weren’t taking any action to save her and other young people from disaster has now grown to a worldwide movement. As she found herself now the center of attention and seeing the amount of awareness spreading around the world, she also saw that at home her government STILL wasn’t doing anything, and in fact in most countries, there was a lot of talk, but little if any effective steps taking place to prevent a fast approaching catastrophe for her generation.

Again, since she was on the Spectrum, she became more angry in her interviews with the media and in speeches she was being asked to make as a representative of the movement. In fact, you could say she was having ‘meltdowns’!

My point in looking at Greta Thunberg’s example is just this:  as you go through your daily life as a person on the Spectrum,  you see the same phenomena on a more basic and simple level, that is, that what is considered ‘normal’ by the neurotypical people around you often seems pretty crazy and just plain wrong much of the time. When I’m talking with Greg about this he always says ‘I’m just shaking my head’. But there are times when it really gets to you, and you might get overwhelmed to the point that you might have a ‘meltdown’.   

So my point is to say that in these times, the meltdown is not something wrong with you, its just that sometimes living in a world where what everyone else considers ‘normal’ is so obviously crazy, you might not be able to just ‘shake your head’.

I truly believe that being on the Spectrum is a gift, because you can see what ‘normal’ people are blind to, but the price of that gift is having to deal with the extra burden and stress that you experience when you go out into that world every day. So when that stress builds up to a level where you can’t ‘keep it together’ and you have a ‘meltdown’, be kind to yourself and give yourself credit where credit is deserved, for doing as well as you do!

As I said above, I would be very interested in your feedback on this topic so please feel free to share your comments with Greg on this website.

The Therapist Corner

Self Esteem: Part 2

by Peter Boger, M.A.

In the last article we talked about the origins of self esteem and ways that anyone on the Spectrum can find themselves struggling with low self esteem and the associated kinds of emotional and social negative consequences that come from low self esteem. In this article we will look at ways to improve self esteem and how to work daily to maintain good self esteem.

One good way to begin to work on improving self esteem is to understand that at its core low self esteem is rooted in negative core beliefs about yourself. These core beliefs are not conscious and are experienced as ‘just the way it is’ in your mind. The two most damaging core beliefs are ‘I am unlovable/unworthy’ and ‘if other people see me as I truly am they will not want to be with me’.

The first step to changing low self esteem is to bring these core beliefs into your conscious awareness and challenging the validity of ‘this is just the way it is’ by beginning to realize that it is possible to take control over your self beliefs and make changes that will be beneficial to you.

It is also important to understand that while only you can make these changes, it will make your chances for success much better and easier if you have support from others as you work towards this goal. Having a therapist to assist you in this work, while not absolutely necessary for success will definitely make the journey much easier.  Also having the support of family and friends is extremely helpful as well.  

One approach I have seen work is to have a structure to your efforts and I recommend starting a Self Esteem Workbook as one way to get started. This is a simple binder or folder that you can organize into sections and add to as you progress and refer to daily to keep yourself focused on paying attention to your thoughts and self talk related to your self esteem.  

The first section could be titled ‘My Positive Traits/Characteristics’ and this will challenge you to think about what it is about you that deserves to be admired/respected both by yourself and others.   This is not to be confused with accomplishments or things you have done, but instead what it is about you as a person that is worthy of being valued as a human being. Examples could be things like ‘I’m a caring person’, or ‘I’m trustworthy’, or ‘a faithful and loyal friend’.  In other words things that would accurately describe you as a person that make the world a better place just because you are in it.

When I was in training to become a therapist I was in a group where each time the group met we had to think about someone else in the group and ask ourselves ‘If this person hadn’t been in the group today what would I have missed out on?’  We then had to write this down on a card and when the group met next we would go up to the person and give them the card. It may have been something that the person shared that we related to, or just their smile or laughter that made us feel good during that time we were together.  Getting these cards from others in the group opened my eyes to the realization that just showing up and being around others I was having a positive effect on people that I didn’t know I was having!

As you develop this section in your Workbook you can add to it as you go and as you start each day you can get it out and review it and seek to say mindful of how you play an important part in the lives of the people you encounter that day whether you are aware of it or not.

This is also a great way to develop your relationships with others as well, since you can start to pay attention to how you see those same traits and characteristics in others and let them know what it is about them that you value, respect and admire.

We live in a culture that tends to focus on the negative, with criticism and judgements, while taking the positive for granted.  Beginning to make the change to looking at and paying attention to the positive in ourselves and others can make daily life much brighter and lighter. Make this a new habit to practice daily and you will be amazed at the way you will feel better about yourself and others!

In future articles I will talk more about the Self Esteem Workbook and more sections to add to your binder. I think of this as your ‘external’ self esteem resource that you can turn to for support until you can internalize it and make a new part of yourself.