Thursday, September 30, 2010

Self therapy, Eye Contact, and Memories

So I've been feeling recently that it was time for me to pursue a certain self therapy product that I had heard about a long time ago in one of my collection of Asperger Syndrome literature.  I had avoided it for some time because, one, I don't typically have $120 to shell out, two, I don't typically have the time to use such a thing, and three, when I very seriously looked at it before I noticed the study they had backing up the product had, well, less than stellar results.  That needs clarification before I go on.  They managed to produce very powerful effects with a group spending only a modest amount of time with the program, but those effects were only strong in arbitrary testing environments.  Once the study participants were measured in environments more closely approximating reality, the effects were much smaller.  It's no silver bullet, but looks like it can help provide a good foundational level of support for gaining another skill set- that being emotion reading.  I've gotten a lot better at that over the last year or so that I've noticed, so I'm hoping that giving it an intentional push in the right direction might actually have a better chance at later translating into continued progress.  And most of the alternative methods I've heard about involve spending a lot of time staring at stranger's faces and pondering what you see there.  Not that I'm saying that's a bad idea, but there are several problems with it.  One, since my gaze pattern isn't exactly "natural" people will probably very much feel I was staring at them in ways that make them uncomfortable.  Two, looking at people's faces isn't always comfortable in that I sometimes find it hard to concentrate on what they are saying or on other things if I'm looking at them.  If I'm stressed or working hard at something, I'm likely to look away.  Three, eye contact invites social interaction.  I'm not always prepared to enter social interaction at will or spontaneously.  So typically as I walk around I avoid eye contact so that I can avoid the effort of trying to calculate exactly what factors would play into how I should perform in a certain setting.

Think of it this way.  My brain power is like a grain grinder and the things I have to think about are like the grain being dropped into the hopper at the top.  If too much gets thrown at it at once, it has to be ground faster and faster until the grain isn't spending much time in the grinder and coming out the other side looking more like cream of wheat than flour and if you try to make bread with it, something bad is going to happen. If this continues long enough, the entire thing might just overflow and need to be shut down for a time while the mess is cleaned up.  For most people, I think the grain doesn't start to get tossed into the hopper at the top until they really choose to have the conversation, based on a bunch of submental emotional and physical reactions in their body conditioned by previous thinking and experiences.  For me, the grain starts flowing into the hopper as soon as I invite the possibility of the social interaction.  So say I walk down a hallway and make eye contact with 15 people.  That's 15 people I have to take into account what I know about them from the past and any indicators that they are projecting in the present that may be different from the past, form an opinion about them and the situation they present in, formulate how any of that has anything to do with me, what might likely be an appropriate list of responses to the lists of things they might possibly say, and then choose which of a list of things might be an appropriate one with which to initiate reaction.  Granted some of this can be short cut by various scripts such as "the weather is quite ____ today," or "I think that is a different ____ you are wearing today," or "so what did you think of the recent _____?" but I have to think about it to choose one of those to say.  Having a significant history of a working relationship with the person helps because then it is already established which scripts go to which person.

Coming back to the point, if I'm going to spend a lot of time staring at people's faces trying to decode the messages there, I'd better not be doing much else, because thinking about people's facial coding and preprocessing the possible interactions that might follow is actually mental work for me.  So, not the sort of thing you do in the grocery story while you are trying to get the shopping done quickly.

So I've ordered the product since I found it for a really really good price.

But that seems to be triggering an unexpected mental cascade.  I don't think anybody really likes focusing a lot of mental effort dwelling on things they are not good at, which is what I'm proposing to do by planning on using this software.  To make it worse, I think most of the therapy or self improvement situations I've had in life regarding my AS were associated with something bad.  In elementary school when the counselor identified that I had a theory of mind problem and proposed to work on it by having me read alternative perspective children's books, I had firmly in mind how stupid the stories were from my perspective, since they weren't doing the story right, how embarrassing it was to be judged as inferior by the school counselor, and a feeling that somewhere along the lines I was being undervalued.  Fast forward to the future, missionary service is shown as an opportunity only if I agree to participate in improvised therapy that was going to be performed by volunteers who had no training, background, or even basic understanding of the actual nature of what they were dealing with from beforehand.  Much of it seemed to devolve into intentionally stressing me out to see how I reacted under strain.  How much I learned or not isn't relevant to my later emotional feelings about therapy.  I failed to be accepted for service.  Fast forward some more.  Not worn out enough by that experience, I sign up for a door to door selling job, not because I think I'll be any good at it but because I think its a great learning opportunity.  Regardless of how much I actually learned or what developmental experiences I had along the way,  I give it my best shot, end up broke and have to have my parents loan me money to get myself back home, fail to have money to pay for our wedding rings, and put the starting year of my marriage in financial distress because we're stuck paying for a car that I couldn't manage to sell because, well, I think I've covered the subject of my natural salesman abilities well enough.

Honestly, I need to do this sort of thing in a setting where not succeeding doesn't mean risk of social humiliation or serious financial penalties.  Doing it that way makes the risk to my self esteem and self confidence drastically worse.

So now I'm at it again.  Can't stop prodding myself with that self-help stick.  This time the only thing at risk is the about $57 for the program, which, to give it a fair hearing, was recommended in a book by a very prominent expert, and whatever time I feel inclined to spend on it.  But even though I think it is the right thing to do, that doesn't mean that I don't have a bunch of negative emotions tied to the subject of trying to do anything about it.  Hopefully this will break that cycle somewhat and I can begin to focus on learning without putting some sort of larger success failure thing in the balance.  I really hope this works.

And because I couldn't resist, here's a funny Dilbert.

In case the link eventually breaks, transcript: Boss: I signed you up for a class to try and get rid of that thing you have.
Dilbert: What thing?
Boss: The thing. You know. The thing that makes you the way you are.
Dilbert: My personality?
Boss: Exactly. But we call it communication skills because it sounds less rude.

1 comment:

CrouchingOwl said...

As someone pointed out to me I forgot to mention exactly what it was that I had purchased. So here it is Looks pretty good so far. I've only toyed with it a little though. Blows my mind some of the ones I can't catch first try.