Anthony Cavuoti, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in Torrance (California).
You may feel like Cassandra if you have ADHD or dyslexia. Sometimes you are gifted with brilliant insights and ingenious ideas. But, more often than not, people in your life are focused on your flaws and completely miss the nuanced complexities of your perception. It is frustrating when people focus on the things you struggle with, and how you can’t follow the traditional rules and modes of operation that people assume are normal. While you are finding your way through a different set and avenues, it is very disappointing.
The Battle Between Your Gifts And Conventional Ways of Being
You often come out on top, baffled by others and yourself more often than not. Most, even those closest to you, do not see the invisible gifts and the originality of your effective ways of doing things because they aren’t conventional. To fit in, you might hide or ignore this aspect of yourself. Instead, trying to conform to these rules magnifies and brings attention to your flaws while minimising your strengths.
These strategies could have become a part of your unconscious. If you haven’t had any validation of your gifts, you may not even realize their significance. Too often, the originality or effectiveness of your ideas and methods are ignored or dismissed as insignificant. This is devastating, especially when you’re still coming to terms with your perceptions and abilities. These perceptions and abilities could one day alter the culture, but most people in your life don’t notice.
It all begins in childhood
Children naturally try to adapt to their environment. The effects of a neurodiverse parent raising a child in an environment that requires them to be neurotypical can have devastating consequences for their development. Compare this scenario to that of Cinderella, who at the beginning of the story never experiences a valid reflection of her worth; instead, she is subject to the distortions of others’ ignorance.
Worse, a child could be raised as Mowgli. The Jungle Book: his unusual abilities of mind are seen as taboo, something that’s going to bring disaster upon him and the jungle. Those around him seem well-meaning, but they do their best to make sure he doesn’t use his man-powers. Mowgli’s survival depends on his unique abilities and how he uses them as humans.
An unaffirming, invalidating environment can harm a child’s development, especially if that child is neurodiverse. We all know Cinderella is mistreated and underestimated. Mowgli’s growth is stunted by those who raise him while trying to control how he becomes an adult human. But Cinderella’s true path comes when someone sees her true self and treats her with dignity, and Mowgli’s humanity turns out to be the only path to salvation for the jungle.
Finding a Way Out
Despite the difficulties society presents neurodiverse people, we can learn to release ourselves from unhelpful entanglements. We can also experience more of our full potential while minimising frustration.
Share your gifts with those who will appreciate them
There is a strange irony for neurodiverse folks like us: what we say is often so deep, layered, and sophisticated, and at the same time sparkling with rich, complex emotions in a wide range of feelings, that unsophisticated people are unable, unwilling, and unmotivated to plumb the depths and traverse the range of what we’re expressing.
It’s like trying to explain to an unmotivated butcher the significance and excitement of finding a missing fossil. They are too focused on their work and have no interest in other than beer and bowling. No matter how smart or educated they are, they will not understand and appreciate what your thoughts are. Instead, you should share your discoveries and insights with a curator of fossils at the museum or an evolutionary archaeologist from a university. Too often, the “butcher” is our family and our acquaintances. (I have nothing against butchers — God knows before I became semi-vegan, I cherish their services.)
Let me give you another example. Let’s say you have a rich appreciation of panel wine, and you are trying to give it to someone that never drinks anything but beer. They won’t appreciate the delicate grapes used to make panel wine. You can’t force it to taste your flavor, but you can coax it. Some things are not easy to coax out. When Michelangelo was making his sculptures, he realized this. The beauty is already in the stone; the sculptor cannot will it — they have to first be able to receive what others cannot perceive, the magnificence and beauty in the stone, and have the skill and patience to invite the stone to reveal itself. This cannot be forced, it must come from a genuine desire to reveal.
You must be selective and alert about who you share the strengths and creativity of your neurodiverse mind. Only enlightened people will appreciate your intellectual and creative abilities. It takes an active mind and discernment to determine who will and won’t get you and to identify what barriers hinder even enlightened people that do not get you, such as fixed worldviews, traditions, group loyalties, and other factors that people cling to as a way to find and maintain their orientation and identity.
Too often, people attribute their lack of comprehension to you, thinking that, once again, you misunderstood the subject or what is really going on, or assuming that you aren’t intelligent, even if you expressed your idea flawlessly. Sometimes, you might make a profound error in word choice or in a link in your explanation. They will see your mistake and dismiss you. For example, in my first draft, I meant Cassandra, but I accidentally called Sophia. I did not catch this mistake at first; someone could have taken this as impeachable proof that everything I say is erroneous and incongruent, thinking, “Well, he does not know what he’s talking about; someone that can make such a fundamental mistake is actually a flawed tool. Such a mind can’t be trusted.”
It’s as if you were Michael Faraday in 18th century. You are aware of the invisible, fundamental pattern of electromagnetism and how it could be used to benefit humanity as a source of power. You are so engrossed in mundane experiments and responsibilities, so impeded by speaking engagements, so limited in your mathematical knowledge that no one takes your findings seriously. They only take you as a source for amusement and fascination.
5 Strategies to Help you Flourish
To keep with the Faraday metaphor: My main purpose in this article to help you identify and celebrate your discovery of electromagnetism, not your ineptitude in doing things conventionally. Here’s my advice to you, disguised as advice to Faraday.
- Prioritize your resources and time to focus on electromagnetism or other activities that stimulate, and allow yourself to recharge. This means reading, being with interesting people, and taking time to reflect throughout the week. Who knows what that means for you? That’s something you can explore.
- Don’t allow your environment to be a reflection on you. Continue to draw from multiple environments and resources, both traditional and unconventional. Connect with others who are interested in electromagnetism. You can either make your vision a reality or give it a solid theoretical foundation. For example, you might write a novel in a society where electromagnetism was a part of everyday life in the 18th Century.
- Be mindful of the environments you place yourself in. The environment in which an acorn grows is critical for its growth. The same goes for you. Make an effort to seek out environments that will support your development as a human being. This applies to your attitude toward yourself. Instead of identifying with others as eccentric entertainers, internalize your self-identification with electromagnetism and its implications. You should seek out environments that nurture your new sense of self, and avoid those that hinder it. Cinderella will not find validation from her stepmother or stepsisters. Superman will never be able to rely on the strength of those who carry Kryptonite. Jesus marveled at his inability to do so when he was in Nazareth. To realize your full potential, you must go where you need to go.
- If you are unable to find someone who has the tools to complete your task in a standard manner, then you should. This may sound contradictory to what I have just said, but bear with me. Just like a writer needs a good proofreader and editor, you may need a video editor or streaming editor, a cowriter or a power-point designer — someone who can translate your work into a format that other, more conventional thinkers can digest.
- Accept that you will always struggle, at least initially, to be your true and deeper self. It is worth the struggle to stand up for yourself, no mater how far or how many obstacles.
Times have changed
Everything is changing so fast that both old and new are being reinvented with unknown consequences. This is a great opportunity for ADHD and dyslexia sufferers. Your ability to prognosticate, to anticipate where the wind is blowing and pick up on culture and society’s tectonic shifts, is finally being recognized as the gift it is. It doesn’t take two years, ten years, or twenty years for it all to happen.
As a neurodivergent person, you will always be ahead of your time. You will always be one step ahead of the rapid pace and culture of cultural and societal evolution. No matter how concrete or solid the doors may seem, your innovative ideas will continue to emerge, regardless of whether society appears to be in permanent solidification. Focus on the emergence that is happening through you more quickly than others. You might even be part of the emergence. This is similar to how Maxwell and Faraday continued to Albert Einstein or how Charles Darwin completed the work by the evolutionary theorists.
Questions and a word of warning
Here are some questions to explore:
- What are the challenges that you face as a neurodiverse individual in moving forward with your higher abilities while also working on the resources and tools to ground it?
- How do you accept and integrate your feelings while you move forward?
- Which forces are you more aware of, as you become more fully yourself?
- How do you recognize your unique needs in the face society and culture’s strengths and weaknesses?
You want to be a Nicolas Copernicus, not a Giordano Brun. You want to build solid cases for your arguments before proceeding and be cautious at times about who you share them with: You do not want to get yourself metaphorically burned at the stake of others’ collective misperceptions.
A therapist can help you navigate these turbulent waters. Start your search today for a therapist who will help you realize your full potential.
© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Anthony Cavuoti (Marriage and Family Therapist in Torrance CA), granted permission to publish
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