Masking and Shame

I’m having a rough go at things today, I’m angry at my brain for things that I have figured out how to control most of the time but that I still find quite disabling other times. Today is one of those times, I guess. 

I was scrolling Twitter recently and found a thread about masking that had several replies about how the difference between learning social skills and autistic masking can have a lot to do with shame. 

Learning  neurotypical social skills, for me, didn’t involve therapies or classes – it came in a “typical” way that other kids probably learn growing up. That’s why masking, to me, is NOT the same as learning social skills.  Social skills is a whole other story for another time BUT regardless, me exhibiting a social skill in a professional setting is not what masking makes MY masking, at least, autistic masking. 

I’ve spoken before on my Instagram ( https://www.instagram.com/p/CJjEf-ls3ml/ ) that masking in my eyes is a double edged sword and can sometimes give us privilege, although a traumatic kind. Masking comes with the knowledge that something you are doing is wrong/unappealing (due to neurotypical standards) and in my eyes, not every person will KNOW  that they “should” mask or be able to control their body movements/facial expressions etc, enough to mask. This is especially dangerous in the case of multiply marginalized autistic people, where traditional autistic mannerisms can cause danger for reasons such as racism in society. 

However, the knowledge that one is doing something that someone doesn’t like, especially when it seems to be everything you do, how you move, speak, think, etc is wrong for no reason other than arbitrary standards is  bound to put shame on them. For me, shame is one of my earliest emotions. Shame around why I wasn’t being received positively, shame on why teachers were ignoring me and what was happening to me in favour of keeping the peace, shame around myself as a whole being. 

So I learned to mask. And the masking relieved some of the ortrisizing that went down because of  how I presented, moved, spoke, and interacted with the world around me. Note here that I was never one for violence or behaviour issues, although these concepts are often also rooted in deep misunderstandings of the ignoring of autistic folk’s boundaries. So the way I interacted with the world was pretty harmless, but it seemed to cause others some huge discomfort, which led to me being targeted. 

This masking served me well for a few years, however, I was never able to “pass” well enough to stop the tormenting or targeting altogether – and now I had the added stress of not knowing who I really was, and losing the authentic parts of myself. 

Masking was never about professionally, job settings, or simply “having a filter”, like everyone does.

It was rooted in shame and fear. There is the difference. 

Published by Taryn Jaye

Autistic. Writer, advocate, and future therapist. Yes, I support individuals with high-support needs.

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