DBT as autistic – When you learn the rules but other people don’t comply to them

Recently I wrote about my experiences with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It dawned on me yesterday that my experiences from DBT are even more complicated than I thought.

Not only did the skills I learned in DBT mask how demanding a lot of social situations are for me because I’m autistic. Another consequence from learning social skills in that kind of structured way is that I tend to assume that everybody else live by the same rules. Of course, this isn’t true.

I’ve had a fight with a family member for the last couple of days and when I tried to sort things out and tried to understand how this person was thinking, it became very obvious that we don’t understand each other at all. I apologized for that parts were I agree that what I did was wrong, but when I wanted to talk about what the other person expected and try to reflect on responsibility it didn’t go very well. In DBT we talked a lot about responsibility and reflected on how much responsibility that really is okay to take in a relationship with another adult. This is something that this person can’t even talk about.

I feel so ashamed. I’ve worked so hard to learn how to behave and not be a bad person and then it turns out that the rules I’ve incorporated aren’t as widely accepted as I thought. It’s not even possible to discuss these aspects with a lot of people, and that’s the big thing for me. This is something that I think happens easily when neurotypical perspectives are used in therapies for autistic people: The result isn’t what was intended, but nobody will take responsibility for it.

I really wish I had known I was autistic earlier, it could have saved me so much pain. I really wish I could have gotten guidance in life from other autistic people who shared my values.

(And just to be clear: I’m not claiming that DBT is only bad. For some people it can help, and parts of it helped me. I’m just reflecting on how DBT also had some really bad consequences for me.)


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