Friday 23 March 2018

When Being Positive Becomes A Weapon

"Cheer up, love, it may never happen".

Had that experience, walking down the street?  A random stranger decides you need to be happy, even if that isn't your emotion right now?  It might have started from a place of caring about you, but ...does that work?  No, it doesn't.  They have no idea what has happened in your life already.

For many autistic people, not being heard is a constant thing in our lives.  Sometimes literally, when we are non-verbal.   Sometimes it's about not being given the chance to speak.  Sometimes it's about being deliberately silenced.

It's not just about spoken or written words, though.  Our emotions are also in constant danger of being silenced.  We are so often told to perform, to act positive, to smile, to never criticise something worrying or bad.  

The photo at the top shows someone holding up a piece of paper in front of their face.  On it, a smiley face has been drawn.  But what is their real emotion?  Are they actually sad, or angry?

One of my favourite pieces of work is on Tone Policing, at  With a warning for some strong language and content, which are used as part of the example.  In it, it shows all sorts of things that people get told.  That they should be nicer.  That people won't help them because they are sad, or upset.  That they won't get help unless they are happy enough.  And, a reality, that often it's about someone else who wants to be happy and expects us to be their personal answer to that, at our cost.

So many of us have had a lifetime of being told to be happy.  Having to put a false smile on our faces in order to please others.

Being positive sounds like a great thing, doesn't it.  And, when it's genuine, of course it is.  Finding joy in life is a journey for us all, and learning to look after ourselves is a vital skill.

But some people from some organisations use positivity as a weapon.

"Person A isn't a positive person.  Let's ignore them and leave them out, instead of listening to their concerns".
"If you raise any concerns about my rude or selfish behaviour, you're just not being positive.  It is you who is the problem."

 "If my alliance with an anti-autistic organisation is causing you difficulties, you just need a better attitude.  If we're all positive together, good things will happen".

There's lots of reasons to be positive as we go through life, when genuinely good things happen.  And, of course, some people use negativity as a weapon, deliberately undermining others with it, so being falsely negative is also not good.

But, goodness me, we need to say to autistic people, "It is OK to be sad" and "It is OK to express concern" and "It is OK to be angry with this situation and want it to change".  Especially when we have a population who are so regularly silenced.

If we are serious about the mental and emotional health of autistic individuals, let's not silence their true voices, or their true emotions.  Let's listen, and start from where they are.

Thank you for listening.