8

Background

I'm someone that isn't really social and social gatherings tend to be very tiring for me (this is at least partially due to the fact that I'm on the autism spectrum).

I have noticed that social gatherings at my aunt house are even worse because I'm expected to be social and present all day long, without the possibility to rest.

When I'm too tired, I tend to leave the table to go sit on the couch nearby. However, my aunt isn't very pleased about it and tend to find me some chores to do whenever I do that. Even if I lay on the couch, getting ready to take a nap, she will find me a chore to do. I tend to interpret that as if she was saying: "if you don't value our company, here are some chores you can do for us".

I don't mind helping around but doing the chores doesn't allow me to rest and I really need that rest. One time, I was so tired from being social for so long that I broke into tears the second I was finally home and able to rest.

The problem

As a result, I tend to avoid going at her home whenever I can (which hurts her feelings) and, when I come, I make sure to stay for a limited amount of time (I'm always the one asking to go when my parents and sisters won't mind staying a little longer).

Question

How can I tell my aunt that I really need some time off without hurting her feelings?

Note and clarifications

  • When I see my aunt, it's always on a big social event (~10 people) and I don't really have the opportunity to have a one-on-one chat, except if I explicitly ask for it (which I have never done and it would be extremely weird for me to ask for). She does, however, phone me often.

  • Live far from my aunt and seeing her outside of those big social events would be too much tiring for me to do.

  • During the social gathering, I could choose to isolate myself in another room but I'm afraid that, without explanation, this would be seen as even ruder (since I would no longer be "with them").

  • My aunt knows that I have been diagnosed with autism but I'm pretty sure that she doesn't know exactly what it means and how it impacts my life. Also, the diagnose is really recent (only three months) and this was all very sudden for my family (except for my mum).

  • I'm a 23 years old, French woman.

8
+50

Even though I generally agree with other answers (in terms of enforcing the boundary) I think they lack consideration and empathy for the aunt.

She is hosting an event for ~10 of her family members. This is not low-effort activity and she does it supposedly as an expression of love for her relatives. She is expecting to get love back in form of attendance and gratitude. You are trying to (partially) reject her expression of love without explanation and without supplementing alternative method for you two to exchange familiarity.

Potential for miscommunication

Let's consider following totally fabricated scenario:

Extroverted person hears that you find interaction with them tiring. They try to understand it. They look into their past to search instances of situations when they found an interaction with someone tiring. The only situation they can think of is when they were angry at someone but couldn't express their anger and they got tired from repressing that anger. For example, their boss did something terribly stupid but they had to stay calm and professional around them. Or they remember that one time they had to cooperate/negotiate with someone they really really dislike, and again the tiredness came from excessive self-control.

It is hard for them to comprehend that you can like somebody, not be angry at them, and be tired from interaction with them at the same time. It does not fit into any mental state they know. Their mind does not even go there.

Instead they follow the logic:

You express tiredness from their company -> You are angry at them -> How rude of you to come to their home, eat their food and then express such a sentiment

Or logic:

You express tiredness from their company -> You strongly dislike them as a person -> This cannot be true -> You are in fact not tired from their company and there is something else behind it

As you can imagine, potential for miscommunication is big. For this reason, make sure to always communicate your need as "All events with more than ## people are tiring for me." and refrain from the ambiguous "I find this event tiring" or "I find this type of event tiring". She might misinterpret the latter as personal critique and be less cooperative. Sadly even sudden and unexpected "I am tired" without further explanation in the middle of the event can be interpreted the wrong way.

You might need to repeat yourself. If it is out of scope of her understanding of how people generally function, she might be skeptical first time she hears it.

If she is still skeptical you might need to address the misinterpretation directly: "You might think AAA. That is not true. The truth is BBB."

I have had overall great success with this direct approach when said in sincere and serious tone. People are usually quite surprised when I pull out in the open what they were afraid to say aloud and are willing to listen to my correction. Alternatively they correct me on what they were thinking and it becomes a start for "let's clear things up" discussion.

Ask her for a favor

Next time she calls or during some other call before next event have a conversation about what you recently learned about yourself (or learned how to put it in words) and your diagnosis. You can formulate it quite similarly to your OP. Framing it as a recent information compared to "I always needed this and you never let me have it" should soften the blow and make her more prone to cooperation.

Then ask her for a favor to prepare for you some room or place to where you can retreat for ## minutes during the event if you need to. By asking her a favor you are creating alternative way for her to exchange the familiarity with you. People generally like to do favors for others if they don't expect ulterior motives. Don't forget to express your gratitude if she agrees. This way you complete your end of exchange of familiarity. Asking for a favor should also help against misinterpretation of your motives. People generally don't ask for favors from people they don't like or are angry at.

Find an ally

If the aunt is not understanding. The second option would be find a relative who does. You know your family dynamic and know the best who to pick. Ask them to cover for you when you need to rest. To explain your state when you are too tired to do it yourself. Maybe to even tell your aunt to not bother you for a while. When the aunt sees there is at least one person accepting this aspect of you, she might be more likely to accept is as a real thing as well.

Enforce your needs

Finally, getting your needs should not depend solely on other people understanding. In case nobody cooperates, consider ideas:

  • Go for a walk (get out of her house = her exclusive territory)
  • Lock yourself in the bathroom for half an hour
  • Find a way to not be dependent on your relatives to leave
  • Don't go until your aunt agrees to grant you the favor of a "rest place"

I myself have used mostly "lock yourself in the bathroom". It does work as long there is at least one more bathroom for people to use. From an interpersonal view it is only a temporary "emergency" option, because it creates the above stated misinterpretation. My boyfriend believed for some time I did not like some specific event because I did spend significant portion of it in bathroom. I did like the event. There were lots of new people and new interesting stories they told me. It was nice. I needed rest.

4

Let me tell you, I know exactly what you talk about. Had been in that situation the last years, too. And still somewhat am.

How to approach this, or at least how easy this will be to approach, depends on the degree of awareness of autism your family has in general and how supportive they are in that regards towards you. Either way, the way I handled this with my family and close ones will take time and won't be easy to implement, as your relatives (or in this case just your aunt) will have to accept that things are different from what they were used to in interacting with you1.

For me one thing was, as soon I had my own flat, my family got used to me not attending to family events regularly anymore. I came up with excuses (As they wouldn't have had accepted just a "I don't have the energy for this.") and they probably knew it were excuses. So at some point they started accepting it, that if I participate I won't stay for long, as that's still better than me not showing up at all.

I hope your family is more supportive about your aspergers than mine is2, as that might make this easier.

So lets consider what to do about your aunt.

I don't know your relation to her, but you might ask her for an appointment to discuss your state with her, if it is not possible to get a longer one-on-one chat with her set up at one of those events.

When having that discussion, pretty much explain her what you just wrote in OP. Tell her about how draining such events are for you and that its a lot of stress if you are denied to escape into some sort of social interaction free area, and that enforcing you to do some chores just makes it worse. Explain her especially that being an autist means social interactions are very draining for you, and also explain her that you energy cap is by far lower than that of an allist (I assume you are aware, how autism impacts the energy you have to motivate yourself for activitys? If not, leave a comment and I'll go a bit deeper in that).

After that discussion she will either accept that, or she won't. If you have the bad luck as I had, and she isn't accepting that then you just have 2 options.

You can enforce it. By either not participating in such events if possible, or by finding escape places where you aren't reachable for her.

Or you will have to tolerate that she is not respecting your specialty and just bear that you will be under high stress when ever you participate in such gatherings.

As an addition to that, it would be helpful, if you could arrange it to get there independent from anyone else. That way a) you could always just decide to leave whenever you feel like the stress isn't bearable anymore and b) your aunt won't be mad/sad that a handful of her guests always had just to leave cause of your excuses3


1 I purposely didn't say "things changed", as they had always been like that. It is just you have now better awareness of whats good and whats not good for you. And you should point that out whenever you face a "But why you have such needs now you have the diagnose but you did not need this before?". I faced them a lot and they hurt me as it signaled to me I am not taken serious. So be prepared that this might happen to you, too.

2 In my case, my mom and all the relatives I still have contact to had the opinion I just am into this "autism-thing" cause its such a great excuse for my laziness. So telling them about it never was taken serious and sadly I had to enforce my solution rather than having been able to find a way with them together that was best for all of us.

3As my family would call it.

  • I think this is a good answer, but a couple of suggestions. I wouldn't go a lot into trying to explain autism. Why you find social encounters draining really doesn't matter. The issue is that they are very tiring for you. Also be persistent. Her initial response will probably be denial / questions. Just repeat that you find social interactions very tiring and you need to take a rest break. The good result from this is that even if she says that she doesn't believe you, when she sees you heading to the couch, she'll have more info on why you are moving over. – DaveG Nov 23 '18 at 15:02
  • @DaveG Is that comment addressed to me or to OP aswell? – dhein Nov 23 '18 at 15:33
  • It's to dhein, a suggestion on modifying the answer. In general your answer is what I was thinking of writing, but I think there are a couple of things, like discussing autism, that aren't going to help. – DaveG Nov 23 '18 at 17:32
  • @DaveG: Ok, I agree, that the why doesn't really matter. But(!) the problem here is that an allist, will try to understand the problem from their perspective, and advice you how they would go about it. So from my experience it is important to give the why in advance, so it is very clear from the beginning, that their perspective sin't applicable here. About persistence, I agree too, but I purposely didn't emphasized it, cause depending on the relation, the persistent might not be required. But I hinted on it in my answer with the 2 options, in case there is no support. – dhein Nov 26 '18 at 11:43
  • @DaveG: As my answer points out (I think it does, doesn't it?) this becomes a lot harder if the autism topic will be faced with denial. But I wouldn't say that it is given that explaining autism (not discussing it) isn't gonna be helpful. It might not help. But in that case its a tough situation anyways. – dhein Nov 26 '18 at 11:47
2

Have you tried "I need some time alone because this event made me tired"?

This situation is, as they impact me the same way, exactly as "I was doing this when I was 5, I walked to school 20 miles uphill in both ways, being around people make me feel alive". And the answer I give is "I'm not you and it's not the same for me".

with time I learned that:

  1. if someone take my need as rude it's their problem not mine. Trying to avoid being judged as rude or compensate make me even more tired and miserable.
  2. if my need is not meet (or even it's denied like in your case) I have full right to care for myself. In this case the you can say with advance that you will need time alone to recharge your batteries. AN IF NOT you will leave early and not attend next meeting.
  3. people try to make their problem yours. For example my mother complained that I don't wake up early to clean up my apartment so it's dirty. I explained it's my apartment and it meet my needs. she may visit me but in my house she cannot complain. NOW anytime she mention that she cannot visit me (implying it's because I denied her) I remind that it's her decision on not visiting me because she cannot restrain herself from complaining.
  4. asking for one-on-one may be weird (only for you) because you never done that. You need to start doing that for it to became usual.

People feeling will be hurt even if you politely ask them to stop hitting you with a knife. Remember that you are stuck with yourself forever and you need to take care of yourself much more that for other people's feelings.

  • 2
    Generally you are right, the situation should be explained and people are not the same. However I doubt saying "this event makes me tired" will make her aunt understanding and more sensitive. I recommend to use something more subtle. – puck Nov 28 '18 at 4:54
2

I can't provide any insight into the autism/Asperger aspect, but I am an introvert and it sounds like you might be too: https://introvertdear.com/what-is-an-introvert-definition/

I've found that it helps if people know I'm introverted and what it means (that I need more time to recharge after social encounters than extroverts do), so they'll understand if I feel the need to (in the moment) withdraw from a conversation or (in general) take a nap in the afternoon. Knowing that I won't have to go into detail gives me the option to just excuse myself with a short, "Sorry, I need some time for myself" (or "I'm really tired").

You could do some research on the difference between introverts and share your findings with your family, for example by forwarding them a link. It might make them understand why you need time for yourself and that you're not being rude.

However, even if they don't completely understand, you might be able to steal some time for yourself by using situations where it's socially acceptable to leave the conversation and then take your sweet time before returning.

Surely taking a restroom break is a valid excuse to leave the table, for example. Alternatively, you could proactively offer to do chores if that would be less stressful than hanging around and talking. (In fact, more than once have I started carrying dishes into the kitchen, turned on the dish washer, and then just stayed in the kitchen to read a book...)

If the couch is in the same room as where everybody else is chatting, that might actually be part of the problem. If you retire elsewhere, your aunt might be too busy with her guests to go looking for you, which buys you some time to recharge your batteries.

The trick is to disengage from social situations before your energy runs out. I've been aware of this trait for years, and I still sometimes accidentally drain myself by not realizing when my energy is running dangerously low. Once it's completely depleted, I'll feel tired, physically sick and burnt out. However, I've become much better at watching my own energy levels, so it happens much more rarely nowadays than it used to.

  • 1
    Unfortunately, I have used a lot the "hide somewhere with a book" technic in the past and my aunt don't really appreciate it (she sees it as rude) – Ælis Nov 27 '18 at 21:07

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