07 September 2011

Did You Secure the Skis?

My personality and working style requires a lot of specific feedback. The worst thing is when I say something, and I get no response or a response that's brief or dismissive. Even if it's not meant in such a way, it makes me fear that what I said was out-of-place or inappropriate. For example, one of the shift managers at Jamba Juice, where I got a job, is incredibly subtle. She's very nice, super friendly, and way supportive, but, frequently, she makes me nervous. I can't read her emotions at all, and her responses to any questions I have are brief, quiet, and frequently made of shrugs, nods, and hums, not actual statements.

My mom has a similar way of communicating anything other than anger. So, when I feel dismissed by her behavior, whenever we run into a communication road-block, she blames it on my mental health. In some ways, she is right. It's probably my social anxiety that makes me nervous about making sure I understand a response, and my autistic tendencies that make me awful at reading non-verbal ques. But, when, after a fight, my mother tells me "Did you make an appointment with your psychologist yet?", I can't help but feel insulted. Instead of taking me seriously, she dismisses me and blames me for all our trouble.

In reality, my mom is a terrible listener, and I bet a lot of my communication difficulties actually come from being brought up by her. My sister and I often reflect on an incident that perfectly illustrates where I come from.

One day, when both my sister and I were in middle school at the time, my family went skiing. We have one of those ski racks on the roof of our car, and, after packing up, as we were just about to pull out of the parking space, my stepdad asked my mom, "Did you secure the skis?".  Now, my mom, at that exact same moment, had something of her own to ask, and the two of them exchanged a few words on a different topic, completely forgetting the question. Then, the two of them fell into complete silence and proceeded driving away. As we were making our way across the parking lot, I repeated, "Did you secure the skis?". My query was met with silence, so I tried again, "Did you secure the skis?". There was no response, just total silence from everyone in the car. My sister and I exchanged understanding and frustrated glances, and she gave it a shot: "Did you secure the skiis?". No luck. My parents were silent, so we took it as an affirmative response - after all, silence shows that there is no concern. Minutes later, from across the parking lot, one of the attendants came running toward us, waving his arms to tell us: "You didn't lock your skis!". My sister and I gasped in disbelief. It's not that they couldn't hear us talking in the silent car - no, it's that they weren't listening.

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