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Are You Wearing a Mask? 🎭

Updated: May 14


Behind the Mask in Neurodiverse Relationships 🎭


Do you wear a mask? 


Let's be honest, these days we all wear masks. We put on a certain face for the world as we feel the tension of fitting in.


For people on the autism spectrum, this tension gets cranked up to the max.


Picture this:


You're at a party – the music's pumping, laughter fills the air. 


Mary, who is neurotypical, moves with ease, her personality shining through. 💃



Meanwhile, John, who is autistic, navigates this social maze with a rehearsed grace, each smile and nod meticulously planned to camouflage his true self. 🥸


This effort, a profound act of 'masking', isn't just for tonight but is a constant presence, draining John's energy and straining the couple's connection.


If left unchecked, this dynamic could threaten the very foundation of their relationship.


What does it mean to mask oneself? 🤔


For many with autism, masking is a survival strategy.

The goal is not merely to blend in but to avoid the friction of social judgment. This adaptive behavior, while protective in the moment, demands a significant emotional toll, reshaping one's self-expression to meet external expectations, often at great personal cost. 😪


Understanding masking is more complicated than it may appear at first glance. There are different ways to mask:


  • Compensation: This is where one adopts behaviors deemed acceptable, molding their actions to fit a normative social mold.

  • Suppression: Here, natural behaviors are stifled, hidden away to present what is perceived as 'normal.'

  • Assimilation: In this act, one performs scripts that align with societal expectations, often feeling alien to one's nature.


Do you recognize these behaviors in yourself?  Or in your partner?


💵 The Profound Costs of Masking 


Now consider the emotional and psychological toll: the constant energy required to maintain this facade can lead to anxiety, depression, and even physical symptoms due to chronic stress. 🤒


Over time, this sustained effort can erode an individual's self-esteem and sense of identity, impacting both personal well-being and the vitality of their relationships. 


Moreover, misunderstandings that arise from masking can create emotional distance, leaving one partner feeling neglected and the other overwhelmed, complicating their ability to connect and communicate effectively. 💔


What to do?



📊 Measuring Masking with the CAT-Q


Taking the Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q) is an essential first step for those aiming to explore the extent of autistic masking. 




Available at no charge on the Adult Autism Assessment website, this tool includes 25 questions and can be completed in 5 to 7 minutes. It assesses various dimensions of masking, breaking down masking strategies so you can gain a deeper understanding of these behaviors' emotional and relational impacts.


🗣️ Have the Right Masking Conversation


Instead of focusing solely on the frustrations that arise from autistic masking, let's delve into what's truly happening beneath the surface.


Moving away from blame, we can foster a supportive environment by openly discussing the underlying challenges of masking. 💬


Exploring insights from the CAT-Q results allows us to understand the pressures and strategies involved, helping to cultivate empathy and strengthen our connections in a more meaningful and supportive way.


🛠️ Tailoring Social Situations


Adapting social settings to reduce the need for masking, whether by choosing less demanding activities or creating signals for needed breaks, can alleviate stress and enhance engagement.

Get really specific. Be creative and experiment with new ways of approaching tough situations. 


This proactive approach allows both partners to feel more in control and less anxious about social interactions, leading to more enjoyable and meaningful experiences together.


Couples who try this are amazed at the freedom and relief that they experience.


🏠 Creating a Supportive Home Environment


How can we make our homes refuges where unmasking is not just safe but welcomed? 


By respecting personal space, allowing for stimming or other natural behaviors, and setting clear expectations, we build trust and reduce the daily stress for the autistic partner. 


A nurturing home environment acts as a foundation for growth and healing, where both partners can truly relax and be themselves, strengthening the bonds of love and understanding.


Unveiling the Mask, Not Eliminating It 👫


The key to a healthy relationship in a neurodiverse partnership isn't about eradicating masking entirely. It's about fostering open communication and acknowledging the mask itself.


Imagine the mask not as a barrier to intimacy, but as a layer waiting to be understood.


Through honest conversations, you and your partner can explore the situations where masking feels necessary and discuss strategies for minimizing it. 🗣️


By discussing the results of tools like the CAT-Q, you can gain a deeper understanding of masking's impact and build empathy for each other's experiences.


This awareness allows you to create a safe space at home where unmasking feels natural, fostering genuine connection and a stronger bond.


Remember, masking can be a coping mechanism, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your true selves.


Let's work together to unveil the masks, not eliminate them, and celebrate the beautiful authenticity beneath.





All the best,

Harry


Dr. Motro is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist #53452 and the Founder/Clinical Director of the Neurodiverse Couples Counseling Center.

 

 

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