When talking with 2e adults, inevitably, the topic of “masking” comes up. After years of feeling different, they notice that their priorities, goals, and needs are dissimilar to just about everyone else they come into contact with on a daily basis. 2e adults learn to “mask” their needs in order to avoid judgment and conflict.
Since finding other 2e adults is often like looking for needles in a haystack, how can neurodiverse individuals cope in a neurotypical world? Masking is exhausting and feels phony. However, learning to adjust according to one’s needs allows a 2e person to feel authentic while adapting to a neurotypical world.
Masking is when one hides their true identity. Rather than addressing one’s needs, the person pushes them down, ignores them, or hides their true self. In essence, masking is like pressing an override button to detour away from a natural inclination. After a day that includes masking, the 2e person returns home exhausted, overwhelmed, and wanting to lie on the couch in the dark. That person doesn’t feel seen or understood. They are made to feel others’ needs are more important and that their needs aren’t legitimate. Masking provides a fast track toward burnout.
In order to take control and feel authentic, the 2e person can adjust by becoming self-aware, gaining and sharing perspective, identifying goals, doing a cost-benefit analysis, finding a mentor or quarterback, and spending time in a passion place and with others who “get them.”
Intentionally adjusting allows the 2e person to feel in control. The first step is to become self-aware of your own needs and why you have them. Do a self-check on your sensory needs and consider the effects of your sensitive and empathic nature. Are you conflict-averse and therefore agree to things that don’t feel quite right but seem easier than pushing back? Are you struggling to communicate because you are afraid of how your colleague, boss, friend, or lover will respond? Be aware of your needs and differences, but also why you haven’t been able to advocate for yourself in the past.
Next, consider the other person’s perspective. Why don’t they understand? If you are self-aware, share your perspective of what works and doesn’t for you. Be sure to ask questions of the person with whom you are interacting. If you are a typical 2e person who goes from A to Z in a nanosecond, consider how that affects the other person’s own self-perception when they’re still at “B” when you arrive at “Z.” I’ve been told my entire life that I’m intimidating. Do I have to “dumb myself down?” No. Do I have to consider the other person’s perspective and exhibit patience for their processing and learning curve? If I want to succeed with them, yes. Once perspectives are shared and understood, you can start setting goals.
What are your goals? What matters? If your goal includes a successful relationship with someone – then you might need to adjust your approach. It’s the difference between winning the game and enjoying the game. Only you can decide the long-term effect of your actions. Feeling Understood
Now you get to do a cost-benefit analysis. This is truly the portion of your adjustment that puts you in control. Decide what matters. We know it’s important not to become overwhelmed and burned out. We also know that your goals may include successful relationships. These two concepts are not mutually exclusive. But perhaps it’s the skill of communication that is keeping you from getting what you want and need.
Mentors and Quarterbacks
Find yourself a mentor. This is someone who knows you and has successful experience with goals that are similar to yours. Share your struggle with that person and ask them for help. Let them know you’ve tried, but it’s clear you need to approach your challenge in a different way. Identify your quarterback. This is someone who understands you, you can trust, and who cares for you. They are also someone who knows the people or system in which you are trying to succeed. Ask your quarterback to help you plan – with whom and how can you best move forward? This quarterback will help you strategize. Now it’s time to find ways to fill your gas tank.
Spend Time with “Easy Others”
Advocating on your own behalf takes immense energy and drive. If done in the way I’m suggesting, you may not feel burnout, but you will feel tired. How can you keep yourself energized? I call them “needles in a haystack.” These are your people, people with whom it’s easy to talk, who ‘get it,’ who don’t judge, and who understand how hard you’re trying. They are also neurodiverse. These “easy others” listen, and you feel heard. They look, and you feel seen. The difficult part about these folks is that they are hard to find. Once you have one or two of these friends, schedule weekly time with them – whether in person or otherwise; interacting with ease allows you to enjoy being yourself.
Spend Time in Your Passions
When it’s hard to find your “easy others,” make sure you spend time in your passion places. If it’s gardening, knitting, reading, hiking, or anything else that allows you to lose yourself in your actions – make time for these pursuits so you can re-energize. Find that thing that motivates you to feel like Pablo Picasso when he said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
When you adjust to moving in this world more easily, you give your organic self the chance to show up authentically. By taking control – knowing what you need, finding ways to ask for those things, strategically seeking help from others, and spending time in pursuits that make you feel good about being you, this is how a twice exceptional adult can adapt and thrive in a neurotypical world.