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It's not Processing Errors, It's a Different Operating System

I've spent a great deal of time with both neurotypical and neurodiverse people and done a fair bit of reading on the subject. Over the years, I have consistently been told by neurodiverse clients that they struggle with understanding their identity or feel like they have 'imposter syndrome'. These issues often lead to labels of personality disorders and poor self esteem. I have come to believe that this disconnect results from the difference between how neurodiverse and neurotypical minds work.

We grow up comparing ourselves to neurotypicals because they are in the majority, most settings like work and school are developed around neurotypical traits and NT's tend to function well in these environments. A neurotypical mind has the advantage of being able to access different emotions and different priorities relatively easily. These things blend together so they can be a little bit sad but also happy about something else, they can think about and plan for their family while at work, remember to call home if they are going to be late. Neurodiverse minds tend to operate more like a bunch of file folders and they only have access to one file at a time. When they are angry, all they are is angry and no other emotions are getting in. When they feel hopeless, all they feel is hopeless which sometimes leads people to feel suicidal... until they don't. Once they are out of the hopeless file folder, they no longer have access to it and therefore, don't want the help you might have arranged when they were feeling suicidal. They want to go home for dinner. When they are at work, they are only at work with their work priorities and persona in place. They likely won't call home if they are going to be late. They probably won't block off their work schedule for family events. Their mind is in the work folder not the family folder. Needless to say, others (including neurodiverse others) tend to get extremely frustrated with people who operate this way. The thing to keep in mind is that they are not doing it to be difficult, or ignorant or because they believe that the universe revolves around them. That is how their brain functions and it is the only way their brain functions. It is just as impossible to get a neurotypical mind to function like a neurodiverse mind as vice versa.

So how do you get a sense of self when your life is so compartmentalized? You get to know how your mind works and you stop trying to emulate neurotypical people. Once you clear all the baggage and self-defeating beliefs from what were unrealistic expectations of you, and see yourself through the lens of neurodiversity, you will free up energy that had been devoted to frustration, shame and guilt. Then you can use that energy to create and arrange your file folders in a way that suits your values, your goals and your quality of life. Self understanding and self acceptance are the first steps towards an authentic and positive self image.

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