Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Strength (RDI & Spirituality, part II)

In RDI, we are told that autistic children often revert to static routines (singing songs over and over, twisting their fingers in the air, etc.) precisely because the complex real world is overwhelming to them. Or, better, they haven't yet achieved a sense of competence in dealing with the complex, dynamic environment that the "real world" of social relationships deals them. So they revert to doing the same, simple thing over and over and over. Our task in helping them becomes giving them slow gradations of complexity, helping them to attain a sense of mastery in facing change, complexity, etc.

What strikes me about this on an emotional and spiritual level is how it parallels various forms of unhealthy coping. Like those who pick a fight rather than dealing with emotional vulnerability -- because a fight is a known to them. They know what their role is, they know how to use the fight to avoid the real topic, etc. Or people who give in rather than face the possibility of conflict. Again, its an issue of doing what is known, what is comfortable, even if it's not fun, even if it happens to be painful as hell. It may be painful, but people will cling to the pattern because they at least feel like they know what they're doing, they feel competent in that role.

Which got me thinking about this topic of "strength." Strength, it seems to me, often involves allowing ourselves to be genuine and vulnerable -- to speak from those parts of ourselves that feel may feel weak, but reflect how we feel most deeply. On the other hand, strength is sometimes standing up for ourselves, facing conflict or difficulty rather than backing down all the time.

More broadly speaking, I think, strength is having to courage to go to those places where we feel most incompetent, to go to those places despite our fear and uncertainty and to learn from the experience. In asking this of my autistic sons day after day, I pray that I can also grow in my ability to ask it of myself.


Rachel said...

It may be painful, but people will cling to the pattern because they at least feel like they know what they're doing, they feel competent in that role.

What you say here makes a lot of sense to me. I'd like to imagine that this is a dynamic that doesn't play out in my life, though of course it does; I'm still prone to slipping into old patterns and modes of behavior even when they no longer fit.

This is what's tough about defense mechanisms, I think. They arise out of some kind of emotional or psychological need; they wouldn't arise if they weren't necessary on some level. But then we get attached to them, and we cling to them beyond their original usefulness, and over time they become calcified and hard to move beyond.

Thanks for this reflection, which has given me a lot to think about.

steve westby said...

Rachel, you honor me by taking the time to read and comment on my humble blog.

These kinds of defense mechanisms occur in all of us, I'm sure. The question is whether we push ourselves, whether we summon the strength to venture beyond them.