Today a co-worker told me why people tend to not respect me and why they talk down to me. I already knew the reasons why, but hearing it from another person, even when it’s not said in a mean or patronizing way, still stung a lot. She said when people talk to me, I seem to not understand what they are saying, and I don’t process verbal directions as well as most people. Unfortunately, what she said is absolutely true. Even though I know I’m well above average intelligence, I’ve always been sensitive about this and afraid people will think I’m stupid because of this problem I have processing verbal communication.
This is typical of someone with Aspergers or autism, and I also suffer from the social awkwardness of an Aspie. Both result from failing to process verbal communication in a normal (some would say “neurotypical”) way. Although I was never diagnosed with Aspergers, for many years I was sure I had it, because I certainly act and think in Aspie-like ways. I’ve had this problem since childhood. There’s never been any proof I don’t have Aspergers though, so who knows–I could be on the autism spectrum. But I actually think my problem is due to complex PTSD mixed with Avoidant Personality Disorder. I’m usually slightly dissociated or “off in space” somewhere when people are telling me things. I also am highly uncomfortable in groups of other people (or people I don’t know well) and the ensuing self-consciousness makes me clam up and do and say awkward things. I can’t really focus on what others are saying because I’m so obsessed with not looking stupid or weird. I get so nervous that I might not understand what the other person is telling me, that my brain stops working and makes the problem even worse. The fact I also have very poor hearing (I only have 20% hearing in my left ear) exacerbates this problem.
I have a similar problem when people are telling me jokes. I’m so afraid I “won’t get it” that instead of listening to the joke, I’m worrying that I might not get it and the person telling the joke will think I’m stupid. So what happens? Ding ding ding! I don’t get the joke! That’s why I prefer jokes that don’t require any “getting.” Goofy or silly humor, or “random” humor is much more my speed.
My malignant narcissist ex used to exploit my discomfort with joke-telling for his own sadistic entertainment. He did this by deliberately telling long, involved jokes when others were present, and then pointedly look at me, asking, “Did you GET it?” If I didn’t (which was often the case when I was put in this nerve-wracking situation), I could do one of two things: (a) I could lie and say I did get it, but this didn’t work because he’d then ask me to explain the joke; or (b) admit I didn’t get it. Either way, he was turning my insecurities against me in order to make me appear stupid in front of others. He’d rub salt in the wound by telling me I had no sense of humor because I was unable to get his jokes, even though this actually isn’t true at all and I think I have a very well developed sense of humor (just not a traditional one) and many people find me funny. What that sociopath did was an especially subversive and vicious form of gaslighting that exploited my differently-wired brain and my self-consciousness. I still find situations where people are telling jokes very triggering.