Sunday, 14 April 2013

Theory of Mind

I just googled 'theory of mind'. It appears that autistic people don't develop this or develop it insufficiently. I have no intentions to generalise, but I know what it's like for me.

I used to think - as a kid - that everybody else functioned like myself. I felt deceived if people disagreed with me, and I couldn't understand that their reaction was different from mine.

When I grew older, I realised that everybody else were perfect. I was the only imperfect one. They always knew what to say and what to do, and I didn't. If colleague A says: I am scared of being fired, it is not a sign of weakness, rather it is because exposing weakness is the right thing to do. If family member B talks about a newly deceased and says 'I don't know what to say to the relatives' - then that is the way to react, and the correct amount of sharing. When female friend C complains about her husband, she does so in the right setting and the right amount. Somehow the correct way of sharing/exposing weakness/revealing private information has been implanted in their brains, and they just DO the right thing, without endless considerations of what the right thing is. Those considerations are mine. I am (still) the only imperfect one. But recently I have suggested to myself that others may be as imperfect.

This discovery (too big a word there, 'suggestion' is better) is very difficult to get my head around. When I am in a social situation I still (firmly) believe that all others are perfect. But on my way home on my bicycle, while debriefing myself from the social interactions of the day, it sometimes occur to me that A, B and C perhaps were as insecure - or almost as insecure - of what they should say or do in the social situation as I was.

I appear to have considered other people as some kind of astronomical objects, sticking firmly to their path, which they can see clearly. While I haven't had a path of my own, and I also haven't been able to see theirs. I am the blind spaceship, floating about, sometimes colliding with the stoic planets or crossing their path in an inconvenient way. But most of the time I have been able to fly more or less on someone else's path, safe until I accidentally left it.

Until now I haven't really been interested in what happened inside other people's heads.

The reason for this is:

  • Either that I've been too busy always trying to fit in and haven't had the resources to figure out what was going on in everybody elses heads
  • Or that I am basically too self-absorbed to be interested in what happens inside other people's heads. I am not narcissistic because I clearly see my own flaws, but I find those flaws much more interesting than trying to comprehend the almost incomprehensible.
My discovery - that they may not be so perfect after all - still doesn't give me a clue as to what actually does happen inside their heads. So I am not really closer to that theory of mind...

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