Anytime a person guards something, it’s because he or she wants to protect it. Emotionally-guarded individuals are protecting themselves from getting hurt. But relationships of depth require vulnerability – and vulnerability signifies the risk of getting hurt. Emotionally-guarded people raise their shields to protect against exposing their vulnerabilities. They are afraid that by dropping their shield, they will be humiliated. They are guarding against emotional intimacy, but a relationship can’t be sustained without emotional intimacy. This is a true dilemma for many adults with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA).
Intimacy requires feeling one’s insecurities and the painful emotions they produce. All painful emotions are based in fear. The fear of getting hurt or disgraced can sometimes take control of your life. So what can be done to avoid the risk of being hurt in a relationship? The answer: You can’t avoid the risk! To avoid risk is to avoid relationship! If you protect yourself by being emotionally-guarded, you’re never going to find a satisfying relationship. Connecting with someone, deepening the relationship, bonding and falling in love is not a safe process, and it undeniably requires you to risk getting hurt.
Securing a relationship requires surrender. As intimidating as that sounds, surrender is also what makes the experience magical – and even life-transforming. Adults on the spectrum grow by challenging their fears – not by staying safe. You grow by taking risks, not by raising a shield. Two individuals get close to each other by virtue of risking themselves. So if you’re going to find a love relationship, you must risk your heart all over again.
But here’s an issue with many AS and HFA adults: They don’t feel good about themselves, so they never actually let anyone else in. They avoid confiding in another person. Thus, they never fully bond …never let anyone else really get to know them …and never deeply love. So the real issue here has more to do with “low self-esteem” than some kind of “social inability” to deeply connect with another person.
If you fear love relationships because you fear getting injured, you’ll approach relationships with a guarded heart. But you won’t be able to love, either. The only solution is to stop hiding and to allow someone else in. Work on having a more open heart. But you don’t have to do this alone – it takes two people doing it together …two people opening up, revealing themselves, connecting and bonding …two people risking their hearts. In the end, relationships are about risking and bonding – not safety and protection. This doesn’t happen every day, but when it does – it’s powerful!
Your first course of action is to improve your self-esteem. AS and HFA adults with low self-esteem fear that as soon as someone really gets to know them, they won’t be liked, loved or wanted anymore. Now here’s the catch: The best way to improve self-esteem is through experiencing success. But the only way to experience success in relationships is to take a risk. So as you can see, you will likely choose only one of two options here: You will either (1) continue to risk your heart until you find a satisfying relationship, thus improving your self-esteem, or (2) continue to hide your heart to avoid getting hurt, thus settling for low self-esteem and superficial relationships (which aren’t very satisfying).
You’ve heard the phrase, “no pain, no gain.” Similarly, it can be said, “no risk, no relationship.” So, risk …risk …and then risk some more. Take a step of faith. It’s well worth the effort in the long run.
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples