We already know that neurodivergent people socialise differently.
So, how do we meet our need for relationships and belongingness as people who are differently social?
How do we find and maintain healthy friendships and partnerships?
To do that, we need to know three things:
What we want in relationships
An important part of creating and maintaining a healthy social life, is having a good understanding of what you want from your friendships, what needs you have, and who may not be a good fit.
Mapping your circle
Start by mapping your current relationships into a diagram of concentric circles.
The middle, smallest circle will be the circle of intimacy. This is for your closest family and friends that you feel safest with and are able to be the most vulnerable with.
The next circle is the circle of friends. This is for good friends, who may not be as close as the middle circle. You may not talk to them quite as often, and you may not feel as comfortable touching or being touched by them.
The outermost is the circle of acquaintances. These are people you don't know very well. They might not be people we go to with our hardest problems, but they can be people you see regularly or enjoy doing activities with.
When you meet new people, you can refer to your diagram to figure out where you think they belong, and therefore, the level of closeness and personal disclosure is appropriate.
Mapping your needs
Then, take inventory of the kind of things you would like or need from your relationships. These needs can include:
Emotional disclosure/emotional intimacy
What's your communication style?
Whether or not you're neurodivergent, many different communication styles exist. Different families, cultures, and social environments can all impact how someone communicates.
Some examples of communication differences can include:
A love language is a way that a person wants to show love and also a way that a person feels loved.
Love languages include:
Words of affirmation: Giving or receiving compliments
Touch: showing love by hugging and being physically affectionate
Acts of service: doing things for others,
Gifts: Giving or receiving gifts,
Quality time: Spending time together, or making time for another person.
When people have different love languages, they may have a harder time feeling loved and appreciated by the other person, because both parties are demonstrating their love in a way that isn't appreciated as much by the other.
Direct vs. Indirect Communication
Direct communication is when someone is saying exactly what they mean.
The goal is to give information. They aren't looking for hidden meaning, and they may not be taking into account cultural differences or what is considered "polite".
Whereas, indirect communication is a style of communication that relies more heavily on cultural context, non-verbal cues and "reading between the lines".
Indirect communication often attempts to avoid conflict or uncomfortable situations by not responding directly.
Talking about yourself
Have you ever done this?
Someone you care about is explaining a situation or telling the story of what happened to them. You want to show that you understand what that person is going through.
So you tell a story about a time that you went through a very similar situation.
This is something that neurodivergent people do quite often.
The impulse behind this is to connect and show empathy, but for some people, this can feel like you are dominating the conversation or changing the subject to focus on yourself.
So knowing what your instinctual style is, and knowing what style of communication the people in your network prefer, can help to avoid miscommunication and hurt feelings.
Creating and Enforcing Boundaries
We can feel more comfortable socialising if we understand how to create and gently kindly but firmly enforce boundaries.
Neurodivergent people can be particularly susceptible to being taken advantage of, or put in uncomfortable positions or abused because we understand that we are socially different.
We can tend to be apologetic or assume that we are in the wrong when in fact we are entirely right to feel how we feel.
Knowing how to create and enforce boundaries can be helpful in this situation.
Boundaries are About You, Not Others
Boundaries should be about what you’re willing to accept and when you will choose to remove yourself from a situation or relationship, not about someone else's behavior.
Boundaries are not about punishing other people, they are about giving yourself the kindness that you deserve.
You deserve to feel comfortable.
You deserve to feel safe.
You deserve to feel respected.
Having clear boundaries can help you quickly figure out how to make decisions that help you be comfortable, safe, and respected.
When someone is crossing a boundary that you have, you should communicate this to them.
When possible, we want to communicate in ways that will help us get our needs met without making the other person feel attacked. Because when you feel attacked, it’s hard to take in information.