Autistic Burnout Recovery Is About Reducing Dissonance

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Getting enough energy back to keep masking isn't true burnout recovery.
Autistic Burnout Recovery Is About Reducing Dissonance

What causes burnout?

Some of us who didn’t figure out we were autistic until adulthood sometimes managed to hide our natural communication style, thought processing, and physical regulation needs enough that even though we were often labeled as odd, or quirky, or weird, or things like that, we managed to tamp ourselves down enough that we didn’t get the label ‘autistic’.

Sometimes people describe these fitting in behaviors as ‘masking’, or ‘high-masking’ when it’s done intensely. I’ve heard ‘internalized presentation’ too. These all make sense to me as descriptors for what’s going on.

My point is that these fitting in behaviors become a problem when we routinely don’t, or no longer can, align our internal reality with what we present externally. When we don’t show anyone our real self, but a mask, a carefully crafted character.

At times in my life when the external requirements on me have conflicted with my internal needs or reality, the dissonance between those two has proved immense, painful, energy draining, and lonely. I’m now convinced that this dissonance is a significant contributing factor in autistic burnout, which is a big part of why masking is so bad for us.

It’s not enough to get some energy back so that you can continue the cognitive and physical dissonance for longer.

Also why burnout recovery is, in its essence, about aligning our internal and our external realities. This is what I mean when I talk about authenticity, and why I keep bringing up unmasking, and sensory care, and integrating thoughts with a useful awareness of physical and emotional reactions, and working through our negative internalized narratives. These are all essential to burnout recovery.

It’s not enough to get some energy back so that you can continue the cognitive and physical dissonance for longer. I believe that true burnout recovery is only possible when you reduce the dissonance at its source.

How is this landing for you? Does it resonate at all with your own experience? Take care and I wish you an aligned, authentic, neurowonderful day.

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Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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