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Don’t Tell Me How I Feel!

Statements such as; “I can see that you’re feeling upset / worried / angry” do not land well in our house.

They are quickly returned defensively with “I’m not upset/ worried / angry”.

And whilst interoception challenges / alexithymia are factors we also juggle, what I am referring to here is not about ‘not knowing’, it’s about ‘don’t tell me!’

If instead, we offer an acknowledgement of how tough something is; “I know and understand that x is really difficult, or it’s really hard or upsetting when x happens”, it can feel much more supportive and validating.

I make sense of this in terms of how threatening it can feel to have your inner world commented on. Our feelings are very personal and when they are big feelings, they can make us feel very vulnerable. Having our feelings named, can therefore trigger a neuroception of threat and naturally lead to a defensive response.

When we talk instead about how difficult x or y feels (the external event or stimuli) and name the emotion that stems from experiencing the stimuli, it can feel much safer to receive and actually considerably more validating.

The former example might feel like an accusation or a sense of blaming the self, whereas the latter is much more about acknowledging how the thing outside of oneself; has understandably given rise to some difficult emotions. Ultimately, when we respect and honour the person’s experience and validate how an external stimuli is absolutely challenging, we establish a much safer and empathic narrative.

We live in a world, supported by diagnostic manuals, that all too often positions ‘the problem’ inside of a person. In some ways the experience of being told that you are anxious, or angry or upset can feel akin to this and therefore, be very threatening to hear.

There are many instances where it may be much more helpful (and accurate) to identify and validate the source/origin of a person’s distress and this will more often than not be within their environment or relationships.

Emotional literacy and supporting children to name emotions is so important, but in the context of Autism, PDA and anxiety, textbook approaches need considerably more thought and consideration.


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By changingthenarrativeaboutautism

Author: Integrative Counsellor, BSc (Hons) Psychology.

Neurodivergent Mother, passionate about the acceptance and respectful treatment of neurodivergent children and adults.

My personal experience, relationship and connection with my son, provides me with a depth of insight into PDA. Our family's lived experience and love for our son, has driven me to research and write about PDA.

In addition to this lived experience, which I am very gradually making sense of, my professional background supports my ability to critically reflect and make sense of some of the strengths and difficulties we face.

My career started in 1999, when I graduated with a 2:1 BSc Hons Psychology degree. As a graduate I worked in a residential care setting for Adults with Autism and Learning Disabilities. I went onto complete a further three years Integrative Counselling training and then later; two years clinical psychology training. My clinical experience includes working for the NHS, Action for Children and Relate:

For the NHS, I worked in a University Hospital Psychology and Counselling service, a Community Mental Health Team, a Parenting Team and a Community Neuro Rehabilitation Team.

For Action for Children, I worked in a Leaving Care Team, and in a residential care setting for Looked After Children.

For Relate, I worked in the young people's service providing therapy to children facing a range of difficulties from trauma, loss and separation to depression, anxiety and self-harm.

I first developed my interest in Neuroscience as an undergraduate. I connected more fully with this during my time working as a trainee alongside a very inspiring Neuropsychologist in a Community Neuro Rehabilitation team. My passion for neuroscience became even more valuable to me, when I became a parent.

The Polyvagal Theory, in particular, has been central in helping me to develop a deeper understanding of PDA.

This led me to hypothesise and write about the relationship between neuroception and PDA in my article “Highly Sensitive Neuroception May Be at The Heart of PDA”.

I hope you find this site helpful and I thank you for your participation and feedback.

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