I was talking to a friend the other day on the phone. And somehow we got into talking about some of my weak points, including what must look like astounding levels of naivete about some things. I remember a staff person I used to know (actually one of the best who ever worked for me) where I wondered whether she was neurologically atypical in some way, because she had a lot of really crappy life experiences at the hands of others, yet still seemed overly trusting of other people in ways that were always getting her in trouble.

I tend to assume in some way that other people have good intentions, and that conversations are happening in good faith, rather than some other kind of motive being involved.

More specifically, I tend to assume that people are interested in exchanging information, and are interested in figuring out what is real and what is right or wrong ethically, beyond whether their pre-existing viewpoints happen to be right or wrong about it.

I tend to especially expect this of adults, possibly because my commitment to that sort of thing became conscious and strengthened when I moved out on my own as a young adult. (This sort of thing is nearly always a gradual process, but there’s a difference between being committed to it even if you screw up, and not caring at all.)

All of which is a somewhat ironic example, of course, of an area in which I’m not always taking in the real world as opposed to what I expect of it. I often even get the gut reaction (and from what I’ve been told, I’ve got a highly accurate gut) that someone is not trustworthy, and yet still continue to treat them as if they are, while trying to remain internally wary. I can’t tell at all if this is a sign of ethics or a sign of extreme foolishness and stupidity.

Anyway, I mentioned all this to my friend, and she told me that she’s noticed this about me for awhile, in a way that sounded like “That’s really obvious.” I just wonder what to do about it.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

20 responses »

  1. I don’t know. I have the same problem, or perhaps trouble is a better term. I get taken advantage of constantly because I guess I just have this idea in my head that maybe this time will be different, that maybe this time the person will be a good person. I had a pysch-type (what I call a psychiatrist) once tell me that it had something to do with Theory of Mind and that I wasn’t able to link events together. I still don’t think that is right, but I do think that my trusting nature and belief that most people are good kind of overrides that gut instinct telling me otherwise. But I am, like you said, wary of people who elicit that kind of instinctual warning, even though it oftentimes isn’t enough to prevent getting burned (metaphorically speaking, of course.) I guess I tend to think something along the lines of “oh, I would never steal something, and he said he just wanted to see it, so I will let him see it.” The next thing I know, my iPod is stolen. Just stuff like that.

  2. I’m naive, too. But I really would rather be naive and get taken advantage of, than be aggressive and jaded and not help anybody else. That said, of course, it’s important not to let others do wrong things if you can help it, because you are only letting them get practice at destroying themselves. But I’d rather get less than my share, than end up getting paranoid and grabby and taking some of somebody else’s share.

  3. Funnily enough, I’m completely the opposite. Paranoia, trust no-one, everyone’s out to get me. I try to ignore this as much as possible. Again I think this is fairly common on the spectrum.

  4. NEVER presume a neurotypical is shooting straight with you. Almost always they have some sort of ulterior motive. Not necessarily a MALICIOUS intent, but, generally speaking, if they can avoid being unambiguous, they do.

  5. I don’t know about you, but I remember when I was in seventh grade and my counselor gave a bunch of bs when I tried reporting attacks on me. She blatantly blamed it on my being weird, and I knew as she said this that this was nonsense, and was infuriated, but then I started, I don’t know what you’d call it, internalize?

    I remember becoming fiercely defensive of her actions, even as I complained of the injustice of the situation at home and with the person or two who would actually willingly get near me that year. I said to myself, “She just wants the best for me.” Now, through my growing understanding of neurodiversity and autistic rights and the cure organizations, I have begun to fully understand how negative the impact can be, to dismiss someone of responsibility for their actions based purely on good intentions.

    I’m not sure if this is the same thing as you describe. At least while I was in elementary and junior high school, I think I was the opposite: I was so paranoid about what people would do to me, even though at times there was little to no basis in fact – it was the existence of the constant history of assault and ridicule that left me to suspect it where it didn’t exist, and to cry over innocent comments intended as jokes.

    The funny thing is, this only for me applied to people about my age. For adults and authority, I continued to trust them, even though those authority figures within the school system were often not to be trusted to treat me with respect (teachers were, for the most part, a notable exception for me).

    I have thought of myself naive for most of my life, but as yet I can’t find the words to describe the evidence or reasoning behind this perception.

  6. I thought about this entry. Kind of as to why do we trust people we prety much know are untrust worthy. I think we want to trust them anyway, give them the opportunity to learn, change and grow. Isn’t it a bout our power and their in- abliltiy to control it? I am not going to shut up and go down quitely because a informant is in the room. If I think it needs to be said, Im going to say it. It gets me into trouble but I’m still going to speak my truth. If people could only say what they mean with out fear of what others will do because of it. We are so guarded to say what we really feel because of what the other person hearing it w/could do to us if they hear us speak our minds. I think most people are motivated by two things. Fear and love. Most horrible things have been done to me because of fear. I know that trusting certain people will get me hurt or in trouble but I’m going to keep speaking my truth and telling it like I see it is. What they choose to do with that information is on them. Are you going to live in fear or love? I’m not going to shut up and take it because that is what is socially acceptable. I was raised where nice girls and ladies don’t cause a fuss and you just shut up and take it. Why? Submissive women are controlable.
    I want to hear what other’s think and why. What was their process in getting to that point where they accept “It” as their truth. Why does that scare some people to the point that they have to shut you up for having a different point of view. It’s got to be fear.

  7. Everyone is naïve/limited, it’s just that it’s in different ways/areas.

    Comfort zones. What we, any and all people, believe is reality involves mental and social filters that enable us to create sense of reality in our heads (comfort zones) and it’s truly amazing that people share it in any fluid or articulate manner.

    Identity. People differ on how and **how much** they entwine their sense of stability, wellness, and identity with what they believe and feel is real/true. (I don’t attach my sense of belief and reality to my identity as much and am wondering if this is truer of people on the autism range.) This becomes important when it’s time to deconstruct and articulate the assumptions, motives, associations, and conditioning in order to tweak them and change (reconstruct) as part of ‘adapt and survive.’

    Stability vs. change. Despite the illusion that stability is safe and necessary for wellness and society, too much stability or sameness (whether on the basis of religion or neurological wiring) is one of the most destabilizing factors in an individual’s or nations life, as is not enough.

    Intuition. Trust your gut, if you’ve got a good one. Not everyone does (have good intuition). Those with a pattern of being in abusive/unstable life situations (which is a huge chunk of the population judging by abuse statistics and behaviors) often have a tendency to trust those they shouldn’t and mistrust those they could because it’s a lot of work to change and it’s **scary** to shift sense of reality (comfort zones). People tend to trust those who better match their own reality filters, behavioral patterns, and wiring, as it were.

    Reactions to change/challenges/differences vary. The more assumptions, motives, associations, and conditioning/filters are entwined with sense of stability and identity, the more difference or change may bring out variations of the wounded animal response.

    This is where I run into problems, repeatedly, because I see the inability to be articulate and honest as a distinct disadvantage yet society generally sees being straightforward and honest as being socially inept. Majority rules, we are tribal/pack primates, and so being honest, direct, and different can be met with a host of peculiar (though common) thoughts and deeds on the part of others. If we’re different, we often find ourselves going along with the peculiarities of majority rule (the “way it is”) in order to survive (as Melody relayed) because we sense others’ limitations just as they sense ours.

    Being honest, direct, and different makes a lot of people wary and suspicious, and often socially abusive, I’ve found out, largely because they don’t understand the balance between stability and change. For most, shifts in societal awareness are ushered in by a convergence of genius and/or discovery by those who look at things differently for whatever reasons.

  8. “Anyway, I mentioned all this to my friend, and she told me that she’s noticed this about me for awhile, in a way that sounded like “That’s really obvious.” I just wonder what to do about it.”

    I’ve learned to pay attention to people’s behavioral patterns and to learn what the red flags of abuse are in various contexts, hence my pages on abuse (you’ll see many links that explore red flags in my “Abuse: Domestic and Other (Useful)” page) and “learned empowerment.” That was me exploring all this and figuring it out. Did I succeed? My intuition is much better, I’m not longer in abusive or unduly instable situations, yet I still may not do well with what I see as unnecessary social complexities. I still do well with people who can and will articulate things in a straightforward manner.

    So, although I learned a lot, I still have some of the same limitations.

  9. Well, something like this happened last night….something that made us think about this post. Warning: this might be slightly disturbing to some. Some guy got within 2 inches or less of Athena’s face…..wanted to hug her and told her some stuff like she was little and beautiful……Athena let him, thinking that a)she had no choice anyhow and b) he’d get the hell away faster. Not even her eyes could escape him……

    She had gone to a bar with a friend from highschool…..and there were other people there. The dude was a total stranger……she came home wondering why she hadn’t attempted to knock a few of his teeth out, tried to choke him…..or at the very least told him to f*** off. The first two most likely didn’t happen because we were in a public place.

    Weird huh?


  10. I’ve made a conscious decision to err on the side of naivete/trustingness. It’s been something I’ve thought about lately because I’m living in a big city for the first time, so I’m more often put in situations where I can either act fearful or put myself at a little more risk and be trusting. It’s always a balance, but according to my ethical beliefs, I feel like I have a responsibility to push the envelope a little in terms of trusting other people. I think that it helps make the city a little less of an angry, scary place. So, for example, a couple of weeks ago, my bike broke down at night, and a guy offered to help me fix it (with the unspoken understanding that I would give him a few bucks, I think.) I talked with him and we fixed my bike together, although I kept my keys in my hand in case I needed my pepper spray. Turns out he was just a very nice person who happens to be mechanically handy, and I think it really enriched my life and his for us to have such a pleasant interaction.

    Axinar, I would just like to point out that “neurotypicals” are no more of a homogenous group than autistics. It’s pretty personally hurtful to me to say that ALL NT’s prefer to be ambiguous. Being honest and genuine with people is something that is incredibly important to me and something I’m really passionate about. Not that you shouldn’t say it just because it’s hurtful, or even that you shouldn’t be wary of people as a rule, but it’s just not accurate. We come in a bunch of flavors.

  11. I’ve always been told I was a great thinker/very intelligent, and therefore when my “tummy says Uh-Oh!” and it tells me very strongly not to trust someone (especially an authority figure), I often tell my gut to shut up because I want to “be nice” and give them the benefit of the doubt. I swear, if I had been a guy with a disability instead of a girl, I would hardly have been told to “ignore it” or “shut up and take it”. I would have been told to assert myself (I typed ‘insert’ first. Weird. Anyway, about being vague and ambiguous instead of honest, clear, and direct:

    Professionals and bureaucrats are especially fond of this, and I have a theory why. Long ago, the priests of the medieval Church were the only ones who could read, and they used their knowledge to tell the peasants and serfs what the Bible said. Through the language they used, they separated and put themselves in a position of superiority and authority in the human “pecking order.”

    I have noticed that many staff and professionals, even without meaning to, have acted like these medieval clergy. They feel they must have a way to separate themselves from the “clients”, a definite and concrete way, and so they talk in “alphabet soup” acronyms and medical jargon. They also don’t tell the clients what they really think, or else they hide certain truths from them (like the real inadequacy of disability services or why they REALLY can’t move out of their day programs, their group homes, or institutions.)

    And, I’m just as guilty of this myself of not being clear and direct. I’m a staff member (thought not a direct-care staff) at my agency, and there’s a “client” with a crush on me the size of Alaska. Any “client-staff” romantic relationships are strictly forbidden because of the potential of abuse, and besides, I don’t like the guy THAT way anyway. So I hem and haw when he calls me pretty because I don’t want to hurt him.

    He’s so kind, but I don’t want to break his heart.

    We’re vague because we’re afraid, want to keep our authority and hierarchical position above someone, or else (and this is worst of all) it’s like a reflex for us. We do it sans thinking.

  12. Amanda said: I tend to assume that people are interested in exchanging information, and are interested in figuring out what is real and what is right or wrong ethically, beyond whether their pre-existing viewpoints happen to be right or wrong about it.

    I tend to assume this kind of thing as well. It took me a long, long while to figure out that sometimes people weren’t interested in possibly looking beyond their pre-existing viewpoints.

    However, learning that not everyone is truly interested in information-exchange did not compel me to change my approach to discussion (I don’t even know how to approach discussions differently). I still tend to give people the benefit of the doubt at first, often unconsciously so, and only revoke it when it becomes obvious that productive discussion is pretty much impossible.

    E.g., when I first discovered “internet trolls” I didn’t realize what they were doing (trying to incite argument deliberately), and I would often respond to them in ways that they probably found highly amusing. But over time, I figured out how to tell when someone was just responding in a repetitive pattern without actually thinking about what anyone else was saying, and I learned to avoid getting into endless circular debates that way.

  13. I tend toward paranoia, but I also have a tendency to engage in discussions where I know that the person isn’t going to change their point of view, or discover aspects and complexities of their arguments (because I don’t usually mind if the position isn’t changed, so long as it is well-formulated). But sometimes that also brings some nice surprises and a good, complete introduction to that person’s assumptions and experiences.


  14. I noticed in myself the tendency to trust authority figures unreasonably whereas with a person my own age with far more reason to trust them, I would be unreasonably suspicious about them.

    In my case, the way that I have begun to recognize when I am likely to fall into this is by looking specifically at how I think of the other person’s motivations. If I believe the person is genuinely acting in what they believe are my best interests, this is when I now know I need to apply maximum caution in my words and my dealings, and to err on the side of my being too forceful with my own opinions rather than on being mistreated and led as I was before.

    I would rather come off as a bit strong-willed rather than be taken as a weak, submissive person to be taken advantage of.

  15. Ideally, when lacking data about a person, I would try not to expect them to behave “positively” (according to my perspective), nor to expect them to behave “negatively”, but simply to recognize: “I lack data.” (I’m not claiming that I totally succeed at this, of course). Then I would try to form an opinion as I got to know more about them. Unfortunately, attempting to withhold judgment until more data is gathered can be misinterpreted. Some people seem to think that if you haven’t made a positive assumption then you must have made a negative one, or vice versa. “Trust until proven untrustworthy” and “Expect deception until proven trustworthy” are not the only two options. Also, just because I do something that seems trusting (like lend something valuable without collateral) doesn’t mean I believe that person is trustworthy, and just because I do something that seems distrustful (like ask for collateral when lending something valuable) doesn’t mean I believe that person is untrustworthy. In most cases I lack sufficient data to judge someone’s trustworthiness but have to choose a course of action (action, not belief) based on what little data I do have.

  16. Hi Amanda. I believe I have undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome — though I’ve only been researching autism when I can for the last 6 months, you know, between my day job and my other living necessities. I find myself wanting a lot more time than I actually have to research and study it, to connect and network with others. Though amidst my research, this phenomenon or two actually of autistics having an unusual relationship to trust and or being “naive” is a common thread. I say two because there’s being too trusting and then there’s not having our own ulterior motives. I’m sure some autistics can and do have ulterior motives, but I’d told people for years that I don’t even before I found out about autism and have come to find that it’s really common amongst autistics. I’m sure they’re related. I’m sure part of the reason we tend to naturally assume a lack of ulterior motives or want to assume that is because we don’t have them ourselves. And I think being sneaky or deceitful tends to cause people to think that others are doing the same. Hence I think part of the reason for a lot of my problems, that NT people tend to assume that I have some ulterior motive because they would. I’m pretty certain I was fired from a job in 2006 because I offered to buy someone and her husband dinner and an assumption was made that I was hitting on them. It’s a little more involved than that, but the rest is really just window dressing.

    The problem really is that I never see those assumptions coming. I’m pretty certain that’s what keeps getting me fired. By that I mean, not that they keep assuming I’m hitting on my coworkers, but that my bosses make poor assumptions about my motives which basically amount to expecting me to behave the way they behave and be motivated by the things that motivate them and frequently come to the conclusion that I have ulterior motives that I don’t have.

    I really don’t have an answer to the problem of trusting people. I apparently have no clue how to do it myself. I’m just grateful to know that I’m not alone — maybe someone will figure it out and explain it in a way that makes sense to me eventually.

    But I also wanted to mention that I had just posted a blog entry in which I mentioned you. I was going to send you a private email to let you know but couldn’t find an email address, so I figured as long as I was going to comment here I would let you know. Not that you had to know or anything, but I thought it would be polite to let you know that I had mentioned you and give you the opportunity to offer any additions or corrections you might like to see in my entry or get me to change how I’ve linked to you (if you’d rather I link to Ballastexistenz instead of the Amanda Baggs Non-Site).


  17. This one keeps coming back to bite us because we sometimes *assume* we’re more people-savvy than a lot of other autistic people we know, and better able to spot bad intentions and when someone is really not our friend, but we’re a lot better at spotting when someone *else* is being exploited than spotting when *we’re* being exploited or when someone has less than honorable intentions towards us, especially in face-to-face interaction. (Online is a lot easier.) We can preach to others up and down about “look, that person is just using you,” or that we have bad gut instincts about them, or similar, but it’s so much harder to apply that to *ourselves.* Often, we won’t stop trying to dismiss our problems with certain people as “our fault” or “our hangups” unless they’re corroborated by a third party (and sometimes a fourth or fifth).

    And the problem is compounded by the fact that we’ve spent most of our life living in some form or another around other atypical people who couldn’t always tell either, and so weren’t necessarily reliable third-party sources to confirm that “everything this person is doing is really screwed-up.” Sometimes we would be getting screwed along with *them* and neither of us could tell it. (And sometimes we made the mistake of thinking that someone couldn’t be abusing us because someone else was abusing *them,* as though this prevents you from being abusive.)

    We’re willing to do a lot in attempts to make people like us, too. We’re not as extreme about it as we used to be, but we still go into a blind panic when worrying that people might see us as a “nasty and unpleasant person.” (This isn’t always unreasonable, as we’ve run into some disability services people whose view of us suddenly and abruptly changed 180 degrees when we were being openly angry instead of “nice.”) In practice, when dealing with others, we’ll do a lot of things in an attempt to make them “like us” when, if we had just considered all those same things as purely hypothetical scenarios, we would have been able to say “No, it really wouldn’t be a good idea for us to do that.”

    This is… a big aspect that really isn’t addressed at all by most programs, books, etc, we’ve seen designed around teaching people to keep themselves out of “bad situations”: the fact that, in theory, many people can often identify a potentially dangerous or exploitative situation and say “No, if it happened to me, I wouldn’t agree to do that/go with those people/etc,” but when it’s actually *happening,* they don’t see the wrongness of it, or are thinking in terms of something far more immediate like pleasing another person. I’d be willing to bet this happens to non-autistic people, too, probably just not to the same degree. But… well, to give a personal example, during adolescence, we read several books and articles on “how to say no in a sexual situation” and “how to set your own limits and stand up for your rights,” and even *after* reading such things, and comprehending them, it still didn’t stop us from getting into situations in which we were sexually abused by people we knew. We understood the theory, but didn’t understand the practice, or we had too many conditioned instincts to “obey people,” or maybe both.

    And if programs and books designed to teach people how to avoid abusive situations can’t find some way to address the fact that for at least some people (I can’t begin to estimate how many, but I’m sure it’s not an insignificant percentage), there’s a huge gap between the understanding and practice of the methods they teach, then… those programs and books are not doing an adequate job. We’re not claiming we have a ready answer for it, because we don’t, but if people think that just “knowing the warning signs” and “knowing how far you’re willing to go” and “understanding that you have the right to say no” and similar will prepare everyone to be able to actually do these things in a real, non-hypothetical situation, there’s a problem there.

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