Unmasking Neurodiversity to Discover Hidden Talent, and the Authentic Self
The cost of masking, arrogance, and a rigid self-identity; Eight Tips for successfully living the authentic and creative life.
Stifling creativity and self-expression
The behavior of masking or covering up to pass without being discovered is a choice but often a necessary option with unforeseen costs.
My mother’s cousin was a talented artist and poet living in Hungary during the Nazi takeover and invasion of her country. Many of her family and community died because of murderous fascism and antisemitism. Iren survived the concentration camps after her imprisonment, which was towards the war’s end. Her published poems were about the atrocities of war and totalitarian regimes as a remembrance of the horror and dangers of radical political movements and ideologies.¹
Acting or pretending to be more or less than your felt true self, to conform, or blend into the ways, preferences, and habits of others for acceptance and benefits, can go beyond stifling creativity but also take a toll on emotional and physical health and well-being. The result is a betrayal of spirit, surrender of free choice and creativity.
Rejection, harassment, and discrimination are everyday experiences by a minority-status person seeking group inclusion or membership. A person with recognized differences can be a target of haters, bigots, or people with set partisan beliefs. Harassment frequently occurs to minorities working in an organization when identified as different and not conforming to or following the expectations of the majority status members. Some assimilate the best they can, often out of necessity but get caught in precarious and sometimes dangerous situations. Worldwide, people might live in an autocratic country where there is a fear of retaliation from authorities, supervisors, or the government for revealing their minority status, beliefs, or personal preferences. Unlocking Artistry and Creativity in Mind Wise.
My father, 14 years of age, in 1914, had to get a job in the shipyards of Baltimore because of family circumstances and poverty. In the position he sought, there was extreme discrimination towards anyone appearing different, an immigrant, or with a name suggesting a minority status or religion. My father’s appearance didn’t stand out, but his last name was a giveaway. So, he gave a shortened, acceptable name to get employed. His choice eventually became the family name.
Neurodiversity describes differences in human mental functioning and behavior as positive attributes and strengths rather than as detriments of a person with a defect or lesser value to society. The term neurodiversity has evolved to support differences as a natural manifestation of people’s variety, abilities, and talents, rather than labeling differences as problems or condescending. In the past, individuals with more common learning styles, mental functioning, and behavior were viewed and labeled as normal or “neurotypical.”
The expression neurodiversity originally referenced people on the autism spectrum and later extended to defined conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia. Now the usage is more affirmative and has an inclusive meaning embracing all-natural variations and manifestations of mental and behavioral functioning, including all described in the past as neurotypical. The hope is to lessen discrimination and rejection of some of the most deserving, talented, and uniquely functioning individuals.²
When I entered middle school, my family moved to a rural area of Maryland. Though it was years later, from my father’s challenges to getting employed, many of the same prejudices and issues persisted. Unlike my father, I could not only pass the external characteristic and appearance test, but also had a name that fit in. However, I was acutely aware of being of a religious minority, and having some learning challenges, often targeted in the more rural setting where my school was situated. I always looked over my shoulder, feeling vulnerable, waiting for expected caustic comments about me or my religion, minority status, or prejudiced comment about any people viewed as different. There also were often very patronizing comments from teachers and adults at the school who wanted to make me feel like I was entirely accepted and fit in with no regard for my feelings, needs, or struggles.
Making it into adulthood when one has significant, recognizable differences can be a struggle, with many setbacks and painful rejections. Trying to be effective in an adverse setting, when differences are apparent to significant others, often leads to constant attempts to cover up or mask any perceived vulnerabilities. When acceptance and accommodation are needed but not available, a diagnosis or medical label could help get official recognition of the need for support and accommodations. Applying for a disability determination may be critical for getting necessary accommodations, services, or aid in school or work.³,⁴
Others in the population with conditions resulting from trauma, bodily injuries, or degenerative brain, physical, and mental health conditions, can have cognitive and behavioral functioning characteristics that could also fall under the rubric or designation of neurodiversity. The critical underlying need is to develop more supportive conditions for working and learning, where the talents and abilities of neurodiverse individuals are enhanced rather than being forced to face barriers of rejection and discrimination.
Considering the research and testing available, we could look down at the finer details of individuals and discover unique differences among all of us. The unique, innate talents and creativity present most likely have also been suppressed by the felt needs and pressure to fit in and conform. The term neurodiversity could thus apply to all people as the many differences because of the multiple influences of nature, culture, genetics, physical appearance, early life experience as neglect, deprivation or trauma, poverty, minority vs. majority status, discrimination, etc.
As one tries to cope and succeed in settings that are opposed to one’s needs, increasing distress and setbacks occur. Physical or mental problems can develop, such as lack of energy, anxiety, sleep difficulties, irritability, and mood irregularities such as depression. Get help when mental or emotional issues worsen, as there may be more significant issues that would benefit from utilizing mental health support and services.⁵
An individual’s unique differences and neurodiversity may contribute to anxiety, mood disturbance, avoidance, and the need to fit in at the expense of one’s individuality, talents, and mental health. Differences and uniqueness become a target for discrimination, hate, bullying, or rejection, leading to a sense of failure or even desperation for the recipient.⁶,⁷,⁸
One’s assumed identity, self-perception, and the ego
Some believe or advocate for being without a tightly embraced ego or self-identity. The concept is that creativity and originality would flourish the more one is without ego, arrogance, or a tightly held self-identity. In yoga and mindfulness practices, for example, experiencing what naturally arises is encouraged to get beyond the narrow limits of the mind’s ego and psychological defenses.
There is an encouraging letting go and freeing movement into the meditative or spiritual experience. The challenge is to rise above the normative mind filtered experiencing to the transpersonal. The experiential transpersonal state is a felt limitlessness and connection to all considered outside and external to mundane personal experience and restraints of the ego. It is a quest to become a more liberated and creative spirit.
To whatever degree one has loosened the restraints of mental defenses or suppression of imagination and creativity, there is a gradual return to the more normative state of self-awareness and identity, from the transpersonal back to the personal state of awareness and consciousness. Though with intense and consistent practice, there may be greater ease of accessing transpersonal states and loosening the repressive or stifling aspects of a too rigid-held self-identity and suppression of creative expression.
There is also a self-punitive aspect of an overly held, rigid identity, with the feeling of inadequacies, failure, and remorse, sometimes expressed as guilt, hopelessness, loss of meaning, and depression. The self-punitive reaction often occurs when one has been exhausted, burned-out, experience rejection, traumatized, ostracized, bullied for being or acting differently and not conforming to others’ expectations, peer or parental pressures.
There can be exhaustion from the energy drain of trying to meet the expectations of others and fit in. Once during my training years, fears of discovery of what I consider my inadequacies and shortcomings lead to some setbacks with anxiety and panic attacks.
The fear of discovery can be intense when one struggles to hide or fit in to avoid harm, rejection, or failure. Sometimes, an exuberant self-protective personality can develop in a person who feels vulnerable to their inadequacies or concealed difference exposure. The presentation may be that of an aggressive, arrogant, self-absorbed, combative, and narcissistic individual that attacks others perceived as threats or critical. A person so induced to change can become part of a radicalized partisan or extremist group and even rise to leadership of such a group, as seen in extreme or fascist-like political movements.
Academics and scholars ponder neurodiversity.
There is an array of opinions from neurosciences, philosophy, research, and academic scholars about why people differ so much, as we all have anatomically similar brains, divided into two equal appearing right and left hemispheres. A brain researcher, psychiatrist, philosopher, and writer Dr. Iain Gilchrist in his book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, relates how the difference between the two sides, hemispheres of the brain, is profound: “two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world. The detail-oriented left hemisphere prefers mechanisms to living things and is inclined to self-interest, while the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity”.⁹
Research suggests that each half of the brain has similarities, but unique differences and variations in dominance, influence, functionality, and so on. Even though similar brain regions do their specific work, processing, communication, and functioning, there is an infinite variety in their setup, function, and effect on other areas in the brain. As a result, there is a wide variety of personalities, behavioral, and mental characteristics from person-to-person — neurodiversity.
Some astute neuroscience students appear to see a disturbing evolutionary drift in people’s brains and mentation towards more dominance of the left brain. There is a loss of balance postulated from unequal or inadequate partnering of the left brain and the right brain. Our society moves towards a precarious position as more people are need-driven, self-serving, divisive, and potentially destructive — unbalanced brains and mental functioning contribute to a lack of caring for the good of others, our society, and the environment. Dr. Iain Gilchrist suggests that “despite its inferior grasp of reality, the brain’s left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence in today’s world — with potentially disastrous consequences.”⁹
It is interesting to speculate on what type of influences contribute to the gradual changing of brains and their functioning that may profoundly influence our society’s future and chances of prosperity or failure. Labeling variations in thinking and behavior as the more left or right brain has taken hold in our popular culture to the detriment and the diminishing of comprehensive understanding. When we lose the brain integration to the dominance of the left brain’s work to narrow down vast arrays of information to finite labels, human intelligence, social well-being, and mutuality diminish. So always seek broader understanding, openness, and integration of mind/brain, body, and spirit.
TIPS and Points to Ponder
1. Everyone has personal stories of their struggles to succeed and survive in challenging circumstances. Each account shows the human spirit’s fantastic resilience and adaptability. When there are overwhelming obstacles and misfortunes, pain and suffering often ensue. Be aware and compassionate about the difficulties, struggles, and mishaps that arise for ourselves and others; strive to be supportive and helpful when possible.
2. A stable personal identity can be essential to maintain daily functioning in work, self-care, and relationships. There is a middle road of sensible acceptance and compromise. In eastern philosophy, there is the notion of traveling life’s journey, taking the middle road, balancing the personal identity with the more open transpersonal, to maintain a healthy perspective and access freedom beyond our limiting ideas, beliefs, and restraints of personality. Embracing individual differences and self-identity is essential to define what is safe, dangerous, or a wise choice for our integrity and interface with all felt external to ourselves.
3. Shakespeare’s famous quote “to be or not to be is the question” might suggest that we have to balance the belief about who we are with what is less definable or beyond our comprehension. With our human limitations, there is the need for a balance and embrace of our personal awareness and identity and the transpersonal, the realm of the less definable, unknowable, and of all that is possible. Or from a more brain neuroscience point of view (or perhaps left brain thinking), there is the potential to maintain a healthy partnership of divergent but complementary aspects of our body, mind, emotions, and all that is perceived external to our identified self. Mindful awareness and consistent practices help maintain harmony. Recommendations for being more in harmony, balance, and well-being may come from being open and choosing from what has supported you in the past, available now, or new behaviors and practices you may consider and fit your lifestyle and needs.
4. The fluctuations and life’s changes are like sea waves with ups and down. To swim or float, one has to maintain fluidity and balance between the mundane and spiritual, living with the identity that works to get things done and meet basic needs, including survival. To bring hopes, imagination, and creative spirit to fruition, one must get past self-limitation and restraints of mental habit and ego and tap into new ideas, inspiration, and creativity. More is possible in a peaceful state of well-being beyond agenda and striving.
5. Karma is a familiar expression in the west but derived from eastern thought and philosophy, relating to actions or deeds and their effect or consequences — cause and effect. The underlying principle is that the intent and actions of an individual or a collective group influence the future or outcomes of others. In eastern religion, good intentions and deeds contribute to positive karma and happier rebirths, with the opposite occurring or contributing to negative karma or outcomes. The principle of karma has profound merit and is worth pondering if we look at current science and genetics and what is happening on the global and local scene.
6. Animosity expressed or acted out towards others results in division, failure of organizations, communities, and government, or eventually war, destruction, and death. Lack of consideration, poor care of our environment, and a preponderance of self-serving interests have resulted in climate change’s current threat to our planet and citizenry. Science currently recognizes the influence of present or past environmental or people-related occurrences on human illnesses and diseases through genetics or epigenetics — what turns on the actions of genes. Now, we all need more continued awareness of our deeds and actions in terms of our self-interest and for all others and our planet. It is the time to find our more authentic, higher selves that balance out personal interests with that of others living in our world community.
7. A favorite quote by Hillel, from the Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, studied in Judaism because of the profound moral insights and advice from the early generation of Rabbinic teachers is:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Hillel’s quote underlies the powerful message that we all have to balance our personal needs and interest with the awareness of the needs of others and our interconnection and responsibilities to all life. We are an integral component of the whole, and ultimately our actions or deeds affect everyone, us and others.¹⁰
8. Be aware of arrogance and narcissism, which draw us into the path of being entirely for ourselves and personal needs and greed (perhaps left-brain dominant thinking and behavior) at the expense of ethical behavior and ignoring our needs and duties to sustain our communities and planet. Vital energies and efforts can get misguided away from the care of the environment, other living beings, and our essential protective community institutions.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more of my articles, including more about neurodiversity and the autism spectrum, sign up for my MindWise newsletter.
² Neurodivergent Meaning: https://www.verywellhealth.com/neurodivergent-5216749; https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-neurodiversity-5193463
³ Seeking an Autism Diagnosis by Devon Price: https://devonprice.medium.com/seeking-an-autism-diagnosis-heres-why-you-might-want-to-rethink-that-530e79c272a0
⁴ Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity Hardcover — April 5, 2022, by Devon Price https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0593235231?tag=randohouseinc7986-20)
⁵ Burnout, depression, symptoms, treatment from Well Mind, New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/23/well/mind/burnout-depression-symptoms-treatment.html
⁹ Dr. Iain Gilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, available at Amazon and most book stores; quotations above from the book description found at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NS35S76/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i1
¹⁰ Ethics of the Fathers, Pirkei Avot: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ethics-of-the-fathers-pirkei-avot