How do I apologize for being a jerk? (I have Aspergers)

I am a female with Aspergers. I think my mom and my sister have Aspergers, too. And we all have the same problem: we can greatly offend people by the things we say and how we say them. In talking with each of them, they have no idea that they are doing it and they say they don’t mean to offend. I physically cringe when I hear how they talk to people – even though I know I accidentally do it, too.

I don’t tell colleagues and friend groups that I have Aspergers. I know to look people in the eye when in conversations. I am pretty decent in one-on-one conversations when I pay close attention to personality type and what the other person needs from me and the relationship. I am very bad at reading people’s intentions.

In my adult life, I have jumped from friend group to friend group. My mom used to tell me that I wore people out. I’ve gotten fired from every job – which I think is a combo of me being an ENTP and having Aspergers. I feel like I leave a wake of destruction in my path from saying exactly what I am thinking. I’m generally a friendly and enthusiastic person, so my harsh comments tend to really catch people off guard. So, people who liked me at first will distance themselves in a hurry. Or, I’ll be so embarrassed that I hurt someone’s feelings, that I’ll distance myself.

I’m getting better at keeping my mouth shut by understanding personality type and group dynamics, but I know I will always make this type of mistake. Sometimes I will know immediately that I was a jerk by the look on someone’s face or shift in body language. Other times, I think I was just stating the obvious and everyone sees the same thing I do, but later it will become clear that I’m out of step with the rest of the group. So, I need to learn how to mea culpa gracefully to someone in the moment or later when I’ve realized I’ve deeply offended someone.

Do you have suggestions?

12 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    First of all, this is most eloquent descriptions I’ve ever read about what it’s like to be an adult with Aspergers. Your writing describes the most self-aware of people with Aspergers — usually women, to be honest.

    For anyone who wants to know what’s going through the mind of someone who is high-functioning with Aspergers, this is it.

    Here’s my answer to your question, based on my experience: people don’t care about apologies when it comes to stuff like this.

    Talk less. People are not interested in what you have to say. They are interested in you caring about them.

    I tell this to my son every day. And to myself. It’s very hard to keep quiet. Sometimes I feel like Aspergers is a form of Tourette’s.

    • A.
      A. says:

      Penelope, thanks so much for responding to my inquiry about this. Honestly, it took me this long to say “thank you” because in August, your kind words and acknowledgement made me cry. I was having such a hard time interpersonally with a few loved ones, and actually my own self.

      In a couple cases, I decided to walk away from those relationships. I realized that I can control myself in less-charged situations. And if situations with certain people are always charged, then my strong emotions are telling me something and it’s time for me to stop putting myself in those situations.

      I’ve come back and read your response a hundred times. The acknowledgement about what it’s like living with Aspergers has made a big difference for me these last couple months.

      And thanks to eveyone who shared here. I appreciate hearing other people’s similar experiences.

  2. Missy
    Missy says:

    My niece with Aspergers is like this. I think she’s an INTP, but as a neurotypical ENTP, I find it very difficult to interact with her because of her lack of filter. I feel like I should know better because I’m an ENTP.

    That being said, I think the answer for all ENTPs, though, not just Aspergers folks, is to talk less. People really aren’t interested in ideas like the ENTPs. I’m neurotypical and I’ve lost friendship after friendship because I’m not warm and fuzzy. People love me right off the bat. They think I’m fun and charismatic and get right to where they want to be heard, but after a few weeks or months (or years), they get tired of the constant stream of information. They just want a hug. LOL

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      OMG this is me. Neurotypical ENTP. Everyone likes me but those who know me best (family) call me a sociopathic bitch because I have so little empathy. It’s not that I don’t care, but I can see the solution (or lack of one) and either it’s hopeless unless the other person changes their behavior, or it’s the human condition and part of life. But if you need someone to take action without getting emotionally involved, I’m your hero.

  3. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I’m a lot like this. I think OP should tell people she has Asperger’s after she thinks she has offended someone (not in a group setting, that makes it awkward for everyone, just when it happens one on one).

    Like, if you see that shift in body language letting you know you’ve said something off-putting: “Hey…I’m not sure if what I just said was rude. I have Asperger’s, so I can’t always tell. I don’t mean to be rude, so I’m sorry if I offended you.”

    Not everyone will understand, but if you do this, you’d be surprised by how many people actually WILL understand- or will at least try to. Because then they will expect you to be socially awkward and will not be so caught off guard when it happens.

    Also, what helped me a ton was learning how to be nice enough to balance out when I say awful/annoying things. Like, express appreciation and gratitude for people when they do things for you. Even if it’s something seemingly simple like putting up with you all day, e.g. “Thanks for being so patient with me today. I know I can be difficult, so I really appreciate you for hanging in there.” People REALLY like to feel appreciated for even little things they do, so if you make it a point to be like this, it will make people more happy to help you – and we Asperger women need a lot of help.

    Also, when you’re working with someone and there’s a lull in activity (i.e. they’re not on the phone, talking to someone, typing on the computer, or have their headphonrs on), ask people question about themselves. “How long have you been living in [whatever town you live in]? (Let them answer) How do you like the area? (Let them answer)” etc. Show personal interest in people. That is so rare that when you do this, people tend to really appreciate it, so it’s a valuable skill, and it can be developed like any other skill.

    It’s like Penelope says, people are interested in you caring about them. Back in middle school I read a Hagar the Horrible comic that changed my life: “To be a good conversationalist, just keep asking questions about the other person and don’t talk about yourself.” And this is so hard to do for people with Asperger’s, but even just making the effort to do this will make you way easier to put up with for neurotypical people.

    Oh, but when you’re doing this, just keep in mind that if the person just gives one-word answers, it means they don’t want to talk, so that’s when you leave them alone.

  4. Lisa P
    Lisa P says:

    I like Penelope’s advice, but I’d also recommend finding more friends who are SP or NT. They tend to be more appreciative of honesty. You may already have NT friends, in fact. You might think they don’t keep in touch very much because they are offended, but more likely it’s because they are bad at it.

  5. terese hilliard
    terese hilliard says:

    It took me a long time to realize this – people just DON’T CARE about how you are feeling, what you think, who you are – very true at work. I have been here for many years and always felt extremely out of the “loop”. I finally just shut my mouth and don’t share at work about anything not work related. My stress level is much less. I have been in therapy for 3 years now and my Aspbergers has been something that I have analyzed and come to understand much better. My home life consists of life with an Aspie son and boyfriend so not too bad there. We (the three of us) are trying to raise my young granddaughter (no diagnosis, but I am sure on the spectrum) to survive in the world. It has been quite a challenge – and she will soon be 7. I sometimes check myself – I will tell someone something that I would assume would require a check back – ex. “My grandkid is getting tested for a serious virus”. Never does anyone follow up with me to see how the kid is. while I, on the other hand, used to keep track of people and their problems and follow up to see how they were – they would be shocked(but pleased)that I even remembered. My communication style has COMPLETLY changed in the past 3 years, too bad it took me 60 years to learn this.

      • Terese
        Terese says:

        Agreed. I have used the information I gathered from Girl Scouts, and 4 years getting a degree in Human Development to learn how humans behave -to learn what questions to ask for people to feel comfortable in a conversation -they just never told me that it was not really important to pay attention to any of the things people say. Or that people will not pay attention to what I say. That it is a game to gain social status “I have the most friends” “I am important “, etc. I really thought it was about people. I worked so hard to master something that was all an illusion. Sounds strange, but at least I am more comfortable knowing that.

          • terese hilliard
            terese hilliard says:

            When I was young I took to reading because I could feel “part of” a group and feel like I was participating in a social group. It was so wonderful to escape with my friends and laugh and cry with their ups and downs. Beverly Cleary and her Henry Huggins and Ramona series were my friends and family at the time. I read some Judy Blume also. From there I read whatever I could get my hands on – novels and stories of women making it on their own against all odds. In college I devoured developmental psychology books. I loved to “see” the brain and development picked apart. Two books that I have kept all these years are “The Developing Person Through the Life Span” by Kathleen Berger (1994). I also really love “Women in Families; A framework for family therapy” edited by McGoldrick, Anderson, and Walsh (1973). I know that both books are old, but they have a special place in my heart because they helped me to understand challenges in my life at a time when I needed extra help. Really, I suggest that reading everything you can get your hands on about human development and psychology. They helped me LOTS to learn how to “play normal”. Good luck, and thanks for asking!

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