Aggressive voices can really jangle my nerves. When someone yells or has a harsh quality to their words (warranted or not), my body freezes. While for some this may be a sign of PTSD, if I look back at my childhood as an undiagnosed autistic, I recognize a trend of sensory sensitivity to aggressivity. As a child, I cried at any sign of anger or discipline. As a teen, I fell into meltdowns when a family member scolded me. As an adult, I’ve finally learned to cope, if only a bit better.
What’s going on here? I’ve received feedback from other autistic individuals that their sensitivity to harsh voices has led them to avoid conflict or feel unable to join protests. A pattern emerges whenever we encounter righteous anger, sudden fury, or anything in-between: We struggle to understand anger at it’s basic core.
So, what is anger, again? According to the Learner’s Dictionary, anger is a strong feeling of being upset or annoyed because of something wrong or bad; the feeling that makes someone want to hurt other people, to shout, etc. Anger is internal and external.
Keep in mind that recognizing emotions is hard for people with autism. For self-preservation, many autistic people quickly learn to recognize the physical signs of anger. One key sign is voice. Since we often have sensory sensitivities to sound, we are especially frightened by aggressive tones. Bells go off in our brains: Someone is angry!
When I see or hear anger, I’ve learned to name it externally. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ve learned all the tiny details that I struggle to translate. In fact, I tend to assume that anyone’s anger is directed at me. This is a self-preservation strategy. In the face of the unknown, I assume the worst and take the strongest precautionary measures. But that’s not a happy or healthy way to walk through life. (Unless, of course, there is real danger.)
Try using the 5Ws & H strategy to think through the situation and soothe yourself.
Who is this person angry at?
What are they angry about?
When did they start being angry?
Where are we/Does location help explain their anger?
Why are they angry?
How is their expression of anger affecting me, and why?