Why I hate being perceived

As an autistic person, I hate being perceived.

Being perceived by others is to be seen through the lens of other people, however that may be.

Hating being perceived is not wanting to be looked at, not wanting people to assume things about you, and sometimes not wanting people to think anything about you.

It’s not wanting to be perceived.

The topic of not wanting to be perceived is becoming increasingly popular within the neurodivergent community since 2022.

What hating being perceived looks like

I struggle when cooking in the same vicinity as other people, in-person grocery shopping, and even watching a show or movie when other people are in the room.

I will instinctively leave before cooking, or wait until no one is around to judge me cook — or my mind will be distracted by how someone else may be perceiving me. I forget to mask my autism and fret over whether what I’m doing is “abnormal”.

Sitting on bed, head in hand, long hair looking at camera, facial expression is kind of a bored/unamused look, but I was content 👀
I’m actually content here — not sad, depressed, unamused, bored, etc. 👀🤷‍♀️

I’m certain there are people reading this post right now, thinking this is just an anxiety disorder, and I’m guessing they’re not autistic. Because no — it’s not an anxiety disorder; it’s not even anxiety. For me, hating being perceived is much deeper.

The awareness of being perceived

Autistics who share their hatred for being perceived on social media say they feel others perceiving them, even when they can’t see the person.

This is NOT implying some “superpower”. It’s likely more due to hypervigilance caused by a lifetime of being perceived negatively through the eyes of allistics and neurotypical people alike.

Trauma as a possible cause

Autistics experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more than neurotypicals because of how our brain works.

We also tend to experience more stress than our non-autistic counterparts; research found autistics assigned female at birth experience more stress than autistics assigned male at birth.

Somatic sensory dysfunction

PTSD is associated with somatic sensory dysfunction. The somatic sensory system includes two subsystems for the detection of

  1. Mechanical stimuli (e.g. light touch, vibration, pressure, and cutaneous tension), and
  2. Painful stimuli and temperature.

Hypervigilance, the state of always being on guard, is a trauma response. 👀 Somatic hypervigilance is also associated with trauma, meaning the body is more aware of certain stimuli as the result of trauma.

Somatic sensory dysfunction is a common autistic symptom, often described as

  • “not wanting hugs or to be touched”
  • “sensitivity to certain fabrics”
  • “hypersensitivity to temperatures, especially heat”

Autistic experience of sensory input

Autistics experience sensory input at a greater level than their allistic counterparts.

Non-autistic people struggle to comprehend the level to which many autistics are capable of experiencing certain sensory stimuli.

I used to think I was “crazy” because I grew up surrounded by non-autistic people who insisted something was wrong with me because I can hear electricity, and experience internal and external stimuli on a different level than non-autistic people do.

Then I was diagnosed with autism and auditory processing disorder. 👀

Autistic people don’t get used to forced sensory sensitivities; they DISSOCIATE. Autistic people don’t “habituate”. Research shows our pain receptors light up when we’re exposed to our sensory sensitivities.

Why anxiety doesn’t accurately describe the experience

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about an upcoming event or situation.

I’m positing the awareness of being perceived as a sense caused by hypervigilance — as the result of trauma.

Trauma and trauma responses are emotional responses to things that happened in the past. Autistic children are often prey to people who know they’re different and don’t accept them — so they learn to mask and develop hypervigilance to protect themselves.

Many autistic traits are perceived as symptoms of anxiety through the eyes of non-autistic people.

Mirror neurons

Mirror neurons fire in the brain when you’re doing something and when you watch someone do something. The same neurons fire in you when you watch someone else do something.

If you watch someone pick up an apple, your brain might perceive you as picking up an apple. Mirror neurons essentially help your nervous system pick up on subtle shifts in other people’s behavior.

This tends to be more nuanced in autistic people, but could explain why autistic people feel more exhausted in the company of others (on top of internal and external stimuli).

The theory remains, however, as a sense developed due to trauma. 🤔

Survival instinct

I find that my quality of life and ability to live my life is most tied to being perceived when I’m at my weakest — lapsed in eating disorder recovery, ill, etc.

In autistic burnout, I detest being perceived. I’m hypervigilant about how I’m presenting myself and how other people might perceive that.

Having been raised by narcissists doesn’t help my hypervigilance, either — nor does the fact that I decided to build a business on the internet, where entitled relatives stalk me. 🫠

However, positing it as a survival tactic in this context is still positing it as a sense stemming from hypervigilance, as the result of trauma, because…again…not wanting to be prey.

Regardless of background and upbringing, autistic people in general are preyed upon by society — that is a lot of autistic culture to dive into, which I’m not interested in doing currently.

A lot of it has to do with non-autistic people perceiving us as weird. There are so many things I see people doing that I wasn’t allowed to do because of how “weird” it’d look that I have since adopted (like vacuuming hardwood floors or taking crust off the bread).

Double empathy problem

Allistic and neurotypical people generally don’t treat autistic and similarly neurodivergent people well.

Researchers often ponder whether neurotypicals even like autistic people.

Neurotypicals are less likely to interact with autistic people and more likely to perceive autistic people as deceptive or manipulative. Lack of eye contact causes neurotypical distress.

Stimming — which neurotypical society perceives as “fidgeting” or “nervous tics” — is a nonverbal behavior associated with lying. These behaviors are actually revealing stress — not lies.

Why? Because neurotypicals struggle to read autistic people’s minds. Non-autistic people often struggle to communicate with autistic people and vice versa because of the double empathy problem.

In the midst of non-autistic and neurotypical people mistaking autistic people for trying to take advantage of them or manipulate them, autistic people are most likely to fall victim to exploitation.

Language matters

I don’t “think” I’m being perceived a certain way. I know I am. I even know when people lie about it, though I think allistic people lie even when they don’t fully recognize their own behavior of what they’re doing…as they’re doing it.

This is another reason labeling the desire to not be perceived as mere “anxiety” is problematic: I don’t fear what might happen if people perceive me the wrong way.

I know what happens when people perceive me the wrong way. I find this experience puts me into survival mode, which stems from my complex PTSD (CPTSD).

Deciding it’s anxiety anyways just ignores my experience, what I’m saying, and the research I’ve referenced in favor of your own perception — which is the epitome of this entire post and representative of the double empathy problem.

Allistic people often dismiss many autistic characteristics and experiences as “anxiety” because the allistics don’t experience those things. This dismissive behavior is harmful and gaslights people who have already been traumatized.

Ways to combat the hatred of being perceived

Know what most triggers this feeling and take steps to accommodate yourself so you can feel safe. Work through them as you feel safe to do so — or don’t. 🤷‍♀️

Some things I do:

  • Order groceries instead of shopping in-store (right now, it’s delivery due to my disabilities…and my car 😅)
  • Keep snacks in a bin in my room (I will soon be buying a mini portable fridge for more snack options, mostly for ED recovery and disability purposes)

I also journal and say affirmations — not the ones that feel like you’re gaslighting yourself, but the ones that feel like you’re giving your inner child a hug and taping your inner critic’s mouth shut. 😅

P.S. The blog post came before the audio. I have a stutter. Thanks in advance for your kindness about it. ✨

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Comments on this post

This!! :’) I struggle so much to do anything while being “perceived,” even simple things like eating or just existing. I’ve accidentally gone a day without eating anything simply because there were people downstairs by the kitchen/fridge the whole day. Also, nothing annoys/angers me the most as people asking if I’m doing something. For example – “Oh, are you going upstairs to use the bathroom?” And, suddenly, I have this desire to say no and not use the bathroom anymore. Anyways, yeah, loved this article, and glad to know people feel similarly!

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Can you keep snacks in your room for when that happens? That’s something I’ve been doing myself, and sometimes I’ll eat only snacks those days. 😅 I’ve also been making & freezing sandwiches and putting them in the fridge to thaw the day before (I like doing sub sandwiches, but most any work) or will take one out that night and let it thaw in my room whilst I sleep. If I don’t need it that day, I put it into the fridge. 🤷‍♀️

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Oooh that’s actually a good tip. I don’t love keeping food in my room, but I don’t mind eating in my room, so the making and thawing sandwiches bit could definitely help. Thanks so much for the reply! :))

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I hate being perceived as well. I started reading about it and I think I hate it because real me and theoretical fully masked me are disconnected. I wish to be able to fully mask, so whenever people just perceive me I feel like I am in the crosshairs. So for me the solution is just learning how to mask better. Perhaps in my case my hatred of being perceived is just a twisted hatred towards myself?

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Thank you for this article, as it formulates many thought that I, too, had.

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I found this very interesting because I can relate to it and haven’t seen it discussed anywhere else. Except maybe in the philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre where “Hell is other people” because you cannot control how others perceive you. In various jobs I’ve had, I hated seeing my name in staff directories and hated that others had a perception of me that wasn’t me at all. I could sense how others would expect me to behave as ‘staff’ but I could never even pretend to be ‘staff’. Others perceiving me or judging me sucked the life out of me and they make me feel like a completely empty shell. Sometimes, I don’t want to be perceived at all and it’s stressful trying to avoid the ‘attack’ of their perception! I could go on, but thanks for this interesting article.

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