Even at the ripe old age of 80 (nearly 81) it’s possible to learn new things about yourself — if you are self-aware. Not everyone is, Whether neurodiverse or neurotypical. I agree with Socrates’ statement that the unexamined life is not worth living, but most people seem to be perfectly at ease with their ignorance about themselves. It’s sort of ‘I know what I know and I don’t want to know any more.’ They have a self-image that they’re happy with, and woe to anyone who disturbs it.
Understanding human psychology has been more or less an obsession of mine all my life, and I have no problem seeing myself as a subject to examine and analyze. Naturally, that doesn’t mean I know myself perfectly or that I’m always aware of when I’m acting in a less than optimal way, either in relation to my own needs or to the requirements of the social world around me. So there’s always something new to discover, something old to rediscover, something that I realize I need to pay more attention to.
I’m mildly faceblind, and was aware of it long before I ever heard of autism or aspergers. But I had no name for it, and no way to understand just why I had so much trouble recognizing people I’d seen before. So I blamed myself. I didn’t spend much time looking at people’s faces and assumed that I was just being careless about something that most people do every day. I didn’t question why I didn’t look at faces. I determined to do better in the future — and didn’t.
In the same way, I was aware that I had problems with auditory information. Even the most fascinating conversation or lecture went in one ear and out the other, leaving no trace behind. Something like a street address or a phone number had to be repeated so I could make an attempt at remembering it. I eventually learned about short-term memory and how defective mine was. More time passed and I learned about auditory processing disability. Along the way, I managed some adaptations that moderated but didn’t eliminate the problems, and the new knowledge helped somewhat.
Very recently, I learned just how subtle and hard-to-identify the problems could be, even when you’ve gained knowledge that is presented as “official.” After a short conversation with a neighbor, in which she did most of the talking, I realized that I had no idea what she’d said, past the first few statements. I had nodded and done the usual appropriate social gestures, but I had, effectively, tuned out. Now I could look back and see that this was a habit. But was it a fairly new development or had it always been there?
I don’t do boredom well, and most social encounters are boring. So it makes sense that, as I become more and more the hermit that I’m happy being, I would tend to zone out when trapped in a boring social encounter. But it also makes sense to accept that zoning out has always been there, to one degree or another. What I have now is not just a new awareness, but a way to understand it. Knowing that my speech-processing is slow and my short-term memory is weak, I don’t have to blame myself for something that’s wired into my brain. I can become, with effort, more aware of when I’m zoning out, but there’s really nothing I can about not remembering what I’ve heard, even when I’m paying attention.
There’s a limit to how self-aware we can be, probably even a limit to how far we can go before sinking into self-centered navel gazing. But I’ll go for the examined life.