Low self-esteem, low self-confidence, high self-doubt and self-contempt: are they natural or learned?

By John Counsel


Can anyone give me some personal advice, please? I’m doing my best to understand my 8 year old, undiagnosed Aspie son, so please don’t be judgemental.

Is it natural for those with ASD to jump to negative assumptions about themselves first, before anything else?

For example, last night I took him to the movies. His two older sisters went out for dinner so it gave the two of us some quality time together. On the way back home the necklace he had on, which belongs to his eldest sister, broke (easily fixed).

He immediately assumed she would hate him. We had a half hour discussion about why it would be impossible for her to hate him (ever, let alone for something so little.)

No compliment is ever accepted.

Does he actually believe everyone hates him or is it a coping mechanism to avoid the emotional chaos?


This is a common experience for a great many Aspies, I’ve noticed over the years. It’s more a learned response than a natural one, I believe, and I was the same until I was diagnosed in 2002, at age 57.

Like so many Aspie kids I was bullied, at school and socially. But I have a natural tendency to NOT accept being bullied, and another common Aspie trait of being quick-witted with words. So I’d bite back when verbally bullied or put down — which then, too often, turned into a fist fight!

I could defend myself, and never knew when to give up. My Dad was a middle-weight boxing champion in his army days, and a good teacher. It was a familiar scenario for me until I was about 13-14… a bully would make some kind of smart-arse comment about me, typically moronic, I’d bite back sarcastically, he’d get angry (he was usually with a group of his mates, so he felt humiliated instead of safe, and compelled to save face in front of them), he’d throw a punch, I’d intercept it using unarmed combat disabling techniques my policeman father had taught me, then he’d get madder, etc etc etc until a patrolling teacher would break it up, whereupon he’d demand an after-school return fight away from school property.

All in all, it was a routine experience, especially as we moved around the State because my Dad was regularly promoted and transferred (he ended his career in charge of the Police Training Academy). Our time in any town or city was usually between 18 months to 2 years.

So I never learned to put down any social roots and was involved in fist fights at least weekly, it seemed. By age 14 I finally learned what Dad had tried to teach me since I started school: the best way to win a fight was “by about a mile!” (Mr Myagi later put it a bit more succinctly in the movie “The Karate Kid”… “If no want be hurt, no be there!”)

My son Josh on set in Orlando, USA in 2002 with his martial arts hero, Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) whose makeup was Josh’s responsibility. (Josh was poorly coordinated as a pre-schooler, so we enrolled him in a friend’s ballet school, where he studied for 7 or 8 years before switching to martial arts to deal with bullies who harassed him for studying ballet.

He eventually became a part-time muay-thai instructor who trains every year in Hong Kong.

But I also learned that I wasn’t popular and everything that went wrong was usually considered my fault. My Mum was an undiagnosed Aspie, and I was a very creative, intensely-curious kid, so my memories of my childhood were fairly negative and we had a strained relationship until I was finally diagnosed. By then she was in her 80s. Once I recognised her condition, the relationship changed dramatically and we became very close. I understood her at last. It was a very welcome change, for which I will always be profoundly grateful.

I also stopped turning my anger and frustration back inward. Betrayal and injustices would incense me, and I’d rage internally — because I’d learned it was pointless externalising it.

The day I was diagnosed — Christmas Eve 2002 — was Liberation Day for me. Those rages stopped instantly and have never returned. No more self-doubts and self-contempt. I began to change… not just my perception of myself as a person, but every aspect of my personality and character. I finally became the person I’d always yearned to be since I was about 3-4 years old, but could never manage to find.

Aspies, mostly by lived experience — and so much of it negative and hostile — too often become convinced that they are of low worth, inept at making and keeping friendships, ostracised at school and in our neighbourhoods and, sadly, at home.

It HAS to be something inherently wrong, unlikeable and unloveable about US!

That’s the undeniable conclusion we eventually come to about ourselves, right?

Aspies also tend to be fast learners, intuitively, and react to these hostile environments by retreating inward. The world is an unwelcoming, unfriendly and lonely place for us.

The only true and lasting solution I’ve ever found, in four generations of living, is this: true, unconditional love.

I found it in my father and, on good days when I didn’t drive her crazy with the stress I caused her, my mother. And I found it in Lynne and our kids and grandkids.

The trick is to find and keep that magical lens that allows us to see the value in others. (Not the usefulness… the VALUE — which says everything about us and very little, or nothing at all, about them. Except that it often rubs off on them as well, I’ve found… an unexpected and wonderful bonus!)

Best wishes for your success with your son.

John Counsel

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Related article:
Joy or Despair? The Highs and Lows of Life… our Creations

©2018 John Counsel. All rights reserved.

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