“Everyone feels that way”

This is one of those seemingly small things that really irritates me. It’s such a natural response for a lot of people when someone talks about something difficult, but it absolutely always makes me feel worse.

It’s never true. I mean yeah, a lot of things are pretty common among a lot of people. But nothing is completely universal to everyone. So it’s always an oversimplification and an exaggeration.

It probably means you don’t understand. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to someone talk about an experience and said (or thought), “everyone feels that way”. If I ever do think that, I always assume that I’ve misunderstood, and that generally turns out to be true. If something seems like it’s universal, that’s probably because you haven’t got all the detail. Even a seemingly ‘common’ thought, like “I’m not very attractive”, is always way more complicated than it seems. At its simplest, it might be true that a lot of people think things along those lines. But when you get down to what’s underneath that thought and what it really means, it’s always unique to any person. So dismissing it as “everyone feels that way”, is really just saying “I don’t care enough to understand the full extent of what you are talking about”.

It doesn’t make me feel any better. This is probably something that varies between individuals. Maybe for some people, knowing a problem is common actually does make them feel better. But that doesn’t work for me. If I have a problem, I want solutions or nothing. And telling me that other people have the same problem does not count as a solution.

It makes me feel weak and broken. This is really the big one. Telling me that “everyone feels that way” has the subtext of “and everyone else handles it better than you”. That might not be the intention, but it’s the way my brain interprets it as the most logical meaning. If I’m talking about something fairly everyday that causes me crippling anxiety, and you tell me that everyone gets anxious about it – the implication is that everyone else gets anxious and does it anyway. And I don’t want to, or I can’t, and that means that I’m weaker than everyone else.

It’s a way of one-upping other people’s problems. It’s great to offer advice based on a similar experience. But when that turns into “my problems are worse than yours”, it gets unhelpful and annoying really fast.

Maybe this is all just one of those mysterious autistic-NT communication barriers. It’s hard for me to imagine being the type of person that finds this helpful, but maybe most NT people do. Otherwise, they wouldn’t say it all the time, right?

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4 thoughts on ““Everyone feels that way”

  1. I’ve been enjoying your blog since I found it by googling ‘autism inertia’. I had an epiphany last summer when it (finally) occured to me “not everyone is having the same experience as you, even though some people can relate to what you’re saying”. In retrospect, this might be obvious to many people, but it was news to me. The epiphany came in relation to my synesthasia, which I’ve always told myself was ‘normal’ . It took me until a couple of weeks ago, more than 9 months later for the second penny to drop: I’m autistic. I turn 47 next week.

    I’m grateful for your blog. It’s confirming a lot of details for me, and I’m really glad you’re writing it. It’s been helpful already.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think anyone likes to be told that “everybody feel that way” when they share a difficult personal issue. I assume that it isn’t something people say to help, but to reject a problem that they don’t really want to hear about.

    Like

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