How do you decide what to share? Challenge: Asperger Syndrome
July 10, 2011 3:41 PM   Subscribe

How do you decide what to share with others? I am a 28-year-old woman with Asperger Syndrome, and my biggest hurdle is figuring out what sorts of things are appropriate to share with others. So far in my life, I have erred too much on the side of caution, and I regret that I have missed out on great friendships just because I can't pick up on signals and I constantly feel like I'm wasting peoples' time even when they assure me I am not. I would like to get better at sharing on social media in particular, but I find myself totally paralyzed trying to decide what's worthy of sharing with others. I need help and advice on how to improve this crucial social skill.

Finally understanding my AS traits has helped me a lot because I used to just think that nobody liked me very much, but I couldn't understand why. Now I know that people like me fine; it's just that I don't know how to pick up on those signals except when they are extremely obvious and explicit. While some AS people respond to this by oversharing, I respond to it by undersharing. When I was a teenager, my family life was horrible (alcoholic father, borderline mother); I didn't know how to deal with my feelings, and I was inadvertently cruel to a lot of people that I cared about. I have worked throughout my twenties to learn how to be considerate, how to stay out of peoples' way, how not to bother people, how to be compassionate and practice loving-kindness (I consider myself a Buddhist) - but now I find I have gone way too far in the other direction, like the only way to be considerate of others is to stay completely out of their way and not bother them unless they explicitly invite me to. I consistently feel like sharing anything with anyone is bothering them, and I can't quite seem to get over it. I am hoping that somebody will want to read my tedious backstory and might have some advice.

I'm currently finishing my B.S., so I'm in school with people a few years younger than me, which exacerbates all of this a bit and makes my failure at social media more visible. Generally, I pass easily for neurotypical (NT), and I have been extremely successful in academic settings and most work settings. However, I have very few friends that I stay in touch with, and I am almost never spontaneously moved to reach out to anyone. It takes me weeks to work myself up to calling a friend or even sending an email. I could probably go a year without feeling the need to share something with anybody but my fiance (who is NT and wonderful and supportive). I have always been this way; I have one intense confidante with whom I share almost everything, two or three extremely close friends (often with blurred romantic boundaries, when I was younger), and a bunch of acquaintance-friends that I see and get along with in daily life, but am generally awkward and distant with. It's that last part that I want to change.

Anyway, social media is the hardest for me because sharing things online makes me feel like I'm just yelling indiscriminately from my porch - "HEY EVERYONE, I WENT CAMPING AND TOOK A BUNCH OF BORING PICTURES! EVERYONE LOOK AT ME!" No matter what, I always feel like I'm oversharing, and I worry that others will see right through my attempts to be friendly and think that I am bothering them or being needy. When I do manage to interact with others through these sites, I tend to over-think and over-edit, and it takes me far, far longer than I'd like to admit to craft appropriately casual-sounding comments (which probably end up coming out stilted and awkward and packed with Latinates, anyway).

So: does anybody have any advice? How do you decide whether something is worth sharing with others?

(I know I'll probably get therapy recommendations, but as an autodidact that has the same trouble asking for help as she does sharing, other suggestions are definitely welcome. I also find that few therapists know how to deal with females with Asperger's, since so much of the clinical knowledge about the condition is based around the male expression of autistic traits; here is a great chart of female Asperger traits, for the record. Women with AS are frequently misdiagnosed with personality disorders or bipolar, which is what happened to me at first and has left me somewhat distrustful of the whole affair)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Looking at Facebook or Twitter, I think it's fair to say that a lot of neurotypical people have a hard time figuring out where to draw the boundary on oversharing.

I think that status updates along the lines of "I am going to do this interesting thing" "I just did this interesting thing" "Here is my wry observation on something extremely mundane" are all fine. Imagine that the people who are your friends and who follow you online might actually be interested in knowing what you're up to.

I've got some friends who are constantly posting political stuff online (like, 5x/day). Even though I tend to agree with their viewpoints, that gets old. I've had to unfollow people who are posting stuff that sounds intensely personal but also cryptic (so that if I'm not hanging out with them all the time, I have no idea what they're talking about). For example, a guy I know posted something like "she said 'why did it take you so long?'."
posted by adamrice at 4:05 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a vast oversimplification but: if the worst you do is show your heart to friends, you are doing very much okay.
posted by carlh at 4:07 PM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm NT, but I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what's "worthy" of sharing and what's not, so fwiw, you're not the only one who feels awkward about social media expectations.

Do you want to be better at this because you really want to, or because you think it's expected? If it's the latter, you could simply choose not to participate, and cite something like "Facebook blah blah not respecting privacy blah blah" as your reasoning. I think few people would question that these days.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:19 PM on July 10, 2011

With social media I wouldn't worry too much... as adamrice says, a lot of people overshare. Nature of the beast. It's very common to throw it all out there and let the viewers decide what they want to really look at and what to skip past.

In person, can you focus on gauging the interest level of the other party? Verbal cues, eye contact, body language, things like that? That way, you could start out with one sentence like "So I recently went camping," and determine, from the other party's response, whether you should follow that up with an anecdote about the camping.
posted by jessicapierce at 4:20 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Social media is nice because you can usually lurk on a site for a long time before sharing, or before deciding that you don't want to share there at all. This lets you see what range of topic/detail/frequency/tone/behavior is acceptable within that particular community (it varies, hence the usefulness of lurking). Try to look for people who seem interesting, or whose posts you notice that you can frequently relate to, and see what they choose to share. I'm happy to discuss more over mefi mail, if you have any questions.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:21 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frequency of posting. I find the meter for what's acceptable has shifted since I was in college (and certain times, like finals, bring out much more), but 10 statuses a day is excessive. 1 or 2 is fine. 1 or 2 every few days is also normal. This could be a function of broader trends, or just of what's going on with me and my peer group.

Don't share ups and downs with your significant other. If we aren't going to talk about what a jerk they are in person, I'm going to be uncomfortable reading about it in my news feed.

Do share: just got a new job, just got a new apartment, just saw a tornado.

Don't only post the same type of thing, e.g., only posting music lyrics or political rants, although the occasional one would be fine.

Do post pictures of your camping trip. People don't want to know what you're eating every meal, but they enjoy monitoring what's going on in your life at broader intervals and larger events. And if they don't, they will just ignore and go about their day and not give it (or you) a second thought unless you're being particularly obnoxious, such as the above examples.

Don't post on anyone else's wall (or comment on their statuses, pictures, etc.) all the time. If the last five posts on their wall are you, or if you're on 75% of their statuses, that's too much.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:21 PM on July 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

Follow the cues of what other people share with you. Be reciprocal and learn to read cues that suggest the other person is bored with what you are saying. If they aren't bored and look emotionally engaged, continue.

Don't worry too much about social media— no one complains about people *not* posting.
posted by Maias at 4:22 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do not think this can be (easily) answered in this forum. The question is straight forward and very appropriate but the answer is dependent on many different variables. I do not think the answer is "see a therapist" but I do think one needs a guide or mentor in a situation such as this. It is a very challenging question--the answers depends on the specific social context, your history with the person/media, your own tolerance for exposure, the intimacy of the relationship, your professional/career needs, your expectations for others, your personal/professional obligations to others, your story telling ability. I would suggest you identify an individual(s) you trust and admire their skills in navigating the situations you find most problematic. And a person who will give you honest and direct feedback. Not that you should be like them but they can act as a coach to help you sort out what might work in different situations. I just deleted several guidelines--it is very situation and person specific which is why it is so difficult even foe the "socially adept" --it is a skill that takes practice, reinforcement and honest mentoring. I wish you best. BTW, your post suggests you are much further along on mastering the skill than you may think you are.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:26 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a social media trainer, mostly for writers, so if nothing else know you're not alone in working out how to navigate these things.

Honestly, as an under-sharer, you're probably better off. It's my oversharing clients I have to worry about wrt being obnoxious. Beyond that, I have a feeling that a lot of your fear can be alleviated by the confidence that comes through practice. If you realized just how little time people spent reading those carefully-crafted comments, you'd probably be quite annoyed!

Feel free to hit me up through memail if you'd like to chat further. You can do this!
posted by sugarfish at 4:30 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not AS (but that chart you linked to describes me!), but for me, I try to always think 'what do NT people think needs to happen here?' - Like NTs expect a gracious thank you after X. AskMe reading also helps me understand what etiquette expectations are 'normal' and 'expected'. I remind myself to do these things because they are expected of me too.
posted by k8t at 4:56 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

If I had to guess, I would say that you are no worse at knowing what to share than anyone else, but that you are exquisitely sensitive to rejection/criticism/imagining you did it wrong. The others who will make the same mistakes as you just won't care the way you would. Instead of trying to "get it right," try instead to allow yourself to make mistakes, or what might be seen by some as mistakes (though not by others). People who are too critical of what you choose to share are not right because they are NT but are just not the people you want to be friends with.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:09 PM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I try to think of what various people would think if they read something I posted (usually I think of my husband, my mom, my boss at work, and a law enforcement officer). Sometimes I get it wrong and get myself in trouble, but usually if I try to read my comments online pretending I am those 4 people, I can think how something might seem weird, or oversharing-y. I have gotten in trouble for oversharing online many times, so I have gotten pretty good at detecting what might be unacceptable to share. But it hasn't been an easy road - I wish I had erred more on the side of caution.

I have to say one nice thing about Google+ which I have just started using, is that you have to pick who you share with each time you make a post. This gives me a chance to pause and think "Who would be interested in this? Whose life would be better by knowing this? Who could offer me interesting feedback or advice on this?" A few times I have written a post and then after asking myself those questions, I just deleted it because it turned out I wrote something that I couldn't imagine anyone being interested in. Or alternately, I've restricted sharing to a small group to whom the item was actually likely to be interesting and relevant. On facebook I would have just shared it to everyone! So if you think this kind of environment might help you get a better handle on what to share, give it a shot. Memail me if you want an invite.
posted by troublesome at 5:30 PM on July 10, 2011

BTW, even if you don't want to join G+ you should memail me anyway because I have similar dissatisfactions with my social life and would love to make a new friend.
posted by troublesome at 5:56 PM on July 10, 2011

DISCRETION is the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information.

There is a difference between lying by (omittance) and discretion.

My rule of thumb is that I wouldn't share my bathroom habits at a cocktail party, so I don't have to share X private thing, either.

If it is personal information of almost any stripe (like bathroom habits are! I link the two together in my mind, because I am an over-sharer, too:) I default to not sharing until I know someone way way better.

If it normally comes under the category of private, don't share it.

(That said, all my naughty secrets are here on MetaFilter. Oops;)

That is all.
posted by jbenben at 6:00 PM on July 10, 2011

Another good Rule of Thumb for you?

If you wouldn't want a Judge in a court of law to hear it or read it - don't say/write it!!
posted by jbenben at 6:01 PM on July 10, 2011

So one nice thing about Facebook is that people's use of the "like" button gives you a sort of explicit feedback that's hard to get in face-to-face conversation. If a post gets a lot of "like"s, or a lot of responses, or both, it's probably safe to assume that you can make more posts like it in the future.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:02 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Several books on Asperger Syndrome and the autistic spectrum are written for just this kind of situation; judging social rules when we have no idea what the accepted norm is. I believe that 'Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships' by Temple Grandin and Sean Barron is related to this kind of query. If you would like an electronic copy, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 6:04 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Google+'s Circles feature is actually quite useful for controlling what you share with who. For example, I have a Friends circle that gets pretty much everything, I have an Acquaintances circle that only gets things like interesting articles and funny pictures, and I have a People Who Added Me For Some Reason circle that get only the safest and most boring stuff imaginable.

I think social networking sites like Facebook or Plus might actually be useful for you to learn to gauge who finds what interesting. Looking through mine, there's a random funny observation about the store I was in that I'd consider basic Facebook stuff, a comment about some music I was listening to, some stuff about sports I like and a TV show I was watching, and some pictures I took around town. People who respond to the music stuff would probably be good to talk about music with, people who respond to the sports and TV posts could be good for talking about each of those, people who know the area might be fun to meet up with, and so on.

Social sites like Facebook and Twitter aren't about sharing something deep and meaningful. It's not like content curation for a website where there's an audience that has to be kept entertained. If someone is following/friending/whatever you, they're interested enough to probably enjoy the updates about the random miscellany of their lives. I like knowing that one friend is working on a novel while another is having a nice dinner, another is watching a TV show, another posting pictures of his trip, and so on. If they're following me, I assume they want to hear about sports I watch, articles I read, places I go, and pictures I take. To put it bluntly, the whole point of those sites is wasting time keeping up with people you care about.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:09 PM on July 10, 2011

The best thing to do is watch what other people do and copy them. I have about 100 friends, and have through careful analysis (obsessive tendencies for the win!) figured out whose status updates and photos and such get the "best" reactions (no fighting, lots of likes, etc.) The absolute perfect status update in my social circles would be a photo of my (nonexistent) two-year-old child in a clever outfit attached to a wry comment, preferably about something very geeky, like the Star Wars holiday special.

Just vary it up. I heartily wish I could find a tactful way of telling someone who comments every few minutes during a NASCAR race that it's kind of not fun to read it all, now that FB doesn't let you "see less of" specific people. I would love to have a "hide all references to car races" button, actually.

And definitely space things out. Drives people nuts to see multiple status updates in a row. I now use Hootsuite for this purpose - instead of blurting things out as I think of them, plus sharing every cool thing I find as I find it, I add it all there and schedule it such that it comes out at a reasonably leisurely clip. This also gives me the safety of editing without time pressure.
posted by SMPA at 7:40 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

"sharing things online makes me feel like I'm just yelling indiscriminately from my porch - "HEY EVERYONE, I WENT CAMPING AND TOOK A BUNCH OF BORING PICTURES! EVERYONE LOOK AT ME!" No matter what, I always feel like I'm oversharing, and I worry that others will see right through my attempts to be friendly and think that I am bothering them or being needy. "

Well, here's the beauty of online social networking sites: If you ARE bothering them, they can scroll right past you. It's not like you're cornering someone at a party. When I don't care about someone's update, I just move on past it. It's honestly not even annoying (99% of the time*); I'm just not interested in the latest concert Joe's been to, or Debbie's latest fundraising cause, so I skip that. You're not shouting "everyone look at me!" You're saying, "Here's some pictures of my camping trip, if you're interested. If not, scroll on."

*Actually annoying: Incessant political posting, regardless of political affiliation.

(Also, you ARE attempting to be friendly. So if they "see right through it" all they'll see is more friendly. It's not like you have a dire ulterior motive here, like it's 1986 and you're 10 and you only want to be BFFs to use their Nintendo.)

Regarding therapy, someone close to me has autism, and his various therapists actually spend a lot of time on social networking these days, which I understand is becoming more and more common in autism support/therapy. (For him, it's social good practice & connection while being somewhat lower-stakes than in-person socializing.) So if you did seek "therapy," you may actually be able to seek out someone with specific expertise in social networking and autism, rather than just generalized therapy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:41 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another NT here, but one who has cycled from undersharing to oversharing and back again.

One thing you might try doing is not posting yourself, but commenting on others' posts. Even just a "like" or a "How cute!" on someone else's puppy pictures will make you feel more engaged. By making their stuff public, they've already opened the door for comments. (Just stick to nice ones for now--everybody loves hearing that their baby is cute or their vacation shots are gorgeous.)

As for posting your own vacation photos, just post them without comment. Title the album something descriptive enough like "Yellowstone Park, Fourth of July weekend" and let them out into the wild. People may respond or not, but I'm sure your friends will enjoy seeing them. I know I always look at everyone's vacation pictures, whether I know them well or not, because it's neat to see new places. There's nothing weird about it (I hope!). And I've had random, not-very-close friends comment on vacation pictures because they'd been there too, and it was kind of neat to reconnect at that tiny little level, even if we don't pursue a deeper friendship after that.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:41 PM on July 10, 2011

Things that I find obnoxious enough to make me hide people's updates:

- Constant politics (not just the odd comment around major political events)
- Constant religion
- Comments that are seemingly a coded passive aggressive message for someone that isn't me.
- Sexism, racism, and disparaging or complaining about other people in general.
- Constantly complaining (not just occasional complaining when something goes wrong).
- Constant drama.
- Detailed info about your love life.

Things I like to see:

- Pics of your house renovations, latest craft project, kids, kittens, etc.
- The funny sign you saw on the way to work
- "does anyone want to go to the pub?"
- updates about walks or trips or visits you have been on, how your garden is doing.
- info about the occasional really crappy stuff in your life - e.g. "mom is really sick", so I can post supportive messages about it and remember to ask about it when we meet.
posted by emilyw at 1:01 AM on July 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

I tend to talk too much; but I try to limit my Facebook status activity to once a week. You can give yourself a similar time-limit - not unlike Metafilter's one question a week thing - so that you know there's no danger of you going overboard.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:54 AM on July 11, 2011

Wanted to message you, but you're anonymous. So, Thank you for posting this question! I always wondered the same thing, and just in general it's kind of a relief to know someone else had the same take on things. Also, thanks for the chart on female aspie traits. I didn't even know it was possible, and while personally I have no idea whether I am one or not, it certainly explains a lot.
posted by tachikoma_robot at 5:03 AM on July 11, 2011

It doesn't hurt to err on the side of caution. Tell about events in your life if they are important to you but be brief and just share the few, most important events. The level of interconnectivity that social media allows can be burdensome if there is too much information from too many friends and most people who receive too much information from you will tune out.

To sum it up, sum it up.
posted by JJ86 at 9:48 AM on July 11, 2011

I too have this assumption/fear that no one cares about what I have to share. But I don't have Aspergers, I just have shitty parents who... didn't ever care about what I had to share. It sounds like you did, too. So therapy is good for that.

But Facebook and Twitter are really good for that, too, because you aren’t actually sharing with a specific person. You aren’t sharing at anyone, in other words. And if anyone doesn’t care about what you post, they don’t have to care. They don’t even have to pretend to care, like they would in person.

It’s almost impossible for me right now to just “assume everyone’s interested.” But if you look at all of your friends on Facebook, you’ll see that some people share a lot and then you’ll have some friends who maybe never post anything, or post maybe once every six months. There is a lot of room between too much and nothing for you to play in.

Another thing that I keep in mind is that, let’s say one of my friends posts pictures of a camping trip. I see it in my feed and I think “mmm, how nice” but I’m not interested enough to click through and actually look at all of the photos. What I do assume, though, is that this person must have other friends who are interested. So even your friends who don’t care won’t think you’re being annoying or obnoxious or needy, because they’ll assume that your other friends do care.

But there are a lot of things that I think about sharing and then decide not to because I’m afraid people won’t care or worse will think “Ugh, why is she telling me this??” (this is for in person and online). Facebook helps because I can see which posts are hits (lots of Likes and comments) and which ones are duds (no response). The no responses hurt a little, but I remind myself that you never know how many people read it, laughed or had whatever appropriate response, and then just didn’t have anything to actually say or feel a need to comment.

In general, though, remember that no one is interested in everyone’s everything all the time. I have friends who tell me things that I don’t really care about, but they’re still my friends. Part of what you share can be what you think other people will find interesting, but part of it has to be what you find interesting and want to share, because you are entitled to that.
posted by thebazilist at 10:00 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi. This is extremely late, but I have some of the same issues and concerns.

One thing I do do? Post nearly everything as Friends Only. People on my FB feed, Twitter friend's list, etc. can see what I post - and I really don't post that often. However, the Outside World? If they were to see my FB page, they would see nothing at all. Being able to control my audience and who sees my content has helped a lot.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:09 PM on January 4, 2012

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