“GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”
When I was growing up, I heard those words quite often. Every time I made a mistake, big or small, or did anything that upset my mother.
If I had a sensory-related melt down over clothes or loud noises or food, or even just tried to refuse the offending item, I would hear “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”
If I said something honest that my mother didn’t want to hear? “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”
If I accidently forgot to do something, or did it at the wrong time? “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”
If I didn’t look someone in the eye or made some other social fumble? “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”
Any time I did anything “wrong”, regardless of the intention, trigger, magnitude, or anything else, what I was told was “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”
It was usually followed by “Do not read a book. Do not play with your toys. You are being punished. Think about your actions and the consequences they have.”
And so I did. Because that was what I as told to do, and I was a good kid, and I always followed directions to the best of my ability. And I wanted to show my mother that I could do what she told me to do. That I could follow her directions and do things right. That she could be proud of me and not disappointed by all of my failures.
I would go to my room, often in tears at having upset my mother. And I would sit in my room often for hours, melting down over the fact that I messed up, that I made my mother angry, and the fact that I had screwed up yet again. I would never touch my toys or books, usually with the exception of one of my stuffed animals, which I would allow myself to hug for comfort. There were tears. There was flapping and rocking. There was crawling into very tiny spaces (under my bed, in my closet). All the while, my brain was going at warp speed, trying to figure out what it was I had done wrong, and how I could fix it, if I could fix it. And so it would go, for hours. I would sit in my room and think about what I had done, punishing myself over and over for my mistake until someone came to tell me that my punishment time was over.
Sometimes they forgot, and I would be there for many hours. Usually by the time they bothered to come tell me my time was up, I had managed to calm myself down out of full-on meltdown and could articulate exactly what I thought had I done “wrong” and apologize for it. But I was still agonizing over it, because I couldn’t stand to be less than perfect.
It baffled me that when my parents said similar things to my little sister, she would simply go to her room and read a book, or play with her toys. But the only time I had told my parents of this obvious ignoring of the instructions, I was told “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”, and I never told them again. It never occurred to me that being sent to my room wasn’t always a direct punishment, but was more a way for my parents to get me out of the situation so that they could handle it later. It was their way of taking a deep breath, counting to ten, and then addressing the problem.
I am very literal. I am incredibly rules oriented. I always try to do whatever is asked of me to the best of my ability. Sometimes this does far more harm than good. So remember, when you mean “you need to leave this situation so that we can all calm down”, but you say “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”, I hear the latter. And I will do anything to please you and follow your rules, sometimes to the point of serious self-destruction.
This happened all through my early years, both at home and at school. In school, there wasn’t a “your room” to send me to, but the line “and think about what you’ve done” still haunts me. Because when think is what I’m told to do, I think. When I’m yelled at I shut down. Loud noises are overwhelming, and even worse are angry people, people with authority, people who tell me I’m not good enough, that I’ve messed up. All I want to do is show them that I’m a good person and that I can do what they ask. But I can’t defend myself, because I’ve lost my ability to speak, so I think instead. Agonize, really, about how awful and deficient I was. To prove to them that I am worthy. I always punished myself so much more effectively and so much more than they intended.
And even now that I’m free of that phrase, I’m not free of the thoughts that accompany the aftermath of anyone getting annoyed at me. The torture that I put myself through, replaying every scenario leading up to an incident, trying to figure out where I went wrong, how I could’ve done it better, and how to apologize. The feeling that every time someone yells at me, it is completely and utterly my fault, and I have to figure out how to make it better, and most of all, how to never ever repeat that incident. There’s less leeway when you’re Autistic and trying to pass in the NT world. Growing up I was taught that every fumble, every misstep was a heinous crime, and that there was less patience for me than for everyone else. It was my job to make sure that I committed as few of these crimes as possible, none of course, is the ideal. And every time I fail, I know it thousands of times over. Because I’m following the directions I grew up with, the only way I know how to respond to a situation in which someone is behaving negatively towards or around me:
“GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”