Welcome back, my loves!
Today’s episode is a bit longer because there are so many juicy pieces to take a bite from. This topic is also near and dear to me, and it was important to me that I make this episode as thoughtful and comprehensive as possible. So let’s get into it! I am eager to explore the Dominant Dogma that, like last week’s topic of earning our belonging with our bodies, insists that we have to think and behave in certain ways in order to belong.
Before we get too far, I want to let you know that I will be doing a lot of discussion around mental health and neurodivergence. While I identify as neurodivergent and hold certifications in Life Coaching and EcoPychology, I am not a mental health expert. You’ll hear in the podcast how I consulted with experts and other folks with lived experiences to thoughtfully craft this episode for you.
This week, I will explore:
- A brief review of terms and topics like “neurodivergent” and “highly sensitive person”
- How the belief that we must earn our belonging with our minds shows up in our daily lives
- How most social norms do not create an environment for those with mental health conditions to thrive
- What implicit ableism looks and sounds like for neurodivergent people (AKA: Dominant Dogma in the wild)
- How coping strategies like “masking” cause harm to neurodivergent people and how forcing people to behave in certain ways — or ‘mask’ — upholds ableism
- And, most importantly, how, despite all of these challenges, you do deserve to thrive and live a life you love, no matter how your brain works.
Listen to the episode wherever you like to listen to your podcasts
Hello hello, creative humans, today I am writing to you from my backyard. Birds are singing around me, I hear a lawn mower a few houses down, and I am sitting at my backyard table with an umbrella shading me from the sun. I have my decaf latte next to me, a notebook and pen, and my feet are placed flat on the ground on the gravel patio below.
Just as I take a moment to pause and notice my surroundings, I encourage you to do the same. Attuning to your space and your body as we enter into this conversation together. Notice the environment you find yourself in. The chair or floor beneath you. The textures touching your skin. Where there is light. Where there are shadows. Not judging anything, just simply noticing.
Before we begin, in today’s episode I discuss mental health and neurodivergence. While I identify as neurodivergent and hold certifications in Life Coaching and EcoPychology, I am not a mental health expert. That in mind I also had todays trascript reviewed by Rich Brendle, a counselor in the state of Wisconsin who specializes in helping neurodivergent people find their strengths. Additionally, I conducted a poll with folks who follow me on Instagram and had multiple conversations with folks who identify as neurodivergent, highly sensitive, and struggling with mental health to do my best to share the diverse and unique experiences within these identifyers.
Today, we are going to talk about the Dominant Dogma that shares “You must earn your belonging with your mind.” This is the narrative that asks humans, to earn their belonging by fitting in with how their mind functions. This most prominently impacts individuals with more neurodivergent traits, who identify as neurodivergent, those struggling with mental health, and those who identify as highly sensitive.
Before we go any further let’s define some of these terms:
According to Medical News Today, the terms Neurodivergent and Neurotypical are defined as follows: “The word “neurotypical” refers to people who have brains that function in a similar way to most of their peers…They can also tolerate change, disruption in routines, and distractions without too much difficulty. In contrast, people who consider themselves neurodivergent have brains that function differently. They may have a diagnosis such as ASD, ADHD, dyslexia, or Tourette’s syndrome. Neurodivergence comes in many forms, and they affect people with these diagnoses differently.” – source
Psychology Today defines a Highly Sensitive Person (or an HSP) as, “a term coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron’s theory, HSPs are a subset of the population who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Those with high levels of SPS display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life.” – source
And additionally, as a reminder: Dominant Dogma is a term I coined to encompass all the cultural narratives and beliefs which externally, and subsequently internally as adaptive strategies, tell you who you’re supposed to be, how to do it, and what you need to buy to live that out.
So, how does this Dominant Dogma, “You must earn your belonging with your mind,” show up day-to-day?
While every individual and their path is unique, many folks begin to experience this as soon as social engagements begin. From play dates as children, up through workplace interactions as adults, there are social norms that tend to guide human behavior. On one hand these unspoken rules can support positive relationship encounters, where folks with similar brain chemistry, upbringing, and gut microbiomes relate to one another and develop connection. However, when any difference, including but not limited to neurodivergence, comes into play, these unspoken rules can cause misunderstandings, exclusion, and polarisation. Folks who navigate the world with mental health struggles, or through a neurodivergent or HSP lens may not interperet the unspoken rules and ques the same way as a traditionally neurotypical individual might. Additionally, they may have a different perspective on what should be socially acceptable to share. A simple example of this: Dominant Culture tends to have an acceptable range of sharing around what is not going so well in life: You got the wrong coffee at your favorite coffee shop, more bad things in the news, or kids driving you up a wall. Someone with mental health struggles or a neurodivergent experience of life may hold a desire to expand this to include their more diverse experience. This can then result in frustration for both sides, isolation, and sometimes the sincerity and vulnerability of HSP folks, neurodivergent folks, and folks with mental health struggles can be twisted and taken advantage of.
To try and mitigate the, “problem” of difference in brain chemistry, neurotypical folks tend to ask folks who function differently from them (wheather they identify as neurodivergent or not) to try and fit in and mask their difference. I.E. our Dominant Dogma: If you want to belong in this family, social group, or workplace, you must earn your belonging by forcing your brain to function the same way dominant cultures does. While this Dominant Dogma is largely upheld unconsciously (hello implicit ablism) the “requirements for belonging” come through loud and clear. In the, Neurodivergent Narrative Podcast with Sandra Coral, Sandra shares her experience with ADHD. She recalls being told both as an adult and as a developing child to, “Try harder” “Pay closer attention.” and that, “You’re being lazy.” – source
In my experience, prior to recognizing my neurdivergence and while working at my own co-founded marketing agency, I found myself masking my need for exceptionally clear communication (including written agreements), time alone, and my work style of what I call, “spurts.” Without these present, I often find myself overwhelmed, unable to work at my highest capacity, and generally more tender. Additionally, my style of blunt communication in regards to my design solutions were often misinterpreted as being controlling and even hostile. I had not experienced this type of disparity in workplace communication before, so I weilded my people-pleasing skills, which I had honed since childhood due to growing up in a high control religion and a tumultious home life. Despite my efforts to please those around me and hide my difference, I was told that the office functioned better without me present, I was being uncollaborative, I was too emotional, and that I needed to work harder.
Sadly, my experience is only the tip of the iceberg.
As part of my research for this episode I reached out to folks on my instagram to hear how this Dominant Dogma sounds in their lives. Please keep in mind that this is sharing a wide range of experiences from folks navigating HSP, mental health struggles, and neurodivergence.
Here are their responses: Today’s Dominant Dogma in the wild says…
- You need to toughen up
- You can figure it out on your own
- You cry too much
- You only talk about one thing, can you just stop
- You’re being too sensitive
- You’re too kind and it will be your undoing
- Just make yourself focus
- Just do it
- Stop being weird
When hearing narratives like these it’s no wonder masking and hiding difference has become so prominent. Like anyone, neurodivergent folks, HSP folks, and folks navigating mental health difficulties crave belonging so the adaptive strategy that is often weilded includes masking. Doing everything possible to fit in, work harder and live up to these expectations of culture and yet never quite fitting in. Not only is this Dominant Narrative incredibly harmful to ones understanding of their innate worthiness and wholeness, masking as a coping mechanism has been said to cause burnout, anxiety, depression, and loss of personal identity. – source
While often wielded as a strategy for belonging and safety, masking is a cage for difference that ablism, and today’s Dominant Dogma upholds.
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about Empaths: Prior to my journey with mental health, self-development, and my awareness of my neurodivergence among other things, I considered myself an empath. In truth, this “empathic” ability was one in the same with masking and people-pleasing. My masking abilities had largely developed in childhood, as I learned to sense the energy of those around me in order to keep myself and those I was in charge of safe. What I have since become aware of is how this tendency to people-please not only strips others of their responsibility, but it also equates to handing over my power. While I may have a honed gift to sense energies, I also am not responsible for how I perceive others to be feeling, what they are needing, or what they want from me. I am responsible for myself. I can ask for clarity, I can enter into a consentual meeting of needs, upon establishing clarity of emotions I can sympathize if it feels appropriate and safe, however I am only responsible for myself.
While many Highly Sensitive People identify as empathic, I believe, more often than not, empaths in our modern society are folks navigating being a people-pleaser. I do believe that some folks are more highly sensitive to cultural and personal events due to various reasons, however in ones day to day, “sensing” anothers emotional state and having that impact your own state can indicate a lack of energetic boundaries and the need to learn more emotion regulation strategies to take responsibility for your own needs and emotions. Additionally, thinking of these traits as empathic, actually lends itself to embrace projecting and upholding ablist tendances of assumption.
With all this in mind, how do we hand back the Dominant Dogma that says, “You must earn your belonging with your mind?”
The Freedom on the other side: You are worthy of being your uniquely human self! While you may find situations where it is unsafe to show your whole self, you are so worthy of finding safe spaces and unveiling your difference in all of its glory. In fact, the biodiversity that each one of us brings to the table is crucial to a thriving society and planet! We are nature, and just as nature craves a biodiverse ecosystem, we also need a biodiverse ecosystem in how our lives are lived, how our brains function, and how our personalities unveal themselves!
- You are worthy of asking for what you need.
- You are worthy of being heard.
- You are worthy of reciprocal relationship where you can show up as your whole self.
- And you are not broken.
One of the most prominent narratives I found, and that I have experienced, is the narrative that because your brain functions differently you are broken and unworthy of thriving.
You are not broken and you are SO worthy of thriving.
Yes, we all have healing work to do and we are responsible for our actions and how we wield ourselves, but having a unique human experience does not make you broken or unworthy, and never will.
And that is what I want to leave you with today: You are whole and worthy, just as you are.
As we close today’s episode, I’m so excited to let you know I am now accepting Summer Coaching bookings!
Whether you are struggling with anxiety, navigating a life change, or expanding your leadership role, I’m here to support you, facilitate breakthroughs and coach you step-by-step so you can live your liberation, so you can live your freedom, now..
Here’s a glimpse into how I can help:
👉 Reclaim balance after (or during!) a major transition
👉 Breakthrough the Dominant Dogma, those external and internal narratives, keeping you from thriving
👉 Find your footing after 2 long years of upheaval
👉 Strategize brand vision and essence
👉 Navigate climate anxiety and continue your regeneration work
👉 Bolster your leadership skills as you guide your team through testing times
👉 Take back personal power and live your freedom now
You can learn more about my 1:1 coaching and apply now at megscolleen.com!
All right, I’ll see you next week!
Freedom is yours,
“While this Dominant Dogma is largely upheld unconsciously (hello, implicit ableism) the “requirements for belonging” come through loud and clear.”
“Despite my efforts to please those around me and hide my difference, I was told that the office functioned better without me present, I was being uncollaborative, I was too emotional, and that I needed to work harder.”
“Prior to my journey with mental health, self-development, and my awareness of my neurodivergence among other things, I considered myself an empath. In truth, this “empathic” ability was one in the same with masking and people-pleasing.”
“I am responsible for myself. I can ask for clarity, I can enter into a consentual meeting of needs, upon establishing clarity of emotions I can sympathize if it feels appropriate and safe. However, I am only responsible for myself.”
“We are nature, and just as nature craves a biodiverse ecosystem, we also need a biodiverse ecosystem in how our lives are lived, how our brains function, and how our personalities unveil themselves!”
Mentions & More:
- Definitions for “neurodivergent” and “highly sensitive person”
- More in-depth exploration of being a highly sensitive person by Very Well Mind and The Guardian
- The wonderful Neurodivergent Narrative podcast with Sandra Coral
- Research about how masking or “social camaflouging” can be harmful to neurodivergent folks
- Learn more about my 1:1 coaching offerings!