Autistic Gullibility

Mette Harrison
4 min readJan 8, 2023

I am gullible. Deeply, constantly gullible. I’m the kind of person who went to a joke museum and read some signs about a special animal who poops gold — and had no idea it was a joke. I’m the kind of person who will go along with any kind of prank, not because it’s fun (it’s not) but because I assume that everyone is always telling the truth. I always do and it is still confusing to me that people tell lies for weird reasons like “fun” or “teasing.” I was “teased” plenty in elementary school and junior high. Teasing wasn’t fun. It was something I tried to become invisible enough to avoid every again.

But even as an adult, I struggle with gullibility. A door-to-door salesperson will promise me the moon and I believe it. Why would they lie to me? (Obviously they lie to make money, but it is still so outside my own worldview to lie to make money that I truly don’t suspect this for days afterward.) I watched my children be gullible to commercials and I worked hard as a parent to help them try out the outrageous claims of kids’ commercials so that they learned not to trust them. We chanted together, “this is a lie” when the commercials had proven wrong.

And still, I get conned. On the phone at times, when people offer me a “free vacation” or when someone calls because they’re “concerned” that there’s a problem on a credit card. One thing that saves me is that if someone calls to tell me that I can get a bunch of money by doing xyz, I don’t fall for that because I don’t necessarily want money and I definitely don’t want it if it seems “unfair” to me to get it by skirting some kind of rule, however stupid it is. But nonetheless, I remain vulnerable to various kinds of cons.

One of the rules I’ve set in place to protect myself from this kind of problem is that I never buy anything unless I’ve spent a night thinking it over. This is as true of things that are sold by salespeople as it is for me when I go a store looking for something all on my own. I used to think that because I don’t like salespeople and I don’t like shopping, that protected me from the “sale” pressure tactics or the atmosphere of selling that is created in a casino-like stage in most showroom floors. Not so. Hating shopping makes me even MORE likely to not take precautions and buy things quickly purely to get it over with.

I’m also inherently suspicious of people who want to be friends with me. This protects me to some degree on social media, because I don’t accept friend requests unless I’ve vetted someone’s page and if they have been specifically recommended to me by another friend. I also block easily and without a second thought if someone is rude the first time. I don’t have patience for rudeness on the internet. I don’t need that in my life.

On the other hand, being suspicious of people wanting to be friends with me also causes me to lose a lot of chances at good social interaction. I’m aware of this, but I’m not sure I’ve found a solution to it. You’re going to have to try more than once. Even if you’re already my friend, you’ll have noticed the pattern of me becoming depressed and assuming that no one likes me anymore because I’m depressed, so I don’t reach out to ask for help.

And then there’s another, deeper problem. Because I assume that anyone who is being nice to me has some ulterior motive that will be later revealed to hurt me, I sadly end up gravitating toward people who are “honest” and therefore cruel. If someone tells me a “truth” about myself that is painful, it seems to my autistic brain that this is better than someone lying and being nice, only to hurt me later. I seem to prefer the pain up front. So I’ve had a number of relationships with people who were “honest” and prided themselves on honesty but turned out to be some level of narcissist because I prefer that to niceness after having been traumatized so many times by nice people who are hiding their cruelty.

I don’t have a great fix for this yet. I’m trying to tell myself I deserve niceness, but since I genuinely can’t figure out how to tell if someone is nice or not, I’m left with asking other people for their opinions, and how do I know if I can trust their opinion more than my own gut reaction? Sadly, an autistic “gut” reaction doesn’t seem to be very useful for determining honesty or kindness. It’s better at smells and lights and noises. People who smell normal seem worthy of trust to my autistic brain, and it turns out that’s not super reliable.

More later, if I ever figure this out. But if you, like me, are gullible and have bad “lie” detectors, I hear you.



Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained