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|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 3:00 AM|
Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a funny story with me that further illustrates the natural responses that other human beings compulsively elicit from us.
My friend was at the golf nets practising his shots, when a golfing acquaintance using the next net began to offer some advice. My friend knows that this guy plays well, so is aware that his advice may well be valid, but there are some aspects of this guy’s behaviour that he has observed to be quite odd, so he doesn’t necessarily want to change his style based on this guy’s advice alone.
The guy proceeded to tell my friend what he was doing wrong, and instructing him how to position himself and his golf stick instead. My friend went along with it, not wishing to offend him.
And this is the point of me sharing this story. What is it about us that compels us to feel obligated to follow the instructions or guidance of another when it is not what we want to do? I imagine it’s because we are typically polite, and to refuse to follow could be seen to be rude and even causing conflict. Yet, it was actually the other guy who was rude and imposing, correcting, criticising and giving directions rather than asking if my friend minded, or was interested.
I see this situation as illustrating another aspect of what happens in relationships where one partner is on the autism spectrum (ASD) and one is not (Neurotypical). We know from the years of personal stories that many adults on the spectrum can be very controlling in their relationship and home environment. They seem to have a set way they feel things need to be done, and they are never backward in imposing those ways on those around them, frequently correcting and directing in such a way that the partner feels compelled to comply, often out of fear of upsetting the adult on the spectrum. They seem so adamant that there’s only one correct way, and their very survival and well-being seems determined by it being done that way.
To push back, or to refuse or try to reason or argue is seen as disloyalty, as being against them, as causing or creating conflict, and the ordinary “typical” person doesn’t want to be accused of these things because it’s not our nature to be quarrelsome, so we comply.
Funny that. So, once again we note that it’s the person on the spectrum who is actually in control of the home environment. Their position seems unmovable, inflexible … we are adaptable and flexible, so we adjust and compromise … until we’re really just lined up next to them on their terms, a clone as it were, a paper cut-out, with no agency of our own.
The ASD person typically seeks to adjust the environment to meet their needs, whereas those who are “neuro-typical” typically adjust themselves to fit the environment. The perfect partner, responsive and functional, but invisible. If you'd like to comment please email [email protected]
|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 2:35 AM||comments (0)|
These days I find myself often thinking about the characteristics of partners. Those who in good faith have entered a relationship with an adult who is eventually exposed as having significant characteristics of autism. Often the realisation comes quickly after a marriage contract is entered or cohabitation commences, sometimes it comes when the demands of life increase, sometimes the signs were there, but the significance wasn’t appreciated. The “benefit of the doubt” was given, assuming the occurrences were a “one off” … until the occurrences become the norm of everyday life, and we berate ourselves because we saw it, we knew.
But we are highly empathic individuals. Normally neurotypical, but on the high end of the empathy scale. We marvel at how many of us have found ourselves sharing life with an individual at the other end of the empathy scale. A strange selection process that ensures the survival needs of the ASD individual are met by a highly intelligent, empathic, functional partner, but that cruelly denies the survival needs of that partner for connection, for collaboration, communication, care, joy, love …
What is it about us? One of our educators asks this question of us, encouraging us to explore and understand ourselves, our tendencies that led us into these relationships in the first place, and why we stay … long after many others would have abandoned ship. Truly we are beautiful, caring, loyal human beings, but we’re sharing life with one who only throws us the occasional crumb of love. We wait around for the next, never knowing when, but believing the existence of a crumb means a whole loaf and many more could appear if we just hang in there.
It bothers me to realise that the very deficits of the disordered individual elicit empathic responses from the partner, instinctively and compulsively. We are wired to respond. We cannot help it. We cannot go against nature. We see a need, we perceive an inadequacy, we sense a fear, we experience uncovered bases … we meet the need, we function on their behalf, we take care of situations that stress them, we step up and cover more bases … until we realise we are taking responsibility for everything, filling a functional capacity for both of us, but have control of nothing.
Put this alongside the realisation that most of our ASD partners will also have PDA (pathological demand avoidance), meaning they experience demands (or requests or expectations) as a crisis, and we have a dilemma indeed. One partner avoids requests, demands or expectations and one partner compulsively responds to requests, demands, expectations and needs. Perhaps this is the greatest inequality and injustice of these neuro-different relationships. The avoidance of demands by one, and the compulsive responding and over-functioning of the other. Who resources the over-functioning partner? Who meets their needs? Certainly not a demand-avoidant partner, with whom lies control as he/she can’t be influenced to reciprocate the care and function they are benefiting from.
The role of the empathic partner is that of a functional resource, while remaining unresourced themselves from within the relationship.
That cannot go on indefinitely.
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|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 2:05 AM|
Always in the car is when I have my best thoughts. I chat with myself all the way to wherever I’m going, wishing I could jot down the gems that seem to love to light up my neurons while I can’t reach the pen and paper. Same happens in the shower.
Today I was hurtling along a motorway in very hilly bushy terrain, weaving back and forth between lanes as I passed trucks and other laden vehicles on the uphill, only to have them pass me on the downhill once the crest was conquered. Repeat. Patchy rain and fog too.
I caught myself not only focusing on my own motoring moves, but on the moves of the motorists around me, anticipating what they might need too, feeling anxious should I inconvenience or block them in some way, being considerate of ways I can make it easier for them. And then I remembered that I have equal rights on the road. And just like everyone else, I have a responsibility to maintain control of my own vehicle only, abide by the rules of the road, anticipate only what I need to in order to maintain safety, indicate and move only when it is safe to do so. And all of this for my own sake as much as anyone else’s. I am equal. The road is mine as much as it is theirs.
I ask myself why I feel the need to subjugate myself to the needs of those around me, not only other motorists in this case, but others around me in general? Why do I feel I need to get out of the way so others are not hindered in any way? Why are their needs more important than mine? Why do I feel compelled to meet or accommodate the needs and preferences of others above my own? Why do I catch myself apologising frequently, as though I even need to justify my presence. When did those feelings start? Why do I still have these feelings of low self-worth and inferiority after years of gaining knowledge, regular therapy, lots of self-talk and even providing support for others?
I am an empath. Acutely aware of the feelings of others, feeling them myself. True empathy includes appropriate action. It’s not enough to just feel it, the need compels a response. From an empath especially. And somehow I’ve taken to heart the message that I exist only for the care or benefit of others. So it’s a compulsion. And a self-worth issue. My purpose is for others.
Even the Bible says to do good to others if it is in the power of your hand to do so. Nothing like throwing in a bit of Scripture to reinforce good Christian behaviour. And cement the compulsion. And reinforce my purpose.
But where’s the line? I often find myself coming back to the “fine lines”. What needs do I respond to? Where does my responsibility lie? How far do I go? Is my life to be only about anticipating and facilitating the needs of those around me? Who cares for my needs?
Another little bit of Scripture brings balance to my thoughts, and reason to ease my compulsion. We are to “bear each other’s burdens” but “carry our own load”. Burdens make us weary and discouraged, they are difficult to endure – it would make sense to care and help each other in times like that. But what is the “load” each of us is to carry? Perhaps it’s that which we should take responsibility for – the load of our own life and function. I’m ok with that. And I’m ok with caring for others and helping them when their burden is too heavy.
But I must not make the responsibilities of another become a burden that I carry. That is for them to carry, as I must carry my own.
And so, on the road as with anywhere else I find myself, I am to take responsibility for my own vehicle, my own life, my “load”. But be ready to care and respond “in word and deed” when another is discouraged and weighed down by burdens that are too much for them to carry alone.
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