This post describes an unfortunate phenomenon involving individuals who think and behave differently (i.e., people with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism), and as a result, have been misunderstood and mistreated to one degree or another throughout their life. The mistreatment started as bullying in school, and continues in the workplace (perhaps to a lesser degree). Through years of perceived rejection and ridicule, the Aspergers adult now feels permanently damaged -- psychologically, socially, emotionally and spiritually (which is not the case at all).
Evidence of Being Wounded—
Traits of Aspergers adults who have been wounded by past experiences include the following:
- acting or feeling as if the abuse is happening all over again
- angry outbursts
- decreased interest or participation in certain activities
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
- avoiding activities, places, or people that might be emotionally threatening
- avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with past abuse
- feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- inability to have certain feelings
- intense distress related to internal or external events that remind one of the perceived abuse
- persistent recollections of past abuse
- recurrent dreams of past abuse
- thinking that time is short and there is no future
Traits of the Wounded Aspie—
The wounded Aspie:
- believes that he is misunderstood and unappreciated, a view that is exacerbated by the negative responses he receives from others for his consistent defeatist stance
- believes that other people interfere with his freedom
- expects the worst in most things, even situations that are going well
- experiences control by others as intolerable
- has a basic conflict concerning his self-worth
- has to do things his own way
- is inclined toward anger and irritability
- is often disgruntled and declares that he is not treated as he should be, yet he is just as likely to express feeling unworthy of good fortune
- oscillates between self-loathing and entitlement or moral superiority; either side of this oscillation can be projected onto the environment, and the chaotic nature of this experience of self and others often leads other people to avoid or minimize contact with the Aspie
- views himself as self-sufficient, but feels vulnerable to control and interference from others
- views others as intrusive, demanding, interfering, controlling, and dominating
How Relationships Go For the Wounded Aspie—
The wounded Aspie is ambivalent within his relationships and conflicted between his dependency needs and his desire for self-assertion. He wavers between expressing hostile defiance toward people he views as causing his problems and attempting to mollify these people by asking forgiveness or promising to do better in the future.
The wounded Aspie is noted for the stormy nature of his interpersonal relationships. He engages in a combination of quarrelsomeness and submissiveness. His affect is sullen, and he engages in both unintentional – and intentional – rudeness. He is resentfully quarrelsome and irritable. He often feels like a victim.
Wounded Aspies inflict a great deal of discomfort on others through the use of their anxiety and emotional symptoms. They can become so destructive in their attitudes and so unable to provide rewards to others that they become socially isolated.
These individuals struggle between their desire to act out defiantly and their awareness that they must curtail their resentment. They engage in grumbling, moody complaints, and sour pessimism. These behaviors serve as both a vehicle for tension discharge (i.e., relieving them of mounting anger) and as a means of intimidating others and inducing guilt (i.e., providing them with a sense of retribution for the wrongs they believe they have experienced). These socially maladaptive behaviors result in inevitable interpersonal conflict and frustration. After a time, the sullen moodiness and complaining alienates others. These individuals are able to sense the exasperation and growing animosity that others feel toward them, and they use their awareness to become even more aggrieved (without corresponding acceptance that their behavior has contributed to the situation).
For these individuals, being difficult, unpredictable, and discontent produces certain rewards and avoids certain discomforts. They can control others by forcing them into an uncomfortable anticipatory stance. People in relationships with wounded Aspies are perpetually waiting for the next struggle, the next grievance, the next round of volatility and carping criticism. Wounded Aspies are able, within their relationships, to trap people into situations wherein whatever they do is wrong. Relating to Aspergers adults who are “wounded” becomes a tense, edgy experience where great caution must be employed to avoid precipitating an angry incident.
Ambivalence in the Wounded Aspie—
Ambivalence is expressed behaviorally by vacillation between negativism/autonomy and dependency/conformity. However, even when conforming, the wounded Aspie tends to be contrary, unaccommodating, sulking, pessimistic, and complaining. Aspies who are wounded will behave obediently one time – and defiantly the next. They will be self-deprecating and express guilt for failing to meet expectations in one situation – and express stubborn negativism and resistance in another. They fluctuate between deference and defiance, between obedience and an aggressive negative attitude. Their behavior will go from explosive anger or stubbornness to periods of guilt and shame.
Anger in the Wounded Aspie—
Anger may be expressed directly or indirectly. Indirect expression of anger can take the form of chronic, seething hostility or sadistic carping criticism. Irritating, oppositional, and resentful behavior can be demonstrative of a pervasive pattern of passive resistance. If there is a pattern of chronic hostility and resistance, no situational provocation may be needed for these individuals to engage in preaching behavior, excusing self by accusing others, bumbling behaviors when competence is actually possible, and using a positive gesture as a vehicle for a negative message (e.g., including relationship grievances in a birthday card).
Anger expressed by commission is usually justified by laudable motives (e.g., concern for the well-being of the victim). The expression of the anger is dictated by the desire to wound while concealing the intention to wound – and even the existence of anger. This is not to spare the feelings of the victim, but to wound them more effectively. The intent is to provoke counter-anger with such subtlety that the victim blames herself and believes her anger is not justified. That way, the wounded Aspie can assume the role of innocent victim.
Affective Issues in the Wounded Aspie—
The wounded Aspie is vulnerable to anxiety, somatoform disorders, and depression. Major depressive episodes are not uncommon. In depressive cycles, there is evidence of a tendency to blame others, a demanding and complaining attitude, and low self-confidence.
Wounded Aspies experience an undercurrent of perpetual inner turmoil and anxiety. They appear unable to manage their moods, thoughts and needs internally, which results in emotional instability. They suffer a range of intense and conflicting emotions that surge quickly to the surface due to weak controls and lack of self-discipline.
Co-occurring Substance Abuse in the Wounded Aspie—
The incidence of co-occurring substance abuse with the wounded Aspie is high. He is prone to use drugs to regulate mood states. It is consistent with his general attitude and belief that he views himself as entitled to an external solution to problems. The drug of choice is a pharmacologic defense mechanism chosen by how well it fits with the Aspie’s usual style of coping and how effectively it bolsters already established patterns for managing psychological threat. Prescribed pain killers, anti-anxiety agents, marijuana, and alcohol are the most commonly used drugs by these individuals.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in the Wounded Aspie—
Due to mind-blindness, the Aspergers adult does not always understand the motives of others. Unfortunately, when he is impacted negatively by another person’s words or actions (and doesn’t understand why that person would say or do such a thing), he tends to fill in the void with a “negative” (e.g., “she said that to hurt me” …or “he did that because he doesn’t like me”).
Thus, since the Aspie is pretty much in a constant state of “misunderstanding others motives” and subsequently “filling in the void with a negative,” he often perceives himself as being on the receiving end of criticism, disrespect, and downright emotional abuse.
Now that the wounded Aspie feels like a victim, he responds at times with retaliatory techniques, and at other times with isolation and avoidance – both of which often elicit a negative response from others. This negative feedback from others serves to provide proof (in the Aspie’s mind) that “others are out to get me.”
Treatment for the Wounded Aspie—
There are two major ways for the wounded Aspie to enter treatment. The first is externally leveraged treatment for those Aspies who do not see themselves as having a problem. Someone forced them into treatment (e.g., parent, spouse, employer, the legal system). These clients have minimal insight and often fail to admit that they are a major factor in the problems they have.
The second method is to enter treatment via self-referral for vague complaints (e.g., "I'm just not getting anywhere").
When assessing Aspergers adults who are psychologically injured, the following areas should be explored:
- coexisting anxiety disorders
- medication evaluations for antidepressants
- mental status
- psychosocial and AOD history
- self-care skills
- social skills
- survival skills
- use of illegal drugs
- use of OTC drugs
Treatment for these individuals involves openly exploring the ways they express aggression and neediness toward others by being contrary. Understanding this aggression can allow discovery of the depressive and invalidating experiences underneath, which lead to a fear of loss of autonomy when others want to be close and a fear of loss of connectedness when others want to be alone.
Determine which situations or experiences are most difficult for these individuals in the direct expression of their feelings or beliefs. Identify all avoidance and anxiety-arousing situations. Address these issues with anxiety-management behavioral intervention techniques. Cognitive therapy can help these individuals understand that they expect the worst from others and then proceed to behave in such a way that brings out the worst from these same people.
Group therapy provides an opportunity to learn how to manage their hostility. When their hostility emerges, group leaders can comment on hostile behavior and encourage other group members to respond. The group leader can assist these individuals to process what it is they want or need at that moment and to rehearse appropriate behavior within the group context. However, these clients will not do well in group if they refuse to accept responsibility for their hostility and alienate the other group members. When that happens, these individuals often leave or become isolated within the group.
Whether the client is in group or individual treatment, it is important to identify and highlight examples of destructive behavior. Reflect on how the behavior is more maladaptive than adaptive. Give examples of how it creates more problems than it solves. Use illustrations from within the immediate treatment process as these individuals will use oppositional techniques and devalue treatment providers in response to real or perceived criticism.
Self-Healing for the Wounded Aspie—
Psychological healing refers to positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. These sets of circumstances represent significant challenges to the adaptive resources of the Aspie, and pose significant challenges to his way of understanding the world and his place in it.
The general understanding that suffering and distress can potentially yield positive change is thousands of years old. For example, some of the early ideas and writing of the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and early Christians, as well as some of the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam contain elements of the potentially "transformative" power of suffering.
Psychological healing occurs with the attempts to adapt to highly negative sets of circumstances that can engender high levels of psychological distress, which typically engender unpleasant psychological reactions. Healing does not occur as a direct result of past abuse, rather it is the individual’s struggle with the new reality in the aftermath of the abuse that is crucial in determining the extent to which healing occurs.
People who can heal past wounds, either through formal treatment or self-help strategies, often experience the following:
- changed sense of priorities
- greater appreciation of life
- greater sense of personal strength
- recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life and spiritual development
- warmer, more intimate relationships
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples
• Anonymous said... My son is experiencing this at 12 and I am doing everything I can to make things better for him. School does not seem to be doing enough or even understand. He complains of being bullied daily (part is him not understanding when kids joke with him and feels bullied). He states he has no friends and upset often, hates school wants to be home schooled. I am looking into trying to get him in autism school. Any suggestions from anyone?
• Anonymous said... I too have been exploring various schooling options for my 11 year old with AS. I can tell you that multiple sources within the AS support community have told me to try to keep him integrated within a mainstream school population if at all possible rather than moving him to a special needs school. Their rationale was that the real world...college and beyond...is not insulated like these specialized schools, so the transition is that much more difficult. I get the logic...but allowing my child to be bullied and have his self-esteem suffer as a result is not an option. We are currently trying a small private (regular Ed) school...and so far so good. No IEPs...but a kind, tolerant, creative environment. This decision/dilemma is a complicated thing for sure.
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