If you have Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), and you experience frequent mood swings – don't get discouraged. Many adults on the autism spectrum have some degree of moodiness, but they get better with treatment and can live satisfying lives. Mood swings affect how you feel about yourself, how you relate to others, and how you behave.
Signs and symptoms of excessive moodiness may include:
- Awareness of destructive behavior (e.g., self-injury), but sometimes feeling unable to change it
- Difficulty controlling emotions or impulses
- Fear of being around crowds
- Feeling misunderstood, neglected, empty or hopeless
- Feelings of self-hate and self-loathing
- Inappropriate anger and antagonistic behavior (sometimes escalating into physical fights)
- Short but intense episodes of anxiety or depression
- Suicidal thoughts
When AS and HFA adults have severe mood swings, they often have an insecure sense of who they are. Their self-image or self-identity often changes rapidly. They may view themselves as “bad,” and sometimes they may feel as if they don't exist at all. An unstable self-image often leads to frequent changes in jobs, friendships, goals and values.
When AS and HFA adults experience frequent and severe mood swings, their relationships are usually in turmoil. They may idealize their spouse or partner one moment, and then quickly shift to anger and resentment over perceived slights (or even minor misunderstandings). This is because people on the autism spectrum often have difficulty accepting gray areas. In other words, things seem to be either black or white.
Wild mood swings (which some people call ‘meltdowns’) can damage many areas of a person’s life. It can negatively affect intimate relationships, jobs, school, social activities and self-image. Repeated job losses and broken marriages are common. Self-injury (e.g., cutting, burning) and suicidal thoughts can occur. Also, the individual may have other mental health disorders (e.g., alcohol or substance abuse and dependency, anxiety disorder, depression, and eating disorders).
Treatment for mood swings may include psychotherapy and/or medications:
1. Psychotherapy is a fundamental treatment approach for mood swings. Types of psychotherapy that may be effective include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, you work with a mental health counselor to (a) become aware of inaccurate, negative or ineffective thinking; (b) view challenging situations more clearly and objectively; and (c) search for and put into practice alternative solution strategies.
- Mentalization-based therapy (MBT). MBT is a type of therapy that helps you identify and separate your own thoughts and feelings from those of people around you. MBT emphasizes thinking before reacting.
- Schema-focused therapy (SFT). SFT combines therapy approaches to help you evaluate repetitive life patterns and life themes (schema) so that you can identify positive patterns and change negative ones.
- Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP). TFP aims to help you understand your emotions and interpersonal difficulties through the developing relationship between you and your therapist. You then apply these insights to ongoing situations.
2. Medication can help with co-occurring clinical problems, such as depression, impulsiveness and anxiety. Medications may include antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs.
Living with frequent and severe mood swings is difficult. You may realize your behaviors and thoughts are self-destructive or damaging, yet you feel unable to control them. Treatment can help you learn skills to manage and cope with your moods.
You can help manage your moods and feel better about yourself if you do the following:
- Attend all therapy sessions if you are in counseling
- Don't blame yourself for being chronically “moody,” but do recognize your responsibility to get it treated
- Get treatment for related problems (e.g., substance abuse)
- Keep up a healthy lifestyle (e.g., eating a healthy diet, being physically active, engaging in social activities)
- Learn about mood disorders so that you understand their causes and treatments
- Learn what may trigger angry outbursts or impulsive behavior
- Practice healthy ways to ease painful emotions and prevent impulsive behaviors (e.g., self-inflicted injuries)
- Reach out to other AS and HFA adults to share insights and experiences
- Stick to your treatment plan if attending counseling
- If you are on medication, take it as directed and report to your doctor the benefits and side-effects that you experience
Remember, there's no one right path to recovery from wild mood swings. Usually, the best results come from a combination of treatment strategies. Excessive moodiness seems to be worse in older adolescence and young adulthood, and may gradually get better with age. Many AS and HFA adults with this condition find greater stability in their lives during their 30s and 40s. As the individual’s inner distress and sense of misery decreases, he or she can go on to maintain loving relationships and enjoy meaningful careers.
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