In working with adults on the autism spectrum over the years, I have noticed a prominent theme that I will refer to as AMGS, which stands for Anxiety - Meltdown - Guilt - Self-punishment. This is a cycle that many adults with Asperger's [or high functioning autism] have experienced since childhood. In a nutshell, the cycle starts with anxiety, which in turn leads to a meltdown, which then leads to the individual feeling guilty for acting-out his or her anxiety in the form of anger and/or rage, and ends up with the person punishing himself or herself due to repeated relationship failures that result from this destructive cycle.
- yelling and screaming
- walking out on your spouse or partner
- threatening others
- talking to yourself
- road rage
- quitting your job
- pacing back and forth
- domestic abuse
- banging your head
- angry outbursts that involve throwing or breaking objects
- aggressive behavior in which the individual reacts grossly out of proportion to the circumstance
Self-punishment tends to serve a dual purpose: (1) it relieves internal feelings of guilt, and (2) it impacts how others perceive us. By engaging in self-punishment or costly apologies, the Asperger's individual demonstrates that he is willing to harm himself in some way to “even the score” with those he has wronged, thereby restoring his reputation as a "fair person."
==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples
==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA
• Anonymous said… I have the meltdowns but not necessarily anxiety...
• This is a great break-down of the how/why this cycle repeats. Is there a follow-up or another article that deals more with helping break this cycle (for the individual with Aspergers or those that love them)? Great article, as understanding is half the battle.
• Does anyone know who to brake this cycle? My 12 year is showing these symptoms and we are trying to tech him cope skills but is there a way to stop the cycle (rather then try to prevent it).
• Have him write affirmations... and seriously consider speaking to an expert (and by expert I mean a child/adolescent psychiatrist who does talk therapy) about what you can model for him, what he can do, and maybe see if he has OCD as well. A part of this cycle, the anxiety and guilt, can be obsessive thoughts. Maybe a psychiatrist could help with that.
• I had broken the cycle for a decade. One meltdown in 10 years and now I feel the cycle emerging again. My best friend thought HFA was all me just being absent minded and quirky. Now they are afraid and don't want to be friends. This hurts just as much as an adult as it did as child. I wasn't violent in my meltdown. Just shaking, crying and some yelling out, but not accusative at them specifically. Just makes me feel sad and awful.