Blog for Individuals and Neurodiverse Couples Affected by ASD
Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise? Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile...
“Why does it seem that so many women in relationships with men who have ASD harbor a lot resentment and anger about the neuro diversity in the relationship?”
Some spouses who are married to men with ASD do indeed experience a significant amount of dissatisfaction in their marriage. Not everyone reacts similarly, nor do all couples experience the full range of potential problems.
Being in a marriage to a spouse on the autism spectrum affects the relationship in a number of ways, most notably in the areas of emotional “give-and-take” and communication. Incorrect assumptions (due to the mind-blindness phenomenon) made by the “Aspie” often lead to self-protective strategies that include distancing himself entirely – and then not responding at all to his spouse. An emphasis by the so-called “neurotypical” (i.e., non-autistic) spouse on expressing feelings is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment.
In the beginning stages of the marriage, the neurotypical spouse may be O.K. with doing most of the “emotional work” of the relationship. But, once children arrive, further problems may come about as the ASD father has difficulty effectively engaging and empathizing with his children. If the wife expresses frustration at this lack of affection and intimacy, her ASD husband is often puzzled by the complaint. Thus, arguments and discontent may result.
ASD is a lifelong developmental disorder, and usually manifests in the inability to successfully relate emotionally to others during everyday interactions. A lack of awareness in interpreting social cues manifests itself. Given that inability, it can be very problematic for the wife of a person with Asperger’s to cope with many of the behavior patterns typically exhibited.
If the husband exhibits many – or most – of the traits associated with ASD, but is undiagnosed, it can be particularly frustrating and demoralizing for his wife. She may even blame herself for the decline in the relationship (e.g., “I’m not attractive to him anymore”). Once an effective diagnosis is made, at least there is some understanding for the wife as to why her husband behaves the way that he does.
When a spouse is diagnosed with ASD as a result of the child within the family being diagnosed, it can come as a "double whammy" to the wife. This is particularly the case when the father and child are diagnosed at the same time, because the woman is now in the position of dealing with two family members affected by an autism spectrum disorder.
The difficulties in understanding the emotions of others and interpreting subtle communication skills (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, body language, etc.) often leads to the wife’s perception that her husband is simply being rude, uncaring, cold and selfish. While this is understandable for her to feel this way, it is a false assumption. Asperger’s is a genetic, neurological condition that renders the affected person mentally unable to readily understand and interpret the emotional states of others.
Unfortunately, even when diagnosis occurs, some ASD spouses refuse to go into therapy or accept available assistance, because they don’t believe that they have a problem. One woman that I counseled had a husband with the disorder and was relieved to finally discover the reason for his emotional aloofness, but was devastated when he refused to go to counseling. He simply asserted, "There's nothing wrong with me!"
So, one does not have to stretch his or her imagination very far to see why some women married to men on the spectrum are at their wits-end.
Are there any options for the neurotypical wife other than (a) staying in the relationship and accepting her partner for who he is, (b) staying in the relationship and continuing to try to “fix” her man, or (c) leaving the relationship?
Fortunately, couples counseling (preferably by a therapist who has some expertise in working with clients on the spectrum) can help. Also, there are many support groups – both online and off – where these women can go for advice and encouragement -- and to simply vent their hurt and anger over the situation.
• Anonymous said… If you can't handle being in a relationship with an Aspie, that's on you. You knew what you were getting into even before you got married. • Anonymous said… Not always. It's now clear my dad is autistic but he would never seek a diagnosis. I didn't know I was till my daughter was diagnosed so my husband had no idea either. Most adults are undiagnosed. • Anonymous said… Exactly, I didn't know the reasons behind my husband's behavior until my daughter was diagnosed and then he got the diagnosis. And no one knows what they're "getting into" with anyone (diagnosis or not), people have different experiences before and after living together. • Anonymous said… Past generations did not look for ASD kids. If u were diagnosed; you kept it a secret. It wasn't until the TV show "Big Bang Theory" & the acknowledgment of "nerd" intelligence, that ASD people came out of the shadows. Most people over 40 now, had no clue that they or their spouse are on the spectrum. The baby boomer generation was surprised by ASD. • Anonymous said… It's a very difficult path in a marriage....it's sad for everyone involved. • Anonymous said… No, often they have no idea!! • Anonymous said… I know two who kept it a secret. • Anonymous said… Wow such compassion. And no, many of us did not. And once children are born and lives entangled things aren't so black and white. • Anonymous said… Because Hollywood promised us a "happily ever after" But it turns out to be lots and lots of lonely work sometimes. • Anonymous said… Understanding, respect and acceptance is what matters, just like with a neurotipical spouse • Anonymous said… I did not know, and am still undiagnosed. But we think my wife is aspie, too. • Anonymous said… bad dressing, sincerity exacerbated, lack of social bullshit with her family, particular interesting and hobbies... • Anonymous said… Aspurbugers doesn't have to be genetic . I am an aspie. My son does not have it at all. Seems like this is only a problem in a marriage where the husband is the aspie. I don't have that issue. My husband is an RN very understand . Also has some ADHD himself so not completely Nero typical himself. In fact it insults him when I call him a Nero typical when I get made at him. • Anonymous said… Because they take too many little things personal. Your husband has a medical issue, much like epilepsy, he can't control some aspects. If you wouldn't get pissed off at an epileptic having a seizure, you shouldn't get upset by you significant other having an Aspi lapse. Learn more, pay attention more, love me. • Anonymous said… This is exactly what the past 19 years has looked like. We're both getting counciling, and it is helping us understand our differences. Yesterday we were able to talk through a huge misunderstanding without a meltdown. A couple light bulbs went off in his head. He didn't realize that celebrating our anniversary was a big deal compared to a date night. He also realized that starting out first thing in the morning acknowledging the milestone is huge for me. We celebrated 19 years yesterday! The day ended well with a lovely dinner after we communicated to each other how we saw the day (it wasn't an easy talk). We were able to enjoy the evening after that, and it kept us (mostly me) from being hurt further. He said 20 years is a big anniversary so he will be planning ahead.
“My boyfriend with ASD [level 1] seems to have no empathy for others and can be so callous at times. It's very hard to have a conversation with him if it's not something he agrees with. If I have a different view on the matter, it always turns into an argument. Don't get me wrong ... I'm happy to compromise, but it works both ways -- and I do admit when I'm wrong. When he is clearly in the wrong (because there are times when I produce evidence to prove it), I get no apology from him for being rude to me, or even an admission that I was right. What do you do with an Aspie man who simply fails to empathize on any level?"
The lack of displayed empathy is perhaps the most problematic characteristic of ASD. I use the term “displayed empathy” because it’s not that people on the autism spectrum have no empathy. Instead, they often “give the impression” that they do not care about their partner/wife. This is partially due to “mind-blindness” (more on this topic can be found here) than with their inability or unwillingness to show compassion for others.
Having said that, this trait does not give them license to be rude and unapologetic. Partners/wives need to stand up for themselves and call their man out whenever he is being unfair or disrespectful!
People with ASD experience difficulties in the basics of social interaction, which includes: difficulty developing close friendships, failure to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others, impaired nonverbal behaviors (e.g., eye contact, facial expression, posture, gesture, etc.), and lack of social or emotional reciprocity (i.e., the give-and-take of interpersonal relationships).
The cognitive ability of people with ASD allows them to articulate social norms in a "laboratory" context (i.e., they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other’s emotions). But, they typically have problems acting on this knowledge in fluctuating, real-life situations.
It's not uncommon for men on the autism spectrum to over-analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines, and apply these rules in odd ways, which often results in a demeanor that seems rigid and socially inept.
Regarding your question, "What do you do with an Aspie man who simply fails to empathize on any level?"
Bear in mind that (a) your boyfriend does empathize, just not in a clearly observable manner, and (b) this fact does NOT get him off the hook. That is, I'm not saying, "Boys will be boys, so just get used to it." As stated earlier, whenever he is "callous" or "rude," mindblindness is no excuse. Mindblindness is NOT his choice, but being disrespectful IS his choice -- and needs to be confronted in an assertive way by you. Having said that, there are ways to "fight fair" (so to speak).
BEST COMMENT: There are a million misconceptions about HFA or Aspergers Syndrome. Being an exceptionally HFA, maybe I can explain some of these. Aspies emotions are turned way down, not off. It comes from the many years of emotions getting in the way of making evidence based decisions. Keep in mind that words are not evidence. They are only tools to convey a thought or process. Words are inherently empty until they are filled with truth. It's not that Aspies have little room for emotions. There just isn't any need for them. They just get in the way of competing tasks. Remove the emotions and accomplish the task more efficiently. Aspies don't have to do things their way if you can provide reasonable logic with proof that your way is better. Remember, words are only uncorroberated statements, not evidence. People say things all the time that have no value because non-Aspies often say things that aren't backed up by evidence. So, Aspies disregard words as empty meaningless jibberish.
MORE COMMENTS: • Anonymous said… *YUP* Very frustrating (and feeling of alone) to be on that side for years on end. • Anonymous said… Being the ASD partner, I may be that way, but it isn't malicious or intentional. I wish someone could explain that to my NT partner and him believe it. I may not express emotions very well, but I still feel them. 👽 • Anonymous said… Every time I tried to have a conversation with my partner about anything, he turned into an argument. I felt like nothing I could say or do was good enough to him • Anonymous said… exactly me also i said to her will take a bit of break to deal with things and she went and got married to someone else in april this year, so not only am i scared but the emotional pain and the distress is unbelievalbel • Anonymous said… i feel for you have a husband and a grandson like that • Anonymous said… I just let things like this go over my head, you can either let it stress you or decide life's too short and you know what no one is perfect. My aspie man is very untidy, argumentative and not demonstrative but he has the kindest heart I've ever known, would do anything for me and the kids and he puts up with me!! • Anonymous said… I know about "presenting evidence," too. My husband will state a "fact" that I know is untrue, but he won't believe me, so I love when there is something specific I can look up to "show" him I was right! Like the time he INSISTED that tea had more caffeine than regular coffee. If course, he didn't apologize, he just stopped arguing. • Anonymous said… Maybe try finding another man if you can't handle an Aspie. • Anonymous said… Most Aspies can't empathize. CAN'T. Their brain connections just don't work that way. The more you understand about how they think and feel the easier it is to accept their perceived shortcomings. I equate Aspi to logical Spock from Star Trek, there is little room for emotion is their lives. Once you can accept an Aspi for who they are and how their brain works, and they accept that you think and feel different, you will have an amazing, loyal partner. • Anonymous said… My daughter is 21 and has Asperger's. She's very empathetic. • Anonymous said… My situation was different, mine was a aspergus female and it breaks my heart there was always imaginery issues that she dreamt up all the time, in the long term i had a emotinal breakdown, it was so sad cause it was only her view and nobody elses view • Anonymous said… My son is 28 and always argues with me. I often put the phone down telling him to sod off. In a few days he will apologise and come round to my way of thinking. He needs that time away from me to process. He thinks completely round and through a subject. His partner is very easy going and that is where the success lies. It's no good if the irresistible force meets the immovable object. On the other hand like Sheldon, he is most often right. • Anonymous said… NO matter how much I tell mine to be more affectionate ..he can't seem to get romantic or affectionate. • Anonymous said… Not empathetic? I find that there is empathy....just not expressed the way neurotypicals expect. Run you over with conversation....yes....short terms memory requires that the aspie get it all out before he forgets his/her train of thought. None of this is easy for mom, dad, friend, partner to navigate. It's a challenge that can wear you done if you let it. Yet, I always find validity is his/her thinking if I stop and truly listen. • Anonymous said… you just have to learn to deal with it or leave... you can't change him! i've lived with one like that for almost 49 years but didn't know what the problem was until about 7 years ago... it's not easy! • Anonymous said… You poor thing. I went through the same with my aspie man. I am going through an emotional breakdown now because he left leaving me feel like everything was my bad though everything had to be his way :-( • Anonymous said… You really touched my heart when you mentioned "presenting evidence" to prove your point in a disagreement. That is so very typical of our lives. Frankly, when I have situations in which he is immovable concerning something important (and I know it doesn't involve huge anxiety or sensory issues that are severe), I often come back with refusing to do something he likes and clearly state that I won't "Move" until he does. It ususally works. • Anonymous said…..and sometimes a jerk is just a jerk, Aspie or not.. Post your comment below…
People with ASD (high-functioning autism) have difficulty understanding the “hidden curriculum” (i.e., the set of routines, social rules, tasks, or actions that “neurotypical" people readily understand and use). Usually considered to be a matter of common sense, the hidden curriculum is rarely directly taught. Even so, it is an important facet of everyday life.
The hidden curriculum covers many areas. Thus, it is impossible to create a comprehensive list that applies to all people with ASD in all situations. The following is a brief list of hidden curriculum examples:
1. When your boss is chastising another employee for some reason, it's not the best time to ask him for a raise.
2. What is acceptable at your house may not be acceptable at someone else's house (e.g., although you may put your feet up on the table at your home, your friend may be upset if you do that in his or her home).
3. College professors don't all have the same rules. One professor may allow snacks to be eaten in the classroom, while another may have a problem with that.
4. Speak to police officers in a pleasant tone of voice, because they will respond to you in a more positive manner. Also, never argue with a cop – even if you are right.
5. People don't always want to know the honest truth when they ask you a question (e.g., your girlfriend does not want to hear that she looks fat in a new dress she just bought)
6. People are not always supposed to be saying what they are thinking.
7. It is rude to interrupt someone when he or she is talking. Wait until they finish before you chime-in with your comments.
8. Don't touch someone while you are talking to them (e.g., tap them on the arm).
9. Don't tell someone that their house is dirtier than it should be.
10. Don't tell someone that they have bad breath.
11. Don't sit in a chair that someone else was sitting in just a minute ago.
12. Don't correct someone's grammar when they are angry.
13. Don't ask to be invited to someone's party.
14. Acceptable slang that may be used with your friends may not be acceptable when interacting with a different group of people.
Due to the fact that the hidden curriculum is not understood instinctively in the mind of a person with ASD, partners and/or spouses of these individuals may need to provide direct instruction to facilitate skill acquisition.
"I am 25 years old and have recently found out I have aspergers syndrome (or ASD), although obviously I have felt different all my life. I was bullied incredibly badly at school, and there were times when I had to leave for a month or so. Besides the bullying, I had a very difficult upbringing with an alcoholic father who passed away when I was 19. Despite this, I have a good job as a teacher and have dreams and aspirations of becoming a psychologist. Aspies find life difficult, overwhelming and stressful, and my struggle with all the symptoms is daily, but that doesn't mean we can't live a long, happy, successful and fulfilling life, which I 100% plan to do."
A positive attitude is very refreshing. I wish more people on the autism spectrum had a positive outlook on life. And there's no good reason they shouldn't due to the fact that there are significantly more "positives" associated with Asperger's than negatives.
Here are just a few examples:
1. They possess unique global insights. Their ability to find novel connections among multidisciplinary facts and ideas allows them to create new and coherent insight that "neurotypicals" probably would not have reached without them.
2. They have the ability to make logical decisions. Their skill at making rational decisions and sticking to their course of action without being swayed by impulse or emotional reactions allows them to navigate successfully through difficult circumstances without being pulled off course.
3. They possess an internal motivation rather than being swayed by social convention, other people's opinions, or social pressure. They can hold firm to their own purpose. And their unique ideas can flourish, despite the critics.
4. They are independent thinkers. Their willingness to consider unpopular or unusual possibilities generates new options and opportunities and can lead the way for others.
5. They can be highly focused. Their ability to concentrate on one objective over long periods of time without becoming distracted allows them to accomplish difficult tasks.
6. They have the ability to cut through the bullshit. Their ability to recognize and speak the truth that is being "conveniently" ignored by other people is crucial to the success of a project or endeavor.
7. They pay close attention to detail. Their ability to remember and process minute details without getting side-tracked or weighed down gives them a distinct advantage when solving complicated problems.
8. They tend to be 3-dimensional thinkers. Their ability to utilize 3-dimensional visioning gives them a unique perspective when creating solutions.
And this just scratches the surface. In addition to the positives listed above, people on the autism spectrum also have these attributes:
an ability to focus on tasks for a long period of time without needing supervision
are not tied to social expectations
excellent rote memory
have terrific memories
higher fluid intelligence (i.e., the ability to find meaning in confusion and to draw inferences and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge)
higher than average IQ in many cases
highly gifted in one or more areas (e.g., math, music, engineering)
less materialistic than the general population
passionate about their special interests
play fewer head games than most people
rarely judge others
tend to live in the moment
are very honest and loyal
People with ASD are unique individuals who carry a host of skills and attributes that have the potential to become powerful tools to self-empowerment. As with everyone of us, what they focus on will become their reality.
So, if they focus on fixing their deficits, more deficits seem to show up in their life. If, on the other hand, they focus on their special skills, more of these skills begin to appear. This is why a positive attitude is so very important. A positive attitude literally drives your destiny!
“How do I know if I'm merely sad, or if it’s full blown depression? Do any of you Aspies suffer from chronic depression – I mean each day pretty much all day long? What do you do to overcome it – or just to live with it?”
There is a clear difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is a temporary emotion that you overcome after a relatively short period of time (may take several hours or sometimes a few days), and you regain your normal mood at some point. But, depression lingers for weeks, months – and even years. It becomes a part of you and affects your day-to-day functioning.
You’ll know you’re depressed when you lack motivation, sleep constantly (or want to), rarely eat (or eat all the time), feel excessively lazy, and become extremely negative towards yourself. Also, you may find yourself crying, having thoughts of suicide, feeling lonely even when you’re surrounded by people, and feeling a general sense of “numbness.”
Depression is very common among people with Asperger’s (high-Functioning autism). Many of the same deficits that produce anxiety unite to produce depression. The relationship between serotonin functioning and depression has been researched heavily. Basic circuitry related to frontal lobe functions in depression is affected in people on the spectrum. Also, deficits in social relationships and responses that permit one to compensate for disappointment and frustration fuel a vulnerability to depression.
Due to the fact that some features of depression and Asperger’s overlap, it is important to track that the changes in mood are a departure from baseline functioning. Therefore, the presence of social withdrawal in an individual with Asperger’s should not be considered a symptom of depression unless there is an acute decline from his or her baseline level of functioning.
The core symptoms of depression occur together. Therefore, the simultaneous appearance of certain symptoms (e.g., decreased energy, further withdrawal from social interactions, irritability, loss of pleasure in activities, self-deprecating statements, and sleep/appetite changes would point to depression.
Medications that are useful for treatment of depression are serotonin reuptake inhibitors. There also may be indications for considering tricyclic drugs with appropriate monitoring of ECG, pulse, and blood pressure. There are no drugs that have been shown to be particularly more beneficial for depressive symptoms in people with autism spectrum disorder as compared to the general population. Therefore, the decision as to which drugs to use is determined by side effect profiles, previous experience, and responses to these medications in other family members.
Numerous self-help strategies to cope with depression can be helpful as well.
CLICK HERE for more information on self-help methods for depression.
"Why is it that people with autism spectrum disorder seem to have more than their fair share of anxiety? I have suffered with this damn thing my entire life – as far back as I can remember. And it doesn’t get any better with age by the way. Suggestions!?"
People with ASD (high-functioning autism) are particularly vulnerable to anxiety. This vulnerability is a basic trait of the disorder due to (a) the breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses, (b) social skills deficits, and (c) specific neurotransmitter system defects.
Reasons for anxiety include the following:
Lack of displayed empathy (another Asperger’s trait) significantly limits skills for self-directed social problem solving.
Limitations in generalizing from one situation to another contributes to repeating the same social errors.
Social skills deficits related to Asperger’s make it difficult for “Aspies” to develop coping techniques for calming themselves and containing difficult emotions.
Their inability to grasp social cues and their highly rigid style act together to create repeated social mistakes (e.g., saying the wrong thing at the wrong time).
In the workplace, it is not uncommon for the Aspie to be bullied and teased by his coworkers, yet he can’t mount effective socially adaptive responses, which often results in both anxiety and learned helplessness.
Several medications have been tried for treatment of anxiety. SRIs, buspirone, and alpha-adrenergic agonist medications (e.g., clonidine or guanfacine) have been tried. The best evidence to date supports use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. One relatively new drug that seems to be having remarkable success in alleviating anxiety is Fetzima.
As a side note, people on the autism spectrum may be more vulnerable to side effects – and may exhibit unusual side effects. For example, disinhibition (i.e., a temporary loss of inhibition) is particularly prominent and can be seen with any of the serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Also, excessive doses may produce “amotivational syndrome” (i.e., a psychological condition associated with diminished inspiration to participate in social situations and activities).
Self-help strategies to reduce anxiety include the following:
avoid “what if” thinking (e.g., ‘What if I fail?’ … ‘What if I get sick?’)
avoid black-and-white (all-or-nothing) thinking
avoid talking in absolutes (i.e., using words such as always, never, should, must, no one and everyone)
develop a daily log to plan out your days (include healthy activities)
develop a sense of self-trust (i.e., the ability to believe that you can handle what life throws at you)
don’t be a “people-pleaser” (e.g., when do you say ‘yes’ to someone when you really want to say ‘no’)
realize and accept that you can’t control life, you can only control yourself
realize that you’re responsible for your happiness and your life
reduce your perfectionistic tendencies
stop relying on others for approval
Lastly, but most importantly, distinguish fact from fiction. Fear is being afraid of something, and you know exactly what it is that you’re afraid of (e.g., heights). Anxiety is being afraid of something, but you’re NOT sure what it is. Anxiety is fiction. It’s an anticipation of things going wrong in the future. But since the future doesn’t exist (except as a mental construct), then anxiety about a future event is fiction.
•Anonymous said… All part of autism? Get used to it and fight it best you can! This is where the tiredness and long sleeps are relevant!
•Anonymous said… as long as autistics are perceived and treated as diseased toys, they`re going to have a much higher rate of mental health issues. as long as autistics try to live like people who aren`t autistic, they`re going to have a higher rate of mental health issues. it`s really pretty simple. the solutions are more complex, however.
•Anonymous said… Easier said than done. The adult Asperger want to achieve some balance and sometimes accumulative PTSD feeds into the situation, too, with triggers that appear out of left field. Overwhelming.
•Anonymous said… I can only speak for myself, but my anxiety is "out there" so fast, I can never "control" it; it's too dam quick, damage done, and I'm already in wtf-mode before realizing I'm palpitating and acting like an idiot. Which makes me more anxious! I don't know how to forewarn myself to try to stop it; it just happens
•Anonymous said… I love how when I went to a doctor all they wanted to do was treat the anxiety and when I asked "what about the other symptoms like innattention and sensory issues and social issues" they just ignored even trying to get me a diagnoses suggesting that anti anxiety meds would be "the cure" instead of what it really did - make me suicidal
•Anonymous said… It is a hard question to answer,, but the best thing is to try and find an outlet.. to not let the anxiety spiral and take hold.
•Anonymous said… Ive warned all of people around me to get away when i get angry because i really cant stop my rage
•Anonymous said… Meditation helps
•Anonymous said… right it's like a nightmare coming true times 100.
•Anonymous said… Why do we have anxiety? Because from birth we have been being told we aren't normal. Don't do that, dont say that, look here, go there, sound like this, look like that. When you have to think about everything just to comprehend what's going on around you, and then add in being the best actor/actress everyone has seen, because otherwise you make them uncomfortable, go figure we have anxiety! • Anonymous said… as long as autistics are perceived and treated as diseased toys, they`re going to have a much higher rate of mental health issues. as long as autistics try to live like people who aren`t autistic, they`re going to have a higher rate of mental health issues. it`s really pretty simple. the solutions are more complex, however. • Anonymous said… Have any of y'all tried Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? I'm looking into it for my 22 years old son. His meltdowns are so violent and I'm terrified he's going to end up in jail one day. Any thoughts? • Anonymous said… it might help, if the therapist is experienced and knowledgeable enough about autistics. but his meltdowns at this point are probably ptsd. that`s very hard to recover from. i have a similar issue myself. what he needs to learn are appropriate personal and social boundaries for himself, and how to live like an autistic. cbt might help with boundaries. it won`t help much with living like an autistic. • Anonymous said… My anxiety is off the hook! My doc put me on some med that I will need to purge off of but it isn't helping me stop biting my nails and having bad dreams...is anyone here having the same symptoms? • Anonymous said… The push for uniformity of human beings in our world is most disturbing. The simple frustration of growing up with people always trying to change your fundamental personality and the stress of trying to fit in ... and failing ...
“Any suggestions on what a person with AS can do to stop beating up on oneself. I berate myself often for not measuring up. I feel like I let people down a lot. I would also say I have a lot of anger built up inside (which I am forever trying to keep in check). Some of this can’t be helped, I know, based on AS (I’m on meds for anxiety and depression). But, I still feel like I should be doing better in my relationships with other people.”
So you frequently criticize yourself (internally)? If so, you're definitely not alone. As a man or woman with Asperger’s (high functioning autism), you've weathered a lot of storms in life. And as you dealt with all the difficulties that come with the disorder, your image of yourself changed. Lots of people on the spectrum have trouble coping, and this affects their sense of self-worth. Being bullied as a child, social problems on the job, relationship break-ups, anxiety, depression, and meltdowns – they all take a toll on a person over time.
Here are some self-help tactics to help you rid yourself of disapproving, defeating self-talk:
1. You would be surprised at how many “Aspies” suffer from anxiety and depression. You are in good company, and your discouraging, negative emotions are not a hopeless case. Even though it can feel like your unwanted feelings will never leave, they eventually will when you learn to talk to yourself (about yourself) differently.
2. Avoid 'should' and ‘should not’ statements. If you find that your thoughts are full of “I should do this” … or “I should not do that” … then you are putting unreasonable demands on yourself — or on others. Getting rid of these kinds of statement from your thoughts will lead to more realistic expectations.
3. Many Aspies are tempted to drink or use drugs in an effort to escape negative feelings and get a "mood boost" – even if just for a short time. But, chemical abuse not only makes anxiety and depression worse, it causes you to become even more anxious and depressed over time. Substance abuse can also increase suicidal feelings. Look diligently for another source to boost your mood!
4. Aspies can create change in their life just like anyone else. Change for some people on the spectrum means personal growth and evolution in understanding and learning. For others, it may be more about finding productive and workable “compensatory strategies.”
5. When you hear a destructive comment coming from within yourself, tell yourself to stop. Then immediately replace it with 3 compliments about yourself (e.g., “I’m smart” … “I’m strong” … “I’m a hard worker”). While you're at it, think of 3 things that really give you pleasure (e.g., the way the sun felt on your shoulders, the taste of your favorite food, the way you laughed at that joke you heard earlier, etc.). By focusing on the positive things you do and the good aspects of your life, you WILL change how you feel about yourself.
6. Reassure yourself. Give yourself credit for the positive changes you have already made (e.g., "My presentation wasn’t perfect, but my associates asked questions and remained engaged, which means that I accomplished what I set out to do").
7. What “typical” people call “dysfunction” can be turned into your own understanding of numerous ways that you actually DO function.
8. Understand that self-worth is all about how much you value yourself, the pride you feel in yourself, and how worthwhile you feel. Self-worth is important, because feeling good about you affects how you act. An individual who has high self-worth will make friends easily, is more in control of his or her emotions and behavior, and will enjoy life more.
9. Always remember that you are NOT disabled – you are “differently abled.” The key is changing the way you think about difference and being the one that is different.
10. Stay optimistic. Think about the good things that are going on in your life. Remind yourself of the things that have turned out O.K. recently. Consider the talents you've used to cope with demanding circumstances.
11. Anxiety and depression can take a big toll – even leading to suicidal thoughts. Talk to a counselor if life becomes too overwhelming.
12. Spend time with a friend who is active, upbeat, and makes you feel good about yourself. Avoid hanging out with those who make you feel insecure.
13. Try to limit the time you spend playing video games or surfing online. Instead, seek real-life, face-to-face connections with trusted individuals.
14. Many people with Asperger’s possess extensive knowledge of a specific interest, and therefore are capable of major accomplishments. Consider taking your area of expertise to a new level (e.g., sharing your knowledge on a blog, writing a book, uploading informative YouTube videos, etc.).
15. Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, and mistakes are not permanent reflections on you as an individual. They are simply isolated moments in time. When you make a mistake, say to yourself, "Yes, I made a mistake, but that doesn't make me a failure."
16. Making healthy lifestyle choices does wonders for your mood. For example, diet and exercise have been shown to help anxiety and depression. You actually get a rush of endorphins from aerobics or lifting weights, which makes you feel instantly happier. Exercise can be as effective as medications or therapy for anxiety and depression. Any physical activity helps – even a short walk.
17. Knowing what brings you happiness and how to meet your goals will help you feel adept, resilient, and in control of your life. A positive frame-of-mind and a healthy lifestyle (e.g., exercising and eating right) are a great combination for building good self-worth.
18. Relabel troubling thoughts. You don't need to react negatively to troubling thoughts. Rather, think of these thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, "What can I think and do to make this situation less nerve-racking?"
19. Remember that a lot of what people on the spectrum do differently – or the ways in which they think differently – can be positively framed in realizing their ability to function in - and through - what is a different capability.
20. If your emotions are overwhelming, tell yourself to wait 24 hours before you take any course of action. This will give you time to really think things through and give yourself some distance from the intense feelings that are troubling you. During this 24-hour period, talk to someone—anyone (e.g., a parent or a friend).
21. When you’re depressed, you probably don’t feel like seeing anyone or doing anything. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a problem, but isolating yourself will make depression even worse. Stay social – even if that’s the last thing you want to do. As you get out into the community, you may find yourself feeling better.
22. If there are aspects about yourself that you want to change, make goals for yourself. For instance, if you want to get in great shape, make a plan to exercise every day and eat healthy foods. Then track your progress until you reach your goal. Meeting a challenge you set for yourself is perhaps the best method for boosting self-worth!
23. For many Asperger’s adults, common assets include high intelligence and a robust interest in at least one area of narrow focus. While this narrow focus can have its downsides, it can also be harnessed as a strength in many ways (e.g., a lover of gardening may write a “best-selling” eBook on the subject someday).
24. Married life can sometimes influence self-worth. For example, your spouse/partner may spend more time criticizing you and the way you behave (possibly through no fault of your own due to the symptoms of Asperger’s) than complementing you, which can reduce your ability to develop a healthy sense of self-worth. So, if your spouse/partner is overly critical, tell them that you need some encouragement from time to time. They may not realize they have been coming down hard on you. As one Aspie husband stated, "My wife just doesn’t understand. She thinks I should ‘try harder’. But trying harder to re-wire my brain hasn’t worked so far.”
It may seem like there’s no way your spouse/partner will be able to help, especially if they are always nagging you or getting hurt over your behavior. The truth is that they hate to see their “significant other” suffering. They may feel frustrated, because they don’t understand what is going on with you or know how to help. Some don’t know enough about Asperger’s to know how to deal with it. Thus, it’s up to you to educate them.
25. Employ hopeful statements in your self-talk. Treat yourself with compassion and encouragement. Negativity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, if you think your presentation is going to suck, you may indeed fumble through it and fall flat on your face. Tell yourself things like, "Even though it's rough, I can handle this issue."
People who think negatively of themselves tend to view the world as a hostile place and themselves as its victim. Therefore, they are hesitant to express and assert themselves, miss out on experiences and opportunities, and feel incapable of changing things. All this creates even more negative self-talk, pulling them into a downward spiral.
If you feel that you are overly critical of yourself, use the suggestions listed above so that you can boost yourself and, hopefully, break out of the downward spiral. You may already be using some of these ideas, and you definitely don’t need to be doing them all. Simply do those that you feel most comfortable with.