Emotional neglect is a failure of your ASD partner to respond to your emotional needs, which occurs as a result of his or her traits associated with the disorder [e.g., alexithymia, mind-blindness]. This neglect can have long-term consequences, as well as short-term, almost immediate ones.
Neurotypical [NT] spouses who chronically feel “affection-deprived” may exhibit the following symptoms:
- are easily overwhelmed or discouraged
- are generally in worse health
- are more lonely
- feel hollow inside
- feel like there’s something missing
- have a feeling of being “numbed out” or being cut off from one’s feelings
- have a lack of clarity regarding others’ expectations and their own expectations for themselves
- have a pronounced sensitivity to rejection
- are less happy
- are more likely to experience depression and anxiety
- have less social support and lower relationship satisfaction
- have low self-esteem
- experience a loss of “self”
- have thoughts of “going crazy”
- feel like they are on the outside, looking in
- feel empty inside
- secretly feel that there is something deeply wrong with themselves
- have difficulty managing their emotions
- have difficulty finding ways to “self-soothe”
Cassandra Syndrome often occurs because the ASD spouse has a low “emotional-empathic quotient” [i.e., alexithymia]. In other words, the NT frequently finds that her ASD partner is often unable to fully engage with her feelings - and his own feelings!
Due to low social-emotional intelligence, the ASD partner is “psychologically stunted” [i.e., his social-emotional age is significantly younger than his chronological age]. In other words, your ASD spouse may be, for example, 45-years-old but have a maturity-level of a young teenager. As a result, the NT may experience that her partner:
- views neutral comments as criticism
- only focuses on his needs
- can become quickly defensive when she tries to “work” on the relationship problems
- doesn’t own his mistakes
- has commitment issues
- has severe communication problems
- won't go deep into conversations that involve emotions
- prefers spending more time with his “special interest” than with her
The effects of chronic and long-lasting “affectional neglect” may have devastating consequences [e.g., failure to thrive, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and a host of other emotional issues]. In some cases, Cassandra Syndrome can lead to PTSD. While not everyone who experiences emotional neglect suffers from PTSD, those who do are by no means weak. PTSD is not a sign of weakness.
Often, the ASD husband’s lack of intimacy is the reason the NT partner feels emotionally abandoned and loses interest or desire for sex. The NT may then develop a “fear of intimacy” herself, which can cause her to be emotionally unavailable – just like the ASD partner has been in the past. An endless dance of pursuit-and-distancing can then occur between both partners – along with a significant degree of resentment.
A marriage can survive without intimacy, but it will become a real struggle for both spouses as time goes on. Neither spouse will be happy or feel secure in the relationship. Without happiness and security, both parties become more like roommates rather than soulmates.
So, what can the NT do if she thinks she may have Cassandra Syndrome? Here are a few ideas:
1. The NT should be gentle with - and take good care of - herself, starting with small steps. Spouses who experience emotional neglect often have difficulty with self-care. Unaware of their feelings and needs, they frequently don’t know where to start. So, the NT should try treating herself with the same care and tenderness she would give a child who wasn’t able to take care of himself/herself. The NT should be especially tender and compassionate with herself, especially if she tends to be self-critical or judgmental [i.e., at some level, blames herself for the failures in the marriage]
2. The NT can begin to identify her needs, and take steps to meet them. Many spouses who experience emotional neglect over the years are often unaware of what they need - and typically don’t feel deserving of getting their needs met.
3. If the NT truly believes she doesn’t deserve to have her needs met, she should acknowledge that belief, and see it as just that - a “belief” and not a “fact.” Begin to deconstruct old beliefs you’ve held for a long time that may no longer hold true.
4. Remember that recovery from emotional deprivation is a process. For example, if you skin your knee, you need to clean out the wound and expose it to the light of day – right!? The same holds true for emotional injuries. Bring the injury out of hiding, give it some light and air, and then you’ll be on the road to recovery.
5. Recovery from Cassandra Syndrome is a gradual, ongoing process. The memories of the emotional neglect that you have experienced will never disappear completely. This can make life seem difficult at times. But, there are steps you can take to cope with the residual symptoms and reduce your anxiety and distress. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy [CBT] is a type of psychotherapy that has consistently been found to be the most effective treatment for emotional trauma, both in the short-term and the long-term. “Grief counseling” is also high effective. And don’t forget the NT support groups that are available online.
Resources for Neurodiverse Couples: