Psychopathy… or Asperger’s Syndrome?
“Talking with my ex-husband is like smashing my head against a wall or drowning in a river. We were not speaking the same language and misunderstandings were the rule. I learned the hard way what Asperger Syndrome was.”
“It can so thoroughly destroy a relationship that at one time seemed invulnerable. If it’s well-hidden, and you’re not specifically looking for it, the condition can reveal itself slowly, one misunderstanding and baffling meltdown at a time. And it makes me wonder… How many of us are struggling with something that reveals itself in such cruelly deceptive ways?”
(David Finch, ‘Love is Blind – Marriage is the Eye-Opener’)
Think the author of the quote above was writing about psychopathy? Think again. Finch has Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), and he was writing about his own disorder.
Why should you be aware of AS? For several reasons. It’s easy to miss the signs until you’re already involved. It’s commonly mistaken for psychopathy by those looking to find an explanation for their partner’s behavior. And if you get involved in a relationship with an “Aspie,” as they’re called, you will get hurt.
Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S., licensed psychologist with more than 35 years experience as a marriage, family therapist, and Asperger’s Syndrome expert, writes:
Why can it be so emotionally debilitating for NTs (neurotypical people) to live with Aspie partners, parents, children and siblings?
Remember that NTs rely on connecting and reciprocity to define themselves within the relationship. So when the person you love does not respond to your bids for affection or your attempts to share your inner world, you come to doubt your perception of reality. Slowly your self-esteem is eroded and you come to believe your AS family member is inconsistent and abusive. You walk on eggshells wondering what abuse the AS parent or spouse will dish out next. If your mate, child or parent has not yet been diagnosed, you do not know that they have a developmental disability. Using the normal NT relationship skills you keep trying to reach them or solve the problem and often blame yourself when you fail. So you resort to coping rather than resolution and often this creates severe depression or extreme resentment.
I unwittingly dated a man who had AS (now officially called “Autism Spectrum Disorder”). He knew he had AS, but he didn’t tell me. Even if they know (and many are undiagnosed) they won’t tell you, because they don’t think it’s significant. That’s because they’re unable to understand their own disorder. It’s a key feature of the syndrome. Having had an experience with a man with AS and with a friend with AS who also came into my life without telling me her diagnosis, I can tell you it is exasperating, depressing and traumatizing.
“I have lived with an AS spouse for 14 years. It has been a long, lonely and frustrating life. Walking on eggshells is the ‘norm’ for living. Enduring repetitive verbal abuse and witnessing adult tantrums has become a routine event. AS individuals learn coping behaviors that allow them to ‘act’ their way through social situations and personal intimacy, but that they don’t actually invest any feelings or emotions in them. It is simply an action that is expected of them. A social convention. A NT spouse feels empty, unheard and frustrated. Life is short. Find a healthy and well functioning partner or live with a dog. Life will be far more rewarding.”
Asperger’s Syndrome is a zero-empathy disorder, just like psychopathy is, according to Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, FBA, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the University’s Autism Research Center, and author of the book The Science of Evil.
Now if you go do a quick Google search on “Aspergers and empathy,” you’ll see something strikingly at odds with that fact — you’ll find an endless stream of links to articles claiming “not only do Aspies have emapthy, we have much more than *neurotypicals!” All of these articles are written by Aspies themselves, and they should know, right? (*neurotypical means normal).
Don’t believe it for a moment! Remember what I wrote above — a key feature of their disorder is the inability to understand their disorder.
“So why might people with autism in the online community challenge this view (that they have no- or low- empathy)? One possibility is that it is in the nature of empathy that people who are low in empathy are often the last people to be aware of it.
This is because empathy goes hand-in-hand with self-awareness, or imagining how others see you, and it is in this very area that people with autism struggle.
A better source of information for whether someone with autism has an empathy disability might therefore be a third party, such as a teacher or parent or independent observer. When it comes to empathy, self-report is highly unreliable. For this reason, I would always advise that results from the questionnaires like the EQ (the self-report version) should be corroborated by other independent sources of evidence.
An analogy might be with colour blindness. Many people who are colour blind are the last people to know about it, until they are given a test of it by an optician or vision scientist. They simply assumed that they were seeing the same colours as everyone else.”
(Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, FBA, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the University’s Autism Research Center)
“Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, University of Cambridge and Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is Director, Autism Research Centre (ARC) in Cambridge. He has a degree in Human Sciences from New College, Oxford, a PhD in Psychology from UCL, and an M.Phil in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London, and he held lectureships in these departments. He is author of Mindblindness, The Essential Difference, Prenatal Testosterone in Mind, and Zero Degrees of Empathy. He has edited scholarly anthologies including Understanding Other Minds, Synaesthesia, and The Maladapted Mind. He has written books for parents and teachers including Autism and Asperger Syndrome: The Facts, and Teaching Children with Autism to Mindread. He has celebrated autism in An Exact Mind. He is author of the DVDs Mind Reading and The Transporters, to help children with autism learn emotion recognition, both nominated for BAFTA awards. He is author of more than 450 scientific articles. He has supervised 32 PhD students… ” Read More
From “Dr. Psych Mom,” Samantha Rodman, PhD, licensed psychologist:
“With Asperger’s and NPD, a lot of the criteria overlap. The difference is that while all people with Aspergers are narcissistic (not NPD, but self-centered; it’s a central trait), all people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are definitely not aspergers, and can be the total opposite: super smooth and charming.”
Also see: “Asperger’s: When Narcissism Just Doesn’t Explain Your Partner’s Inability to Empathize,” Samantha Rodman, PhD
To understand AS, you need to understand two things: Theory of Mind and mindblindness. Dr. Baron-Cohen describes Theory of Mind as “…being able to infer the full range of mental states (emotions, beliefs, desires, intentions, imagination, etc.) that cause action. In brief, having a theory of mind is to be able to reflect on the contents of one’s own and other’s minds.”
That means people with AS do not have insight into anyone else’s emotions, beliefs, desires, intentions, or anything else. In other words, they can’t put themselves in your shoes. This disability makes them incredibly self-centered. They don’t understand that others have thoughts and feelings that are different from their own. Without this “theory of mind,” they can’t know—or care—how you feel, offer emotional support, feel your pain or share your joy.
Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, a psychotherapist who treats people with AS and their partners, explains it well:
“What is theory of mind? It is a person’s ability to imagine the interior life of another person. This includes understanding why someone else does something, how someone might feel in a certain circumstance, what might be important to that person; in short, it is the ability to put oneself in the mind of another person and see the world from that person’s point of view. Theory of mind means being able to create a theory about the way another person’s mind works.
Theory of mind provides the basis for empathy because if you can walk in someone else’s shoes, you also become capable, by extension, of feeling any pain or delight that person experiences. You understand motivation. You catch a glimpse of fears and dislikes. You get to know the other person from the inside out.”
Without this “theory of mind,” a person is “mindblind.” Mindblindness creates major barriers to communication and closeness. A person who is mindblind is unaware of other people’s mental existence.
The result of mindblindness is total blindness to another person’s needs, feelings and desires.
How will you feel if you’re involved with someone who is mindblind?
Invalidated, unsupported, unheard and unknown.
It feels that way because it is that way. They aren’t playing games and manipulating you like a psychopath does — they just don’t get it. They can’t. AS is a neurological disorder that renders its victims hopelessly mindblind… and unable to know that they are.
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
~ Charles M. Blow
“In the field of trauma research, there are certainly a lot of explanations for the psychic numbing that results from suffering severe trauma. Until now, few have really looked at the trauma suffered by NTs who are subjected to constant disregard by their Asperger family members. The result of this disregard is what I call invisibility.”
~ Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D.
AS was fist recognized and named by Hans Asperger. He didn’t call it Asperger’s Syndrome, though — he called it Psychopathic Autism or Autistic Psychopathy.
A person with AS is unable to empathize. It’s not that the Aspie does not feel emotions, but that they can’t understand the emotions felt by others:
“We can hurt people unintentionally because we don’t understand how our actions affect them, and we can even not feel remorse if we fail to understand the consequences of our actions as they affect others… ” ~ An aspie
If they insult you, they have no idea that what they were going to say is insulting, or that it will hurt your feelings. For example, an Aspie will tell you that your ass certainly does look fat in those jeans… when you never even asked if it did in the first place. They will not ask you how your day was, and if you tell them they won’t care. If it was a bad one and you need some support, you won’t get any because they can’t understand that you need any. If you get frustrated or angry at them about any of these things it will hurt their feelings, and then they’ll go on about how you’re the one who doesn’t care about them, and how you’re the one without empathy, while completely ignoring what they said or did in the first place that hurt your feelings, and while ignoring your feelings. It’s all about them. To say they are self-centered is an understatement.
“Recently I heard a sermon on loving your enemies. The pastor said that sometimes our enemies are in our own families. That seems a strong word to apply to a spouse, but sometimes a lack of empathy, no matter what the cause, can honestly make you feel as if you are with an enemy rather than a friend! When illness strikes and say, for example, my spouse comes home to find me coughing, congested and moving slowly due to aches and pains, I expect an empathic response. My toddler hears me cough and says ‘You okay, Mommy? You okay?’ But my aspie spouse may not even think to ask ‘How are you feeling?’ once throughout my illness.
This can be extremely depressing and upsetting. I try to remember that it just doesn’t come naturally for an aspie to have the typical empathic response. But when I am sick or weak and am not offered any help or emotional support I tend to be filled with grief, anger and self-pity at how lonely and uncared for I feel.” ~ wife of an Aspie
Many people with Asperger’s are quite angry that they are characterized as having a lack of empathy. They’re unable to understand their lack of empathy because of their mindblindness, so they don’t believe it exists:
“A common trait that people associate with Asperger’s is the lack of empathy. This misconception could be due to ‘normal people’ lacking the ability to empathize with Aspies. Chew on that irony for a moment.” ~ Tamra Excel, Aspie
If you’ve ever had extended interaction with an Aspie, you will know that statement is a perfect example of their inability to have any insight into themselves and their inability to comprehend what empathy is.
It’s all about them, all the time. It has to be—who else could it be about? No one, because no one else has feelings. No one else has needs. Why? Because no one else exists. Recall the definition of mindblindness:
“A person who is mindblind is unaware of other people’s mental existence.” And if you don’t have a mind, you don’t matter.
Psychopaths lack “emotional empathy,” which is the ability to share in, and respond appropriately to, other people’s emotions. But they do have “cognitive empathy” (theory of mind), which is the ability to accurately read the emotional states of others (and what makes them such effective manipulators). Aspies are the other way around — they supposedly have affective empathy, but lack cognitive empathy.
As Aspies will tell you, they might seem like they don’t care about other people’s feelings, but that’s only because they don’t know what others are feeling. If they knew, they say, they would care (don’t believe that! You can tell them how you feel for decades, and they will never understand or care. Ask anyone who has been married or close in any way to one of them. All you will get is invalidation).
Does that make sense? Does that make it OK? Does it lessen the psychological trauma to others?
Let’s think about this for a moment:
“Empathy is the ability to be aware of another person’s thoughts and feelings, and having the wherewithal to speak about this awareness. It also means creating mutual understanding and a sense of caring for one another. It’s not empathy unless you respond appropriately to the other person.”
If they don’t have the ability to do any of those things, how can they have empathy? How can they believe that they do? Mindblindness, that’s how.
(It’s not empathy unless you respond appropriately to the other person)
“Do not minimize the extent of my having been changed from a vivacious, sensual, happy, loving, athletic, healthy, wealthy, bright, articulate, fairly socially adept human to being melded and molded to accommodate an autistic adult into exactly the opposite of who I am for the sake of a one-sided relationship.” Partner of an Aspie
A person with AS is not capable of understanding that. Even when we tell them their lack of empathy hurts us, they don’t show any sign of caring. The topic immediately becomes how we don’t understand them or have any empathy for them. If you become involved with an Aspie, this will be the frustrating, maddening theme of the entire relationship, if you can even call it one. There is an incredible amount of information available for people who find themselves involved with an Aspie, yet it’s not about dealing with the despair and trauma they’ve experienced, but about how they should put up with it and learn tips and tricks to deal with it, because the Aspie can’t help it — it’s just the way they’re wired. That may be true, but it does not lessen the impact on us.
If this blog were about how you should put up with a psychopath because they just can’t help how they are, would you be reading it? Is there even a blog or anything else in existence that advises people to stay in a relationship with a psychopath? Or in any relationship where they’re being emotionally neglected, objectified, abused and destroyed? Not that I know of. So why is there so much information out there about how to stay in a relationship with an Aspie, even if it’s destroying you?
One reason is the very active autism lobby and its neurodiversity movement.
Another reason is that they traumatize others with bumbling cluelessness instead of with intent:
“Asperger syndrome is characterized by a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements. It was originally labeled ‘autistic psychopathy.’ Aspies are very similar to sociopaths, with the most obvious exception being that sociopaths are socially charming and aspies are socially awkward. Despite the lack of empathy—one of the core traits of a sociopath—aspies are treated as totally legitimate in our society. Even though aspies seem to be sociopath eunuchs, their childishness and naivete is what makes them palatable to the rest of society. Their redeeming values are their guilelessness and ineffectiveness. They are the absence of bad, rather than the presence of good.”
~ Sociopath World, Am I My Asperger Brother’s Keeper?
What is it like to have a relationship with a person who has Aspergers? Here is a quote from a woman married to one, who has a blog for others in her situation:
“Yesterday, my aspie spouse started yelling at me in the car. What started the argument was, of course, my fault. Because I’m a total idiot. Mainly, because I have feelings. And (cardinal sin that it is), I tried to share said feelings. So stupid of me! Will I never learn? Obviously not… “
After years of his abuse, what kind of advice does she have for others going through hell with these people? She advises them to read “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” by Leslie Vernick. She also advises them to stay in their marriage. Here is another quote from her blog:
“Days, weeks, months, go by where you go into hiding. Staying away, staying silent, refusing to engage in any conversation that may possibly divulge a remnant of feeling, brought some semblance of peace. But that won’t last. It cannot possibly last. Because you have a neurologically typical brain, heart, soul.
And he doesn’t.
In a moment of . . . What was it this time? Intense feeling? A desire to share? Forgetfulness? Foolishness? Mere stupidity on your part? Whatever the cause, you did it yet again. You shared something of yourself. And the result was utter destruction. Sheer madness. Wondering again ‘What the hell just happened here?’
Oh, yeah. Now I remember.
Back into the hole I go.
I choose peace.”
Is that what peace is? Going for days, weeks, or even months hiding your feelings and desires for fear they will inspire the wrath of a neurologically impaired person with zero empathy?
Really, what is the difference between a person with AS and a person with psychopathy? Absolutely none, when you look at their effect on us.
That’s exactly why I’m telling you about it today.
Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (OTRS)
is a trauma-based syndrome, which affects spouses, children and siblings of individuals who have social disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)
and high functioning autism (Hfa). OTRS is not a mental illness. OTRS is a normal stress reaction to ongoing abnormal interactions within an intimate relationship and family life.
OTRS afflicts individuals who undergo chronic, repetitive psychological trauma within the context of an intimate relationship.
“We are isolated, no one validates us, we lose friends and family, and we feel like ‘hostages’ in our own homes.”
Cassandra Phenomenon (CP)
is a metaphor for the emotional and physical suffering to spouses and children of adult individuals with AS and high functioning autism, because spouses and children are typically disbelieved as they attempt to share the cause of their sufferings with others.
Read more here: Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome/Cassandra Phenomenon
“Autistic rights advocates from ASAN New England are making it clear that the bogus concept of “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder” is discrimination based entirely on neurology and that the autistic community cannot stand for that…
It bears repeating that no legitimate research has ever been conducted to support “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder.” Maxine Aston simply made it up. Although it’s likely that she never would have gotten into print and would have been widely dismissed as a crank if she had made such claims on her own, her association with Tony Attwood over the years has enabled her to feed off his professional reputation and thereby gain an appearance of credibility.
And sadly, judging by Attwood’s continued unwillingness to repudiate the crankery and bigotry of Aston and FAAAS, it seems he’s a willing participant in their schemes.”
They dismiss the emotional suffering reported by neurotypical people who become involved with them — and attempts to help them — as bogus, crankery and bigotry. Do you see any empathy in that? Absolutely none, and the irony is clear — they disbelieve the Cassandra Phenomenon exists, yet the disorder is about spouses and children who are disbelieved as they try to share the cause of their suffering. It makes them look bad, and they won’t stand for it. They can only care about themselves, because they have no capability for empathy. Screw the spouses and children.
“As a group, autistic parents lack insight into their own autistic condition and into the impact of it in their role as parent… I submit that mind blindness in a mother is the very opposite of what we know to be mothers instinct… Kids need a parent who can read them. This speaks to issues of security and safety. It also speaks to how kids learn what intimacy means in their family of origin. Lessons about security, attachment and intimacy are key cornerstone emotional sign posts of childhood.”
(Mark Hutten, Counseling Psychologist, “Parents with Asperger Syndrome”)
Affective Deprivation Disorder (AfDD)
is a relational disorder resulting from the emotional deprivation sometimes experienced by the partner (or child) of persons with a low emotional/empathic quotient or alexithymia.
Coined by researcher Maxine Aston, AfDD was first applied to partners of adults with Asperger Syndrome, many of whom showed disturbing physical and psychological reactions to the lack of emotional reciprocity they were experiencing in their relationship. Maxine was later to broaden AfDD‘s applicability to include disorders other than Asperger’s such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, and substance abuse disorder in which the same low emotional intelligence or alexithymia is a key relational factor.
Alexithymia is the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating. Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding. Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions.
To qualify for a diagnosis of AfDD some or all of the following indicators in each category must be present:
One Partner must meet criteria for a diagnosis of one or more of the following:
• Low Emotional Intelligence
• Low Empathy Quotient
Relationship Profile includes one or more of the following
• High relational conflict
• Domestic abuse: emotional and/or physical
• Reduced marital or relationship satisfaction
• Reduced relationship quality
Possible Psychological Symptoms of AfDD
• Low self esteem.
• Feeling confused/bewildered.
• Feelings of anger, depression and anxiety
• Feelings of guilt
• Loss of self/depersonalisation
• Phobias – social/agoraphobia
• Post-traumatic stress reactivity
Possible Psychosomatic Effects
• Loss or gain in weight
• PMT/female related problems
• ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis)
• Low immune system, resulting in conditions from colds to cancer
Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs; if these needs are not being met, then mental and physical health will be affected.
80% of marriages with an Aspie partner end in divorce.
Here are words from a man with AS who duped his wife into marrying him:
“We dated for a year, a period of time that, in some ways, felt like a twelve-month-long audition. Be cool, I told myself, roughly ten-thousand times a day. Look normal. Act normal. We got engaged, and still I did everything I could to impress her, because, as I understood it, that’s what a person did when they landed themselves a fiancée. I showered Kristen with affection and praise, went out of my way to act supportive, and never once voiced a negative thought or feeling. What was not to love about that guy?
After we were married, and we were living together around the clock, Kristen began to understand exactly what was hard to love about that guy: he wasn’t entirely real. By our third anniversary, the illusion I’d created had been shattered… “
That should sound very familiar. Psychopaths aren’t the only ones putting on an act, lying to you and robbing you of your self-determination, not to mention causing serious emotional trauma and wasting your precious time.
They try very hard to pass as normal, and there are innumerable articles, tutorials and coaches out there to help them. But no one can keep such an act up forever, and when you get to know them, their deficits are unmistakable.
“The aspie may not be able to help that he only sees things from his own perspective, due to his brain wiring. This means, in my situation, that he will believe I am always wrong anytime we disagree. I can expect him to believe I am always wrong. I can accept that it is pointless to try and share my perspective or ever reach mutual understanding.”
“There is zero desire to hear the other person’s perspective (of course). There is no compassion or empathy for the struggles the other person is going through. There is an air of superiority, and there are many demands to have her own way. Guilt messages are vomited out of her mouth. And it’s all making me sick.”
“Being with someone with aspergers is the most exasperating experience. In the end you’ll feel like you’re going mad. But they are wired differently, so it’s not their fault. But being on the receiving end feels nothing short of abuse and bullying, even though my ex always said he was the bullied one.”
“What do we do about aspie men? Do we just name and shame them on a website so other women can avoid? And what about the issue of being a man enough to confess you are an aspie, on the first or second date? Shouldn’t that be mandatory? This is a psych condition that badly hurts women like me, after all. I think we have a right to know.”
“Don’t let these people try to make you feel worse than you already do. You people have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end of your so called “love”. You have no idea how hurtful it is to be married, or in a relationship, with someone like YOU! Yeah, get it tattooed on your f**king head or whatever, I don’t care what you do, just stick with your own kind and stop destroying people!!!
Difference is, I won’t be a victim, nor will I be broken down, life’s too short to deal with assholes, no matter what their hangup is… Just because you clueless dumbasses don’t mean to hurt someone, doesn’t mean that you don’t. If I ran over someone with my car accidentally and killed them, they’re still dead, right? Same thing. If you’re pissed about what this blogger has written, then don’t read it… go back to tracking weather statistics … stick with your own kind is all I’m saying.”
People with Aspergers Syndrome are narcissisticly self-centered, but are the last ones to know it. That’s why they blame others who express being hurt by things they do or say. They believe the person who’s hurt is selfish, needy, or narcissistic themselves. It’s a vicious cycle. First our partner does something that is stunningly self-centered, and then they tell us there’s something wrong with us for being upset about it. Being treated callously is bad enough; being blamed for it, and having our feelings invalidated, takes it to another level. In a relationship with a narcissistic person, this happens over and over in ways big and small. Bringing it to their attention does no good. It can’t. The narcissistic Aspergian will always believe they’re right, because they just don’t get it.
Article written by Adelyn Birch, Psychopaths and Love
The Neurotypical Site: An excellent website that offers information and support to spouses, carers and others involved with autistics.
FAAAS (Families and Adults Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome)