Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah. Leonard Cohen
In life, especially where love may grow, there is never effort without error and shortcoming. Vulnerability, the prerequisite to developing a relationship, is not owning victory or defeat when a relationship begins or ends. It’s about engaging. As Brene’ Brown said, “It’s being all in.”
Brown suggests in her book Daring Greatly relating requires “less thinking and more feeling.” Sometimes when you’re allowing yourself to become vulnerable it’s excruciating, not exquisite, and a scary thing for some of us to do. She calls it leaning in. Leaning into unpredictability helps us grow.
Let’s face it. We’re not perfect. We do not have it all figured out, especially if our brains get in the way…literally.
Brain organization is positively correlated to how we relate and form our relationships. Involvement with someone in a relationship can be challenging. It is even more difficult when the person you’re trying to love has mental challenges such as high functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, or a personality disorder.
Wholeheartedness requires vulnerability – that one thing we fear to give in to.
How do people with unique chemistries cope with building or ending relationships? How do we grow? After months of conversations with friends, and after ensuing circumstances, their stories sparked my attention to explore more deeply these theories of personalities and psychological concepts.
Confusion between partners can threaten the difficult, intimate relationships we sometimes encounter. Though people can avoid vulnerability with drama, as is often the case, relationships can be great catalysts for growth. Communication is the key!
Running away from opportunities to change perpetuates the non-relating problem. Running from the people who come into our lives to facilitate change only prolongs the unhappiness we are ready to let go of. We shouldn’t be afraid to go into the woods. There we can face the dark night of the soul and walk through the fire that burns the old self away. It takes courage to be vulnerable and let other people into our hearts.
Journaling is a great tool to self-awareness. In his book An Uncommon Bond, Jeff Brown said, “God knows I wasn’t ready to actually do any healing, but I was ready to write about it. Funny how that works. Funny how we come at things conceptually first, before life pushes us to experience them in real time.” I find this very true, and why I love to write. As I make sense of why so many are left on the trail of tears, perhaps we can find not only empathy for ourselves, but for those who, often unconsciously, perpetrate suffering.
The first step in relating is to remove the masks we wear in relationships and take mental deficiencies and personality disorders by the horns. Beneath the charismatic and often brilliant minds of a person suffering from personality disorder, lies a scared, and mentally imbalanced human who wants to have meaningful relationships but will fail to achieve them for any extended period of time unless the disorder is thoroughly and consistently addressed.
It takes work to bring forward self-awareness. There is no other way. What we practice we become because of neuroplasticity. The brain and our chemistries are mutable. We can change. We can be happy. We just have to “lean in” and be devoted to the process.
It takes two to tango in the dance of relating.
Individuals living with autism and personality disorders deserve to have relationships of all kinds – from friendship and dating to marriage and parenthood. The conflict of dysfunction created by a lack of communication and empathy typically associated with brain or personality disorders may push the relationship into troubled waters ridden with unhealthy and dangerous outcomes for one or both partners, especially once the “honeymoon” is over.
Love is more than a feeling, and it is not just a word. Great and lasting intimacy is difficult to fully embrace and often unachievable by the population of people who suffer from autism or personality disorders.
A partner who feels shame or fear of not being good enough can easily walk away from a slow (or fast) building relationship and turn innocent encounters or feuds into escalated and unwarranted issues by misconstruing circumstances. We’ve all witnessed projection.
A classic example of projection is when a person cheating accuses their partner of cheating. Transference is also prevalent as assumptions dominate the interaction playing field where one miscommunication after the other builds a case against the object of transference. You don’t love me because you don’t kiss me enough, therefore I am not good enough for you and I am not happy. The reality may be: I don’t kiss you enough because you haven’t given me enough time to heal from your last explosive outburst and I am cautious what will happen next and just not feeling very vulnerable to let you more into my heart right now. I just want you to get help.
Narcissism is a growing buzzword in social media and is a personality disorder with origins in shame and insecurity. How do you know if you are dealing with shame? Is it reversible or found also in the spectrum of autism? Can a dysfunctional relationship truly change into a healthy one?
People with narcissistic personality disorder and autism exhibit behaviors that are often incongruent with healthy, long-lasting relationships. They will most definitely take work on both sides and a true sense of commitment. Encounters with men or women who are wired differently can leave us scratching our heads in confusion when it comes to matters of the heart. The question is can you both deal with it and make it work? It’s not easy. The shame and guilt must be addressed.
For example, people with a personality disorder are often explosive and can hurt others around them with words or their sheer intensity, rarely stopping long enough to notice the aftermath of their actions. You should “just get over it.” They do not have the depth of empathy to see the connecting dots of their actions or the holes hammered into the fence of your trust. Whether it is because of their attention deficit or lack of empathy, they simply move from one dramatic occurrence to the next with very little awareness.
If you dare criticize them, they will become defensive and perhaps even lose the fondness for you as quickly as turning off the kitchen light. They can easily walk away from the relationship, making for short-term intimate trials involving unrealistic circumstances. Real love relationships typically take time developing connection and do not end so easily.
I believe that compromise, boundaries, respect and compassion are all key. Learning to truly LISTEN is an art form of its own. Love is whole, not an option to be set aside during anger and frustration. Love should always be priority, yes even through the toughest of times. ~ Jeri Griffith Porto
I’ve interviewed dozens of couples over the years that have been together for 20 years or more. I found common themes and words used in their stories such as the notion of trust and knowing their partner. There is safety in knowing how your partner may react in various circumstances. Safety is first and foremost the catalyst to going deeper. I suggest it needs to be felt on both sides and hence why a partner with personality disorder goes into avoidance when they feel threatened. It is easier to run away from the potential pain source than lean into it where true growth begins.
We accept each other and are committed to life together. His struggles are mine. mine are his. his needs are mine. Mine are his. We call each other on bullshit and are honest with each other even when it’s hard to be honest with self. We put each other before everything, even our children. it’s us against the world. ~ Lisa Kudchadker DeViney
If the relationship stops making sense, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the health of it. Something may be driving the peculiarity of interactions at complex behavioral and neurological levels. Love has a way of making itself real to both partners and communication and vulnerability are key. How can we lean in and walk the path of fire together?
Rich and I just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary, been together since 1990. We truly agree that the key to staying together is being willing to grow and change together, communicate clearly and have passion! Finding something to do together as a common thread is very important, because after many years, finding something that you enjoy for the rest of your life is key. Luckily we found yoga! …along with many other outdoor activities and pets. Of course kids are a wonderful thread, but they’re not a good reason to stay together, because they always feel the friction no matter how hard you will try to hide it. We encourage more younger couples to make it work! It’s not easy. It’s also a commitment! Not to be taken lightly or given up on because the couple won’t compromise. ~ Lisa Ware, Dallas
Love doesn’t give up. It hangs in there and finds a way to reveal deeper layers of itself as the two people grow and recognize their connection. The mask is removed over time where the greatest love can emerge. One of my teachers in Houston, Robert Boustany, said, “It isn’t over until it’s over. Then you stick in there and make sure. You don’t leave. It’s only over when it’s truly over. If love is still there, it isn’t over.”
It is easier for the narcissist to end all ties with you when their shallowness is exposed. They see no point in returning. Their image is more important. They may have support, perhaps from those who missed the attention once pointed toward them which helps to reinforce the decision to move on from the relationship. There are others happily waiting to fill the void.
Couples in love, however, even after breaks in the relationship, can come back together. It’s not unnatural for relationships to hit rocky paths, especially as the veils begin to fade away. It is difficult even when we are dealing with normal brain wiring and mental circumstances.
The person with a personality disorder may not relate or see the prism of life clearly enough to develop the empathy to stay. They can become afraid and often run away when their behaviors have been questioned. Wounds of the past present their nasty horns and take over by auto-piloting what is familiar as transference, projection and avoidance.
They may quickly dump the relationship and move on to the next lover, then continually repeat the pattern: infatuation, pedestaling, and failure. They may eventually choose to remain alone and surround themselves with others who give them attention as friends. Even old lovers may stick around and become friends because it keeps them close. Narcissists need to be admired. But they will still feel alone. The root cause has not been addressed.
Most “enablers” say they have hung in there to make it work and doubted many times their own intuition about the dysfunctional nature of their partner. It’s not untrue that people can change. When you really love someone, you don’t typically give up. Right?
Enablers report they found it difficult to find even reasonable logic when dealing with the relationship’s inconsistencies, and are often left watching their partner continually revert to anger, projection and avoidance when confronted with issues in the relationship. This can also bring out the worst in the other partner, leaving both in the relationship feeling weak and guarded. The relationship never gets to the next step because every time you take two forward, an episode pushes progress five steps back. Hence, the trail of tears may begin.
Narcissists in particular have mastered hiding behind a façade of normalcy using humor, wit and charm to fulfill their needs to be admired. The clown always gets attention. They can be very giving and seem like a hero, but only for a period of time. Their true nature is to be selfish, and that part of their personality comes later in the game once they have sucked the object of interest into their web of delusional love, often spitting out what’s left of the lover when he or she doesn’t comply to live within the confinements of the dysfunction.
The key is to remove the masks in relationships involving personality disorders. Beneath the charismatic and often brilliant mind of a person suffering from a personality disorder, lies a scared, and mentally imbalanced human who wants to have relationships but will fail to achieve them for any extended period of time. Unless the disorder is thoroughly and consistently addressed, the patterns continue. It takes work to change this cycle. Since the brain has plasticity, there is hope. However, it takes two to tango in the dance of relationships and both have to want to be together to see it through.
A Personality Disorder is defined as inflexible, maladaptive, and rigidly pervasive pattern of behavior causing subjective distress and or impaired functioning; person is usually not aware of the problem; usually presents itself by early adulthood. There are three clusters A, B, and C; labeled as Weird, Wild and Worried based on symptoms. (T. Le and V Bhushan, 2014)
When we refer to mental pathology, the three main clusters of personality disorders help us to identify mental issues to recognize and prepare for such people if they enter our lives as a patient, family member, lover or a friend.
There are several classes of personality disorders that promote unpleasant endings in relationships. The relationship type can be intimate, familial, or work-related. Disorders can also occur in either gender.
The probabilities are high you have already met one or more who fall into the following clusters of personality disorders:
Cluster A: “Weird” – Described as odd or eccentric. Have the inability to develop meaningful social relationships and have no psychosis genetic association with schizophrenia.
- Paranoid – Pervasive distrust and suspiciousness, projection is the major defense mechanism
- Schizoid – voluntary social withdrawal, limited emotional expression, content with social isolation
- Schizotypal – eccentric appearance odd beliefs or magical thinking, interpersonal awkwardness
Cluster B: “Wild” – Dramatic, emotional, or erratic; genetic association with mood disorders and substance abuse
- Antisocial – Disregard for and violation of rights of others, criminality, impulsivity
- Borderline – unstable mood and interpersonal relationships, impulsiveness, self-mutilation, boredom, sense of emptiness, splitting.
- Histrionic – excessive emotionality and excitability, attention seeking, sexually provocative, overly concerned with appearance.
- Narcissistic – grandiosity, sense of entitlement, lacks empathy and requires excessive admiration, often demands the “best” and reacts to criticism with rage.
Cluster C: “Worried” – Anxious or fearful; genetic association with anxiety disorders
- Avoidant – hypersensitive t rejection, socially inhibited, timid, feelings of inadequacy, desires relationships with others (vs schizoid).
- Obsessive-compulsive – preoccupation with order, perfectionism, and control
- Dependent – submissive and clinging, excessive need to be taken care of, low self-confidence.
By mainly focus on Clusters B and C, the Wild and Worried, we found common patterns in romantic relationships that often leave a trail of tears in its wake.
Life is about relating. In relationships, we are taught how to relate, and in some cases how not to. Healthy relating takes a considerable amount of communication and time, emotional intelligence, openness and empathy. It requires vulnerability – something we often label as weak and deny in society. The breakdown may even begin in our communication styles at the level of the psyche, a misappropriation of the language we speak.
The words we use unconsciously affect our behaviors. Triggers ignite the unconscious autopilot, driven by memory connections in the brain and neuropathways that organize our behaviors and thinking patterns. Eckhart Tolle terms it The Pain Body, the ‘psychic parasite’ that possesses you and causes you suffering.
There are no guarantees that life will be long and fulfilling. Life can be short for some people.
Perhaps life can be fulfilling no matter how long we are here if we consider ways to relate authentically and grow from our experiences compassionately. Ongoing therapy, plus daily or weekly support in groups, can successfully help change behaviors by simply reinforcing something different in practice. We can change our own tendencies and predispositions regardless if it stems from nature or nurture. There is hope for personality disorders to recover, only if they practice and rewire. Breathing is also key to balancing the nervous system and we can promote new neuro-pathway formations by also focusing the mind in mindfulness. The Harvard Study in mindfulness reported that in just 20 minutes a day within eight weeks we can physically change our brains to increase prefrontal cortex activity and gray matter, the exact location many with personality disorders lack integration.
No one is perfect. We may each have to some degree a character trait of personality disorder. Maturity and normal brain development usually help one move past the immaturity or imbalance as we become adults.
But some do not heal. If we ever find ourselves in a relationship that is inconsistent and/or violent, which can be verbal or physical, it’s time to get help. There will come a time in most lives when even the most patient and understanding humans must draw the line and say enough is enough, and walk away if help is not an option. Staying in a relationship with someone who is mentally challenged, from whatever disorder, can influence your health.
Stress can cause disease and we must learn to value ourselves by not letting the relating game harm us mentally, emotionally and if prolonged, physically. Most diseases stem from stress related issues – drinking and addictions, cancer, heart and cardiovascular disease.
“Making love” to a narcissist can also be a challenge. You might experience a few moments of connection as the partner really focuses on the intention to fall in love with you. The act of lovemaking is often interrupted by disconnected behaviors and can move directly to the end result, the orgasm. It doesn’t mean they avoid foreplay, quite the contrary. Masturbation over lovemaking may take precedent when intercourse doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. It’s often a Catch 22. It can take away from the bonding process between the couple.
Research shows that men who masturbate obsessively may develop erectile dysfunction (ED). They report having difficulty getting and keeping an erection during lovemaking and/or ejaculating. However, masturbation in moderation is said to be good for the prostate. Aging is also an indicator for ED in men and one very huge point of contention in the aging man’s psyche. This can exasperate mental unrest.
When the penis doesn’t “perform” the expectation of manhood, uncomfortable bouts of explosive pity may occur making it equally uncomfortable for the female who is participating. Women will often empathize and stand by their man understanding their frustrations. Phallic Narcissist is a very common category of narcissism and often the type that can most easily heal through self-reflection and therapy.
The phallic-narcissistic personality is a perfectionist who is also very concerned about self-image. They can be fairly reality-based but often have to be right. Their grandiosity is held in check to a great degree by the reality of their accomplishments. They are often successful.
Wilhelm Reich first identified the phallic narcissistic personality type as someone with an excessively inflated self-image. The individual is often an elitist, a “social climber,” and always seeking admiration by self-promoting, bragging. They feel empowered by social success. Phallic characters are people whose behaviors are reckless, determined and self-assured. Phallic narcissists are intensely vain and personally sensitive to living up to various ideals.
The phallic-narcissist avoids relationships of the heart and has difficulty truly loving. Their self-image is to become the best lover and enjoy being the sexual conqueror. They are afraid and often compare themselves to others. People relating to them will not feel loved. They often feel judged, and toward the end of the relationship, inadequate.
You’ll find when you stand up to a narcissist, and call them out on their unreasonableness, even though just moments ago you were the love of their life and “no one will ever adore you like I do,” they will fight you and jab you by making extorted claims about you. They may call you names, demean you and project their shame or fear onto you. If you say, “you’re being a jerk,” their world crumbles. They give criticism and often cannot see their part in the relationship issues when they come up.
Narcissists put on a really good show in public. The pedestal you were placed on is displayed for a reason. It’s so anyone will think they are loving and supportive. This protects their image.
But behind the scenes, it can be hell. Standing up for yourself and calling the narcissist out on their inconsistencies, feeds fuel into their shame and fear. You’ll have to be careful not to become a mental toy and degraded to nothing but worthy of masturbation. That will be the only connection you will feel again from your partner who is often very verbal about it sexually still even after the relationship is over.
The burning begins on the trail of tears
There have and will always be many left behind on the trail. At an event someone approached the registration table where my ex was sitting. She asked if he recognized her. He did not. She gave him a look of disgust. And he apologized for whatever he had done to her. She told him she was glad he found yoga and could perhaps benefit from it. He doesn’t remember anything about her, but knew whatever he had done, it must have been bad by the look on her face and the pain in her voice.
They forget who and how deeply they hurt others, because they either stopped caring because it hurts or somehow they are not storing the information. Perhaps their brains simply lack storing the information because ADHD or a learning disability is present.
Common in the spectrum of personality disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome, many have ADHD and are unable to focus sometimes even on the simplest of tasks. They get frustrated and confused, need time outs to regroup and calm down. Packing luggage can even be difficult. They are hard on themselves to perform tasks that require focus outside of their interest.
The narcissist has a strong sense of duty and entitlement, and usually desire to be loved in excessive ways, often termed as “needy.” They become very focused on the object of their “love,” often neglecting other family members around them. Then when you are out of the picture, they immediately return their focus on a family member. You may find excessive posting about the relationships they feel most insecure about. Social media is a great platform for them to pedestal someone to help them feed the void they feel inside.
In private, they often speak horribly about their friends using projection and transference to help themselves feel better about themselves. The unknowing friends all love the narcissist, because the narcissist is funny and beautifully charming and acts like the hero in almost every situation. They have respect from others. Narcissists survive that way. Without admirers, how would they exist?
You may wonder how you ended up in this sort of relationship. You surely find things you dislike, for example, their inability to focus and communicate, gossiping, or temper tantrums. But there was something sweet and special about the person that keeps you in. I loved he was tall and handsome, supportive, funny and how he seemly adored me. You hold on to the potential of the relationship, thinking change is possible.
One interviewee shared that her boyfriend insisted on her buying him gifts and tried to get her to pay off his condo mortgage. He pulled and pushed until she was nearly 15 pounds lighter and completely frazzled by the tornado that came into her life. I told her, “This guy is worse than a narcissist, he’s a sociopath.” She finally removed him from her life.
I have also experienced dating someone with a personality disorder, a man who I care for still to this day. I moved out of his house after just six months living with him to keep the peace in our relationship. I have animals and he never grew up with them. Our space was small to have all of us living together. But we tried. There were good moments but one experience stands out that even deeper issues would eventually have to be addressed.
The day I signed the lease to my new home in preparation to move out, my mother passed away. I was in class teaching when I saw a voicemail message from my uncle appear on my phone during my class. My heart always stopped when I received calls from Kentucky. This time the worry was for reason. My mother had died in her sleep at 61 years old on the morning of September 23, 2014.
My mom had dependency issues with pills ever since her cervical spine surgery 15 years ago, mainly anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain-relievers. It eventually evolved into addiction, where she would take anything she could get her hands on. We found out much later she also had brain damage in her prefrontal cortex from an accident that occurred when she was younger. I suppose that explained some of her erratic behaviors and brutal decline into addiction. Her brain chemistry was a mess.
I called my boyfriend frantically from Rice University and told him my mom had just passed away. He was wonderful and took a taxi to pick me up immediately from Rice and drove me home in my car – a really kind and thoughtful thing to do. He was there for me.
I flew to Kentucky to arrange the funeral services and be with my family. He flew up to accompany us during this difficult time. My family had never met him.
Again, accompanying me there was a very honorable and loving thing to do, except rather than taking a taxi to meet me in my family’s house, I had to drive an hour to pick him up in the midst of planning and preparing for the funeral which was that afternoon. We were late for my own mother’s funeral because of it. Everyone was already in the church sitting patiently when we made our way in.
Giving the service eulogy was one of the most difficult things I had ever done. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to begin when I arrived at the podium. An overwhelming surge of emotion pierced through me, seemingly all the way into my soul. It took an intense and excruciating effort to open my mouth and begin. It felt like forever to gain my composure.
I could hear my aunt speak under their breath, “Jenny, you’ve got this. You’ve got this.” Her encouragement helped me find the strength to begin the service honoring my mother’s memory.
A few days later, we packed my mom’s car and began the drive back to Houston. We had only purchased one-way tickets so that we could return with her car. It was something I felt necessary – to sense her close to me for the 16-hour drive home. The journey began just three hours before sunset. As the sun began to set, I realized I was indeed involved with a narcissist. Not a bad one, but still, I knew I needed to watch this relationship carefully.
He was driving us through Arkansas, and I found myself gazing out the passenger-side window at the sun setting in the west. I was deep into my thoughts and memories of my mother, where conflicting pains would sometimes flow in and out of my belly and through my heart like daggers. It was dreadful.
In a brief moment of silence of roughly ten minutes, three hours into the 16-hour journey, I heard his angry and shocking voice yell into my left ear, “I can’t believe you’re just fucking sitting there. I flew all the way to Kentucky to be with you and you’re just sitting there ignoring me!”
It was a voice of unreason with absolute anger. In that instant, I surely transformed into the fierceness of the goddess Kali and eyes obviously red not only with returned anger but shock.
“Are you kidding me, “ I said sternly, “I just lost my mother! Are you that narcissistic that you can’t even let me have a moment to myself in the grief of losing my mother?”
He grumbled a few more harsh attacks that I can’t even remember. I continued, “How could you make this trip all about you? Why did you really come here? Because it doesn’t quite seem you’re here to help me grieve my mother’s death. How dare you make this death about you!”
In the article The Three Phases of A Narcissistic Relationship Cycle: Over-Evaluation, Devaluation, Discard by Savannah Grey, she accurately summed up what it is like to be with a narcissist::
A relationship with a Narcissist has been compared to being on a roller coaster, with immense highs and immense lows. They have been described as the proverbial Jekyll and Hyde, one way one minute, another the next. People usually get into relationships for love and the need to connect and bond with another. Narcissists get into relationships for entirely different reasons. They do not feel love and they lack the ability to connect and form normal attachment bonds with others. The target is left baffled and confused and wondering what they did wrong to cause such an abrupt turnaround. Narcissists become bored easily and what usually starts happening in their heads at this stage, is that the void begins to emerge again. The high they were feeding off of is waning and they begin to question your worthiness, that perhaps you weren’t so special after all, because if you were then the void wouldn’t still be there. They become moody and agitated easily, blaming you for even the slightest transgression. They start to disappear more frequently and they give you the silent treatment in an attempt to create distance. As the Narcissist withdraws, the target starts to cling and your demands for his attention and your need to understand what’s happening, grate on his nerves. The harder you cling the more the Narcissist pulls away. They start to blame and criticize the target for everything, treating them like an emotional punching bag. At this point the target is an emotional wreck. The Narcissist has left without any explanation and they can’t figure out how one minute they were put on a pedestal and now it’s like they doesn’t even exist. The Narcissist is a projector and they are projecting their emotional turmoil onto you. They feed off of other people’s misery (as long as it’s caused by them) just as much as they feeds off of your admiration, either way it makes no difference to them. It is this person, this cruel, indifferent, unfeeling, sadist that is the behind the mask. Most targets desperately try to find the one they fell in love with. What they don’t realize is that that person never existed. They were a façade – an act put on by the Narcissist to secure their Supply. (http://esteemology.com/the-three-phases-of-a-narcissistic-relationship-cycle-over-evaluation-devaluation-discard/)
The narcissist feeds off other’s vulnerabilities in order to feel better about who they have become. Trust me, even strong people can hit a weak point in their lives and become prey to the unenlightened narcissist. They use the classic hero archetype to reel you in. Then they use degradation for receiving help that you didn’t even ask for in the first place. Generosity is not the same as conditional giving.
They are very volatile and inconsistent in their words and behaviors. They are classic projectors and you should listen to what they say. They are telling you what is real about them. Listening is the key to working out relationships in general, this type especially.
They will wildly shoot their insecurities at you when you try to love yourself (and them) more by trying to make sense of it all. Sometimes by trying to pull them in closer, you become the enemy, and you’re wasting your time. They will show you just how conditional their love is and most likely always was, “I love you. I don’t love you. I would love you. I did love you. I love you but…”
It’s exhausting. Exhausting is another common term I heard over and over in my research of those left to suffer in the trenches of tears.
If you’re on a roller coaster, it’s a sign. The narcissist is so incredibly wounded all they can do is wound in return. They will eventually objectify you into nothing but a potential sex toy to be used and further humiliated if you let them. In the end the only thing they really care about is themselves and their image. Being passionate or angry in return is the absolute worst way to handle them. It throws salt into their wounds. Save it for the therapy sessions where a neutral person can navigate the feelings and help balance the process.
Asperger’s or (aspies) have a huge disconnect between thinking and feeling, or cognitive empathy (CE) and emotional empathy (EE). We wonder what is the cause of this disconnection?
I recently came across an article that I feel may help us understand those who lack empathy Neuroscience Sheds Light on Why People with Asperger’s Syndrome Lack Empathy by Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D.
Families of those with Asperger’s want to know why their aspies act the way they do. In my psychology practice I have Neuro-typical (NT) clients repeatedly ask me regarding their Asperger spouse, “Why can’t she see what I am saying?” Or they ask, “Why can’t he connect with my feelings?
According to the latest neuroscience research discussed in Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Evil, the cause is poorly working empathy circuits in the brain. A way to understand the Aspie’s lack of empathy from a neurological perspective is “out of brain – out of mind.”
The brain has a number of circuits that are all connected like Christmas lights. If one part doesn’t work right, then the rest of the circuits malfunction, too. These brain circuits are so tightly integrated that multiple circuits depend upon multiple other circuits to carry out sophisticated human behaviors and to comprehend complex thoughts and feelings…True empathy is the ability to be aware of one’s own feelings and thoughts at the same time you are aware of another person’s feelings and thoughts. It means having the wherewithal to speak about this awareness. It also means creating mutual understanding and a sense of caring for one another. That is a lot of brain circuits to connect!
Is it possible we are dealing with a spectrum of issues that cross diagnostic specifications of disorders such as personality disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. There seem to be odd similarities when studying both groups.
There is a fair amount of overlap between pathological narcissism and Asperger’s syndrome. Like narcissists, aspies often prefer abstract logic to emotion-driven thinking including trouble recognizing and distinguishing emotions or empathizing with others. They may find it difficult to reciprocate appropriately in social situations.
A key difference between aspie and a narcissist is that narcissists frequently develop good social skills and win over crowds easily. They may be able to put on a highly sociable façade when trying to impress someone but let that diminish once they have an established commitment from that person. They can also manipulate people and rarely feel anxiety about lying.
The narcissist will not exude mental energy to cultivate relationships with inferior and unworthy others. However, the narcissist easily regains his social skills, charm, and gregariousness when someone presents their worth or has something that can appeal to their social status as well.
Many narcissists find positions of leadership in their communities: church, firm, or voluntary organization. In comparison, Sam Vaknin, PhD, who wrote Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited said:
The Asperger’s patient often wants to be accepted socially, to have friends, to marry, to be sexually active, and to sire offspring. He just doesn’t have a clue how to go about it. His affect is limited. His initiative – for instance, to share his experiences with nearest and dearest or to engage in foreplay – is thwarted. His ability to divulge his emotions stilted. He is incapable or reciprocating and is largely unaware of the wishes, needs, and feelings of his interlocutors or counterparties…Inevitably, Asperger’s patients are perceived by others to be cold, eccentric, insensitive, indifferent, repulsive, exploitative or emotionally absent. To avoid the pain of rejection, they confine themselves to solitary activities. They limit their world to a single topic, hobby, or person and dive in with the greatest, all-consuming intensity, excluding all other matters and everyone else. It is a form of hurt-control and pain regulation.
Thus, while the narcissist avoids pain by excluding, devaluing, and discarding others, the Asperger’s patient achieves the same result by withdrawing and by passionately focusing his interests on just a few people. Both narcissists and Asperger’s patients are prone to depression. The use of language is another differentiating factor.
The narcissist is a skilled communicator but the Asperger’s is not. When they are communicative, it is tediously repetitive. The Asperger is unlikely to obey conversational rules and etiquette and may interrupt often. They are also unable to decipher nonverbal cues and gestures. Narcissists are similarly inconsiderate – but only towards those who cannot possibly serve as Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
Living is relating.
In conclusion, there is a lot to understand about the brain, relating and finding balance in relationships. It takes work and empathy by both parties to move a love interest forward into something enriching and meaningful. The Journal of Best Practicies: A Memoir of Marriage Asperger’s Syndrome and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch shows a husband’s journey into self-reflection to become his wife’s best friend by showing us a window into living with an autism-spectrum condition, and proof that a true heart can conquer all.
Anyone can change. It takes devotion to better oneself with skills in relating. Empathy is the catalyst to love and connection in every situation.
“Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.” ~Louis de Bernieres