Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Borderline Personality Disorder And Autistics

Lately I seem to be seeing lots of mentions of borderline personality disorder and autistics via social media. One article I saw asks if we are being misdiagnosed with borderline instead of autism, other times people have mentioned how we are so often victims of ‘manipulators and abusers’, categories borderline people fall into. And, of course, there are genuinely some who are indeed both.

I do believe that autistics might be at higher risk of being borderline, because of the way we’ve so often been badly treated. But we’re at even greater risk of being the victims of borderliners, as I call them, including those who are both autistic and borderline.

Briefly, borderline personality disorder is now defined as “impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits.” There are several criteria that must be met for a diagnosis. I must stress here that we’re not talking here about isolated incidents, but a consistent pattern of behaviour, over many years or possibly decades.

A couple of disclaimers here – firstly, before anyone points it out, I’m well aware that I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist or anything like that. I have no professional knowledge in this area at all. But if something walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, excuse me, but I’ll call it a duck.

Secondly, this is NOT intended as some kind of attack on those with mental health issues. There seems to be some discussion as to whether personality disorders actually count as ‘mental illness’, though they are now generally defined as such. A crucial difference, however, between personality disorders and other mental illnesses is that you’re usually aware that you’re depressed, suicidal, etc. People with personality disorders, by comparison, often won’t acknowledge what they are. This is a big part of what makes them so damaging to others.

But what I am concerned with here is how often we are their target. (I’ve focused here on borderliners, but I don’t doubt that much of what I say applies to other personality disorders too.) When I researched them, my initial search only turned up websites that talked of borderline as a condition of ‘emotional instability’ and seemed to ooze with sympathy for the ‘sufferers’ of it. There was little or no mention of what it was like for those around them. It wasn’t till I typed in ‘I have been a victim of someone with borderline personality disorder’ that I discovered all their many, many other victims.

Because yes, I have suffered at the hands of borderliners, and I have seen family and friends suffer too. I didn’t have a name for their behaviour back then, but they’ve been in my life on and off for decades. The label is fairly recent, the type is not. Even the book that’s my ‘creativity bible’, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, published in the 90s, talks of what she calls ‘crazy-makers’, and the characteristics are basically those of borderliners.

So, I’ve put together a list of common characteristics of borderliners so we can recognise them, preferably before they irreparably harm us.

1) Everything Is About Them. They have to be the centre of attention, at all costs. They will create (melo)dramas, sulk, throw tantrums, argue or rant for hours or even days, whatever it takes to make sure your focus is on them. They will also consistently invade your boundaries and your privacy. It didn’t matter what I was trying to do, my (now ex!) partner just had to talk to me, even when I was writing and made it very clear that I didn’t want to be interrupted. In fact, any time my attention strayed from her, she became almost frantic to get it back. This is often coupled with isolating you from family and former friends, so that you lose perspective on what’s happening. 

Borderliners can also be very controlling. My ex once threw a huge hissy fit because, in the middle of a ‘discussion’ (ie lecture from her), I got up and went to the toilet without asking her ‘permission’. How dare I “just get up and walk away!” Around a borderliner, your life no longer feels like your own.

2) They Are Never To Blame. The only time they don’t want attention, is when it comes to accepting blame. Their standard tactics are to deny and minimise. After I fell out with one borderliner, for instance, she tried to tell a friend that I’d ‘just misunderstood one little incident’, when in fact there’d been months of increasingly objectionable behaviour on her part. They will also deny there is any repetition of their behaviour - “let’s just talk about this one thing”, my ex would always say, when I tried to point out any patterns.

 Another tactic is ‘reframing’. If something negative did happen, it’s always someone else’s fault. On the rare occasion my ex would admit there was anything ‘wrong’ with her behaviour, she’d insist that it was an ‘only natural’ reaction to how *I* behaved, that I ‘drove’ her to it. For years, I tried very, very hard to be ‘better’, so she in turn would be nice to me. Only when I realised that my behaviour was not the trigger, was I able to break free.

3) They Have Almost No Self-Awareness. A borderliner, for instance, will say things like “I’m a very calm person”, when they’ve just spent hours screaming at you, or claim “I’m not _____ anymore”, when it’s obvious to everyone around them that they still very much are. They also have (or pretend to have?) almost zero awareness of the effect of their actions on others. This is part of the blaming others of course, but it’s more than that. I’ve had a borderliner tell me, with great concern, how it used to ‘really upset’ her when her ex used to self-harm, not realising that this same ex had told me how they only self-harmed after the borderliner had convinced them that they were worthless. It was as if they can’t comprehend any connection between how they behave, and how other people react to them.

4) They will use others against you. This is particularly so if you’ve put yourself out of their reach somehow. Remember that borderliners are experts at manipulation. There’s a phenomenon called ‘flying monkeys’ where borderliners recruit others to continue their abuse of you, having convinced them that YOU are the ‘baddie’. You may even have been one yourself, when you were with them. And while they rarely seem to commit physical violence themselves, I have seen one incite someone to commit it on a third party – after several attempts to destroy that party’s personal and professional reputation.

5) They see all this as normal. Whatever made them borderline happened so young, and so thoroughly, that they seem unable to understand just how screwed up they are. I suppose this makes them objects of pity, but the way I see it, it’s like seeing an unhappy-looking lion in its cage at the zoo. You may feel sorry for it, but it’s not a good idea to jump into the cage and pat it on the head - ‘there, there, poor kitty!’ Borderliners are like the lion – feel sorry for them perhaps, but at a safe distance, or they will rip you to shreds. They can be helped, yes, but not by just anyone. It takes truly major therapy - and first they must admit they need it. Wherein lies the Big Problem – they generally don’t and won’t.

If all this sounds horrendous, believe me, it is. Victims can take years to win free, and more years to heal, if we ever do. After more than twenty years, I’m not sure I’ve quite managed yet to ‘un-program’ myself from the messages my ex implanted in my psyche. And it still didn’t stop me from being the victim of other borderliners. Thankfully, I recognised the patterns quicker, and was able to get out faster and limit the damage.

You’ll notice I’ve said ‘she’ when talking about the borderliners I’ve known. This is because all the ones I’ve known have been female. Typically, about 70% of those diagnosed borderline are women, but this may simply reflect society’s expectation of how men and women ‘naturally’ behave, as more recent research finds the same rates of borderline among men and women in the general population, though the ways it manifests may differ somewhat.

Similarly, I am aware that borderliners are not all the same. Some seem more aggressive than others, some treat badly only those closest while seeming ‘lovely’ to everyone else, while others display the same behaviour to all. Some even seem to have moments of remorse and acknowledging their behaviour (my ex would sometimes do this), but the big problem with this is you can’t trust them to stay that way. What they say today, they will ‘forget’ and deny tomorrow. It’s how they’re built.

There is much more I could say about borderliners, but I think this post is long enough! My basic message is - be wary. Be very wary. And when you recognise one, run a mile. And then another, and another. For your own sake, and the sake of those closest to you. Stay safe, people.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

I'm So Tired Of Martyr Mommies

I’m tired of martyr mommies.

This year’s ‘Autism Awareness Month’ seems to have brought out even more of the breed, proliferating like rabbits on the Internet. Not that I go looking for them, you understand – I don’t need to, they pop up on Facebook with depressing regularity, and I see them because autistics or our non-autistic allies are up in arms about their latest communications, and rightly so.

Martyr Mommies are often of course ‘Warrior Moms’ on bad days. Warrior Moms (and sometimes Dads) are also everywhere on the Net. They’re the ones who sound like a cross between the worst autism-hating organisations and their own personal cheerleading squad for their kids. They’re all gung ho, rah-rah-rah, I love my kid to bits (but not their autism!), they’re my hero/darling/champion (but only of course for as long as they’re trying hard not to be or look autistic), my kid ‘loves’ their ABA (even when their own accounts suggest different), everything’s all hunky-dory (even when it’s obviously not), we’re ‘fighting the good fight’ every hour of the day (translation: poor kid never gets a break from ‘therapy’) and by gosh darn we’re winning! (Translation: we’ve managed to squash our kid into the non-autistic shape we want, no matter the cost to them.) 

But then they have a bad day, things don’t go according to The Big Plan, and so they jump on the Net again, woe is me, my kid has the autismz, they make my life so hard, the world hates me, it’s not fair, I ‘deserve’ a normal kid, etc, etc, etc… Completely self-pitying rants, all too obviously designed to gather sympathy and pats on the back. And they get them. In droves. People (few if any actually autistic of course) rush to tell them how ‘brave’ they are, how wonderful, how they totally support their efforts to squeeze the Big Bad Autism out of their precious darlings, and so on.

Three points about these communications strike me. Firstly, that they, or their supporters, often claim that they are ‘bravely telling it like it is’ about autism, as if what they’re saying is so rare. But – it isn’t. It really isn’t. These ‘brave’ messages from ‘Autism Land’ are everywhere, especially in Autism Awareness Month, perpetuating the worst kind of images about autism, and overriding what actual autistics are trying to tell the world. They get the attention, and we get drowned out.

Secondly, whenever autistics find these blogs, Facebook posts, videos, whatever, and protest the ideas in them, we almost always get an extremely negative reaction, from them and/or their supporters. It seems you’re either one of their sycophantic cheerleaders, or one of the Enemy. We’re called ‘haters’ and ‘horrible people’ and accused of ‘trying to make autism parents’ lives harder’, when in actuality we are trying to help, or at least trying to help their kid.

Which brings me to the third point – that their messages are always All About Me. My pain, my troubles, my hardship, me, me, me. Nothing about their kid, and what they’re suffering, and certainly there seems to be no consciousness that they might actually be making their child’s life worse. I sometimes wonder if they even register that their kid has feelings, or if they’re swallowed the autism-negative line that we don’t have any.

Don’t get me wrong - I get that it’s not easy. I get that parents of autistic kids get stares and hostility and stupid comments from the public. I get that it can be awful when your kid has a meltdown in the supermarket and you don’t know what to do, or that you spend a lot of your time making their food right, cleaning faeces off walls and floors, or trying to stop them eloping over the nearest wall. I also get that there’s not enough or the wrong kind of ‘help’ from the Powers That Be. I get that.

But – and here’s the thing – everything the parents find hard, IT’S TEN TIMES HARDER FOR THE KIDS. Because yes, even as kids, even if it doesn’t seem like it, we too are aware of the nasty looks and words, the hostility, the pity and the patronisation, the ‘autism as disease’ and other relentlessly negative messages about autism, how we’re a ‘burden’ on everyone, and so on. We understand far more than you think – even when we are non-verbal and written off as ‘too lacking in intelligence’ to understand anything. 

Add in to that our sensory struggles, our social difficulties, our straining to make sense of a world that just doesn’t, our frequent shame and embarrassment after a meltdown, our feeling of being ‘square pegs in a round-holed world’ which only grows stronger as we get older and more aware of others, our struggles with co-occurring conditions like executive dysfunction or alexithymia or anxiety disorders – and sometimes, of course, not even knowing that there is a name for these difficulties… Even if it doesn’t seem like it, we’re drowning in problems far worse than cleaning a bit of faecal matter off a wall.

But even that’s not the main point that always comes to mind when I think of martyr mommies.
My main point is this – that most of their pain is self-inflicted. Why? Because it’s caused by their resisting their child’s autism, fighting it, bewailing it, trying to crush it and being inconsolable when they can’t. So much of their distress, if you read their accounts closely, isn’t caused by things like faecal smearing or meltdowns or escaping, but because their child behaves in an obviously autistic fashion

So they get extremely upset when, for instance, their child rocks or flaps, hides in their room when visitors arrive, doesn’t use oral speech, does talk but not in a ‘normal’ way, refuses to hug Grandma, insists on their food being ‘just so’, spends hours arranging the family bookshelf, or ‘prevents’ their parents from ‘enjoying’ family holidays or outings. No allowance is to be made for their child’s ‘bad’ behaviour, they must be ‘trained’ out of it, no matter the long-term consequences.

Sigh. These parents come from such a different place regarding autism, and are so entrenched in it, that I hardly know how to talk to them, when I read their posts. The worst of them seem, sadly, beyond reach. Whether ‘warrior’ or ‘martyr’ however, I always yearn to ask them “if you really love your kid so much, why are you trying to eradicate something that’s intrinsic to their very being? What does it matter that they line up toys, touch their food ritually before eating it, or flap their way round the supermarket? Is this really such an awful thing?” It seems in their eyes, that it is. And that’s the root cause of their stress - not the autism itself, but that they can’t accept their kids as they really are. 

Many other parents of autistic kids, while sometimes having traumatic experiences, and almost as frequent struggles with getting services, don’t seem anywhere near as stressed out as martyr and warrior parents. They certainly don’t seem to spend their days angsting over the mere fact of their kids being autistic, regardless of their actual behaviour. They simply accept their kid’s autism as a fact, something to be worked with rather than against, and go from there. Sometimes on the spectrum themselves, sometimes not, they are our allies or potential allies, and I salute them. If more parents of autistic kids were like our allies, the world would undoubtedly be a much better place for autistics, or at least more people would be working to make it so.

Unfortunately, the warrior and martyr parents are not. And that is the real ‘tragedy’ of autism in their families.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

More On Not Belonging, And Introversion

One thing I didn’t list in my previous post about not belonging in this world, is being an introvert. There are differences of opinion, I’ve found, on what percentage of the population are introverts or extraverts, whether the two types are just the extremes, and how you define introversion anyway, but by any definition, I am thoroughly and completely introvert. Although, as I’ve said before, not all autistics are introverted, I unquestionably am. I feel this is yet another thing that sets me apart from the mainstream of society.

Introverts have long had a bad press, whether they are labelled as such or not. Regardless of their actual numbers, extraverts do dominate the social arena. They do this by being louder, more ‘out there’, more ‘sociable’, and hence more visible, but also by extraversion being seen as the ideal personality type, in both the public mind and the professional literature, particularly in Western countries. It’s only fairly recently that this has been challenged. Nonetheless, it’s still the case that introverts are not well understood, or really accepted as they are.

Being an introvert has meant a lifetime of misunderstandings and pressure from extraverts -

- “Come out and have fun!” - as though the first invariably leads to the second. 

- “Don’t look so sad/why the long face/cheer up! It may never happen!” – when I am merely lost in thought.

- “Why so quiet? Cat got your tongue?” – if I wasn’t chattering like a bird at every opportunity.

- “why are you hiding away in here? Come out and join the party!” - when I’d retreat into some other room for a bit of peace and quiet at a social event. My need for solitude is usually seen as abnormal, and not healthy.

- “You should try and make more friends!” – (I’ve often been tempted to ask, “out of what? Cardboard? Papier mache?”) The assumption seems to be that having more people in my life meant I’d automatically be happier. Riiiight…

The other reaction I persistently got was to be totally ignored. Over the years, I came to believe I must be either very boring or some awful person, because so many people seemed to overlook me or turn away, or even outright cold-shoulder me. At a friend’s house one day, for instance, another woman there, who was talking to my friend, refused even to acknowledge my existence. She pointedly ignored me when I spoke, talking only to my friend, and not even looking in my direction. It was so noticeable that even my friend, a kind, generous soul, became visibly uncomfortable, glancing from her to me, looking puzzled and anxious. I walked away in the end. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. But it did leave me wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me, that someone I’d barely met should treat me like that.

My response to all this, besides feeling like I was somehow warped or boring or just plain inferior, was to try to make myself over into what I thought I ‘should’ be – like others. I would force myself to go to social events, stay longer than I really felt good with, talk more than I really wanted to, or simply pretend to be something I knew intrinsically I wasn’t. It did not make me happier, or transform me into a party-lover, it just made me more tired, and more convinced I was Not Good Enough as I was.

Mixed in with this struggle was a lot of resentment – I also, on some deeper level, didn’t really feel that those oh-so-social people were so much better than me, just noisier. In fact, some of them I privately thought of as ‘exhibitionists’, ie deliberately displaying their emotional states to get attention. It wasn’t till I learnt about the differences between introverts and extraverts that I realised that it was as natural for them to display their emotions as it was for me to keep mine inside. Mostly though, my earlier years were simply rather lonely.

And yes, I know now that there are many other introverts in the world, and I do feel a connection with them, but the thing with being an introvert is that you value large chunks of solitude – away even from other introverts. Having said that, I would trade one heartfelt, intense and meaningful conversation with another introvert for any number of parties, any day. And the people I can have such conversations with are pearls beyond price, in my view.

The bottom line however is that I’m a loner, a social outsider by nature, and a semi-recluse by choice. This is what I’ve found is the best way for me to live, and that the world can’t seem to accept that, and me as I am, is just one more thing that makes me feel even less part of this world.