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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Personality Disorders Versus the Autism Spectrum

In yesterday's post I mentioned how having discussions about the state of your relationship can be very frustrating and painful if your partner suffers from a personality disorder. They can also be difficult if your partner is on the Autism Spectrum as well. There is a world of difference between these two things and the prognosis for your relationship should you choose to remain together very different as well.

So what are personality disorders and what is the Autism Spectrum (hereafter) referred to the "spectrum"?

For starters, personality disorders are a group of pathologies, all of which involve behavior patterns that are essentially anti-social and lacking in empathy for other people. By anti-social, I don't mean "prefers to be alone". Rather I mean "against society - essentially evil". There are a lot of different kinds, and many of them occur together in the same person. But the main ones are:

1. Narcissism
2. Histrionics
3. Borderlines

There are a lot of characteristics, and over the next few posts, I will explain what these are and how they tend to manifest themselves in relationships. I will also explain what the spectrum is and how people often confuse being on the spectrum with having these kinds of disorders. The internet is awash with blogs that are very good at explaining what the basic characteristics are of these personality disorders, in broad terms. But I find them lacking when it comes to giving good examples of everyday situations where an individual is displaying narcissistic, histrionic or borderline behavior. Narcissists are overly concerned with their image. Everything flows from their desire to be #1, and on top of that, they have no conscience when it comes to their behavior. They behave, in essence in almost exactly the same way as sociopaths. Indeed they share many of the same characteristincs as sociopaths. That is narcissism in four sentences - its much more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Histrionics are similar, except that their behavior is overtly sexual. So that coworker at the office that keeps hitting on you inappropriately and threatens to start a harrasment complaint against you if you don't accede to their advances is likely a histrionic. Borderlines look almost exactly like depressives, in that they often complain of suffering from depression. But the giveaway with them is their behavior is a lot like that of narcissists and pushes people away. A typical depression sufferer can be challenging to be around for long periods of time, but if they are normal in terms of their empathy, they typically will try to avoid upsetting those around them, or at least they won't engage in aggressive behaviors. At very least they will usually try to get better because the drpression is so unbearable. A borderline will actually resist all attempts to get better, and will lash out at other people all the time. It doesn't matter who they are - they can be the closest family members of trusted friends.

The spectrum on the other hand is different. Individuals can be on the low end of the spectrum, i.e. what is called "high functioning autism" or "Aspergers Syndrome", or they can be on the high end, having full blown autism. The spectrum is complicated, and it would take a book to explain all the characteristics and permutations, but generally a person on the spectrum has problems with over-stimulation and anxiety and everything else stems from that. Where most people can be in crowded places, noisy places, hot or very cold places and in all these environments, can either regulate their feelings or otherwise "suck it up", a person on the spectrum cannot. I began to notice a few years ago that whenever I am in a crowded place, or in extreme heat for any length of time, I just shut down and disengage from everyone around me. One charcteristic that defines many people on the spectrum and the one that most people notice are very narrow interests. A person on the spectrum will often fixate on something of interest (i.e. sports, coins, stamps, movies - it could be anything really) and will seem to know almost everything their is to know about it. Another characteristic that most people notice is social awkwardness. People on the spectrum are often accused of being unfeeling, insensitive or passive aggressive because they can do and say things in social situations that others deem inappropriate.

But the main difference between these two things is that a person on the spectrum has a lot of empathy. if you point out the inappropriateness of a behavor or a remark, they may want to argue about why you think it was inappropriate, but once they themselves conclude that you are correct, they will be genuinely embarassed and/or sorry. They will want to make it up to you somehow. Generally a person on the spectrum will respond positively to reasoned discussion, so while they will argue, they will not usually stick to with an untenable or illogical position.

On the other hand, a narcissist, borderline or histrionic will not respond positively to reasoned discussion. They will instead try to turn the discussion back on you. They will not be sorry at all and will be generally outraged that you would accuse them of such a thing. This can be extremely subtle by the way. Have you ever been in a situation where you got an apology for someone, but felt worse afterward? Chances are, you were dealing with a personality disordered person who turned the discussion back on you without you even realizing it.

So the upshot of all this is: personality disordered individuals know that their behavior is inappropriate, but they don't care enough to to do the work that it will take for them to stop. People on the spectrum see the world differently from neurotypicals and are often misunderstood. But with a little empathy and understanding from neurotypicals they can avoid common misunderstandings that can undermine a relationship. So if you find yourself having a lot of talks with your partner about your relationship that seem to be going nowhere, take a step back and consider that the culprit may be one of these two things, and then set about trying to determine which it is. My next post will deal with narcissism and how it manifests itself in relationships.

I am speaking with the experience of someone who is on the spectrum and also as someone whoose father was, I believe a narcissist and whose ex is possibly a borderline.

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