It put you there
It keeps you there
The belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being
Early this afternoon (having worked the night shift), I was scrolling through Facebook posts to keep myself awake. This has become a favorite pastime recently since it holds the attention of a mind that is just short of pure mush from sleep deprivation. In my zombie-like scrolling I came upon a post my 15 year old daughter made earlier this morning of the photo above. It always makes me smile when I see stories, ideas, or random thoughts she posts that I would have also identified with, had I stumbled upon it first. It gives me a small sense of security that maybe she is going to be emotionally “ok” despite navigating her teenage years with her Aspie stepfather after losing her own father to suicide at the age of 10. Her stepfather (I suppose better referred to as my husband) is by all accounts (all = mine) the epitome of the “Adult Male Aspie” stereotype (in the negative).
Sadly, the vast majority of adults with Aspergers have not only gone undiagnosed until the last decade, but they comprise only a fraction of those who warranted a diagnosis but were failed not once, but twice by a medical community who got it wrong (See: WHAT DOES AUTISM SPECTRUM MEAN?). Regardless of why my husband made it so far without a clue his mind operated on a different system, his coping mechanisms to adapt to the norm and fit in served to produce a man that is so defensive and closed-off it sometimes becomes profoundly challenging to believe there is any kindness tucked beneath the surface. If I could make a documentary of our daily lives for a week (and that is the current project at hand) the title would be deemed “mental health, who needs it?!?”
Due to our daily struggles, it frequently crosses my mind that there is no way my beautifully empathetic daughter will make it out of this nuthouse unscathed. This could be why such a silly Facebook post catapulted me back into a topic I had been researching years ago compelling me to comment on her post and create this one:
Ugh…you are an altruist in every sense of the word monkey (“ugh” because as a mom I know the personal sacrifices you have already endured and will continue to endure throughout your lifetime because of this “psychological gift/burden”)
Despite abandoning my research on the theory of altruism long ago, I continue to turn to its defining characteristics often when I am feeling less than hopeful (i.e. FU#*ING HOPELESS!) There is something inspiring about those that are truly altruistic individuals and it seemed to apply to my Asperger/NT marriage so appropriately. I am in no way considering myself altruistic, as I would probably not be blogging with such reckless abandon that I am certain will infuriate many subgroups of ASD or their families along the way (we are an exhausted volatile group, aren’t we?). Clearly I have “aspergated” myself enough in the last five years to decide that my opinion is the right one and I should write this blog. I certainly must think what I have to say is so special it will garner the attention of strangers. (See: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ASPERGATED?) <— coming soon
Come to think of it, I am not sure if my newly discovered inflated ego actually has anything to do with being married to an Aspie at all. Perhaps I have been subliminally led to believe that if someone as purposeless as the YouTube “star” PewDiePie could suck my own daughter and over 40 million others into abandoning their own video game playing to watch him play video games and obnoxiously ramble… maybe what I have to say warrants a crack at it too?
Full disclosure: I don’t really believe I have any degree of ego-driven motivation behind this blog but I figured I should put it out there for the inevitable flurry of hostile responders eager to point out that my words also hold no weight and I write only for self-gratification.
Ever single time I hit up Google or another search engine desperate for insight into an Aspie/NT marriage and come up empty, or with the same articles I read half a decade ago, I realize… something has GOT TO GIVE! I see that annoying little “internet sensation” in my mind’s eye playing his video games while my (then) eleven year old child giggles incessantly over nothing of value (for hours) and I think, “Seriously?” I believe, as do the select few experts in Aspergers (that are truly deserving of such a title), that the actual percentage of our society that would be diagnosed with AS (if evaluated under the old criteria) is far more profound than anyone could imagine. They never did have a clear figure to account for the prevalence of Aspergers in children when it was still diagnosable, and heaven knows the interest in adults undiagnosed yielded no research grants!
Having worked with thousands of men between the age of 21 and 45 over the last decade, I venture to guess there’s an Aspie close to us at all times, even if they/we don’t know it. If my current work is a snapshot of society (and it is considering I work with people of all ages, from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, genders, etc.) I would be brazen enough to suggest that the pathetic figures tossed out over the years are exactly that…pathetic.
The most respected subject-matter expert in our current time (he better be) Dr. Tony Attwood appears to share my awareness that Aspies are not only prevalent in our world, but they aren’t just men undiagnosed we are passing each day. I believe there are so many women equally deserving of the diagnosis but because they present themselves differently (be it nature or nurture) they rarely get the right diagnosis and are overlooked entirely. After living with my husband John for five years, reading every blog, book, article, study, etc. on the subject…and writing about my observations, I can now readily identify Aspies every time I turn around. It is so obvious and common to me now, that I hesitate to even think of it as a disorder any longer. How can it be a disorder when it is so incredibly prevalent and only really comes down to one functional aspect that is truly “different” in our brain? If it is as prevalent as I believe it is, then it really is just a “different” mindset, isn’t it? How many different perspectives and “different” ways of thinking exist in the NT world?
If we existed in an Aspie-predominant world, us NT’s would be seriously labeled as INSANE and subsequently (heavily) medicated by the Aspie physicians who see our empathetic thinking patterns as delusions of grandeur! Imagine that; “Hey Kim, did you see that quack over there who thinks he can read people’s minds and intentions just by looking at their eyeballs!?!? What a FREAK!!!”
Unfortunately (for my husband) he is the minority, and he is the one with abnormal cognitive processing to the majority NT world. Only, living in a world with this massive empathy continuum, people like my husband have to try to fit in. They never really pull this off if you are around them long enough though, do they? Yet here we sit today, in a world where we were on the right track to prevent Aspies from ever living a life of hiding and pretending, and the powers-that-be in the mental health community thought it best to toss them into another group because of the “similarities” they saw and the genetic component at play in both classic autism and Aspergers.
I will be happy to disprove the gene mutations linking both of these in future posts.
The variances in social behavior and verbal functioning are so extreme in the two that now families of Aspies don’t know their head from their…. (you get the point) after receiving an Autism Spectrum diagnosis. In this world, the brilliant Dr. Attwood who has dedicated decades to Asperger research and education commands 16 times less space on his Wikipedia page then our good friend Pewdie. I would hate to tell you the disparity between information on that lucky bastard and Adult Aspergers in a single internet search. Suffice it to say, the first page of my internet search STILL kicks back the same results I got five years ago. It is pretty disheartening to feel as though there have been no further advances in adult AS communication tips than the vague advice dished out half a decade ago. What still comes up every time I look are women like myself who have long-since given up. The people who had all of the brilliant advice or encouragement because their marriage or relationship was going so great, well they never seem to have follow-up posts to confirm that it still is (I wonder why).
This sheer priority (lack thereof) and lapse in common sense in our world is what motivates me to “be the change I want to see in the world.” You may not like what I have to say, but I am shooting for awareness of the word Aspergers outside of the media’s occasional mention in regard to a mass-shooting or to assign a label to some quirky entrepreneur that no one understands. Although I must say, not all media is bad (even when it is bad) in regard to Asperger-awareness and sometimes even the bad is enough to get people reading about it, which is better than knowing nothing. I will bet that South Park caused more Google searches on the subject than any mental health professional has ever managed to conjure up.
So back to the subject of this post (have I mentioned yet that I am quite certain I warrant an ADHD diagnosis myself and frequently drift off point?)… with the concept of altruism on my mind already,
it seemed appropriate… it seemed necessary to delve further into what it actually means (in relation to Aspergers) after I read my daughter’s post today.
Altruism and empathy are interlinked and almost always coexist and symbiotically feed off one another. In consideration of an Aspie, who is entirely absent of empathy, (See: WHY CAN’T I REACH THAT SMALL BIT OF EMPATHY THAT EXISTS?) it would seem that they could not ever display altruistic actions. This is in contrast to the memories I have of my husband the first year we were dating, although long distance, he always displayed such behaviors (or my dumb-a$$ would not have swooned over him).
Neurologists say this ability is hard-wired in those highly empathetic and altruistic individuals. That they seek selfless acts because they are neurologically designed to, and when they act in this manner it produces a chemical response much the same as the drug addict who just scored some really good sh*t! In other words, you had no control over this behavior manifesting itself in your adult life as it was neurologically set-in-stone for you in utero (you didn’t create this ability, it created you.) Seems pretty difficult to prove in my lifetime, but I like it so I will add it to the list of *Kara Facts*.
True altruism does exist and empathy is what sets it apart as altruism – Batson et al. (1981)
As an example, let’s say little Timmy sees his friend Ashley drop her ice cream cone on the ground and start crying. Timmy walks over to her and hands his own ice cream to Ashley so she will stop being so sad. Little Timmy wanted to make Ashley’s suffering stop and did not regard himself and the fact that he would consequently have no ice cream now. When mom sees Timmy do this, she praises him with affection and kind words and tells him what a wonderfully caring boy he is! She likely also buys little Timmy another ice cream cone for his selfless and kind behavior. Now, little Timmy has just had altruistic behavior reinforced to him and a little lightbulb turns on to make him more likely to repeat this behavior in the future. Little Sarah who stood back and witnessed this event gets the same reinforcement and wants to repeat the actions she just saw.
Altruism is also a psychological survival instinct brought on from very early development. A proven example of this is with maternal attachment security and infant crying. As a baby when you cried, mom (for example; not being sexist) would pick you up to comfort you. This equates to crying when an infant is in need of affection, feelings of security, etc. Mom responds, so therefore mom IS affection and security. On the flip side, when a baby cries and no one comes to them… ever… there becomes a negative reinforcement that crying has no effect on security or comfort. Lord knows this study has been well documented time and time again for eons. Makes sense so… add to *Kara-Facts*.
Take a moment and look at the picture above. Now think of how YOU operate toward other people when they are in pain, sad, suffering, or any other emotional state of mind that you are acutely aware of. You are an altruistic person by nature BECAUSE you are an empathetic person. The more empathetic you are, the more altruistic you become.
Now consider your husband. He does NOT have empathy. He is cognitively INCAPABLE of “adoption of the other person’s perspective.” When someone is distressed, it causes him distress personally as well, only it is not on the other person’s behalf. It is not empathetic concern. Rather than behave altruistically toward a person suffering, he immediately seeks to reduce his own discomfort. He is not an A$$hole… he CANNOT see what you do, and he most certainly does not grasp that he has done anything wrong or hurtful to another person when he acts to alleviate his own discomfort.
The most fascinating part of altruism I discovered is that it either is or is not. A person IS altruistic or they simply behave altruistically for selfish purposes. For instance, a true altruist will feel empathy for others because they want to help them regardless of anything they stand to gain; relieving that persons suffering is the only focus (empathy-altruism theory). On the flip side, a person can behave altruistic despite having ZERO empathy (social-exchange theory/Aspie) provided helping others serves to benefit them and does not outweigh personal costs.
Social exchange theory is a social psychological and sociological perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties
If we considered that both the psychological and neurological theory had merit (and I do), it could serve to explain why some individuals fall on the extremely high end of the empathy continuum and others fall somewhere in the middle. Consider this, if a person was neurologically hard-wired to derive pleasure from altruistic behaviors AND had psychological reinforcement from very early development…they would likely grow to be highly empathetic adults. If someone were neurologically altruistic, but were raised in the absence of empathetic caregivers, they would fall somewhere in the middle and could vary on higher or lower ends of the continuum dependent on other psychologically altruistic reinforcements during their early years. The individual who was not neurologically set up to be altruistic but had an extreme amount of psychological reinforcement and close attachment to those that enabled this, would likely fall on the mid to lower end of the empathy continuum, as it does not come naturally (neurologically) and requires behavior modification one way or another.
Most individuals display some form of altruism in their life with the more extreme people having a probable neurological predisposition allowing environmental influences to steer it further into everyday life. Your Aspie husband? Well, he was not only lacking the neurological hard-wiring to derive pleasure from altruistic behaviors, but he was also devoid of being able to cognitively process empathy for another human at all. No amount of psychological reinforcement would have made this click for him during his development. So now this adult man is capable only of displaying altruistic behavior based on the social-exchange theory.
What does this mean? Go back to when you met him. Didn’t he seem to be empathetic to your needs (you… the HIGHLY empathetic individual) at first? Doing nice things for you, perhaps even buying you thoughtful gifts, or other tokens of affection? Even if they paled in comparison to what you received from other men you dated, weren’t they present far more back then compared to what you are left with today? Why is that?
Going back to your initial courting days when he seemed so much more considerate and aware of your needs, it turns out he was operating under the social exchange theory, not the empathy-altruism theory. This man was only looking at the benefit of remembering your favorite restaurant or to remind you of an important meeting you had to get prepared for…. because when he did these thoughtful things, you seemed to spend more time with him, or tell him you loved or appreciated him. This man, so accustomed to others not wanting anything to do with him on a personal level, became highly motivated to behave in altruistic ways toward you because the reward for himself was profound.
You (YES, YOU) made the mistake of seeing altruism and empathy in actions that were not driven on those principles.
You could not have known that the benefit for him to be with you outweighed the cost of his effort, anxiety, or the incredible work to appear socially “normal” he had to put in at that time. It was never because he wanted to make you feel good, or because he could empathize with who you were as a person and was providing you affection based on that.
Then you moved in together, or got married. Now the cost begins to rear its ugly head and the social-exchange theory becomes far more valid as the sole-reason for altruistic behavior from the man with zero empathy. It did not take much when you first came together to get you to respond appropriately to his efforts, but as time elapsed, the altruistic actions he once displayed began to provide less and less of a reward for him. He had already accomplished the highest reward he could imagine where you were concerned; he got you to agree to spend the rest of your life with him when you filed that marriage license! The actions and work it took for him to secure you in his life no longer required the same level of focus, energy, or effort…as far as he was concerned, the war was won and it was time for some R&R.
So there you were, having the polar opposite response to marriage, thinking you had just agreed to take that altruistic behavior to a new level and improve upon it in your future as a couple. Holy S@#T that is NOT what happened, is it? So your expectations were not being met, and worse, they were actually being incredibly underserved with each new day.
So what did you do?
You wanted to talk about it (he didn’t). You want to understand why (he had no clue what you were even asking him). Maybe you thought he had lost interest in you (first step in assaulting your self-esteem) and you tried to improve yourself to make him respond the way he did when you were courting. No luck, he didn’t step up to the plate you set before him.
So you pushed a little harder to get your feelings across.
He likely became more distant or sputtered off more insensitive words as he saw his wife (who he liked perfectly fine the way she was) talking nonsense all of the time.
When you took a step back you saw a woman going out of her way to grab her husband’s attention and affection, and he saw a woman becoming increasingly irrational when he didn’t not respond appropriately to some ridiculous thought in her head (that he could not possibly comprehend so he did not attempt to).
He hadn’t the first clue what you were ever talking about, let alone how to respond accordingly… so he withdrew from you or he became defensive that you were always “criticising” or “attacking” him for no good reason.
Enter resentment, unresolved anger, frustration, distrust, and an overall disintegration of a relationship that began so promising.
The dominos that were your hopes and dreams in marriage start wobbling at this point, and there is little doubt it began the moment the vows were said or shortly thereafter. The wife begins to resent his withholding of emotions, love, affection, support, encouragement, etc. The husband is not withholding anything, he just stopped the now unnecessary effort to obtain something he already had in his possession. The wife begins to say things that are untrue to him (you don’t treat me well, you don’t love me, you have changed, etc.) and the husband begins to feel attacked for no reason. He certainly didn’t change (he cannot see the perception she had of him while he was “altruistically” wooing her) and is the same guy she met at the start. Since he certainly had not consciously done anything to his beloved bride, he begins to realize the cost of keeping his wife “sane” is not only extreme, but so irrational he wouldn’t even know where to begin with the incredible garbage spewing out of her mouth each day! Since the degree of clarity the wife is seeking is never vocalized logically to her husband (and both are likely clueless he has Aspergers and zero empathetic ability) she becomes “INSANE” and he becomes a real “A$$HOLE.”
Now neither partner is living with the person they originally intended to spend the rest of their life with.
The more this compounds (and it ALWAYS DOES) the more the husband withdraws from any degree of altruistic behavior. He would never be able to rationalize how any “action” on his behalf could be beneficial to him, failing to see these actions (to communicate better) benefit him by maintaining the wife he wanted in the first place.
Social-exchange theory is in full blown effect by this point and the husband will continue to see the benefit of altruistic actions toward his wife as being far too great a cost to him, even if it is just sitting down to “talk” about her silly “wrong” thoughts that do not make sense. He cannot see a tangible reward to reap so he does not explore her nagging any further.
So that’s that.
The dominos fall and you’re left looking at this long line of hopes and dreams toppled onto one another.
You want to give up.
But you don’t.
The reason you don’t just toss the towel in is because you ARE an altruist.
If you remained with this man for any length of time you became acutely aware that it was hindering your own potential for happiness and growth. You have likely spent a good chunk of time already focused on how to maximize HIS potential and growth. Some philosophers suggest it is absolutely demeaning to a person’s sense of self to be altruistic in this way. It certainly feels like you are betraying yourself a lot doesn’t it? So does that mean the morally correct thing to do is to put oneself first so you can reach your highest potential?
Should you leave him to save yourself?
Not so fast. Those same philosophers pointing out that you are degrading yourself to behave altruistically in the manner you are, also believe that it remains the duty of every person to still be altruistic toward those that are weaker in society. Well… he certainly seems weaker, doesn’t he? So does that mean that the right thing to do from every angle is to stay with him or else you are selfish and morally wrong?
A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members–Mahatma Ghandi
No one has the answer for you, but I will offer my own conclusion and see if it sways the place you are at in your life now.
I am an altruistic person by nature (contrary to my denial at the start of this post). To be perfectly honest, I do not want to be! I wish I could walk by those in need and not lend a hand sometimes, but I can’t. My mind tells me to go because they will eat up a good chunk of my time or day when I have so many other things to do. Still, I cannot bring myself to abandon those in need if I am readily able to assist. Not to say I will not vent about what a pain in the butt it was to do A or B later, but I know inside I did the right thing. If ever (and I have tried) I walk away from someone in need of help, I will spend an uncomfortable amount of time imagining what they felt or went through when I abandoned them.
This feeling SUCKS and it is UNRELENTING. Due to the consequential misery I experience when I refuse aid to another person (regardless of how simple or burdening it can be for me), I have learned to accept that in the end my actions will be mutually beneficial to the person on the receiving end as it is to my own mental health.
When I met John, it was his altruistic behavior toward me that won me over. He was selflessly there for myself and daughter in our time of grief and it did not appear we had anything to offer him in return at the time. In retrospect, I realize now that it was my daughter and I that he wanted most in his life back then, he wanted a family but also someone who could care for him. By the time I realized the reality I was in, I could not leave him. Despite my mind telling me over and over again that I was sacrificing myself for him, I just could not bring myself to choose myself.
All of the misery I felt and times I told myself that it isn’t fair, or that he misled or lied to me… the truth is… I was just never educated or aware of reality. I never understood what was REALLY going on in my relationship and the interactions we had with one another. John never consciously did anything to cause me harm or mislead me, I simply confused his actions as empathy and altruism when they never were. I was the only one capable of cognitively comprehending the truth at any point along the way.
So, somewhere along the way I did begin to question what choosing myself actually meant… and somewhere along the way I came to realize there were thousands of people in my shoes desperate for answers and help. Not desperate for advice to leave, but for advice on how to stay and be happy.
That right there, is an altruist seeking assistance.
When I realized those answers do not readily exist I began to think that I could potentially play a part in uncovering them and benefiting thousands of families and maybe myself in the process. Because I am altruistic by nature (and do not want to be) I had to admit that if I left my husband, there was a ridiculously high chance I would subconsciously regret it and likely choose another man with equal or worse “issues” and struggle to leave them as well. I gravitate toward those in need emotionally, so there is no point in fighting the inevitable. That was when I personally began to see that I am choosing myself by choosing to play out the choices I make in my life and see why my path brought me there. I am here for a reason, altruism brought him into my life and it will be the reason I remain with him. I do not suspect that it will get easier, but I do suspect I will learn more and become a stronger individual.
NOTHING EVER GETS EASIER. YOU JUST GET STRONGER.
When you take a big step back and look at how you feel about altruism in society, or those that selflessly opt to continue on that path despite the pain it brings them… what do you think of them? Do you think they are incredibly weak or pathetic, or do you think they are morally solid and strong-willed individuals who make our society better and more tolerable? If you would not judge someone on the outside, perhaps it is time to abandon the judgement you are bashing yourself with every day? Perhaps you should honor the strength you have to do something few women could withstand. Perhaps you should be patting yourself on the back instead of calling yourself names and being disappointed in allowing a relationship that is so unbalanced (in his favor). There may not be answers for you now on how to bridge the gap, but can you honestly tell me how there will ever be if people like yourself do not see it through?
How altruistic are you willing to be in the future considering it placed you in the present?