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Carol Grigg Counselling

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Just one word would do

Posted on June 28, 2016 at 7:48 AM
In all my conversations with partners of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome I hear partners yearning for some form of acknowledgement from their Aspie partner.  I know what they mean, I know what it feels like to have that yearning.  Just one word.

One word that tells us they see us, that they understand how we’re feeling, that they know what we need, that they recognise our need for connection, that they understand what we’re saying, that they know we love them, that they value who we are, that they notice what we do, that they appreciate our care and all our effort, that we are important to them, that they care about us, that they’re sorry for words or actions that hurt us, that they love us, that we matter.

That one word would make it all ok.  Just one word.  It seems so simple.  But that one word would convey a world of meaning that our partners do not understand and cannot articulate.  They look at us blankly, or argue the point, or think we’re trying to compete with them.  It’s like we’re asking them to suddenly speak fluently in a foreign language.  A language they don’t comprehend and have no words for.  How can they see or measure what to them seems invisible?

Often our children are more fluent in the language of acknowledgement, of appreciation, of recognising another’s contribution or significance.  How joyful does it make our hearts when someone stops to say thank you?  How do we live with joy when the one we’ve chosen to love goes through each day offering no acknowledgement of any way we’ve made a positive impact in their lives, and worse still, seems to notice only when they perceive we’ve impacted negatively?

I’m asking questions I can’t answer.  But it’s better if we change our expectations.  Changing our expectations isn’t about letting our Aspie partner off the hook necessarily.  It’s about doing something to help us avoid our own repeated pain, disappointment and despair.  Let it go, grieve for it, and expect only what’s realistic.  There may even be other relationships or situations where we’ve been hurt and also need to let go of the expectation to be known for who we are, or acknowledged for what we contributed.  Once again, it may be the limitations of others we need to understand and accept.

It’s a normal yearning to be acknowledged or valued, a normal need, one that neurotypicals understand and participate in, naturally.  Once again, let’s seek out, nurture and draw on the relationships we do have where there is a solid reciprocal quality present.

Invisible

Posted on May 18, 2016 at 8:41 PM
I recently began to write the beginnings of another poem, but haven’t developed it yet.
 
It began with thoughts of how painful it is to our core when we realise that there is no longer anything interesting in us to captivate our partner’s attention.
 
When we realise we were just the special interest of the time.  So adored.  Such a priority.  The centrepiece of the story.  We felt so loved and loveable.  We didn’t know any different.  Just thought we’d found that one soul that was made for ours and wanted to share our space, forever, together.
 
Now we sit neatly on the mantelpiece, no longer the centrepiece.  Or maybe we’re smiling from a frame on the desk.
 
We’d thought it was actually about us.  But it ran its course.  The exploration complete.  Every angle covered.  Learned all they could.  Topic exhausted.  Box ticked.  Partner secured.
 
We feel invisible.  Though certainly a useful item on the mantelpiece, we never gather dust.
 
Note I said “learned all they could”.  The limitation is with them.  Our relationships can only go as deep as they can go.  They cannot know us deeper than they can be known themselves.
 
Our hearts feel tricked.  We invested so much.  We want to grow deeper, together.  But living along the surface is all they can sustain.  Gathering items for the mantelpiece, collections for the shed, knowledge for the head.
 
The diagnostic criteria states that AS characteristics become more and more apparent as social demands exceed their capacity to meet those social demands.
 
We are living with partners who have reached their capacity for emotional intimacy and interaction.  They cannot go deeper to the level of meaning that we seek and need in order to thrive.

Our speaker at this month’s meeting (ASPIA 7 May 2016), Clinical Psychologist Jeroen Decates, reminds us over and over again that we must find ways to have our neurotypical needs met – to be with those who “know us”, know our essence, and can sustain deeper interactions with us.

Some seem to have it covered

Posted on April 2, 2016 at 8:13 AM
In my counselling and personal experience I’ve begun to be aware of a subset of AS partners who perform very highly in the job description of partner as though they must be applying themselves to it as a special interest.

We’ve heard of some who’ve made their partner their special interest (long-term) with a high level of adulation and attention (maybe stifling) but still don’t connect emotionally in any consistent way, but I hadn’t focused previously on some who actually make it their business to be the best partner anyone can have, leaving no grounds for anyone to fault them.  They have it covered.  Except the partner still feels so alone and emotionally empty.  Many practical and physical needs are well catered for, solutions are swiftly provided to meet any difficulty, but the partner still feels invisible as an actual soul with feelings and emotional needs.

The performance may be flawless, but it’s still superficial, just ticking the boxes, like making moves on a chess board.  Very deliberately it would seem.  Partners report feeling like their partner heads them off at the pass constantly. Like all their needs have been analysed and predicted, with solutions applied before they can even think let alone open their mouths to ask.  And how dare they ask or have a need that hasn’t been catered for already.

Maybe there are other factors in these situations.  There’s an awareness and a capacity to perform that many Aspies don’t seem to have, but nevertheless I’ve heard it enough now to want to include it in what I write about.  Emotional intimacy, closeness and connection are still missing, but most other bases are covered in a way that leaves no ground for complaint.  A great deal of intelligence is being applied here.

In a couple of these situations the relationship has actually been ended by the AS partner when the non-AS partner persisted in asking for emotional intimacy and change, or questioning the AS partner’s performance in any way.  Seems the preferred path may be to leave rather than acknowledge an inadequacy or a need that he/she has no solution for.

Link to Harvard Happiness Study

Posted on April 2, 2016 at 8:01 AM
While I was still trying to wake up this morning I listened to something that a friend shared on facebook.  I don’t usually bother with talks or you tube videos via facebook, but the topic was about a 75 year Harvard study on happiness.

I was quickly roused out of my drowsiness as the speaker said the words “living in the midst of high conflict is really bad for us.  High conflict marriages without much affection are very bad for our health, in fact worse than the experience of getting divorced.”

The talk had nothing to do with a study into relationships affected by Asperger’s Syndrome, but I’m sure everyone reading this thought will relate to his words.

I have since found the link to this talk, and listened to it again.  It’s very good.  The link is below.  I wondered if it could even be something our AS partners would listen to, being a “Harvard study” and all that!

Compulsion to Correct and Criticise

Posted on February 29, 2016 at 6:29 PM
A common thread in most of my conversations with partners seems to be the Aspie’s capacity for criticism and negativity and the impact on us as we live with this day in and day out.

At our workshop with Tony Attwood in March 2015 someone in the audience asked Tony if people on the Spectrum are normally pessimistic or is it from childhood trauma and issues.  Tony’s answer was that pessimism, negativity, “glass half empty”, etc seem to “come with the territory” of being AS.

It seems that many adults on the spectrum compulsively focus on what’s not complete or correct and compulsively need to correct it.

Rather soul destroying when the object of constant criticism and correction is us.

Do our Partners trust us?

Posted on February 29, 2016 at 6:24 PM
This is a good question, but very complex as members of a partner forum explored recently.

As with many aspects of relationships affected by AS, the matter of trust may vary wildly from one couple to the next, but I’ll share the thoughts that I shared, that are related to my own experience.

My comment within the forum was that “I think their trust (AS partner) is closely linked to what their values are and how they believe we are complying with those.“
 
My recent experience was with a partner who had values linked to finances and asset building, he was a hard worker and honest in his business dealings, but even though I was as honourable and transparent as I could be and contributed as much as I could and pulled my weight, I didn't let him be “in charge” of my stuff, nor did I follow his directives and therefore he persistently demonstrated suspicion towards me.

It was crushing because I'm sure I contributed to our shared lifestyle far more than he gave me any credit for, and all the while my own asset (home) was left to slowly run-down because I didn't have the funds to maintain it.

So, as I said in my initial comment, it seems to depend on what they value and how well they perceive that we are complying with that as to whether they trust us.

I'm not saying everyone’s situation will be the same. I know my ex-husband (I was married to him for 20 years) never seemed to trust me, but it wasn’t about finances or assets with him.  He was very ego-centric, and having me in his space made him feel very threatened, which I think many other partners find is true too.  We expose their poor attitudes and behaviours and hold them accountable which they don't seem to forgive us for.  I never felt like I had any credibility in his estimation, which tied in to his trust in me.

Added to this is something I wrote about not that long ago, about how they seem to build up a perception of us based only on our reactions or negative responses to their poor attitudes and behaviour and they don’t balance up their perception of us by all our good qualities and all the amazing things we do do, particularly for their benefit.

These seem unnoticed, and seem to be irrelevant to them and their estimation of our trustworthiness, or not.

So disheartening.

Colluding with the Delusion

Posted on November 19, 2015 at 4:27 AM
For better or for worse, a very strong thread that runs through our support work is the need to be understanding of our partners in relation to their AS characteristics and difficulties.  The truth of the matter is, this mostly means that we have to be the stronger, more accommodating human being in the situation, and go without the consideration and accommodation that rightfully should be ours too in a partnership or marriage relationship with another human being of equal status.  But this is the nature of it.

We “get” that the AS person has so many limitations in areas we are so natural in, and of course we can feel considerable compassion for their struggles and deficits when we see how stressed they can become in work, home or social settings, until we are reminded of how stressed we have become trying to stage manage home life every moment of every day to avoid the AS partner going into shutdown or meltdown and the consequent disastrously stressful impact this has on the relationship, on the family, on us!
 
That long-winded introduction was heading somewhere …

I was thinking how extremely sensitive the AS partner is to any hint or whiff of criticism, to the point that they read criticism or personal attack into innocent statements that are just factual about whatever is taking place at the time, or for the purpose of making some sort of arrangement or improvement to household functioning or relationship quality for the benefit of all.  It’s called “family life” actually.

I thought of the word “collude”, how they seem to draw us into colluding with them in their belief that they are without error, that their perspective is correct, that their way is best, that they are a more advanced human being who we are privileged to be able to learn from.  We find ourselves rehearsing every word, every phrase, every statement, every conversation before we speak it to purge it of any taint of criticism or judgment or attack, to the point we just can’t speak or deal with anything for fear of bursting their bubble.

And that’s how I think they like it, or in fact need it to be.  There is only room for one reality to exist.

Perhaps they have arrived at their position and perspective as a result of having felt different throughout the formative years when social acceptance and inclusion were everyone else’s priorities, but they couldn’t achieve this, and so they had to become confident in whatever skill or strength they had in order to create an identity of their own.  Still different.  But typically using a skill or gift that has been more highly developed than any non-AS person can achieve.  One that sets them above as well as apart.  One can understand this happening, their reliance on their superiority in a particular field as a “shoring up” of identity.

But as patient and sacrificing partners, we struggle every day with this apparent arrogance they portray and our own sense of powerlessness to influence them to consider our perspective, comment or suggestion as valid or acceptable, and so we become silent.  Or eventually leave.  No other option seems available to us.

What is even more horrifying and disabling for us is the requirement on our part to patiently endure being corrected, directed, criticized and often rudely spoken to regularly by our AS partners, sometimes constantly, as they work on forming us into more complete and tolerable partners for themselves.

While we weather the torpedo blasts of rage and reaction they direct towards us if we suggest an imperfection in them.

Survivable?  I think not.

Carol Grigg OAM, Dip Counselling, MACA Level 2
www.carolgriggcounselling.com.au

Using the effort of another

Posted on September 2, 2015 at 7:28 AM
A couple of days each week I work as a Generalist Counsellor for a rural health service.  It’s been a great way to gain experience with a wide variety of personal circumstances and different age groups.  I love it.

I was in a counselling session with a male about my own age a couple of weeks ago and he was explaining to me that he was a bit shy socially, and then he said something that completely stopped me in my tracks.  A light-bulb moment.  (Or another hit in the head!)

I believe I did very well staying composed and not letting on that he’d said something of great significance to me.  However I did gently ask him to elaborate a little because it was helpful information in my work with him anyway.

He told me that he likes being around friendly and outgoing people because they do all the work.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Is this what was happening when we first met our partners?  And is this a role we continue to fulfil for them?  And for others?

My client did say that he found social situations and relationships difficult, but clearly he’d learned a very effective way to manage this.  Without effort on his part.  Using the effort of another.

Slightly annoying?

Unrequited ... many things

Posted on August 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM
That phrase “unrequited love” has been rolling around inside my head a lot lately.  I had to find my dictionary to check its full meaning, and I think it matches the feelings I’ve been experiencing.  So often when I’m counselling with partners I share with them what so many partners share about feeling like we’re pouring our love and our souls and our emotions and our efforts … everything into a black hole and nothing comes back to nurture us in return.  It’s quite soul destroying, and has to be linked to that feeling of “unrequited love”.  Love that’s not returned or reciprocated.  I know it’s a different usage, but I think it’s the same feeling or state to be in.  A real sense of ineffectiveness.

Somehow we do believe our partners love us, but they just seem unable to demonstrate it or respond to us in ways that resonate with our soul-need to be actively loved and acknowledged for who we are and all the ways we show our care for them.  The reciprocation we naturally expect in a marriage or long term partnership.  For us, it’s why we’re in a relationship.

It was really stirred up for me recently when I was trying to find some sort of closure (again) for myself after a relationship breakdown I experienced late last year.  (Yes, I chose another Aspie arrogantly thinking that with my knowledge I could make it work.  1 year of bliss. 4 of confusion and conflict.  I failed.  Correction - we failed.

So many unhealed painful feelings. So many meaningful words rewarded with silence. Some rewarded with rage.  Having to sit with and be content with those open and raw feelings of unfinished business and “unrequited” love, care and effort is next to impossible.  I want some of it, or something, back.  Please.

My attempts to seek some sort of acknowledgement or empathic response are met with statements about his hardships as though it’s a competition.  I need to let it go.  For my own sake I need to stop seeking a response that satisfies my longing to be acknowledged, valued … or told that I was loved.  He genuinely doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of my words or what I’m seeking.

I know that my value is in no way diminished by his lack of response or acknowledgement; I know I’m a good lover and partner!

The fact is, we are all wonderful and beautiful people who are highly empathic, highly responsive, highly loving, and many more good things.

We just fell in love with beautiful human beings who cannot requite to us what we cannot help but give.

August 2015

A difference that will remain

Posted on August 8, 2015 at 11:51 PM
The thought that has been on my mind the past few weeks has been how we all seem to have a natural expectation that as soon as we find the right strategy for reaching our AS partners, they will suddenly become neurotypical and we can get on with our relationship.

We seem to have a subconscious belief that somewhere tucked away deep inside our partner is a neurotypical person who will emerge once we find the key or the right method to reach them.  After all, each day we do see some little glimmer that keeps our hopes and efforts alive.

Sadly this is a very difficult reality to have to come to terms with, that even if we do find some methods or strategies that improve our communication and interaction, our AS partners will still have AS.  They think and operate differently.  Like Clinical Psychologist Jeroen Decates reminds us whenever he comes to our meetings – the difference between a neurotypical partner and an AS partner is like the difference between a PC and a Mac.  They are completely different operating systems.  And they can’t talk to each other without interpretation or assistance.  Much the same with us and our AS partner.

We need knowledge.  It is imperative that we read and learn.  The ASPIA website has many articles that countless partners have found helpful and I always recommend ASPIA’s handbook as essential reading too.  There are many definitions and descriptions and interpretations listed in the handbook that will help partners to understand the different way their partner thinks and operates.  I would also strongly recommend reading the Diagnostic Criteria in the DSM 5 – it is reproduced on the Autism Speaks website - https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/diagnosis/dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria (this lists the social (pragmatic) communication disorder criteria also which is absolutely relevant too!).

One of ASPIA’s greatest strengths as a support group has been to provide education and we are so privileged to have quite a few psychologists and other presenters who attend our meetings to teach us and keep us up to date with knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This has been a great strengthener and enlightener for those who attend.

We need professional support.  I don’t know how any partner can hope to know how to negotiate daily life with an Aspie without at least a few consultations with a psychologist or a counsellor for guidance and support, especially in the early days of learning.

And peer support.  How many of us have had our sanity saved by being able to talk to other partners?  Of course, the face to face support group context that ASPIA provides in Sydney (and other groups in other capital cities) is the ultimate experience but for those who live too far away, we have the Yahoo group (email based discussion).  Financial members of ASPIA also have access to a private facebook group for daily support.

We have been reminded many times in our workshops and support group meetings that we cannot manage a relationship with an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome without knowledge, understanding, professional help and support.  We don’t have the knowledge naturally.  Our natural instinct gives us the ability to relate to other neurotypicals, but to relate to those on the Spectrum we need specialized learning.

July 2015

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