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02/14/2011 02:03 AM

Asperger's Syndrome and Emotional Abuse


My husband has Asperger's Syndrome. This is a blog post I just wrote, I'm just copying it down:

Something I am really having difficulty with, and which I can find no information or advice about, is his diagnosis of PDD-NOS/ atypical Asperger's Syndrome. I am on an 'emotional abuse forum' which is really helpful and supportive. But often I just don't see A in the descriptions. His behaviours have without a shadow of a doubt been abusive, but I'm not sure the motivations and some other aspects are the same as 'usual'.

A number of things make me say this:

1. The physical violence never escalated. There were 3 incidents (including the sexual violence) over the 14.5 years that we were together. The last time almost 6 years ago.

2. He has never denied his behaviour.

3. He is not a 'different' person with other people.

4. He has seemed genuinely horrified to find out that his behaviour is generally thought of as abusive.

Number one there on the list is pretty self explanatory. Everything I've read says that if a man is physically abusive it will escalate in severity and frequency. Neither of those happened. So, it makes the doubts start to set in.

Number two - well, he has never denied things he has done with the exception of sometimes he denies remembering things that he has said. This is difficult, because the psychologist who diagnosed the Asperger's explained how it has been shown in brain tests that during heightened emotional exchanges (arguments usually) the part of the brain responsible for laying down memories to long term memory closes down in order to divert energy to processing the difficult emotional reactions. There was a neat, scientifically proven reason why he didn't remember things he'd said in the 'height' of an argument.

Number three. He does have a different persona with people he has known for a long time. When his mum is around he is Super Dad and Super Husband so she has a slightly skewed idea of what he does around the house. He doesn't talk different or act differently towards me or anything. We have always acted the same together around everyone else as we do on our own at home. Is this a sign that his behaviour is not conscious but in fact just part of how he is wired? Oh, he also acts like a prat round his best friend (from school) but again, I find it hard to believe that most guys don't do that? At least when they are younger.

Number four. Again, this could be an act. I don't know. But when he read The Book he seemed to genuinely have an epiphany that his behaviour towards me was not just 'normal' (apart from the physical abuse which he has always known and said was catagorically wrong) but in fact most people would describe it as abusive. He seemed shocked and acted immediately - researching different abuser programmes, told his family and friends and has even brought the book for each of them to read.

So, this all leads me to feeling confused. On the one hand his actions are definitely abusive. On the other hand there are a lot of questions running around my head.

Is it that a boy born with a slightly different wiring that meant he could not easily see things from other's points of view and had very inflexible thinking (very difficult to change his mind) was unfortunate enough to grow up in a house with an emotionally abusive father that taught him that it's perfectly OK to belittle your partner, demand things from them, criticise them, have control over what they do with their time and so on. Observing this family dynamic, would a child with Asperger's internalise that as a normal, desirable relationship and then as an adult the in-built lack of empathy and inflexibility mean that he also can't help acting in an emotionally abusive way?


Another thing I've been thinking is the good time/bad times cycle. We've not really had this. He's just always critical, blaming, belittling my achievements etc. He does it regularly, mixed in with just the normal relationship.

Does anyone have more information about Asperger's and Emotional abuse or know more about it?

I guess because psychologists and experts in this field have discussed all of this with me and explained away his behaviour as a result of his Asperger's it has created in me an empathy for him about what he does! Which is ridiculous! But then they have given us tips for communicating and living together to take into account his Asperger's and they have made a big difference...

Sorry to put this on the board. I'm just feeling a bit confused today and wishing I could find more information on this.

But also thinking - does it matter? If I feel abused does it matter about his motivations? If he can't change because of his inflexible brain rather than some other reason does it matter?

This sort of thing has kept us together for so long. I'm trying to be strong, but as someone naturally very empathetic it's really hard to ignore this stuff.

Anyway, I've told myself today that I commit to one year separated from him *at least* so that I can gain perspective without all the emotional entanglement.

Post edited by: pinkreadingcat, at: 02/14/2011 02:06 AM


02/14/2011 05:16 AM
Meg1129Posts: 15115
Group Leader

I understand your confusion. Lots of abusers have other issues such as being bi-polar, ADHD, depressed, etc. While these issues CAN cause an abusive person's behaviour to be worse, they do not CAUSE the abuse itself. There are many, many people with Asperger's who are not abusive. Abuse is not about behaviour. It's about values. Abusive people have a low opinion of women, a sense of entitlement and a need for control among other things. Please get a copy of Lundy Bancroft's book, "Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men." Bancroft has worked with thousands of abusive men for nearly 20 years and developed the first treatment program for them in the U.S. He addresses this very issue in his book, which I think you'll find quite interesting. The link below is from Amazon, where you can read reviews and a chapter for free right now, but you can get it at any bookstore or even your public library. 0425191656/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297689336&sr=1-1

02/14/2011 05:54 AM

Hi meg

I do have the book but I don't feel it does address his issue specifically. And how many boys with aspergers and bought up in a family where the father is abusive that are not abusive.

Maybe i am just over empathising, or still excusing.

02/14/2011 06:39 AM
freetoflyPosts: 389


Thanks for sharing that. For many years I have wondered if my mom has Aspergers because she is so socially innappropriate. She also was quite emotionally abusive to me as a child. Now that I am beginning to care for her in her first stages of dementia, I still wonder about the Aspergers. I think your question, "Does it really matter?" is a poignant one and unfortunately one you will need to answer for yourself but I do think that Aspergers puts a tricky spin on the whole thing as Aspergers do not have the correct wiring to be socially appropriate. They are unable in many cases to take social cues in terms of knowing how to respond in the world.

About a decade ago, my mom's behavior toward my brother became so abusive (and we were both grown up by this time) that I told her I would not be in the same room with them together any longer; that it was too painful for me to watch. I explained all of her abusive behaviors as I saw them and told her the ways that they hurt me. This affected our family deeply; put an end to holiday celebrations, etc. She did, however, begin to alter her behavior and stopped being abusive toward him all together so that she could have her family back. So, for me, it no longer mattered at that time what her problem was. I needed to care for myself and that was how I did it.

The point I'm trying to make is that no matter what the outside circumstances are, we need to care for ourselves first and foremost. This is always what is for the greatest good. If it turns out to not be for the greatest good, then we have misunderstood what is best for us. I hope you can get quiet within yourself to find the answer to that question. In the meantime, I'm sending good energy your way. Hang in there! Hugs.

02/14/2011 07:36 AM

pinkreadingcat,I agree with Meg.Disabilities or mental illness can exacerbate abuse but do not cause it.I have a hard time believing that he does not know he is hurting you when he is doing it and making a conscious choice to be abusive.Once you have told him "When you do or say this it hurts me."If he continues the behavior it is abuse.It sounds like he is making excuses to me.


02/14/2011 07:47 AM
Meg1129Posts: 15115
Group Leader

Here is the litmus test for me. If he treats his boss and co-workers like that, or if he would treat a cop who pulled him over for a traffic violation like that, then he can't control it. If he wouldn't, then he can and is controlling it.

02/14/2011 08:25 AM
freetoflyPosts: 389

That is exactly the litmus test that people with Aspergers pass. They treat everyone the same way, although they can be more innappropriate with some than with others. This truly is a tricky illness which fully involves the person's ability to function in society. I can't imagine being involved in a romantic relationship with someone with Aspergers. Is it truly your feeling that he does indeed have it or do you think he may have been misdiagnosed? How was he when he was courting you? Did he appear normal in his ability to socialize with you? Did he take cues from you; verbal as well as non-verbal? If he is a high-functioning Asperger, then my guess is that the rest is abuse.

02/14/2011 10:09 AM


Thank you all for your thoughtful responses Smile

In answer to the litmus test - yes, he does treat other people like this. He belittles if they have views that he doesn't share (because he IS right, otherwise he would change his view!), he ridicules if they make a mistake he wouldn't make, he criticises if they do something a different way to him, getting his point of view across is more important than other people's feelings etc.

Obviously this natural tendancy combined with growing up with an emotionally abusive father is going to make it very difficult. And it will take him a long time to realise that his behaviour is not acceptable - because it always takes a LOT of time and input and information for him to change his view on anything at all.

I bear the brunt because we are married. He doesn't have many friends because of the above!! and the fact that he struggles socially. The only friends he has are from primary school. He has not a lot of contact with his family, special occasions only.

It's a shame there is not more info *out there* on this, because from what I've read about the partners of people with AS, feeling emotionally abused is actually the norm Sad

02/14/2011 10:13 AM

Oh. I should probably also say that 1 of our children has Asperger's, and the two others share some of the traits in varying amounts. I see their behaviour and the reaction of other adults and children to it, when they are genuinely oblivious of the hurt or confusion they may cause and are then genuinely surprised when told of what has happened.

Maybe this makes it easier for me to believe my dh.

Of course, there are things that he has done repeatedly despite me telling him how hurtful they are. Even with the input of a counsellor explaining to him in different ways that this behaviour was unacceptable he just couldn't see that it was, because he wouldn't personally have found it unacceptable. He just can't see things from others' point of view.

02/14/2011 10:18 AM
Meg1129Posts: 15115
Group Leader

Okay, I don't know much about Aspergers. I have a friend with a child who has it and that's the limit of my knowledge. Obviously, somehow someone taught him that some behaviour is wrong. I mean he doesn't steal things from stores or just reach out and grab some lady's breast in the checkout line at the grocery store. So it seems to me that somehow the message that certain behaviour is inappropriate or just plain wrong does get through. Am I right about that? I'm just asking here ... looking at this as an opportunity to maybe learn something new.

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