Predators and Parasites, Spectrum and Susceptible
This is one of those topics where my usual lens of silliness feels a little out of place, like a documentary on the black plague narrated by Kermit the Frog, so as much as it pains me to do so, I’m gonna take my jester’s hat off for a sec and play this one straight.
In my experience, as someone on the spectrum myself, who knows many others on the spectrum, and whose job is working with people on the spectrum, romantic relationships can be one of the more challenging aspects of life for us.
The difficulty we can face in forming and maintaining such a partnership is a widely covered subject, and one I’ve addressed on this blog multiple times. But another issue that’s less well covered, at least in my experience, is that people on the spectrum are particularly vulnerable to becoming ensnared in abusive relationships.
One of the reasons for this is that people on the spectrum are often people pleasers; years of being punished for social faux pas we didn’t realize we were committing can lead us to go out of our way to please others, and to assume that anything that goes wrong is our fault. This can make us easy targets for manipulative predators who see this as a way to control us.
Abusive partners often weaponize our autism against us. For example, they may claim that we’re misinterpreting their abusive behaviour because of our autism, or that it’s our fault and our autism is the reason we can’t see that. This is a called “gaslighting”, a form of psychological abuse where the perpetrator makes the victim doubt their own judgement, perception, and sanity. The challenges people on the spectrum can face in understanding social cues makes us highly susceptible to this.
To make matters worse, many people on the spectrum may have found it so difficult to attain a romantic partnership in the first place that we’re extremely reluctant to end one, even after it has turned abusive. We can often feel as though, “nobody else would want us”. This is something an abusive partner will often pick up on and turn to their advantage.
The tricky thing about gaslighting is that when it is done effectively, the victim may not even realize it’s happening. Generally, if those who care about you, such as close friends and family, don’t like the way your partner treats you, that’s a fairly strong indicator that something is wrong.
Another thing to remember is that relationships are not supposed to make you feel like crap. If being with someone makes you feel guilty and inadequate, that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship. And if you ever find yourself feeling afraid of your partner, that’s the mother of all red flags.
Being on the autism spectrum does not mean you have to settle for a partner who does not respect you. Don’t put up with a relationship where you feel worthless and live in fear. You deserve better.