Why are autistic people especially prone to being abused and exploited by narcissists and other toxic individuals? What traits tend to leave those on the spectrum vulnerable to predatory types?
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Today we're talking about the association of autism and interpersonal victimization, especially as it pertains to victimization at the hands of narcissists. And when I say victimization, I mean abuse in the form of physical, emotional, mental, financial and or spiritual abuse. And when I say narcissist, I mean someone with the actual personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder. I'm not going to cover diagnostic criteria here. But it is something you can Google if you are not aware of that personality disorder. I know the word narcissist and narcissistic gets thrown around a little bit too loosely these days. So I really want to specify that I'm talking about people with full blown narcissism, not just someone that's kind of high on themselves every now and then, but someone who is legitimately toxic in their relationships with pretty much everyone. Before I say anything more, I would like to say that I'd really appreciate it if you would help support and spread this podcast to help it grow. The world needs to know more about autism, it needs to have the myths and stereotypes about autism and autistic people dispelled. And we need to be talking about autism and neurodiversity a lot more. I think that talking about it, opening up about it, exploring the research, making the research accessible through things like podcasts, and blogs, and articles and different media outlets, I really, really think that this topic needs to blow up and I want to hear your top questions. What are you most interested in learning more about? Please consider writing in. The email address is in the show notes firstname.lastname@example.org. Your topic suggestions or questions could be covered in a future episode. The other way that you can help this podcast grow and the community of listeners grow is by rating the podcast. So I know everyone kind of has their favorite place to get podcasts. For me it's Pocket Casts. A lot of people get their podcasts on Spotify, or on Apple podcasts. So if you could rate and review the podcast wherever you listen, or even share the podcast episode with a loved one, that would mean so much to me. Anyway, as the kids say these days, let's get into it.
I've been involved in the autism community for a few years now and I've noticed something peculiar. And that is almost every single one of the female autistic individuals that I meet have experienced quite a bit of interpersonal victimization, or are currently struggling to get out of a relationship, whether that's romantic, family based, friend based or work related relationship where they're being subjected to unfair or downright abusive treatment. I mentioned females because I tend to befriend more females than males, but I'm sure there are many male autistic individuals in these same situations. This is just such a very common widespread experience that when I'm talking to autistic friends, and I'm talking about like my experience with this, everyone's like, Oh, yeah, me, me, me too. Me too. Me too. It's definitely one of those, whereas when I talk about these things with non autistic people, it's more like, oh, wow, like that's horrible. Like, there's not the same level of shared experience. This pattern that I've recognized and that many others have recognized is well supported by findings of clinical experts who work with autistic people and or who work in autism scholarship, in research. For example, research by Andrea Roberts, Mark Weisskopf, and their team found that the more autistic traits a female individual has, the more likely she was to be abused since childhood and the more likely she was to have developed PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, compared to those with no or very few autistic traits. Higher exposure to childhood abuse, specifically, they found, accounts for about 1/3 of these individuals' higher risk of PTSD. The researchers state that quote, Our findings suggest that children exhibiting even subtle deficits in social information processing may be at risk for childhood abuse, end quote. And this vulnerability can be seen to be sustained across the life course, in other words, for their entire lives.
There's many hypotheses for why that is like. If a child has autistic traits, what makes them bigger targets for predators? Lots have been written on this. There's no concrete reasons, there's more like theories, hypotheses. From personal experience as an autistic person who was diagnosed in adulthood, in my 30s, my own social information processing issues are largely attributed to everything that goes on in social interactions, and are largely related to seemingly unrelated things like how much sleep I've had, how sensorily overwhelmed I am and how many people I'm interacting with. I attribute not being able to respond to some cues in real time to the information highway in my brain being overly crammed with content. Essentially, I get a bottleneck of cognitive and sensory information, and so my response time slows down, like really slows down. So sometimes I react but like way after the thing's happened. And sometimes I tend to fixate or overly focused on certain content coming in socially, and I might miss red flags or let them slide or I'm not reacting to the red flags quickly enough. By the time I do it might be too late. I might have already let this person in, I might have already given them too much information, and then it's too late. Knowing that this puts me at greater risk of being abused is helpful, but honestly, I wish I knew this a lot earlier. So one of the downsides of being diagnosed later, is that, you know, like growing up the way I was with my brain, with my autistic brain, I just thought everyone must experience this, but no, they don't apparently.
Since autism typically runs in families, with siblings and parents of autistic children often being autistic or otherwise neurodivergent themselves, these susceptibilities can be huge blind spots in entire family systems. What I mean is that members of these family systems are often abused, have or have had PTSD, and have experienced a great deal of interpersonal violence themselves, including victimization, bullying, and other antagonistic treatment. These experiences are normalized, I guess you could say, and therefore the entire family unit can be blind to these things for decades. And sometimes, sadly, for generations. Unless a person has a lot of experience with other families and other communities and social systems that are very different from their own, they're not going to see that the things they're experiencing are different, or they're not going to necessarily be aware that what they're experiencing is abnormal or wrong.
Tania Marshall, and award winning author on autism in females, who has worked with 1000s of neurodivergent people, states that neurodivergent people are more susceptible to attracting toxic people. Autistic individuals of all genders can be susceptible, if they have the following traits: They're super sensitive, they're super empathic, intuitive, and or exhibit codependent traits. Autistic people tend to take people at their word. In other words, they believe them when they say something. They tend to dislike conflict and will let a lot slide, they'll let people get away with a lot of bad behavior in other words, and they may lack assertiveness unless they've been trained in this area either by a family member, friend, teacher, therapist, and so on. This can make them prime targets, Marshall says, for narcissists and psychopaths. And I would say, I would add to that, like anyone who is a predatory type, or looking to take advantage.
A recent research article by Sarah Griffiths, Simon Baron Cohen and their team states that autistic adults are more vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse and discrimination, which can lead to depression, anxiety and or other mental health challenges. Mental health challenges alone, even without being autistic, can leave people more vulnerable to unsavory or toxic individuals who seek out vulnerability either consciously or not. The researchers found that quote, autistic adults who had been in a relationship were more likely to have been sexually, physically, financially and emotionally abused or threatened by a partner compared to non autistic adults, end quote. As an aside, these researchers make an important point stating that there have been very few studies looking at intimate partner violence and abuse in the context of autism. They think this has to do with the prevailing assumption that autistic people don't have romantic relationships. On the contrary, in their participant population, 83% of autistic adults had a history of romantic relationships. I mean, if people need to know that, if that's surprising to people, that just shows you how important it is to be talking about autism today, because seriously, who do they think we are? Moving on.
The researchers also note that many autistic individuals struggle with unemployment or underemployment, either unable to find adequate work schedule, or adequate position for their experience level, intelligence level, and so on. And this scenario could make autistic people more vulnerable to victimization, because they'll stay in relationships that are harmful, or bad for them, out of simple financial dependency. They just simply can't leave, they have no other options, they're not able to make it on their own, or at least they have that perception. And a lot of narcissistic people who are financially abusing someone will make the person think that, you know, even if they could make it on their own, they're not likely to. So they'll really beat a person down, they'll really make the person think I'm incapable of making it on my own and being independent.
I quickly want to talk about what economic or financial abuse is. Economic abuse can include denying access to bank accounts, or even hiding information that those bank accounts exist, barring the person from making financial related decisions. This can include what cars to buy, what houses to buy, any big sort of decision making involving finances, or having even the person on a strict allowance, I hate that word. It can even include making the person account for every dollar they spend. What did you spend that on, show me the receipts, you know, just putting you through the wringer when it comes to anything related to finances and money. Apparently, 95% of those who experience domestic violence of any type are also being economically abused. So it's something that's not talked about enough and I think it can sometimes happen so subtly. The narcissistic or the toxic partner might make it seem like they're doing you a favor, like, look, I'm taking care of the finances, you don't even have to worry about it, but they're doing real harm, hampering your ability to be independent and move on without them. It's abusive to not treat you like an adult who's capable of making decisions. Some writers make a distinction, or some thinkers and experts, make a distinction between economic abuse and financial abuse. I've heard it either used interchangeably or the distinction is drawn between the two. According to the Canadian Center for Women's Empowerment, they define economic abuse as a range of behaviors that allow a perpetrator to control someone else's economic resources or freedoms. So in this way, economic abuse is a wider definition than financial abuse. Economic abuse can include restricting access to not only money but food, clothing, transportation, or it can also include denying the person the means to improve their economic status. So that includes through work, employment, education, training, and so on. You can think of economic abuse as a real restriction of access to finances and anything related to finance and economic freedom. Financial abuse is often defined in a more restricted way or a more narrow definition. It involves a perpetrator using or misusing money, which can include using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner's name, which can often include forging signature - for example, filling out a form for a credit card or bank account when it's not actually you doing it, but they do it in your name. Gambling with family assets is another form of financial abuse, especially if you aren't told about it, or you don't know about it, you're kept in the dark. Financial abuse can leave the victim without access to their own bank accounts, their own credit cards, and basically, this can include going into a great amount of debt without knowing it initially, and then being shocked and finding out you have this massive debt. And you had no idea what was going on. Both suck and should not happen. If anyone's doing this to you, there are therapists and coaches who specialize in these types of abuse, economic and financial. So definitely get help as soon as you recognize that this might be happening to you. And, you know, if you're stuck paying off 10s of 1000s of dollars of credit cards or picking up the pieces of a sabotaged career path, a sabotaged educational path because of these abusers, you're going to have to play a lot of pickup and your your life is going to be spent, for a long, long time, picking up the pieces from this abuse.
And lastly, I wanted to cover the work of someone I look up to so much, and that is Dr. Ramani Durvasula, often known as Dr. Ramani. Dr. Ramani is a clinical psychologist, an expert on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse, as well as an author of helpful books on the subject. Dr. Ramani has an amazing YouTube channel that I highly recommend. In addition to so much helpful content, she has videos outlining the types of people that narcissists target. They target those who are overly empathic, who tend to want to rescue others, who tend to be optimistic or try to see the good in everyone, who tend to forgive others easily - maybe too easily, who have had a parent or close family member with narcissism or strong narcissistic traits, who have a history of trauma, who have experienced recent or many life transitions, who may be in a rush to settle down and have the marriage and family that their own family members and friends might be pressuring them to have, and or marginalized people who have internalized oppression and prejudice against them. I know autistic people tick many of these boxes. Dr. Ramani also recently came out with her own podcast, which is separate from her YouTube videos. I am definitely subscribed, and it is called Navigating Narcissism with Dr. Ramani. Dr. Ramani has so much content about everything related to narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, the different types of narcissists there are.
This is a topic that I feel is not addressed enough. Some researchers have covered it, but in terms of reaching the clinical community, it's going to be hard to find a therapist who knows how to look for these issues. The hardest thing is if you have a partner who is narcissistic and you go to a couples therapist, I would say most couples therapists don't know how to recognize narcissism or see through the narcissist's tricks. They do have tricks to avoid being seen, to avoid being called out for issues, their weaknesses, their problems, and to avoid having the ways that they abuse others made evident. Only someone who's very well trained to see those, to see through the tricks, will be able to recognize it. Couples therapy, if you just take someone who's autistic in relationship with someone who's narcissistic - a very common, common dyad - and they go into couples therapy, the couples therapist is usually trained to see all problems as 50 50. It's 50% his problem and 50% her problem, or 50% their problem and 50% their problem, and so you guys just need to work it out, just communicate better. In this situation, it can really backfire, and it can make the autistic person stay in the relationship a lot longer than is healthy. I mean, the relationship is already definitely not healthy, but going to a couples therapists can really, really complicate matters and send up hurdles in getting real help, especially if the autistic person has not been able to recognize that the other person is narcissistic yet, and they're still coming at it from a perspective of, we can make this work. All we have to do is, you know, go to couples therapy, and work out our problems and work out our communication issues and blah, blah, blah. No, no, no, no. If the person is abusive and they have a personality disorder, it's best to leave. No amount of couples therapy is going to fix it. Next time, I plan to talk about autism and post traumatic stress disorder. Are autistic people more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder, and if so, why?
Until next time, bye.