I blog about life as an Autistic female with Bipolar 2, giving parenting & marriage my best shot. I am a passionate Advocate for Autism & Mental Health. I'll make you laugh & cry. And I promise you the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth.
I never imagined the body count would be so high… the body count being the relatives I’ve lost through my decision to estrange from my mother. I think I’m maxing out at 14 at the moment. That’s not counting a few who are sitting on the fence but will likely be seduced by the ‘sweep it all under the carpet for an easy life’ theory.
There is no doubt that estranging from my mother saved my life. I am better person for it, a better wife and a better parent. My children are happy and confident, surrounded by friends and passionately pursuing their special interests. They live the life I used to dream of.
My mother claimed to love me but what she wanted was to control me. She actively and deliberately spread lies about me and diligently worked to isolate me from my support network throughout my life. I on the other hand, really did love her. I also hated her but still, I worked very hard to earn her love and friendship like the naive Autistic optimist that I am.
Cowardice and Betrayal
I knew estrangement would hurt. I’m pretty sure I could fill several bathtubs with my tears during the first year after ending all contact. What I didn’t count on was the cowardice and betrayal that would be demonstrated by my extended family.
I knew my mother was crafty, clever, and a convincing actress, but I never for one second thought she would try and take other family members away from me. And not just from me, but from my children, the grandchildren she claimed to love. Even if I had thought her capable of that, I never anticipated she would follow through with such cruelty.
I’m not sure what she did or said, how she orchestrated the exodus of siblings, grandparents and more, from our lives. Most of them have met my attempts to contact them with silence. A few made spiteful verbal attacks, unmasking their true selves. This was actually worse than the silent treatment because family I had loved and respected revealed their true murky shades of colour, undermining our shared past and making it feel like a sham.
The Fragile Love of the Loyal
But harder even than that, was the loss of family members who initially stood by me, who assured me of their love, who withstood the criticism and judgment of my mother and her followers so that they could continue to be in mine and my childrens’ lives. I was insanely grateful at the start for their loyalty and sacrifice. I also felt guilty that they were experiencing stress and pressure from my persecutors. But as time has gone on, and they have slowly pulled away from me, the hurt is ten times worse.
The Aunt I worshipped since I was a little girl; a kind and lovely person with incredible talents I admired and tried to emulate. I used to wish she was my mum, I felt I was far more like her than my own mother. But gradually her contact became less frequent. I asked her, is it too much being there for me? And she insisted it was fine, that she could cope, that she loved all of us and always would. But that was the last time I ever heard from her. And so I stay away, not wanting to cause her stress or to be a burden.
Then there is the sister in law I stood by through her difficult divorce; for many years my husband and I and our children were her constant, her safety net, offering enduring love and friendship to her children, my niece and nephew. This was no hardship. We loved them to bits and some of the happiest times in my life have been spent having adventures with ‘the cousins,’ our four children. My own childhood was so marked by fear and stress and violence, that it was wonderfully normal and wholesome to watch our kids growing up having fun together. Best of all, she treated me like I was her real sister – something I’d never had before.
But nothing stays the same and as my niece and nephew got older and navigated adolescence, my sister in law began a new relationship and had a gorgeous little boy. Exciting new beginnings for her, new family members, new friends. Gradually we saw her less and less. Still I continued to put love and effort into the relationship. I tried to create opportunities to get to know her new partner and I was supportive in every stage of her journey. I never for one second imagined a time when she wouldn’t be my sister.
But recently she surprised me with a text announcing a special event, an important ceremony, an event for closest family and friends. Her message said she wasn’t inviting us as she didn’t want to upset my mother. It was better not to invite us apparently. She was sure I would understand. She even stated that my youngest son and I would struggle to be at this event because we are Autistic. This was frankly all kinds of offensive, hurtful and disrespectful given the many special events we had shared previously.
I was heartbroken. I cried a river and then some. The rejection of me and my husband and our lovely boys was a huge injustice. How could she hurt us so badly, the ones who had stood by her in her darkest hours and her happiest times? And all because she didn’t want to upset the woman who has repeatedly tried to destroy me? The woman who ironically, had repeatedly fed me negativity about my sister in law, criticising her lifestyle and her parenting like she did the mothers of all my brothers’ children.
We exchanged angry and emotional messages and she asked me to have empathy. To see her point of view. It was as if she were a stranger. I thought we had earned a place on her VIP family list after all the years of friendship and memory making. I would never treat her like this. Never.
Unanswered Questions / My Right to Write
I don’t know what influenced her decision. Whether it was my mother, or her partner, or even my niece who mysteriously withdrew from us after I estranged from my mother. It seems like I’m destined never to know the truth, never to have answers to my questions because no one is brave enough to be honest with me let alone honest with themselves.
I want to salvage this relationship for me and for my sons. They adore their cousins and have been hurt enough by the family who’ve turned their backs on us. But how do I overcome this hurt I feel? And why should I have to fight to be loved, why should I have to fight to be included by the family members we made our number one priority for years and years? Is it better to just accept we aren’t needed anymore? That we’ve served our purpose?
I understand now that it’s so easy for people to say ‘I love you’ to excuse their choices and behaviour, but love is shown by what you DO, not by what you say. I am trying not to blame these family members that I still care for. I know they are torn. But it still fills me with sadness because I think I deserve more. I deserve their love and I deserve their loyalty. I gave them mine freely and generously.
I understand now that this blog of mine, this emotional download and sharing of experiences over the last few years, has probably been used by my persecutors to turn others against me and to pressure those who once loved me to give up on me. To them it is shameful and embarrassing that I am airing the ‘family secrets’. They point to my writing as evidence of my inherent badness.
But this blog is here to stay. I write only for ME and all the people like me who have lived through trauma and abuse, mental health problems or late diagnosed neurodiversity. I write to heal myself and help others. I write so that one day, when they are grown up, my sons will read my journey and understand what I’ve overcome to be here. I write so they can be proud of me like I am proud of me. Writing helps me work through the most difficult of times.
People assume if you can speak, that you are capable of discussing your feelings face to face or on the telephone. I cannot do these things unless I feel completely safe with the other person. Otherwise I crumble. This is a core part of my Autism – I have always felt more capable and in control communicating in writing. Without it my feelings would be trapped inside me, accelerating my mental health problems.
I do appreciate that heavy and emotional topics can be uncomfortable for some people. In fact my most recent and by far my most read blog, ‘The Narcissist’s Daughter’ saw my inbox jammed with messages and comments from total strangers thanking me and telling me to keep writing. In contrast barely any of my friends and family have read it or commented to me about it…but that’s ok. I know every word is a step further in my healing and every stranger who reads my blog and finds help there is a gift.
I’m aware some people turn a blind eye to avoid confrontation, that they put on a pretence to keep the peace. But I never asked anyone to get involved in my conflict. I never asked anyone to take my side over hers. I never tried to take family members away from my mother. In fact I was extremely anxious that she should have support in my absence, given I was the one carrying her for most of my life. I simply asked my birth family to hear my truth, to recognise my suffering and to accept my decision. I pleaded with them NOT to take sides. But I was ignored and gaslighted. My husband was verbally abused. Our sons were abandoned.
I realise that not everyone who knows my birth family will have experienced the pervasive, toxic, coercive control I was subjected to. Both my mother and my father can be very charming and engaging when they want to. They can show love and can perform acts of kindness. They just never did that to me. Both of them treated my siblings very differently to how they treated me although my oldest brothers definitely saw what I went through and definitely experienced their own trauma growing up in that household. In fact there are plenty of people who saw and heard what my life was like under that regime. They saw how I suffered and they did nothing because it was easier to avoid confrontation. I also think my grandparents were of the generation that believed you made your bed, so lie in it! Don’t make a fuss. Pull yourself together. No one wants a scene. Men were providers, women served and children should mind their manners. All in all, I think I had a lucky escape.
There are silver linings to estrangement.
I have built loving contact with my father’s sisters. My Aunts. For most of my childhood and adolescence we were kept apart by my mother’s inexplicable resentment of my father’s birth family and his secretive manner only seeing them without us. Knowing they care about me is a huge comfort and seeing the love they have for their children and grandchildren reassures me that I am related to some really good people, not just horrible ones.
I also have a sibling who was lost to our whole family many years ago, when he divorced from my sister in law. With great shame I admit that I followed the lead of my mother and my siblings, rejecting him and judging him for his actions without ever asking why. I know now I should have talked to him. I should have asked how he was feeling. Why he’d made the decisions he had. I should never have taken sides. I should never have listened to the gossip nor caved in to the peer pressure. I should have worked to sustain my relationship with those on both sides of the story.
Somehow we’ve found our way back into each other’s lives and have struck up a tentative friendship. We message about the past and we message about the now. It is MASSIVELY validating to talk with someone who was there during our awful childhood, who can confirm what happened after my other siblings betrayed me with their silence or gaslighted me as a way to control me and shut me up.
I don’t know if our relationship will ever grow beyond messaging but I am so grateful for the opportunity to apologise for my mistakes, to apologise for taking sides, to apologise for not being a better sister and to offer my friendship as a fellow survivor of trauma. He has built a really good life for himself and whatever happens in the future I am grateful for my chance to have known the man he has become, despite my mother’s best efforts to keep us apart. I feel sick now knowing that I believed her toxic lies about him whilst all the while she was telling lies about me and I never had a clue.
Estrangement is a b****. It turns your life upside down and drags you through a maze of every possible emotion. I like to think I’m at the healthy anger and acceptance stage because I have so much to be grateful for, more than I’ve ever had. Yet it still surprises me when a ‘memory’ comes up on Facebook, or a mutual friend posts a photo; and suddenly I’m looking at my mum smiling in happier times or at my grandad looking frail and tired. Then the sadness overwhelms me. Because there were happy times and I really believe they were real. I don’t understand why they couldn’t last. I don’t understand why my mother hates me so much that she refused to acknowledge or apologise for the years and years of damage I suffered at her hands. I don’t understand why my family was so quick to betray me and take sides. Why did they have to take sides? Why does anyone?
No one prepares you for the extra body count of estrangement but still, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
You can’t put a price on freedom.
Sometimes the most difficult decisions are the best ones.
Sometimes letting go is the best and only way to be happy.
Well, it’s been a while! Apologies for the radio silence. It’s not writers block, or being too busy, the truth is, I don’t tend to write much when I’m happy.
Writing my blog is hugely cathartic. It helps me process the things I’ve experienced so I can make sense of them, draw conclusions, move forward.
Inevitably I write more when I’m struggling with life. It’s almost like counselling myself.
So the fact I haven’t blogged in a while is good news; it reflects the fact I am in a good place. My life is positive and happier, the further I move away from my past.
What’s been interesting is that as my readership has grown despite me not writing anything new, the same content and quotes from my blog are liked and shared again and again – the content about narcissists. I have mixed feelings about this. Whilst I’m glad my blog resonates with others, it’s upsetting to realise how many adult children have grown up being controlled and manipulated by a narcissistic parent, tricked and isolated, in plain sight. There are no repercussions for these ‘parents’. Narcissism is not a crime. A lucky few manage to escape like I did, to sever ties, but often at huge personal cost.
I never even understood what narcissism was until after I succeeded in breaking away from my birth family. As the months passed I attended online workshops and joined support groups for estranged adult children, where I kept hearing the word being used. At first I thought it was just a derogatory term to describe cruel behaviour. But the more I heard and the more I researched, the more I understood why my mother had been able to abuse me for so many years, with no apparent guilt or shame, refusing to discuss or apologise for her behaviour. She is a narcissist.
These 5 simple bullet points could literally have been written directly about my mother. They are an enormously helpful point of reference for anyone wondering if their parent is a narcissist.
1. Constantly needs the conversation to be about them
My mother’s favourite topic of conversation was herself. The countless times I tried to speak with her in person or on the phone, and I’d leave frustrated as she would monologue about herself and her woes, without ever even asking how I was. She was an incredibly negative person and would dominate any meeting by talking about how hard her life was, how difficult, how tiring. I so often felt embarrassed when she’d speak to my husband, his family or my friends and whatever they shared, she’d experienced it ten times worse. To be clear, this absolutely wasn’t her empathising. This was one-upmanship. This was self indulgent bragging to garner sympathy and admiration for the hero she pretended to be. Even during my cancer treatment, after 6 round of chemotherapy and being heavily pregnant, she would insist I couldn’t possibly understand how tired she was or how tough her life was.
2. Immature and Selfish Behaviour
This was wide ranging and often deeply inappropriate. It ranged from childish teasing about personal appearance to hurt my self esteem (you look so much like me Liz…god I hate my face, it’s like a bag of nails) to attempts to make my husband self conscious (ohhhh that’s a big spot on your cheek N. Oh dear, your beard is going so grey). She was always overtly sexual which I was hugely uncomfortable with thanks to the oppressive way I’d been raised. I once came downstairs at her house to find she’d put a porn video on the television in front of my first husband and the married man she was seeing. I was so humiliated I burst into tears while she cackled with laughter and called me a prude.
She would often act in a selfless way towards my siblings and her parents, truly sacrificing her well-being to please them and serve them. Of course she complained behind their backs every step of the way, but she would jump through hoops of fire for them nonetheless.
But to me, her behaviour was entirely selfish. She couldn’t do enough to help raise my oldest brother’s children, any of my brothers children for that matter. But for my children she wanted no responsibility. She didn’t change nappies or take them out. She rarely ‘babysat’ and if she did there would be strict instructions to have them fed and bathed before we left with a strict curfew of 10pm. When my oldest son started middle school close to where she worked, she offered to come over in the mornings to help us get ready so we could leave earlier and get HER to work on time. Then she would constantly complain that I was running late, whilst drinking a coffee and being no help whatsoever. In her defence she would make them laugh, they saw her as silly and fun. But she operated on a strictly ‘no commitment’ basis and if we ever asked her to look after them there would be sighs and eye rolling. Shortly before our estrangement in 2020 my youngest brother told me I needed to rely on her less. I was so surprised and confused, as we barely saw her outside of those mornings when we took her to work. She’d become distant and secretive. Not answering calls. We had never and would never lean on her as we saw how exhausted and bitter she was from being used as a care service by certain of my brothers and her elderly parents.
3. Brags about your achievements to others but rarely ever validates you, acknowledges you or supports you emotionally
One of my brothers told me ‘Mum put you on a pedestal’ and I was so confused by this, because I only felt criticised and shamed by her. But now I understand. Bragging, telling OTHERS about my achievements was an area of expertise for her. My mother loved to take credit for my academic successes, my career highlights, my children’s achievements. She would brag on social media about ‘my baby girl did this…’ But to my face there was rarely anything but criticism. She loved to remind me of my flaws. She criticised my parenting. She LOVED to criticise me as a wife. She thought it was shameful that I didn’t iron my husband’s shirts, that I was a hopeless cook. If we argued she took my husband’s side because she didn’t see me as his equal. Remember, I’d learned from her exactly how I DIDN’T want to be. I was undoubtedly determined not to be a slave to my man and my (extremely loving, respectful and gentle) husband did not want me to be his slave. But to my mother, it was another example of my failings, my poor character. Even whilst I was receiving treatment for breast cancer during pregnancy, my mother made lengthy social media updates to her friends about my bravery and strength. But on a practical level she just came along for the ride. I remember coming out of hospital after my mastectomy, 5 weeks pregnant. My (lovely) mother in law was visiting to help look after my older son and my mother came over and she barely spoke to me. She giggled and gossiped and treated it like a social event. I was furious, sickened, so let down. But when I yelled at her, at both of them, for being so thoughtless my mother expertly turned it into an opportunity to point out my unreasonable behaviour.
4. Well liked by others but controlling or harsh behind closed doors
I was always bemused by the fact my mother seemed well liked by others. She had many friends and attracted males easily. She had a way of winning people over by smothering them with kind and thoughtful gestures whilst making them feel sorry for her by exposing how demanding and difficult her life was. She acted like these friendships or romantic relationships were a burden, a drain on her time. But as someone who struggled to make and sustain friendships I admired the way she attracted people. I was also hurt and frustrated that the public version of her, the kind, bubbly, caring version, was left at the front door. As a parent my mother was cruel, she gaslighted us, she pitted us against each other. She was spiteful and violent. Even as an adult, I was afraid of her because any minute she could meltdown at me, crying, screaming, accusing, rejecting me. I was the verbal punchbag for all the wrongs in her life and my brothers stood by on countless occasions while she broke me into pieces. I sure they were just grateful it wasn’t happening to them.
5. Makes you feel anxious and often lowers your confidence
As pathetic as it sounds, all I ever wanted was for my mother to like me and love me. I wanted us to be friends the way she was friends with my Auntie, my female cousins. The way she was friends with her work colleagues and my brothers’ girlfriends. So I tried to look after her. I constantly bought her little gifts to pamper and spoil her. My husband and I took her on holiday with us countless times. When she was away every other weekend looking after my elderly grandparents, I would go to her house and clean up after both her dog and my youngest brother who lived with her, so that she wouldn’t come home to a mess. I found her better jobs to go for as she never had enough money. I gave her endless advice about my brothers because of all the stories she’d burden me with. When Covid hit I would regularly take our sons for doorstep visits. We even decorated her driveway with colourful chalk rainbows to make her smile.
Not one of my brothers did any of these things. They were immersed in living their own lives (some of them overseas). I think they were content in the knowledge she was ‘my’ responsibility.
But the whole time I was walking on eggshells. All I had to do was look at her the wrong way. Say the wrong thing. Dare to show frustration at her endless demands. Then all hell would be unleashed. Her rages terrified me. Her tears devastated me. Even though I knew it wasn’t my fault, she’d make me feel instantly responsible. And she’d make sure EVERYONE ELSE knew I was responsible too. Her angry, selfish, rude, weird daughter. She knew I had serious mental health problems and she exacerbated that with no concern for the impact on my well-being or safety. Even AFTER my Autism and Bipolar 2 diagnoses at 42, my mother showed no empathy or kindness. Instead she made it clear these neurological differences were not an excuse to behave in a way that displeased her.
My mother broke me, time and time again, she made me a nervous wreck, she made me afraid. She made me angry. She caused me to have such conflicting feelings towards her. But the hardest part was she NEVER took any responsibility for what she said to me or did to me. She refused to discuss it. It was always, absolutely my fault and she made sure everyone knew that. Apology was not in her vocabulary. I was her very own scapegoat and that was the only value I had to her.
Of course these 5 traits of Narcissistic parents are just scratching the surface, but for me they were an important discovery on my journey to heal myself. Similarly, I found this list of characteristics of Narcissist Mothers very insightful:
——————————————————————-The Life of a Scapegoat
Empowered by my research and the passing of time, it’s been easier to recognise her behaviour for what it was. Yet in the early days of our permanent separation I felt such immense guilt at walking away, such sorrow. I grieved as if bereaved. I fretted over her well-being. I missed her. I loved her. It seemed heartless to abandon her. I believed her wicked behaviour wasn’t really her fault; that her own poor upbringing was to blame.
My feelings of guilt were exacerbated by the blaming, gaslighting messages I received from other family members who needed me to continue fulfilling the role of family ‘scapegoat’. After all, I’d done it so well for so many years and they had no intention of taking over from me.
The more I heal, the more I evolve into the person I was meant to be, the more I realise that her behaviour towards me was absolutely deliberate and calculated. It was cunning, spiteful and frightening. And my siblings, my maternal grandparents, they enabled this behaviour. Whether it was blindly believing her lies and the drama she created or ignoring the abuse happening in front of their eyes. I didn’t matter enough for them to speak out on my behalf. They didn’t want to rock the boat. I was sacrificed so they could continue pretending we were a normal, happy family.
Maybe in the beginning my mother was an innocent victim. A child bullied by her mother who’d been mistreated by her mother before her ; silenced by her father who professed to love her but not quite enough to protect her from his wife; beaten by her first boyfriend and forced to marry him when she fell pregnant with me at 16. She told me her father gave her an ultimatum; marry or get rid of the baby. Is it any wonder she resented my very existence? She was forced to marry a violent and controlling man in order to keep me alive.
I have obsessed over why the childhood trauma suffered by my mother led to her evolution as a narcissist…I have wondered why I didn’t follow that same destructive path that she did, as did her mother before her. Then I stumbled across this quote by Maria Consiglio and it made so much sense.
As an Autistic female I am hyper empathic. My feelings run extremely deep and strong, my responsibility towards others often overwhelms me. I can’t bear to feel other people hurting. I even cried for the father who terrorised my childhood. I’d hear him listening to music on his headphones late at night, sobbing, usually after beating my mum and punching holes through all the doors with his fists. And my heart would ache because I knew he felt remorse, I knew he had his own hurts and fears driving his erratic, alcohol fuelled rages.
My hyper empathy was a constant burden as I grew up believing I could save people. And I so wanted to save my birth family. I wanted to make their lives better and different. I wanted to fix their problems and right their wrongs. I had this huge unshakeable sense of obligation. My empathy stopped me becoming the bitter, twisted version of a parent that my mother became. My empathy saved me but it also caused me a lot of pain.
——————————————————————The Cunning Narcissist
My mantra growing up, ‘I’m not going to be anything like THEM’. I knew in my very bones that my upbringing was wrong on so many levels. I resented and feared my father. I pitied and resented my mother for doting on the man who beat her. She pretended to put her children first but actually her priority was always the current man in her life. I vowed to be a better person and a better parent than her. I vowed to get a better education, to have financial security, to be independent, to meet someone who’d love me as an equal. I believed I could achieve these things and I believed I deserved these things. I didn’t expect anyone else to get these things for me – I knew the buck stopped with me and that suited me just fine.
It was this mantra, my determination not to be anything like THEM, that triggered the unravelling of my relationship with my mother. She thrived on being needed and in control. She encouraged co-dependence with me and my siblings. She tried to make herself indispensable whilst at the same time leaning on us heavily, a burden no child should bear. She frequently reminded us of her sacrifices on our behalf and how much we ‘owed’ her.
Starting high school was a turning point for me. Before then my whole world had been my mother and my brothers. My role was to protect her from my father and protect them from bullies at school (or so I thought).
Suddenly unburdened of my sibling load at an all girls high school, with teachers who valued and encouraged me and friends who made me feel worthwhile, I got my first taste of independence. I pictured the World I could travel in Geography. I imagined myself with the strength and dignity of the suffragettes in History. My writing skills were lauded by my English teachers and I began to imagine turning that into a career.
But my narcissist mother took no pride in my growth. Yes she spoke enthusiastically to others about my success, absorbing the spotlight of the proud mother, but at home I was increasingly criticised, judged, beaten and alienated. I was selfish for asking for time to do my homework. I was lazy if I didn’t complete all my chores. Humiliated when I began to show an interest in boys at 15. She once called a meeting with my Head of Year at high school because I didn’t want to wear my coat to school. She saw my refusal as a defiant act and tried to enlist school’s support to force me, which of course they didn’t. But I was still deeply humiliated by her behaviour and reminded how closely she controlled me and controlled the way other people saw me.
One game she would play, involved buying me small gifts to recognise my school achievements, quickly taking them back again the next day, even the same day, never to be returned. That really messed with my head. A U2 T-shirt never to be worn, a CD never to be played. I would be told I’d spoken in the wrong tone, or argued with my brothers. The irony is I was such an innocent teen compared to my peers. I didn’t try alcohol until I was 16. I never smoked. I was a straight A student. I helped run the home and look after my brothers. I was rarely allowed ‘out’ and certainly not allowed teenage friends in the home. When I got a part time job at 17 and began socialising after work, she accused me of treating her house like a hotel (a hotel where the landlady alternately beats you and ignores you).
I realise now she was panicking. The chains were unravelling. She was losing me, fast. My childish and slavish devotion had long since eroded thanks to her vicious tongue and slapping, twisting, pulling hands. Did I retaliate? Eventually yes. Absolutely. I fought back and I mimicked her spiteful and degrading comments. I was so tired of the poison pouring from her mouth and the way she was using my brothers against me.
Still children, the oldest two called me ‘the bike of St Paul’s Cray’ due to my alleged promiscuity (I’d only ever had one serious boyfriend that I was intimate with at 17). When I took the morning after pill due to failed contraception, her child-spies stole my diary and showed her. She told me I had ‘practically had an abortion and would probably never be able to have children’.
Can you imagine the shame and fear and regret that I felt? Extended family later told me that she’d gone around telling anyone and everyone that would listen that I’d ‘killed a baby’. How can this level of grotesqueness not be a hate crime? A crime made all the worse for manipulating my innocent brothers to take part in her nastiness.
I can see now that my mantra to ‘never be like THEM’ contributed to the breakdown in relationship with my brothers, too. Because I didn’t want my brothers to turn out like my parents either. I wanted us ALL to do better. And I guess that put a lot of pressure on them. I became distressed if I saw them behave badly towards their girlfriends and wives, or when they stayed in unhappy relationships that made them miserable. I got frustrated when I saw them neglect to care for themselves or mess up job opportunities. I felt sad when they pushed away loyal friends or they didn’t prioritise their children. And I grew resentful when my mother told me they were leaning on her financially (neither of my parents had money, they lived hand to mouth).
I made two big mistakes in how I reacted to their behaviour. First of all, I witnessed less than a third of this behaviour myself. Most of the information came from my mother who would give long, heartfelt speeches about all that they did wrong, swearing me to secrecy. I never stopped to question if she was telling the truth. I was so grateful she was confiding in me, talking with me woman to woman. It made me feel needed. I never knew about narcissists then, or how they drip feed you poison about the people you love to create segregation, to undermine the trust and respect in your relationships.
My second mistake was trying to tell them how to behave, how to change, when my own life was far from perfect. On one hand I had my own home, a loving relationship, a flourishing career, whilst still in my early 20’s. On the other hand I had a huge problem with binge drinking socially, I was crippled with feelings of anger and insecurity, my relationship was tarnished by a lack of trust. I was riddled with anxiety and so defensive that I pushed people away first to stop them hurting me. That tends to happen when you grow up in a state of constant fear, betrayed by the parents who are meant to love you and keep you safe.
My frustration and disappointment towards my brothers wasn’t even because they were repeating the same mistakes that our parents had. It was because I felt they were letting themselves down. It was because they were so much better than the things they were doing. But my inadequate communication skills as an undiagnosed Autistic person meant I talked at them, not to them. I never asked how they felt or why they were behaving as they were. I just clumsily dished out advice expecting them to take it!
The truth, is that I didn’t want them to be like ME. I didn’t want them to be damaged and tormented by our upbringing. I did my want them to hate themselves like I loathed myself. I didn’t want them to push it away good people who loved them like I did
because they didn’t love themselves. I wanted them to learn from my mistakes, to fast track to happiness. To bypass all the messy stuff and go straight to making good, sensible, healthy decisions.
I truly thought I could help my brothers bypass the legacy of our childhood. I thought I could change them by telling them what they were doing wrong and what they needed to do differently. But I guess they just looked at me, the outspoken critic whose own life was so disordered, and they must have thought I was crazy. They must have felt indignant. They must have felt hurt. And so my mothers poison continued to drip, drip, drip as she fed me stories and I tried to act on them without breaking her confidence. All I really achieved was to push my brothers away.
This next quote sums up the really well how my upbringing affected my ability to adult effectively. I was simultaneously the high achiever and the self saboteur. I see that now and I could see that then. That’s why I wanted my brothers to learn from my mistakes. No avoid that self destruct button that existed inside of each of us.
Another huge frustration was seeing how my parents enabled my brothers, validated their mistakes, encouraged them to blame everyone else and avoid taking responsibility themselves. They never gave constructive feedback, or tried to help my brothers change. They set them up to fail instead. They listened to them grow bitter towards their friends, their girlfriends, their wives, their employers, even towards each other.
Neither of my parents had ever owned a house, or a car. They’d never enjoyed stable romantic relationships that didn’t turn toxic. They’d never made good lifestyle choices to protect their physical or mental health. They’d never achieved financial security. Their friendships would sour, the other person being to blame. They would say terrible things about each other’s birth families, like it was some kind of competition. I guess they were incapable of being role models or coaches to their children.
My alcoholic father’s way of dealing with my brothers was to spend their money getting drunk with them, to drown their sorrows. My mother on the other hand, treated them like Kings who could do no wrong. She gave them every penny she didn’t have. She served their dinner on trays to their laps and collected the trays afterwards. She picked up their clothes off the floor. She did everything possible to stifle their independence. She ingratiated herself with their wives and girlfriends, only until those relationships started to spoil. Then she would spew bile about them – how dare they hurt her precious boys.
My parents treated my brothers the exact opposite to how they treated me. My father largely ignored me unless he needed to borrow money. Seeing him usually involved paying for him to get drunk or trying to force him to eat a home cooked meal because he prioritised beer money over food money. My mother see-sawed between pretending to be my friend whilst filling my head with stories of my brothers wrong doings; to aggressive and hysterical attacks where she would accuse me of mistreating her and tell me I was bad for her health. She would ignore me for long periods after one of her meltdowns until days, weeks or even months later, she would start talking to me as if nothing had happened. There would be no discussion, no reflection, certainly no apology. But I was so pathetic and weak and frankly grateful that I was no longer being rejected, that I slipped straight back into my role of caring for her. I was blinded by her ‘hard life’ and victim persona. That’s one thing my siblings and I all had in common, we felt sorry for our parents and how incapable they were. We all felt a crushing burden of responsibility towards them because we knew they couldn’t take care of themselves.
When I first ended contact with my mother over 2 years ago now, I never anticipated that I would lose my brothers or my grandparents as a result. I never anticipated any of them would take sides, especially when I KNEW they’d seen with their own eyes how hard I’d tried to sustain my relationship with my mother. So I was both heartbroken and confused by my siblings callous disregard for my feelings, their harsh judgments and (in some cases) total and utter silence.
Looking back to that time I should have guessed that I wasn’t getting the full picture. The clue was in an awful message my grandfather sent me, telling me I should be ashamedy of my ‘despicable behaviour over the years’.
It was like a sword through my heart, the biggest shock, a terrible injustice. And for months and months all I could think was ‘what does he mean?! What despicable behaviour?!’ I may be outspoken, I may have a fiery temper, but I am a deeply loving and loyal, forgiving and supportive human being. I’ve supported myself entirely since I was 17 years old. I’ve excelled in my education and career. I have a strong and loving marriage, two amazing sons who I am raising the EXACT OPPOSITE of how I was raised. So what had I done that was so awful???
And then I started learning about narcissism.
I realised that once again, and probably for my whole adolescent and adult life, my mother had been feeding lies about me to anyone who should and could have cared about me. She chipped away at my reputation. She severed my support system.
As a teen both my Uncle and my Aunt (maternal siblings) aggressively confronted me during what I now understand were Autistic meltdowns. I was still a child, deeply vulnerable, yet she called on people I loved, people I thought were safe, to ‘come quick and see what she’s REALLY like, she’s mad, she hits herself, she’s out of control’.
What upsets me the most is that when I first learned about narcissism and wrote about it in my blog to describe the behaviour I’d been subjected to, I had no appreciation for how calculated and deliberate my mother’s campaign against me was. I still believed she couldn’t help it, I still bought into the idea of her as a damaged victim
For example, growing up I adored my brothers. We fought like all siblings do but I really loved them (even if struggled to show it). I ptook my responsibilities as a sister very seriously. I don’t think I appreciated how badly they’d been affected by our upbringing, naively thinking I’d protected them from the worst. But how could I? I was forced out of home at 16, leaving them to suffer her irrational rages and observe the string of no-good men she brought home after my father left.
She resented my closeness to my brothers, especially because her relationship with two of them in particular was deeply strained and dysfunctional. So she started to feed me information about them. Drip drip drip. A steady flow of stories and secrets. ‘Promise me you won’t say anything BUT…’
To my shame, I believed it all. Over the years she would time and again share private and sometimes damaging information about them. Sometimes I would confront my brothers over it, usually when it involved them mistreating her.
And of course they didn’t appreciate me getting involved. I was ‘interfering’. They didn’t blame HER for sharing their secrets but they blamed me for challenging their behaviour.
As I reflect back I can clearly see she was using me like a puppet to do her dirty work. One time she phoned my crying saying one of my brothers had been dumped by his girlfriend and she had thoughtlessly thrown a party in the flat they shared, posting photos on social media. ‘Imagine how hurtful and humiliating it is for him!’ she said. So of course I contacted his girlfriend (who is one of life‘s truly good, genuine, kind people) and verbally tore her head off for being so mean to my brother. Except it turned out the party had happened before the break up, in fact my brother had been there! My mother knew she couldn’t confront his girlfriend so she orchestrated for me to do it. The embarrassment and shame I felt at hurting this girl, who had only ever treated me with warmth and generosity, it was awful. Of course I begged for forgiveness and to her huge credit she forgave me. But the damage was done. Once again I was seen as the troublemaker. The aggressor.
Another time my mother told me she bumped into one of my brother’s childhood sweethearts whilst camping. Apparently his ex wanted him to get in touch about his teenage daughter that he hadn’t seen since she was a baby. ‘You must talk to him Liz! I can’t do it. He just gets angry with me!’ And just like a good little puppet I set the ball rolling. I contacted his ex to check it if she did indeed want to hear from my brother. Then I met up with my brother to ask him to make contact. All the while naively believing I was acting for the greater good. Reuniting father and daughter after so many lost years. I desperately wanted him to be pleased, to thank me.
But instead I was berated. I was interfering. It was none of my business. Our relationship was never the same after that. The brother I’d had over for sleepovers as a child, who I’d supported through break ups, who I’d helped secure employment on several occasions, who I’d partied with, laughed with, cried with, who told me I was his best friend and the best sister ever….he withdrew from me after that. We still saw each other but there was a gaping distance, a coldness, he blamed me. And my mother must have been so very delighted.
In the last few years leading up to my estrangement from my birth family, I started to not trust my mother. Her stories and secrets became more fantastical. I started to recognise a pattern – she would feed me information, I would act on it, I would end up looking like the bad guy.
Now I didn’t always act on it…but I allowed it to affect how I viewed my siblings and extended family. Often her stories involved her being wronged in some way and I would feel injured on her behalf. Whether she was aggrieved by her parents, her siblings, her friends or of course my brothers and their partners – the theme was the same. They were taking advantage of her. I’m sure there was some truth in all of these situations, but how much truth versus lies I’ll never know. Regardless it influenced how I felt about the rest of my family. It affected how much I trusted them and how much I respected them.
Gradually, in the months leading up to our estrangement, her secrets and stories got darker. The things she told me about my brothers were deeply personal and distressing. I became scared and sad. I tried to undo what I’d heard by making light of it. My gut instinct was that these allegations were dangerous and I COULD NOT GET INVOLVED. I knew the things she was telling me could really hurt people and I didn’t trust her motivation for telling me.
At the same time I sensed some family members treating me differently. My youngest brother asked me to ‘not lean on on mum so much for childcare’ and I was shocked and confused as we barely saw her despite living around the corner. My grandfather seemed ‘off’ when I visited but I had no idea why. My sister in law who was juggling life with a new baby seemed upset with me.
So I asked my mum, knowing how easily she slandered my brothers ‘what’s going on Mum? Do you know why they’re acting like this? Have you said anything about me?’ And she replied, ‘Don’t be silly. I don’t want to hurt you, you should trust me. I’m the only person you should trust’.
I’ll say it again, how is narcissism not a crime? How could this woman I called mother be allowed to torment and torture me like this? A mother who knew I was a vulnerable Autistic, who knew I was medicated for Bipolar 2 disorder. Who knew since I was a child how fragile my mental health was.
Even in the final hours of our relationship she sent my husband pleading messages to ‘See sense. Be brave. She’s in crisis. She needs help’! She tried to use my mental health as a weapon against me. She tried to use all the insecurities and problems my husband had confided in her about our relationship when I was at my most vulnerable, most hurting.
Fortunately my husband is a strong, brave, man. He saw through her facade and stood up to her which triggered a barrage of abuse from my brother, her golden child.
My husband feels violated now, by the way she managed to get into his head, make him feel she was a trusted confidant, a safe place. One time he confided an especially heated and emotional argument to her, when I was in a deep depression and drowning in paranoia. He didn’t understand about Autism then, or Bipolar. He just saw a very complicated woman that he loved but couldn’t understand. And he told my mother that I lashed out, which I did. How she must have rubbed her hands with glee then. And over the coming months 3 or 4 extended family members asked me about my ‘violence towards my husband’.
Can you imagine how I felt? I am a child who was terrorised and beaten on a regular basis. I grew up trusting no one and being hurt by everyone in my so called ‘family’. I loathe violence. But I have used violence as self defence; I have used violence against myself in moments of utter desperation and emotional overload; and I have used violence on a handful of occasions in the heat of the moments towards my beautiful husband who did not deserve it, but who will admit that in the absence of my diagnoses and out of pure frustration he would antagonise and shame me for my explosive emotional meltdowns because he didn’t understand me. We have grown from this, we have moved so far forward. But to my mother, this was just one more stone to throw.
So here I am. 2 years and 2 months post estrangement and I can finally see my mothers cruelty for what it was. A series of planned and intentional acts to punish me for being different to her. To punish me for pursuing independence. To punish me for being braver and kinder than her. To punish me for refusing to be the scapegoat anymore. Every action she took was designed to destabilise me and prevent me from having secure relationships with other members of my family. She tried to completely isolate me and trick me into believing that she was the one person I could trust.
Do I hate her? Yes I do. Does a part of me still love her? No, not anymore. This woman who deliberately harmed me, who painted herself as a benign victim, who has never once apologised nor tried to explain or justify her actions, she is not my Mother. She lost that right at the same time as she lost the right to be a grandma to my sons.
My advice for anyone affected by a narcissist or narcissistic behaviour, is to get the hell out of there. Save yourself. They will not change. They won’t apologise. I would have forgiven my mother everything if she’d had the courage to say sorry, if she’d committed to act differently. But her reaction to my ending contact was to rally the rest of the family against me, to reel in my siblings and grandparents with her lies because SHE WAS TERRIFIED OF THE TRUTH getting out.
So here’s the truth. Or at least a snapshot of it. I could write a book with all the material I have burned into my memories. Maybe that’s what I’ll do eventually. I’ve spent hours wondering whether to publish this blog or not. Afraid I’d be attacked by my ex-family for speaking out and revealing my mother’s true form. Then I remembered, I don’t write for THEM. This is none of their business. If they feel anything other than shame at the way they’ve treated me then they are not worth remembering anyway.
I write for ME and anybody like me who has struggled with poor mental health at the hands of a narcissistic parent.
I was born Autistic, but I wasn’t born with Bipolar, with anxiety, with OCD with symptoms of PTSD. I have both my parents to thank for that.
We all have our own trauma. We all make mistakes. But to manipulate, coerce, lie, trick and sabotage another human, especially your own child, is truly unforgivable. I will cry no more tears for my mother. I will have no more regrets. I will live my best life with my husband and the family we created and I will be FREE.
Hell is a crowd of exceptionally loud drunk men clutching beer bottles on the 5pm train. They wear a uniform of (almost) matching shorts, polo shirts and cardigans draped round their shoulders; boat shoes without socks. They all talk at once, competing for attention; maniac laughter.
I picture grabbing a samurai sword like Mishone in The Walking Dead and silencing them. Ah intrusive thoughts – a gift from my OCD.
Their shouting vibrates in my chest and makes it hard to breath. I look into the faces of the people sitting around me. Impassive. If they are experiencing what I am, how are they hiding it so well? One comment ‘knee deep in rape’ makes me stand up in disgust, ready to challenge them. But I know my hearing can be unreliable and my interpretation too literal. So I sit down and breathe through it.
Their communal stench of beer, aftershave and cigarettes makes me want to scream. It floods my nose until I can taste it.
This is the first train I’ve travelled on in maybe 2 years. It shouldn’t be this torturous, this intimidating.
It took all my willpower not to have a meltdown. A meltdown that would have burst open my verbal floodgates and seen me lecturing the lot of them on Autism and respect for other peoples differences. No doubt I’d have been labelled a nutter. It’s a fair label.
My husband and I joke that I don’t like humans. But it’s not really a joke.
I like children – playing eye spy on the train this morning with a melting down toddler whose mum needed a break was a highlight in my day. I understand children and they understand me.
I also like animals.
I like lovers of nature.
People who care about the planet.
I like people who understand Autism, who embrace our differences without judgement.
Passionate people who stand up for what they believe in – I like them.
The booming clamour of voices over voices starts to ease as we pull into a station and the badly dressed loud mouths disembark taking their stinky stench with them. I feel the oppression lift and my anger subside.
The irony is, I used to be one of those loud, obnoxious drunks on a train. Before my Autism diagnosis I was a regular social drinker, wearing my vodka jacket like a shield against stranger danger. I had a lot of fun in those alcohol fuelled years but also a lot of arguments, hangovers and mental health problems.
It’s almost 3 years since I stopped drinking, slowly cutting down to zero and I feel amazing for it. I feel calmer, happier, more authentic. But there are times when my sensory processing differences make living sober feel hard.
The men are gone now. And I don’t need a vodka jacket to block them out. I can write to offload my feelings; I can walk on the beach at low tide collecting shells; I can stand in my nightie in the rain collecting snails off of my beautiful plants and relocating them to the park. I can hide in the Snug at home and just. be. silent.
I have a whole toolkit of ways to manage my sensory needs now. I choose a lifestyle that helps keep me well. I avoid the things that trigger me. I am protective of my space and time.
But sometimes I find myself in a crowded place, somewhere too noisy, or too hot, too messy, too encroaching on my space. In those moments my strategies go out the window and anxiety rolls over me in angry waves.
If you’re neurodivergent like me, maybe what I’m describing sounds familiar. If you’re neurotypical, you might be moving seats on the train because the angry woman deep breathing and clenching her fists is freaking you out!
Regardless, you could help. Open a window to let some air in. Offer to swap seats. Start a conversation – empathise. Tell the loud, stinky men to shut the hell up!
Sensory overwhelm is not a choice, we don’t want to feel like this. It’s not stupid or immature or a lack of control. It’s not over reacting. If you help us remove or reduce the sensory triggers, you will set us back on the path to calm and balance. You may even restore this cranky old Autistic person’s faith in humans and save me from getting my samurai sword out!!
I envy people who have close and loving relationships with their mothers. I even envy people who are bereaved and mourning the loss of the mum they loved and were loved by. They have known maternal love. I didn’t. I don’t.
My mum and I are estranged. I grieve for her, yet she is alive, She is earthly but out of reach. She lives around the corner, yet I haven’t seen her for almost two years.
My mum loved me once, but it was a jealous and fickle love. It required me to be the humble servant; obedient, compliant. Never questioning her actions. Constantly judged for being different to her.
I grew up in a permanent state of afraid, a bystander to her destructive yet intoxicating relationship with my dad. I looked at my parents and knew exactly who I didn’t want to be. What was worse? The physical beatings or the spiteful name calling? The love withheld or the shame and self loathing she caused me to feel about my teenage body, my sexual feelings?
My adolescence was overshadowed by the weight of responsibility for her and my brothers. I was an expert in picking up the pieces. No matter how much they took advantage of me, I loved them completely. I thought they loved me too.
But I made a terrible mistake apparently, because I wouldn’t accept my Lot. I wouldn’t be quiet. I wanted to know who I am, I needed to understand myself. I wanted to be a better version of me and so I expected them to be better version of themselves.
‘Don’t punish your wife for your affairs’ ‘Don’t abandon your children, don’t take their home’ ‘Be a Dad to your long lost daughter’ ‘Stop bullying your wife’ ‘Don’t take money from Mum that she hasn’t got’
It turned out they didn’t like being asked to look in the mirror. It turned out that my well intentioned pleading to be better than, more than…just made them resent me. How crushing it was to watch them repeat the mistakes of our parents, and worse.
So I went on my own journey… I discovered my true self. I live well with my mental health issues, I live well without alcohol and without the false intimacy it brings. I embrace my identity as an Autistic person. I do a job that I love for little money because it means I can help others like me. I have the most wonderful husband and two uniquely gorgeous, special sons who love and accept me for ME.
It turns out I am an absolute Rockstar of a Mum!!!
But all this came at a price. I had to estrange from my Mum. She was hurting me so much, so badly, it made my head want to explode. She made me want to hurt myself. She lied to me, She lied about me, again and again.
I didn’t want to say goodbye. I just wanted her to STOP. To LISTEN. To SEE all the sadness and fear she’d caused me. I wanted her to CHANGE. To say SORRY. To be a Mum. To be my friend. I loved her so very much. I wanted her to love me back so that I could stop feeling angry at her, so I could stop fearing her next rejection. I wanted her to be a Nanny to my boys.
But she refused to talk. She chose to punish me instead. She built a wall of silence and used my brothers as bricks and mortar. She concocted elaborate lies about me to drive a wedge because me, my siblings, my grandparents. What a shock it was to realise how fragile and shallow our relationships were, how little I was valued by my birth family. How easy it was for them to discard me once I stopped playing the role of caretaker.
It’s been almost two years that we’ve been apart. She has reached out once. A message to declare her love and share confusion about why we are in this ‘situation’. That message set me back weeks. I cried an ocean. How can she not understand? How can she not apologise? She birthed me and yet I am invisible to her, my needs, my truth, just a fantasy in her mind.
But here I am. Against all the odds. A much loved Mummy to my children, my World. My children are cherished, respected and nurtured. My children have a devoted Daddy; a playmate, a provider, their rock. My children are safe. My children are involved in decisions that affect them. My children laugh a LOT. My children are loved UNCONDITIONALLY. My children are their own people. They are not my possessions. My children will follow their hopes and dreams because we will show them how.
You don’t need a Mother’s love to be a good Mother. But I’ll always miss not having a Mother’s love.
I have a confession. Sometimes things get on top of me and I feel sorry for myself. I think ‘why me?’ ‘It’s not fair’.
This doesn’t happen often because I AM NOT A VICTIM. I refuse to see myself as that.
In my late teens, experiencing my first romantic relationships, I confided my horrible upbringing, the violence I both witnessed and was subjected to by my parents. But I didn’t want pity. I saw myself as a SURVIVOR. I saw myself as strong. I did well at school. I earned my own money. I had friends I loved and trusted. I wore my past like a medal, proof I made it out ok.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how badly my upbringing had affected me. The constant judgement and rejection. The conditional love of a mother who both needed and resented me. Living each day with fear somersaulting in my belly. The weight of responsibility I felt towards my siblings. The strange mix of loathing and pity I felt towards my father.
These things didn’t make me a survivor. They made me angry, so angry. I wore an invisible suit of armour but I didn’t realise it. I scared people, I pushed them away before they could hurt me. I had one female school friend who I knew I could genuinely trust, and school teachers who gave me more security and validation than my parents ever did. But for the most part I was entirely alone, lost in the chaos of my own head.
So yeah, these things didn’t make me a survivor. They made me VULNERABLE.
Since my Autism diagnosis at 42, I have read, watched, listened to and discussed everything I possibly can about Autism. I’ve worked so hard to marry up my lived experienced with current research and best practice because it has allowed me to know myself in a way I never did before.
Imagine at 42, after a lifetime questioning who and why you are, knowing you are different, being told you are inadequate. Imagine suddenly being giving the rule book to your brain, the instruction manual. That’s what it was like for me. It was bloody brilliant!!
Suddenly everything from my past and present made sense, I wasn’t mad, bad, weird, horrible, difficult, selfish….I was just a different type of human being, who experienced the world through a different lens. And that was ok. Sweet relief it was ok. I had permission to make choices and lifestyle changes that protected my mental and physical health. I started to accept myself. Even like myself.
Of course there were those (ignorant, arrogant, blinkered souls) who viewed my Autism as an excuse, an inconvenience, something I needed to change about myself.
But the people that mattered, that bothered to really know me and love me; they made the effort to understand my world and the world of my sons. We grew stronger and closer.
Yet still, I was vulnerable. I have been plagued with mental health issues my whole life culminating in my Bipolar 2 diagnosis four years ago. That suit of armour I wore turned out to be paper thin, easily torn, dissolved to pulp by rain. I break so easily. Even with almost a year of trauma therapy and psychiatric medication I was scarily vulnerable to the judgement of others. And I needed to know why. I couldn’t just accept that this was my lot. And I especially didn’t want my sons to struggle with their mental health like I have.
So I did what I do best and I researched and researched and researched some more. And I came across some work by Autistica, the UK’s leading Autism research charity. They have been looking at why Autistic people are so much more vulnerable to mental health issues.
Now I already knew that my Autistic neurology predisposed me to poor mental health. In fact 80% Autistic adults experience mental health issues versus 25% of the general population. But I couldn’t accept the idea that my neurology was to blame.
What the research also showed is that Autistic people suffer more negative life events. My reaction? ‘Tell me about it!!!’ Seriously, anyone who looked at my life on paper would probably say ‘wow, she’s been pretty unlucky!!’ But it’s easy to focus on the negatives and I’m not a negative person, so I decided to compare my good life events with the bad…
What’s interesting is that a medical professional would consider me an Autistic with ‘good outcomes’. This is because I tick many of the boxes of neurotypical expectations for success. In a stable relationship? Tick. Employed? Tick. Children? Tick. Home owner? Tick.
But then you look at the negative life events and you start to see why my armour is so thin. Why I break so easily. Abusive childhood. Bullied at school. Divorced. Losing our sweet first son Pablo. Chronic diseases- breast cancer and blood clotting disorder. Estrangement from my birth family.
These things would be tough for any person to experience but especially tough for a sensitive and highly vulnerable Autistic person who grew up in a hostile and unsafe environment.
Armed with this information I started to explore the relationship between my differently wired brain and the negative life events I had experienced. And what I learned was so powerful.
You see the cognitive and sensory differences of the Autistic brain don’t CAUSE poor mental health. But these differences coupled with negative life events form a dangerous cocktail. Together these things DO lead to mental health issues.
Is it our fault that we are more vulnerable to negative life events?
NO IT IS NOT! But we experience these events MORE INTENSELY.
We find it HARDER TO COPE and HARDER TO RECOVER.
We BLAME OURSELVES because so often we are told it’s our fault for not coping better.
How many times have you told another human…?
Pull yourself together!
Get over it!
Or maybe you’ve said:
You’re so sensitive!
You need to change!
I’m not judging by the way. Im sure I’ve made similar unhelpful comments when weary and frustrated. The problem is, to an Autistic person this type of commentary only serves to undermine our self esteem; it tells us that our NATURAL REACTIONS ARE WRONG. That our feelings are wrong. That who we are, is wrong.
What is happening in these situations is INVALIDATION. Invalidation creates trauma. Invalidation is the breeding ground for early mental health issues. Invalidation drives Autistic masking. It makes us say yes when we mean no. It makes us constantly apologise (I am always saying sorry!) It makes us beat ourselves up for not meeting our own impossible standards.
The worrying thing is, invalidation isn’t always deliberate. Whilst it is the tool of the bully and the manipulator, it can also be done without meaning to. Because you are tired or frustrated. You want a quick solution. An end to the drama. You want the Autistic person in your life to cope better, to fit in. You think you can talk them into being more ‘normal’. Yet all you’re doing is showing them that their differences are bad, that they’re not good enough.
I could go on and on but I keep reminding myself this is a blog not a book and in subsequent posts I promise to explore:
⁃ which of our cognitive and sensory differences make us more vulnerable and why
⁃ how to improve our resilience and coping strategies by understanding these cognitive and sensory differences better
⁃ Exploring tools that can help us grow and improve the skills we have in these areas
What I want you to take away from todays writing is this…
Our differently wired brains (cognitive and sensory differences) PLUS negative life events = poor mental health
Negative life events PLUS invalidation (deliberate or not) = poor mental health
But poor mental health is NOT a given. It won’t happen to every Autistic person. It doesn’t NEED to happen to the 80% as the statistics suggest.
Instead of thinking ‘How can I protect my Autistic relatives’ mental health?’ think ‘How can I help them pursue emotional well-being?’ Let that become your mantra.
⁃ Protect them from the invalidation of others.
⁃ Advocate for adjustments that meet their cognitive and sensory needs.
⁃ Support them through negative life events gently and at their own pace.
⁃ Learn what makes them feel good about themselves, and do it! This is usually linked to their special interests.
For me, when I start to feel overloaded, when I start to feel sorry for myself, I get out in the fresh air, amongst nature, and I look for the small things. The details. The proof of magic. Recently my husband and I had a rare afternoon off from parenting and despite the freezing winds, he agreed to take me beach combing.
I photographed seagulls being battered by the waves. I rummaged through seaweed to uncover a piece of coral, a dried up jellyfish, a sea worn piece of driftwood. The pinks and blues on the inside of a crab shell. My husband and I held hands as we walked along. These are the small things that ground me. That bring me back to feeling calm and safe.
In years gone by we’d have sat on the beach with a bottle of vodka and some takeaway noodles, chatting and giggling. These are happy memories. And this would cheer up. But I’d feel terrible the next day, hungover. And we’d be bickering a few days later, the alcohol impacting our mood and our sleep.
The way I cope now is much calmer and kinder on both of us. It suits my needs as an Autistic person. We still chat and giggle but I’m a cheaper and less volatile date!
I am on a lifelong mission to achieve and sustain emotional well-being. This is just the start. See you for my next blog post 🙂
This is for the child I was, the adolescent, the young adult, the wife and mum I am…for all the abuse, manipulation and lies I was subjected to…
It’s been 18 months since I went ‘no contact’ with my mum and 18 months since my brothers and grandparents abandoned me for daring to question the multi generational abuse that was accepted and hidden in our so called ‘family’.
Even after years of counselling including 11 months of trauma therapy, the consequences of the abuse I suffered are far reaching. Unlike the lady who wrote the article linked below, I don’t take abuse anymore. I speak up if people hurt me and I advocate for myself fiercely. Sometimes that scares people; I hope they remember my back story and don’t take it personally.
For the child I was, the adolescent, the young adult, the wife and mum I am…
I love you I’m proud of you You are wonderfully neurodiverse You are bonkers Bipolar You are 2 years, 4 months sober You are brave and strong You are totally bad ass You are honest and real You have the biggest heart You have the best husband and children You have 2 awesome but stinky cats You are the future You are happy You are safe You are free
I have always loved Christmas and this one will be particularly special – our last in our current home. So I will bathe in the smiles of our beautiful boys, enjoy the twinkly lights, the presents, the Christmas movies, the ton of food and I will look to 2022 and our new beginnings.
It’s time to live the life I’ve always deserved. Are you living yours?
My recent blog post ‘The Art of Being Different’ explores my frustration at being judged and misunderstood for simply trying to be my true and authentic self, an Autistic female with a pick and mix of mental health problems and a heart marked ‘fragile – easily broken’.
This morning my husband sent me a link to a song and said ‘this could have been written about you!’
Now my husband is not one for grand gestures, nor is he expressive with his feelings. And over the last 18 years, despite the fact I love the bones of him, I’ve told him I want to leave him many times out of sheer frustration that our brains are so different. Lucky for me, he’s not a quitter!
So today I listened to the song he sent me, then I listened again. And I must admit (because I’m Autistic and the meaning of words can confuse me) I had to ask my husband ‘what do you mean, why is it about me?’
And he explained that I have a low opinion of myself, but that’s not how he sees me. And he explained that he understands I just want to be accepted (weirdness and all) rather than forced to be ‘normal’.
Then I felt a sparkly star burst of love for my husband because the song is his way of saying ‘I love you. I see you. I get you’. That means the World to me.
The song is by Fred, again. It’s called ‘Dermot (see yourself in my eyes)’.
If you love someone who has a different type of brain, go have a listen. The best gift you can ever give them is the freedom to be themselves, to make their own rules and to shine in their own unique way.
‘’And if only you could see yourself in my eyes You’d see you shine, you shine’’
“Fall in love with someone that enjoys your weirdness Not someone that tries to talk you into being normal”
Thanks to @fredagainagainagainagainagain for fab lyrics and an amazing song.
You do you, I’ll do me. That’s how it’s supposed to be…
I saw this image this morning and it resonated so strongly I had to share.
So often I’ve seen quotes and memes emphasising that Autistic people are ‘Different not Less’. Which of course is true and correct but that is rarely how we are treated in real life.
A Different Neurology
Most people are born with the typical brain you would expect to see in a human being. They have typical developmental, intellectual and cognitive abilities. Many (most) refer to this as ‘normal’. Normal, grinds my gears. There can be no normal if we are committed to diversity and inclusion.
Autistic children and adults are under constant pressure to behave like the neurotypical (or NT) majority, to appear ‘normal’. We are expected to adapt, conform, follow social rules and standards that AREN’T our rules.
The NT majority for whatever reason, think their way is the right way and not meeting their expectations means we are labelled as difficult, rude, bad, mad, uncooperative and over the top.
Even those neurotypical individuals who are well educated about Autism, and have good intentions, are disappointed and frustrated by our behaviour because it doesn’t match how they think people ‘should’ behave.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the people I know, love and respect are neurotypical. It’s rare that NT’s are deliberately dismissive and cruel. But very few truly understand and respect the neurological differences of the Autistic community. And that is so, so hard to live with on a day to day basis.
I’ve lived my whole life being told the way I feel is wrong, my emotions are wrong, my reactions are wrong. Not only is this exhausting but as someone with lifelong mental health challenges and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, it is soul destroying. It means I struggle to trust people, rarely feel accepted or that I belong and am under real pressure to mask, pretend, and ‘fake’ my behaviour to please others.
Equity not Equality
There is so much talk of equality, equal rights. But equality means everyone is treated the exact same way, regardless of their needs or differences.
What Autistic people need and deserve is equity. Equity means each individual is given what they personally need to succeed. For example, equality would be all offering all children a place in school. Equity would mean ensuring each child is given a school place where the environment and style of learning can be adapted to meet their individual needs.
D is for Discrimination
Think about this. If Autistic people were seen as a different culture, our customs and practices would be studied and respected.
Yet we are constantly discriminated against, often worse than any other minority group. The vile hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community is at least spoken about in the media, there is a good level of social awareness. But people with Autism and especially Autism and learning disabilities, are openly treated as ‘less than’ and our access to a suitable education, work and healthcare is severely restricted.
The medical profession classifies us as disabled, yet we receive few if any concessions or assistance like a physically disabled person would.
In my work as an Autism trainer I consistently find that my lived experience of Autism and professional expertise as a trainer are hugely valued and welcomed. However, my Autistic behaviours and ways of working can frustrate the people I work with. My obsessive attention to detail, need for control and struggle with ambiguity mean I ask a lot of questions, need a lot of context and am very opinionated. I often feel like other professionals want me to be an Autistic person ONLY when I’m designing and delivering training and a neurotypical person in all other aspects of the job!
Our Autistic brains are different to the typical human brain but you can’t see our differences. We look just like you. So even when you are told we are wired differently, your brains unconscious bias revolts against the way we think, feel and act.
You tell yourself you understand, that you are making concessions for us, flexing your rules; but if you do so with resentment in your heart, then you are still guilty of discrimination.
We will never feel safe or trust you nor will we feel accepted if you can’t let go of the idea that your way is the right way. Because it isn’t. Your way if ONE way. Not the only way.
A Different Future
I doubt things will change significantly in my lifetime and my hurts, the rejections, the judgements, the burden of being misunderstood, is tattooed all over me now like scars. But my hope and focus is that my sons will have a different experience to me. I am raising them to understand their neurology, the good and the not so good. I am teaching them to advocate for themselves. I am showing them how to look after their mental health and make lifestyle choices that will protect them from emotional and sensory overload. I am teaching them they are different, NOT less, and to educate or ignore people who judge them. I am celebrating their uniqueness, their strengths and their passions every day so they never have to feel the way I’ve been made to feel.
What Part will you Play?
You can play a part in this change by educating yourself on Autism and Neurodiversity. You can teach your brain and open your heart to embrace our differences and squash your unconscious bias. I’m not saying it will be easy. I can see why neurotypical people think we are awkward, difficult and frustrating. I have a very patient, loving, (sometimes infuriating!) neurotypical husband who has experienced more than his fair share of stress trying to understand me and our children. We are raising two very different but equally strong willed Autistic sons together, who make us cry, pull our hair out, laugh our heads off and burst with joy in equal measure. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Add two different neurotypes into the mix and of course it is harder, because different minds don’t think alike!
I don’t think there’s a magic formula and I don’t think it’s a one way street. One of the things I’m teaching my sons is about social rules and expectations because I want them to integrate in society and appreciate the typical customs of others. I also see how hard it’s been for my husband trying to understand my neurology when he has been brought up to believe there is a ‘normal’ and a right way for people to behave.
What I do know is there can be no normal in an inclusive society. That there is more than one way, no right way. And that no one has the right to judge the correctness of another persons thoughts or feelings. My brain and my heart belong to me as does yours to you. But TOGETHER, we could achieve truly amazing things…
I can hardly see through my tears as I’m typing this.
This Autistic young man died whilst experiencing severe mental health issues including suicidal thoughts and attempts to take his own life. He begged for support from health & social care, as did his family. Yet he was fobbed off and told to download a mindfulness app…
As an Autistic adult with lifelong mental health issues and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, I can confirm the fight for support is ridiculously hard and the lack of understanding of Autism in professionals is shameful. I am extremely lucky to have benefitted from an amazing NHS psychologist over the last year, but I’m 46. It shouldn’t have taken this long.
80% of Autistic adults experience mental health issues, compared to only a quarter of the general population.
Will’s mum describes him as having such a brilliant mind, loving, funny, many interests….she could have been talking about my Leo. THIS is why I work as an Autism trainer, educating parents, carers and professionals so they can understand and support us. THIS is why Autism training should ONLY be delivered by Autistic people, who are both qualified to facilitate learning and can share their unique lived experience.
Health & social care professionals will never understand Autism or take us seriously until they are able to walk in our shoes and understand our differently wired brains.
God bless Will. Prayers for your family and friends xxx
I used to joke that there’s a fat girl inside me trying to get out. Like the character of Monica in the sitcom Friends, my fight to keep my food lust under control has been a dominating feature in my life. Except that unlike Monica, I was skinny as a rake growing up and only started to gain weight in my 20’s.
Since my Autism diagnosis 4 years ago, I started to notice the link between my sensory processing differences and my relationship with food. A relationship that goes beyond simply enjoying food, to a realm where I crave certain textures and tastes and the rhythm of chewing becomes more like a stim than a necessary start to the digestion process.
My dad was a very plain eater and as a result, I was brought up on a diet of mainly beige food. Think meat and potatoes on repeat. It’s no wonder I decided to become a vegetarian age 14. My mum (for all her efforts) disliked cooking and it showed. I’m sure it was a thankless task cooking for so many of us.
I still shudder when I think of rice pudding with flabby, milk swollen raisins in, that made me wretch. Stew with chunks of soft steak and slimy carrot. Or custard with big pieces of soggy, browning banana in. I would gag and choke trying to swallow the pieces whole so I didn’t have to chew them.
I used to think I was ungrateful for not enjoying the food my Mum prepared. Now I understand my sensory processing differences it’s clear that raisin rice pudding and banana custard was the birthplace of my problems with texture.
My reasons for eating were also embedded in my childhood years. I observed my mum using food as a reward to treat herself with. Her life was lonely and stressful, raising 5 young children in a marriage dominated by alcoholism and violence. Who could blame her if she sought solace in comfort food. The problem was, my siblings and I adopted those same habits.
We have all experienced an unhealthy tendency to comfort eat, overeat and eat in secret. As adults we’ve all see-sawed between slim and fit, and overweight and sedentary. There has never been a happy medium because we are ‘all or nothing’ characters. Whether my brothers share my sensory relationship with eating I don’t know but they have all experienced my struggle to maintain a healthy weight and a balanced diet.
I have a clear memory of sneaking into the kitchen to steal a packet of crisps when I maybe 10 years old. But there was only enough packets for the school lunch boxes. So I carefully ripped open the corner of a packet of cheese and onion flavour, took out a crisp, laid it on my tongue, let the flavour dissolve then put it back in the packet!!! I repeated this revolting ritual a few more times until my my craving was satisfied. I do feel bad that my brothers must have eaten the crisps I licked first on more than one occasion! Such was my unusual and addictive relationship with food.
I chose to become vegetarian when I was 14 and from there on in my diet consisted mostly of potato, eggs and cheese. Which are all perfectly delicious and can be combined any number of ways, but they’re hardly a balanced diet. I never knew pasta existed until my first husband made me a steaming bowl of pasta shells. Frozen mixed veg and flabby boiled to within an inch of its life broccoli, were the extent of my experience with vegetables.
And because I was able to eat unlimited amounts of chocolate without any repercussions, I did just that. Until I hit my mid 20’s and that fat girl inside me got out!
I never really appreciated that I was getting fat because I was happy in my life, I felt loved by my then husband, I enjoyed my job. But one New Years Eve whilst visiting the family home my Mum commented on my size. She always had this way of making very personal observations under the pretense of it being a joke. This was no exception. So I asked then husband ‘do you think I’m fat?’ He smiled affectionately and said ‘you’re like my little ladybird, a big round body with little arms and little legs’!!
At the time I laughed my head off because I think in pictures, and the image in my head was hilarious. But later, reflecting on that comment I was mortified.
I went to work a few days later with my weight on my mind, but unsure how to address it. I was an HR Director for a well known hotel chain. Once or twice a month all senior management had to complete duty manager shifts. That day I was in one of our flagship hotels, a grand, aging beauty with a sweeping spiral staircase that circled up to each of the 6 floors of bedrooms. All of a sudden the fire alarm went off. I radioed reception to check where it was triggered. It was the 6th floor! Now when a fire alarm is triggered, any lifts automatically go to ground and can’t be used. So I had to run up 6 sweeping flights of stairs on that huge spiral staircase to identify if the triggered alarm was down to an actual fire.
Thank goodness, it wasn’t a real fire. However picture if you will a short, bespectacled, heavily overweight blonde in a straining suit and stilettos trying to race up a 6 flights of stairs when she hasn’t done any proper exercise since PE at school!! By the third floor I could hardly breathe!
I remember the smooth feel of the highly polished wooden banister as I gripped it tightly and the way my heels sunk into the plush carpet. By the 4th floor my legs where like jelly and I was panting so hard you’d think I’d run a marathon. By the 5th floor I was overtaken by someone from Maintenance who’d realized I was taking too long and nimbly overtook me like a whippet on the way to the 6th floor.
The combination of my Mum and first husband’s comments plus the failed attempt to get to the 6th floor under my own steam, was the prod I needed to make some serious lifestyle changes.
First, I had to overcome my inbuilt stranger danger and self consciousness, to join a slimming club. I can’t pretend I wasn’t mortified being weighed in front of total strangers, but my desire to lose weight and get fit was more powerful.
My food diary went everywhere with me and I started buying recipe books to cook healthy meals. Now I can’t lie (nothing but the truth, right?), but I’m a horrible cook. I was a horrible cook then and I’m a horrible cook now. I specialise in burnt offerings and no matter how religiously I follow a recipe, it never, ever turns out like the picture! But for the first time in my life I understood what I was eating and could make sensible but still tasty, choices.
To my surprise the process of analysing calories and fat content, and the routine of writing down everything that I ate, quickly became addictive (unsurprising now I understand I am Autistic). Weight loss became my special interest, something to hyper focus on.
I was shocked at the relative calorie content of different foods and started to eat fruit and veg that I’d never tried before – mostly raw because of my preference for crunchy textures. I learned to enjoy rice and grains, salad and fruit smoothies (the texture of fruit is still something I find hard to overcome).
I also became addicted to exercise. I would run on the seafront every day before work. Often I’d run after work too! Or power up and down the hotel swimming pool, visualising the fat melting off me.
I started slimming club in the January and by early June I’d lost 4 stone. I literally leapt forward to grab the bell at my final weigh in and rang it enthusiastically over my slimmed down head to celebrate reaching my target. I was euphoric. I had a waist, actual hip bones, a flat stomach. I felt reborn.
Now being Autistic I have a number of sensory processing differences . For example I am hypersensitive (over sensitive) to noise and heat – both these things have the power to reduce me to a panicky tearful mess.
However I am hyposensitive (under sensitive) to interoception, the sense we use to interpret our bodies internal signals. Interoception tells you when you’re hot or cold, hungry or thirsty, or when you need the loo or feel unwell.
My under sensitivity to interoception means I don’t usually realise I need a wee until I’m hoping on one leg and shallow breathing because I’m wetting myself! It also means I seek out food and think I’m hungry when I’m actually tired, bored, stressed or thirsty.
What I also realise now in my 40’s, since my Autism diagnosis, is that the sensory experience of eating food is itself very addictive. I love foods that are crunchy and chewy. Or that start out hard but them melt into creamy smoothness. The physical act of chewing and swallowing provides a soothing rhythm that calms my hectic mind. Often when I eat, I do so for that sensory experience, my body craving the familiar textures and tastes. This explains why I eat when I’m not even hungry. And why I’m drawn to the same foods again and again.
In contrast anything soft, soggy or watery is stomach churning. It’s why I can’t enjoy soft fruits and why fragrant but watery soups and noodles make me feel nauseous just by looking at them.
I clearly remember a school holiday when I was 13 – it was a ‘PGL’ adventure trip. We had to make up our own pack lunch each day and the teacher supervising lunches insisted I pack an orange. Now I really didn’t like oranges. The stringy white pith all over them freaked me out. The leaky juiciness was far too messy. And the squishy texture made my stomach turn. So there I was half way up a mountain in Wales and said teacher reminds me to eat my orange. I reluctantly commenced the unpeeling, trying hard to remove all the pith. It was quite a small orange, more of a large clementine, and I suddenly thought if I shoved it in all at once I could get it over and done with. So that’s what I did. I put the orange in my mouth whole….
I tried to chew but a combination of the texture and size of it made me gag, then inhale. The orange became stuck in my throat and I was choking. The terrifying thing was, I wasn’t making a sound. I couldn’t make a sound. So I just stumbled around flapping my arms in panic until a teacher realised what was happening and gave me an almighty whack on the back. The orange shot out. The still whole, saliva covered orange. The astonished stares of my classmates burned into me, more painful than the burning in my throat. Such is my phobia of food I don’t like, that I almost killed myself trying to avoid it!
At 46 I still struggle with managing my eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight. I understand how to eat healthily and I love to exercise but my motivation and commitment fluctuate and therefore so does my weight.
Back in my twenties when I first became overweight, my weight loss journey became my special interest. My Autistic brain performs best when I can hyper focus.,So food diary’s and portion control and intense exercise became my hyper focus to the exclusion of most other things. It’s not so easy now to hyper focus when you have two young children to look after…That’s not an excuse that’s my truthful experience.
So I’m trying to find a balance. Eating healthily as a family. Doing exercise together that everyone enjoys. That’s why I bought Guinevere my trusty trike! I haven’t yet found a solution to the sensory cravings I fulfil by eating, but I’m trying to use mind over matter and talk myself out of reaching for food unless I’m sure I’m hungry. Mindfulness is also helpful to improve your ability to read your body’s internal signals. Think of it as fine tuning your radio reception, so that you get a clear signal instead of a crackly, fuzzy one!
My children, the family I’ve created with my husband, are my hyper focus. Meeting their needs and having fun and adventures with them takes priority over everything else and I choose to live this way. Before I know it they’ll be more interested in going out with their friends than rock-pooling or cycling trips or family movie nights.
Ultimately food is fuel, we all need it to survive. But for Autistic individuals like me, the sensory relationship between what we eat and drink and how we feel is an important one to explore. If we can satisfy our sensory cravings with healthier options that still provide the texture, colour and taste we need; if we can learn to interpret our bodies signals so we don’t confuse thirst, boredom or tiredness with hunger; then we can achieve a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight without it becoming an obsession or a burden.