Who Started It? — Toward a Theory of the Pseudo-victim

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between aggression and self-defense. Especially as a parent of 6-year-old boy-girl twins, I’m constantly having to figure out “who started it”. But this problem is not restricted to the disputes of childish children. Plenty of childish adults also struggle to figure out “who started it”. It would appear that people only hate to be victims until they’ve been accused of acting aggressively. Apparently, being accused of acting aggressively is much, much worse than being known as the victim of someone else’s aggression. It really seems to me that most interpersonal conflicts boil down to a struggle for victim status — a contest for the “prize” of “being the victim”. Few interpersonal conflicts cannot be paraphrased as follows:

A: I am the victim here.

B: No way, I am the victim.

A: Hah! You think so, eh? Well, I say I am the victim because you did Z!

B: Because I did Z? What are you talking about? I only did Z because you did Y. Thus, I am the victim. I am the victim of your unprovoked aggression!

A: Whoa! “Unprovoked”? Are you kidding me? I’m the victim! You’re the aggressor! The only reason I did Y was because you had done X! What else was I supposed to do after you did X?

B: But I was entitled to do X! That was my right, because of the way you had so callously done W! If you didn’t want anyone to do X then you never should have done W…etc., so forth, ad infinitum,…

Crazy, right? I never know what to think about this situation. Clearly they can’t both be the victim. Or can they? Hmmm. Now, there’s a thought. But it’s an unusual thought, perhaps worth thinking about. But in the meantime, if we just go with the normal way of understanding these situations, then just one of the pretenders-to-the-title-of-victim can be the real victim. The other pretender is just, well, pretending. He or she is a pseudo-victim — someone who is just trying to look like a victim, no doubt to benefit from the sympathy that the rest of us all tend to feel for real victims; and of course the consequent time, attention and other resources we donate toward helping them. The pseudo-victim is a kind of cheater, or malingerer.

 


Image Credit: Pixabay

Autism Is Not An Intellectual Disability

Portrait of Albert Einstein

Evidence suggests 62% of autistic people have normal to superior intelligence. Although it’s too late to give Einstein a formal diagnosis, biographical evidence strongly suggests he was autistic. Image Credit: Pixabay

I’m wondering how common it may be for people to misunderstand autism as some form of intellectual disability. To the extent that someone were to misunderstand autism in this way, we might predict that he or she would find it hard to believe that a given autistic person actually has any sort of disability at all, given the lack of an intellectual one.

I suppose the argument would look something like, “Mr. Autistickish may have autism, but he clearly does not have any sort of intellectual disability, therefore he’s not disabled.” Such a conclusion may seem especially warranted if the skeptic believes the commonly held false belief that mere intellectual prowess (a.k.a. “intelligence”) — is the beginning and end of successful achievement.

According to a 2008 study by the Center for Disease Control, it does appear that some 38% of autistic children also have an intellectual disability, which suggests that if all you know about a person is that they are autistic, and you simply guess that the person also has an intellectual disability, you’d be correct about 38% of the time, and those aren’t terrible odds. But it also implies you’d be wrong 62% of the time, which is to say that autism predicts normal to superior intellectual functioning much more often than not.

The upshot here is that autism — however often it may be associated with intellectual disability — is not at all the same thing.

 

 

How to Skirt the ADA to Fire an Employee with a “Psychiatric” Disability

Man in Grouch Marx disguise

Disclaimer: this goofy picture of a man in a Groucho Marx disguise indicates that this post is just a joke. I am not in any way advising any employer to actually implement this sociopathic solution to the problem of psychiatric disability in the workplace. On the contrary, my goal is to mock and ridicule this all-too-commonly used approach. Image found here.

Dear Employer,

Are you tired of that malingerer in your employ? You know, the one with the so-called “psychiatric disability”? Are you tired of the excuses? The moodiness? The drama? The “sick” days? The FMLA “medical” leaves? The short-term “disability” claims? The infantile and depressing can’t-do attitude?

Well, today is your lucky day! Because I am about to tell you how to fire this slacker. Here’s what you do: fire him!

Boom. Yup, it’s that simple. Just sack him. Do it now. You don’t even have to explain why. Stop wasting money on this lazy slob.

What’s that you say? “What about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? The brat will go running to his EEOC mommy and tell on me.”

Yup, absolutely — whiners gonna whine, am I right? And here’s how to handle that: you mediate, and you offer the guy a few thousand bucks to drop the charge. EZPZ, lemon squeeze me. Look, if you don’t fire him, you’re just going to give him that money anyway, and in exchange for what? Headaches? Frustration? Whining? At least this way you nail a solid bottom to that leaky bucket. Also, once he’s gone you can replace him with a good worker, somebody who will actually earn his living.

What’s that? “What if he’s not faking it?” Are you kidding me? Why would that be your problem? What, you don’t have enough problems already? Now you have to go around taking responsibility for someone else’s?

Look, first of all, he’s probably faking it. At the very least he’s probably milking it — exaggerating — which is a type of faking it, and to the extent that he is faking it, then he is lying, and he deserves to get fired.

Ok, ok, right. Maybe every now and then you’ll inadvertently fire someone with a real disability that really is “invisible” and that really you should not fire. Listen, you’re going to have to get over that. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. You understand? Don’t get me wrong, it’s sweet that you have a conscience and all, but this is business were talking here, right? Not charity. Just donate some money to a real charity so at least you can get the tax deduction. Plus, what about all of your good workers? Think about all you’re doing for them and their families by axing this dead wood. You’re strengthening your company’s financial position, and that will help keep them all employed so they can feed their families.

You see where I’m coming from? It’s the right move, amigo. And besides everybody does it, especially your own competition. If you don’t do it too, you’ll just be making them stronger than you, and eventually you’ll have to shut down your company, or sell it to someone who has the guts to do what you won’t.

So fire the fucker. Fire him now!

[Disclaimer: The above is just a joke. Please do not actually implement this sociopathic strategy!]


“The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws [e.g. The Americans with Disabilities Act] that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.” From “Overview” at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/index.cfm, last accessed 12/30/2017 7:43 PM

One Good Reason Not To Use Autism As An Excuse, Perhaps

hand_holding_ace_hearts

Yesterday, I played the so-called “A-card”. In doing it, I actually said to my wife, “Uh, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to play the autism card here”.

Then a short while later I think I figured out at least one good answer to the question I posed a few days ago in my post So…Why Can’t I Use Autism As An Excuse? Having accomplished this, I proceeded to feel like quite an A-hole for having played the A-card, apologized to my wife for having done so, and committed to making proper amends for the gaffe I had committed — the very reason I thought I needed an excuse in the first place.

Now, although I really do regret blaming autism for my gaffe and have resolved to be much more careful going forward about doing that, I also happen to believe that it really was my autistic neurology that caused the gaffe — in particular, my gift/curse ability to achieve some truly ecstatic states of autistic “hyperfocus”, to the point where I can occasionally become hazardously absent-minded¹.

What happened yesterday is that I was supposed to bring my kids to a birthday party for a classmate after lunch, and all morning long my thought-furnace had been cooking up solutions to a particular problem that’s been bugging me recently. Well, lunchtime came and went and a couple of hours later I suddenly remembered the party. As it turned out, the 6-year-old birthday boy had been really looking forward to my kids’ coming to his party, and he waited and waited and waited for them until about an hour after the party had been scheduled to end. I had really dropped the ball in that situation, and my wife, and the boy’s mom, and of course the boy himself were all quite upset about it.

In any case, when my wife confronted me about this, I immediately felt like a total jackass — I mean really, this was true worst-Dad-of-the-Year material — but gosh do I hate feeling like that. Very uncomfortable. And I just sort of automatically reacted by tossing out the line about the autism card.

But doing so really accomplished nothing. I still felt like crap about having forgotten the party. On top of that, I felt like I had somehow mistreated my wife. I could see that my use of this defense mechanism had also been quite invalidating, and not just toward my wife, but to the little boy and his mom, as well. When I pulled out my A-card that way, it’s like I was telling my wife something like, “honey, I realize your frustration probably feels quite uncomfortable, but you’ll just have to suck it up because my autism trumps your frustration.” Although I hope I would never actually say it so explicitly like that, I can see that one considerable consequence of A-card play is that it runs the risk of exacerbating another person’s frustration with guilt for having made inappropriate demands on a disabled person.

Now, I’m not suggesting here that one should never or even rarely use autism as an excuse. As a rule, I’d guess that the more disabling one’s symptoms are, the more one probably ought to be playing that card. But I think something like the opposite is probably also true: the less disabling one’s symptoms are, the less one ought to be playing that card. But even in the situation described above I’m not sure I can rationally see anything wrong at all with simply conveying the fact of the matter that I forgot the party because my autistic brain was busy obsessing about some problem, and that’s really what a lot of autistic brains do. In that sense my question from the other day still stands: So…why can’t I use autism as an excuse?

But what is also true is that I love my wife and her feelings matter to me. And even though I’d never met them, the feelings of that little boy and his mother also matter to me, and the fact is that my A-card play did not just invalidate all of their feelings, but it even invalidated my own feelings — the feelings of concern that I have for these other people, feelings that I happen to like and don’t want to invalidate, autism or not. And when I recognized that I really didn’t want to go around invalidating all of these people’s feelings that mattered to me so much, I just decided to make a choice and withdraw my A-card.

So, I apologized to my wife, and I resolved there and then that I would find some way to make it up to that little boy who cares so much about my own children that he was really hurt when they didn’t show up to his birthday party.

Yup, autistic or not, I’m going to make it up to that little boy.

 


¹I think the most hazardous thing I’ve ever done was forget to give my daughter her anti-seizure medication. This is not something I did just once. It continues to happen on occasion, though most of the time I do catch my mistake and give her the medication a few hours late. I also once forgot that I’d started running a bath, and forty-five minutes later when I realized it, I discovered that about 100 gallons of water had gushed out into the hallway. Really most of the time my absent-mindedness is just frustrating for anybody that happens to need or want my presence of mind.

So…Why Can’t I Use Autism As An Excuse?

No Excuses sign

Image Credit: ShutterStock

Ok, ok, I get it! Really, I do. I cannot — probably must not — use autism as some sort of an excuse.

And I do admit that I have tried to do exactly that, at least a few times in the past year since being diagnosed. One of the more consequential of these took place early last Summer when I tried to explain to a family member why I had recently been fired from my previous job. I’ve lost count of how many times in my life I’ve either gotten fired or quit a job because I knew if I didn’t it was only a matter of time until I got fired. And among the people who know me well enough to know that story, I’m really something of a record holder in that regard. When I started explaining to this individual that I have a hard time controlling my “thought furnace“, and that this has always made it hard for me to do pretty much everything from working to loving, this person cut me off —

“So you blame your diagnosis then?”

The question surprised me –in fact, felt like an ambush of some sort — and I got all jammed up in the head about how to answer. The conversation rapidly veered off into one of the uglier rows I’ve had in a long time, complete with F-bombs from all involved and a subsequent refusal to speak to one another that continues to this day, and which threatens to continue indefinitely.

Because of this experience and a handful of others more or less like it, I have come to understand that “playing the autism card” is probably a bad idea. It probably won’t solve whatever problem I’m hoping it will solve, and this in pretty much any otherwise-apparently relevant situation.

I also admit that I find this quite disappointing. One thing I really enjoy about this diagnosis is that it explains so much about me, my behavior, my personal history. It makes so much sense out of my “thought furnace”, my various learning obsessions, my stalwart commitment to routines, my anxiety problems, etc.. But one thing that I especially love about this diagnosis is that it explains my chronic, lifelong tendency toward all manner of social misfittery — everything from merely boring folks (which happens a lot, apparently), to pestering them, annoying them, frustrating them, and every so often shocking and/or infuriating them (in my defense that happens relatively rarely, but nonetheless far too often for even my own tastes). Especially those latter cases, in which I have to assume that the word most likely used by my adversaries to describe me to others simply must be asshole, I especially like the sense of relief that comes with knowing that I’m not an asshole (gosh darnit); I’m autistic (-ish).

Yeah, sure, wouldn’t that be nice? But apparently it doesn’t work that way. For some reason “playing the autistic card” is a serious no-no, especially in that kind of situation. Yep, I get that now. Really, I do.

But I want to clarify something about that. See, I really do understand that it’s not okay to use autism as an excuse. I really do understand that whenever I try to use autism as an excuse, I’m really just asking for trouble. See, that part is very clear to me. I understand fairly clearly that we have this as a rule, and that if I break this rule I will likely be punished in some way. But, see, what I don’t understand is why this is true. Why do we have this rule?

Why can’t I use autism as an excuse?

Maybe Ask This Next Time Somebody Accuses You of Malingering

Donald_Trump_strutting_and_smiling_210x231

President Donald Trump — living proof that with hard work virtually anything is possible if your dad is rich.

When (for example) a wealthy white businessman ignores, or denies, or is perhaps merely unaware of the role that Luck played in his accomplishments, plugging the resultant gap with such virtues as hard work, perseverance, possibly an imagined genetic superiority, education, good character, etc., he is doing something that is very much like what a malingerer does. Only instead of pretending to have a disability in order to leverage the sympathy of his associates, he has gone off in the opposite direction, pretending to have some sort of an ability, and this in order to leverage the admiration of his entourage.  As an extreme example we might imagine a grand prize lottery winner boasting of his skill at picking lottery numbers —

“…The key is to pay attention to everything. You have to stand vigilant. Signs are everywhere, but you have to train yourself to see them. I keep a notebook with me at all times and whenever I notice anything unusual I write it down. Is that the eighth airplane I’ve seen up in the sky today? Are there 19 squirrels in that park? If I have a dream one night about, say, 15 pairs of socks, I’ll write that down when I wake up. Especially if its something like 15 socks, because socks come in pairs and 15 is an odd number….”

But now let’s compare how we feel about these two manipulators. Without overgeneralizing, I think it’s safe to say that many would despise the malingerer on the one hand, while tending to forgive and in extreme cases even adulate the businessman on the other. (With Trump our zeal was so potent we made the guy President and armed him with nuclear weapons!)

And why is that? Both are manipulating us and in similar ways. Shouldn’t we either despise both or forgive both?

For now a least (and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might change my mind) it really looks to me like the critical difference between these two scoundrels is that in the businessman we see the hope of gaining resources, but in the malingerer we see the threat of losing them.

To the extent that this analysis is correct (and if you think it isn’t I invite you to explain what you think I may be missing), it appears to debunk any flattering assumption that the punishment of malingers is really about justice for all; and grounds it rather in a trivial envy.

The next time somebody suggests in some way that you are a malingerer, you may wish to ask,

“And if I truly were malingering, what would actually bother you about that? Do you really think it’s wrong to misrepresent myself for personal gain? Or are you just envious that I might get away with it?


photo credit: Gage Skidmore Donald Trump via photopin (license).

Skepticism, Knowledge and Malingering

Man looking skeptical

Image found here.

Never confuse skepticism for knowledge. If I claim to have a disability and you are skeptical of that claim, that does not somehow magically imply that I am faking or exaggerating something.

Of course your skepticism is entirely rational and legitimate, and kudos for that. But simple skepticism is not evidence of anything other than some brain’s rational hunger for actual evidence. If you think otherwise you are badly confused. And especially if you happen to work as a disability-insurance claims investigator, then you are dangerously confused and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near such an insurance claim.

Skepticism is just a first step toward actual knowledge, and a refusal to take the next one — to scrutinize the real evidence — is the most reckless kind of foolery.