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.

 

 

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

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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.

We Need To Stop Calling Them “Invisible” Disabilities

I’ve noticed that it’s common to say things like “he has a so-called ‘invisible’ disability” with the scare quotes around disability and the phrase so-called as a qualifier. I’m assuming this is done to signal the speaker or writer’s understanding that there’s really nothing about an actual disability that is invisible, especially to the person struggling to cope with it.

But I think we need to up our game a bit with this business of disclaiming the idea that a disability can be invisible. I’m thinking we need to either quit using the expression at all, or brazenly interrupt the conversation in order to pontificate on the real problem, which is that the person with the disability is being judged as unreliable in some sense.

To my view, the problem with this class of disabilities is not at all that they are invisible in some way, but that they are mostly visible to just one person, and that person is just assumed for some reason to be an unreliable witness. The issue at hand is one of patient credibility, not disability “invisibility”.

Now, this is actually not to say that all patients should be simply believed without question. I could say a lot more about that and plan to in a future post, but for now I’ll just clarify that what I’m mainly asserting in this post is that if the problem of these so-called “invisible” disabilities is ever to be solved, it must first be properly understood, and in this case that means recognizing that the core issue is really one of witness credibility or reliability.

As I see it — for now, and until I encounter the sort of evidence that might help me change my mind — the “invisibility” thing is just a distraction.