Is your partner who has Asperger’s intentionally treating you in a way as to cause confusion and cognitive dissonance? Are you sure it’s gaslighting? What if gaslighting is not the motivation of someone with Asperger’s?
Author’s note: It is always a challenge to choose genders when writing about neurodiverse couples. Here I use the example of an autistic man and a neurotypical woman. I don’t mean to imply there are no cases in which this is reversed. It’s just that at this time, men are diagnosed at a 4:1 ratio to women, and in my practice, it is the majority of men who are the autistic partners. This could reflect the higher frequency of autism among men, or it could mean more couples like this present for counseling than couples in which the autistic partner is female. It is also important to note that individuals on the spectrum can be susceptible to gaslighting from others, and I will address this in a separate article.
In my work with neurodiverse couples in which one partner has autism or Asperger’s, one of the words I hear most often is “gaslighting.” Here’s an example:
“It would be one thing if we just fought like other couples who eventually make up. But that’s not how it is with us. Instead, we argue about something, and he tells me I’m being irrational. Or childish. Or critical. Then he shuts down. Often, he storms out of the room. If I try to bring it up later, he tells me I’m imagining things, that he didn’t say that, or if he did say it, he didn’t mean it the way I took it. He says I’m being too sensitive. And he shuts down again. I’m left feeling as if I’ll explode with frustration. I’m furious. And I have nowhere to go with it. I start to wonder if he’s right about me. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Is this gaslighting?”
Read on to know if it is still gaslighting If your partner has Asperger’s.
In brief, gaslighting is a term that derives from the 1944 movie called Gaslight in which a husband successfully manipulates his wife into doubting her own reality.
The husband in the story has a dark secret which is at the root of everything he says and does to his wife. To him, she is not a person with her own interior life. She is a pawn in his selfish game, which until the end he plays shrewdly enough to cause her to doubt her own version of reality.
In reference to the flickering gaslights in the story, this effect has become known as gaslighting: intentionally treating a person in such a way as to cause confusion and cognitive dissonance, which eventually lead to collapse into self-doubt.
Of note is that at the heart of the husband’s motivation is a desire for riches, symbolized by jewels. This part of the story is often overlooked, but it is worth consideration when we are talking about autistic behavior.
“Instead, we argue about something, and he tells me I’m being irrational. Or childish. Or critical. Then he shuts down. Often, he storms out of the room. If I try to bring it up later, he tells me I’m imagining things, that he didn’t say that, or if he did say it, he didn’t mean it the way I took it.”
QUESTIONING REALITY IN NEURODIVERSE RELATIONSHIPS
First, let’s return to the comments of the neurotypical partner I quoted above. One way to view her statement is in terms of gaslighting, just as it is laid out in the movie.