Professional Q and A Series I: FAQ’s about Female Asperger Syndrome and “Burning Bridges Aspie-Style”

Professional Q and A Series I: Female Asperger Syndrome and “Burning Bridges Aspie-Style”

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I have had a number of questions and comments related to what is referred to as “Burning Bridges”. Below are common comments/concerns that I have heard from my clients over the years.

“My question is How could I sometimes be such a bitch? After all, as an Aspie, I needed support and sympathy. Yet, I sometimes treated people so badly, either with unveiled criticism, I ignored them, broke hearts and at the same time wasn’t able to take what I gave to others. How is this possible?”

“My daughter has a long history of ending relationships badly, walking out of jobs, packing up her room-mates belongings with no notice, and for no good reason. I’ve had calls from her former boyfriend, her former boss and now her room-mate. I am at my wit’s end and I feel she has got no future”.

“I have been in counselling for some time now and my psychologist has told me I lack empathy and need to work on my friendship skills, because I just can’t maintain a friendship.”

“I am writing to you because I have a long history of broken relationships, loss of jobs and relationships, and depressive meltdowns/breakdowns. I have thought about this alot and do find communicating with people stressful. I avoid conflict like the plague, am socially anxious and misunderstand people often. Why can’t I maintain relationships?”

“Whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed, things don’t work out, or I have trouble in relationships, I just cut ties with them like that. I pack up and move on, leaving jobs, friends, business partners, marriages, often not even giving them a valid reason for doing so. I just can’t deal with conflict”

“I have left a few situations rather quickly. Through counselling I realized some of my burning bridges were healthy and some were not”

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What is “burning bridges”?

Burning bridges is a set of behaviors in response to an event or events, often (but not always) disproportionate to the situation or event.

What causes individuals to burn bridges?

Briefly, I have found the following factors, in part or combination, to precede the burning of bridges, and of course, depend on the situation and context

The inability to manage stress, anxiety and/or anger

Misinterpreting or misunderstanding other people intentions

Difficulties communicating and/or working through the inevitable ebbs and flows of relationships

A meltdown, (depressive, toddler temper-like, violent, angry or suicidal)

Impulsive reactions, which are often then later regretted by the individual, but not always (i.e. packing their suitcases and leaving a relationship, throwing their room-mates belongings out, obsessing, stalking and harassing others)

Feel their lives will improve by changing friends, partners, jobs, countries

An inability to see other people’s perspectives, or understand other’s thought and feelings about a given situation

A tendency to argue and/or behave in ways, so much so, that I have seen individuals engage in behaviors that only hurt themselves, just to make a point, be the “winner”, or have the last word

A combination of blaming, passive-aggressive behaviors, avoidance of conflict, arguing rather than talking, criticizing and/or making excuses for their behaviors (“well, if you didn’t………, then I wouldn’t have had to throw out all your stuff!”).

The difficulty in understanding the unwritten social rules, of social and emotional reciprocity in relationships and how to maintain friendships or relationships.

Seeking revenge, stalking or obsessing over perceived injustices

A tendency to ‘catastrophize’ (thinking things are worse than they actually are) leads to panic, which then, in turn, leads to burning a bridge

Lacking the ability to understand the feelings and perspectives of others

A tendency to think negatively or in black or white terms

How Does Burning Bridges Happen?

In my professional work, I have found that children on the Autism Spectrum tend to fall into groups or sub-types. There are those who have a quieter, shier personality and generally dislike conflict or stress intense, keep their own opinions to themselves or take on the opinions of others, are unable to defend themselves when needed and are passive. There is also another group I have come across, those who tend to be overly-expressive in their opinions, despite the consequences. Some individuals in this group have been described by their family members as “över the top” or “drama queens”, “engage in publicly defaming others, playing dirty and extremely difficult to maintain a relationship with”. These two particular groups are quiet different in their presentation, yet share similar difficulties in communication, social and emotional intelligence, maintaining relationships, both context and mind-blindness and difficulties seeing another person’s perspective.

Both groups tend have difficulties keeping jobs, healthy friendships and partners. One group due to the inability to stand up for themselves, discuss their concerns with others and handle conflict when typical difficulties arise; and the other group, often having difficulty self-monitoring their behaviors and actions in the workplace, community, or in relationships, in essence, difficulty reigning their behaviors and emotions in. Their behaviors and lack of emotional control often scare, or intimidate their family members, co-workers partners, friends, or children.

Over time and development, individuals who have not been diagnosed and/or received appropriate intervention develop a number of coping mechanisms, usually in order to cope with the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome. Some adults have developed co-existing conditions, for example, personality disorders.

Is is ever appropriate to burn bridges?
That’s a great question. Sometimes, it is appropriate to leave a situation, and quickly, however, depending on the situation, in as professional a way as possible. Sometimes, it just isn’t appropriate or safe to do so. I have heard of many examples over the years where I believed it was in the best interests and healthy for the person to leave a situation, as quickly as possible. One example that comes to mind is a client who’s co-worker aggressively bullied her in front of her own client and that client’s young child. The client then intervened on her behalf to stop the bully and protect his caseworker. Serious forms of aggressiveness and bullying can and do occur in the workplace or community and are unacceptable, especially in front of children. I do not classify these situations as “burning bridges”.

What type of support or intervention is available to individuals who burn bridges?
Briefly, some of the following interventions and supports are useful in helping individuals improve the areas associated with the often seen impulsive and irrational behaviors associated with burning bridges

Social Skills training
Theory of Mind Training/Mind Reading Training/Cognitive Empathy Training
Emotion Management (Anxiety, Anger and Stress)
Perspective Taking Training
Speech/Language and/or communication training/semantic pragmatics
Social and Emotional Intelligence
Cognitive Affective Training (CAT Kit)
Learning to manage impulsivity
Assertiveness Training and learning to manage conflict in health ways
On going training in social awareness (learning how to read facial expressions and social interaction skills)
Training related to healthy boundaries and understanding and respecting the social hierarchy

It is important to remember that each individual needs to have the intervention specifically designed for them. For e.g., the quiet shy type highly benefits by learning boundaries, to assert herself by speaking up and standing up for herself in healthy ways whilst the dramatic talkative type benefits from learning to let others talk, slow down, speak and act in calmer ways, so that others are not threatened.

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Tania Marshall©. 2013. Professional Q and A Series I. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

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17 thoughts on “Professional Q and A Series I: FAQ’s about Female Asperger Syndrome and “Burning Bridges Aspie-Style”

    • Hi Kathryn, there exists different “types”of empathy. Very briefly:

      Cognitive Empathy: The ability to predict other’s thoughts and intentions, knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Also known as perspective-taking.

      Affective/Emotional Empathy: The ability or capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person, when you feel the feelings of another person along with the other person, as though their emotions are your own. Social neuroscience has found that this kind of empathy has to do with the mirror neuron system. Emotional empathy contributes to an individual being well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world, an advantage for individuals in a wide range of careers from nursing to teaching to social work, psychology and other caring professions.

      Compassionate Empathy, or “empathic concern”. This kind of empathy helps us to understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, and also be spontaneously moved to help them, if and when other need help.

      • Well…no wonder those essays my Interpersonal Skills classmates and I were asked to write, on the difference between ’empathy’ and ‘sympathy’ were so danged confusing! The definitions in the textbooks were so ambiguous, that two students could write their essays with exactly opposite descriptions, and both be given full credit, lol…this model, of calling all of it ’empathy,’ and dividing it into different types, really makes more sense to me.

        Not that I mind, but you have answered a question I did not ask. I see now that I did not state my original question clearly. I believe I have a trait that is conjugate to the Cognitive Empathy trait: I assume others are reading my mind. 😉

        I was referring back to the list of Aspienwomen traits in your post of 26-March 2013, Moving towards a female profile of Asperger Syndrome. In it were several mentions of different types of empathy that you had often seen in Aspienwomen. I do not recall seeing any mention in that list of our particularly lacking any type of empathy. However, in this most recent post, about burning bridges, you have listed as one potential cause being “An inability to see other people’s perspectives, or understand others’ thoughts and feelings about a given situation.” Also, one of the suggested interventions is
        “Theory of Mind Training/Mind Reading Training/Cognitive Empathy Training.”

        So, I was wondering, why is this list so heavily slanted toward lack of empathy, when that general list of traits leans completely toward high empathy?

  1. Hello…I am sorry to read that you have a stalker. I posted a sincere comment on Friday, but it is labeled as “awaiting moderation.” What does that mean? Can you see it? I would be most interested in your response.

    • Hi Kathryn, thank-you for your comment. Blogs have “filters”, otherwise an enormous amount of spam and stalkers comments would interfere with the flow of the blog. I did get your message and try hard to respond to the majority of my messages, time permitting. Response coming soon!:-)

      • Tania,

        I cant begin to know how much.distress this has caused you and.how utterly disruptive it has been to your professional and personal life , I feel this is a huge injustice, not only on your feelings but also draining you of the energy you need to advocate and support the thousands of Asperger girls, to whom your a life line for.

        As it states in my book “Bullying is psychologically projective” Other name call or treat others how they are. This only shows your strength and others weakness.

        I wish you all the best xxx

      • Hello Olley, thank-you for your support and kind words. Bullying, stalking, harassment and defamation are pervasive, in every country, from the micro (relationships and families) to the macro (communities, government, organizations). It is unacceptable and must stop. Bullies, stalkers, harassers must be made famous, just as KONY was made famous. You are quite accurate when you talk about bullying behaviors as “projections”. Bullies most often project onto others their own poison. Thank-you for continuing to be a light for Aspiens everywhere.

  2. My heart is breaking for my girl. She just told me tonight that she had a chance to be soccer goal keeper for a game they were playing for sport. Both teams were all girl teams. As soon as she was appointed to be goaly ( I am not sure who did this or maybe she chose to be) anyway not long after she was told that they didn’t wan her on there team and to go on the other team 😦 why do girls have to be so mean!

    • Hello Alison, I am sorry to hear about the bullying. Unfortunately, it is all too-pervasive and particularly subtle and nasty in females. The movie “Mean Girls” characterizes this issue well. I have seen bullying, harassment and worse, stalking occur to those on the Spectrum but also initiated and perpetrated by those on the Spectrum.

  3. Pingback: Professional Q and A Series I: FAQ’s about Female Asperger Syndrome and “Burning Bridges Aspie-Style” | Women Who Think Too Much by Jeanne Marie

  4. this is a very interesting piece. as a teacher i have dealt with a variety of children on the spectrum as well as those with personality disorders. i am always looking to learn more to gain some insight into what they may be experiencing and to see how i can better serve them. thank you for this – beth

  5. Pingback: I am tired. « Relationships With Autism

  6. My diagnosis came late in life (age 60). I have been a big bridge burner. Unfortunately it has left me with very few friends. Some bridges have been rebuilt but not many. And I seem to be so self-sufficient that I don’t mind being alone 99% of the time. But I do get lonely and often wish I had someone to share my day with, my life. I don’t know how to meet people or maintain relationships. The last bridge I burned (early this summer), I tried to mend fences with, but she wasn’t open to it, telling me there was no air to clear as we don’t have a relationship. I am truly frightened by the prospect of growing older alone and friendless.

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