Professional Q and A Series I: Female Asperger Syndrome and “Burning Bridges Aspie-Style”
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”
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.
Tania Marshall©. 2013. Professional Q and A Series I. All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.