I’ve noticed a lot of burnt out and/or late-diagnosed autistic adults estranging their parents, and I’ve some theories on why this is happening.
First and foremost, autistic masking is a form of trauma. Burnout is theorized to be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which puts a person’s trauma front and center.
Oftentimes, adults confront their parents with that trauma and are dismissed or invalidated because the parents don’t like what they hear. No one wants to hear or know they were a villain in someone else’s life, let alone their children’s lives.
Secure parents will accept that they have caused trauma in their child’s life, while insecurely attached parents will reject any trauma happened.
I didn’t understand this until I began learning about attachment styles.
But it explains why autistic adults in autistic burnout are cutting ties with their parents:
Their trauma and life experience is being dismissed and invalidated by the people who caused it.
This is a form of gaslighting, which is emotional abuse. In other words, burnt out autistic adults are breaking up with their abusers — usually after unlocking their trauma and learning about boundaries.
There comes a time in autistic burnout recovery when you realize how boundaries could have possibly prevented this whole catastrophe.
Of course, this epiphany is all in vain, because they probably didn’t have the autonomy to establish and maintain boundaries in the first place.
Parents with insecure attachment styles with their children will view boundaries as abandonment or retaliation. They do not respect boundaries.
For those with insecure attachment styles, a lack of boundaries are synonymous with respect. Enmeshment is a frequent unhealthy family dynamic wherein the family is expected to have a hive mind if sorts, like the same things, and engage in the same activities.
Examples of enmeshment include families where everyone plays a sport or wears matching clothes for every. family. picture. There is no opportunity to be oneself, have privacy, or feel a different way about anything.
Mothers often enmesh with their children, regardless of neurotype.
Expected only to be happy
An example of my enmeshed family is how my relatives sought to keep me happy. I was raised by anxious people, and I’ve learned that people with severe anxiety often gaslight themselves and insist on positivity.
Any time I felt sad, I was told I had every reason to be happy. Every time I was upset, I was told they “didn’t mean to” and expected to accept their good intentions as justification for bad behavior or actions that didn’t live up to those intentions.
Through therapy, I learned that this helped condition me to accept abuse in childhood and well into adulthood as the norm, and I’ve struggled to dismantle this conditioning.
I’ve also discovered it is generational, because my aunt’s mom did it to her, and my grandmother’s mom did it to her, and my great grandmother’s mom did it to her.
Generational abuse doesn’t make the abuse okay. It doesn’t matter what the abuse. Abuse is abuse.
A child whose parents and family seek to keep happy has neglected needs. It’s a sign of insecure attachment, as secure parents and caregivers are attuned to the children’s needs.
Children don’t need to be kept happy. They need their needs met. They need their feelings to be validated.
It’s good to feel happy, sad, upset, joyful, etc. All emotions should be embraced, not stifled.
I was conditioned to smile “even when you’re not happy, so others think you are”. Because “that’s what girls and women do”.
“They put on a happy face and pretend like everything is okay.”
Childhood me learned that she only received love if she was happy and complacent.
As an adult, I realized my family loved me when I didn’t have high support needs — when I appeared and behaved more non-autistic, before I embraced my autism. They were there for me as long as I didn’t need them beyond baseless statements.
The moment I did need them in a way that was not typical in society, I only received criticism and intentions with contradicting actions and behaviors.
That’s when the rose-colored lenses broke.
3. Conditional love
Love feels synonymous with success and assimilation, or whatever value is brought to the world.
The moment I stopped masking and started embracing who I am is the moment everything began crumbling. My family was more critical, asking why I’d “suddenly” changed and telling me that I was not behaving like myself.
But I was behaving like myself, never mind my DID. I was living my life, and I was loving it. I was in love with being alive.
Meanwhile, they were disappointed and continuously insisted that I needed psychiatric care.
I came face to face with my greatest fear — that my family would never love the real me — while also realizing my greatest caveat:
I don’t want to wait until my family dies to start living my life the way I want to live it.
I used to think that this was the only way I’d be able to live MY life, but it has since been pointed out to me that waiting around to live MY life isn’t a life worth living at all.
It leads to stress and illness, including mental and physical illness.
It is why my eating disorder developed in the first place.
Ultimately, I felt like a doll that everyone dressed up and told what to do. I wasn’t a person, but a puppet. My life didn’t feel like a life; I felt like property.
And the moment I dared act like I wasn’t property was the start of losing my independence all over again.
4. Emotional immaturity
None of these things are unique to autistic people, beyond autistic burnout. Rather, these experiences are most common in survivors of abuse.
More than likely, the parents/relatives fit one of the following:
- They know and don’t care
- They don’t know and don’t care
- They genuinely don’t know, but don’t seek therapy for help figuring it out
It is no one’s responsibility to help you solve the problems of your interpersonal relationships except your own and that of your therapist’s. That’s literally what they went to school for and a big reason they exist.
Screenshot and print out every chat, take it to a therapist, and do the work.
In the “I’ve been to therapy” community, there is an oddly high common trait among us: we are no-contact with parents/relatives.
Communicating interpersonal relationship issues to emotionally stunted people is worse than trying to convince a toddler the toilet is not their enemy.
If they don’t go to therapy, don’t put in the work required to develop emotionally, they don’t care and aren’t worth your presence. Charge more for your energy.
You are NOT responsible for their comprehension, and they are NOT entitled to an explanation.
But above everything, do what is safest for you in your situation. Be safe. Unmask carefully.
Creating boundaries with abusers can be dangerous, so I recommend seeking a therapist or trauma coach to help you. 💖
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