Asperger’s: Signs and Coping

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Josh Hartnett in "Mozart and the Whale", a film about Asperger's

Do you have trouble in social situations? Do others see your behavior as rude when that wasn’t your intention?

Asperger Syndrome is a condition involving severe difficulty with social interaction and communication. It is closely related to autism and can be seen as a milder form of the disorder.

Asperger’s tends to be diagnosed later in life than autism and other related disorders which are noticed in early childhood. This is partly because those with Asperger’s don’t have language problems and are of normal intelligence. Many times Aspies, as they are sometimes called, are very intelligent and self-sufficient. By all signs, Aspies appear “normal”. However, their issues with social communication becomes more clear as they grow older and must interact with other people. People with Asperger Syndrome don’t understand basic rules of social interaction which can cause them to be socially ostracized or teased as young adults and into adulthood.

What does it mean to have Asperger’s? There are two major signs of Asperger Syndrome: impairment in social interaction and narrow, restricted interests.

Social Impairment

People with Asperger’s tend to be lost in social situations and interact awkwardly with other people. They especially have trouble with non-verbal behavior such as eye contact: they either make little eye contact or stare. Their facial expressions can be off: they may not make many at all or their expressions may be inappropriate for the situation.

Aspies can take figurative expressions literally. They also seem to lack empathy for others and have trouble understanding things from another person’s point of view.

Narrow, Restricted Interests

Aspies regularly develop unusual, narrow interests. For example, a child may become obsessed with dinosaurs and devote all of their time to this interest. They know detailed information about their subject(s) of interests and talk about their interests all the time.

People with Asperger’s also tend to have a high preference for consistency and routine. They show rigid patterns of behavior and can become agitated when their regular routine is changed.

Having several of these traits indicates that you may be diagnosable with Asperger’s. But not looking people in the eye or boring people with mathematics is not what make an Aspie and a single symptom is not proof of the condition. Self-diagnosing is dangerous, not to mention inaccurate. To know if you have Asperger’s, you must go see a professional.

Coping Social Mechanisms

If you do have Asperger’s or know someone who has it, there are ways you can learn to cope with the lack of social awareness. Social cues can be learned, but not in the way a person without Asperger’s or similar disorders (known as “neurotypical”) would learn them.

For example, a neurotypical simply knows when it’s their turn to speak or what amount of eye contact is desired. If you’re an Aspie you can learn: when a person stops talking, count two seconds in your head before you start talking, to make sure it’s really your turn to speak and you’re not interrupting. You can learn what topics and behavior are off-limits when it comes to social interaction, but this usually comes with experience.

Some coping mechanisms may seem mechanic and “dishonest” to a neurotypical person, but it doesn’t have to be. Aspies generally don’t want to be rude or appear cold and unsympathetic. They just don’t know how to express what they feel. So learning these coping mechanisms is like learning a foreign language: you translate what you feel to the language a neurotypical person can understand.

This post was developed using comments from Mira.

Who Likes a Narcissist?

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Hugh Laurie as Gregory House, M.D.

Did you know that people who rank high on the traits of narcissism are more popular and likeable at first meeting?

Narcissism is a strong sense of self-importance, combined with self-focus and extremely high levels of self-esteem. The basic aspects of narcissism are arrogance, low empathy, a liking for leadership and authority, self-admiration, and a tendency to exploit or manipulate others. Narcissists usually have difficulty with long-term relationships and relationships in general, since their extreme self-focus hinders them from getting along well with others.

It has long been suspected that a large number of narcissists take part in public arenas such as the performing arts or are in leadership positions like politics and business. And this theory may have support in the findings of a few studies that, initially, narcissists are seen as more agreeable, competent, and well-adjusted than non-narcissists.These traits allow them to gain the trust of others who help them to gain positions of fame and authority.

But why are narcissists so popular with other people? The reason is very simple — narcissists exhibit traits which people tend to like in others: confidence, attractiveness, warmth, and humor.

1. Confidence

Narcissists, having a strong sense of self-importance and esteem, exude confidence in their body movements and expressions. And this isn’t just for appearances. Narcissists are very assured in themselves and their abilities; they tend to believe few people are as special as they are.

2. Attractiveness

Narcissists crave positive feedback that confirms their sense of superiority. So they put much effort into their physical appearance, dressing in neat and eye-catching clothing and playing up their physical features. Their appearance gains the attention and affirmation of others.

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Tyra Banks, supermodel and TV personality

3. Warmth

Despite not being very empathic, narcissists know well how to behave friendly and sociable. They are charming and fun, realizing that these traits are attractive to others. Their strong social skills get them the admiration they want, and feel as if they deserve.

4. Humor

Everyone likes a funny person, right? Narcissists are aware of this, since they are very observant of others and their reactions. As a result they are fond of humor, using jokes and witty expressions to allure other people and, as always, gain their admiration and affection. And they do, at least for a little while.

These traits are not just appealing to others. If a person has all four of these characteristics, the likelihood of them being a narcissist is increased. So next time you meet someone who checks off all the boxes, instead of being impressed by them, you might want to be cautious. Narcissists are only likeable in the short-term — their self-involvement and lack of concern for others ultimately troubles their relationships and the people around them.

And the answer to “Who likes a narcissist?” Why, you, of course.

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The Manipulative Personality

manipulative-personalityManipulators attempt to indirectly control or influence the actions and behavior of others. Instead of being direct with their methods, the manipulator uses underhanded tactics to force their will. Because they are subtle, the manipulative personality easily goes undetected and overlooked, and the person or people being manipulated don’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late. Or not at all. They may believe that they are obligated to do what the manipulator wishes, and feel guilty if they don’t. The manipulative personality may be a family member, friend, or colleague.

With experience or learning, the manipulative personality is much easier to recognize. But many people learn through hard experience what manipulative behavior looks like, and it doesn’t have to be that way. The safest way to learn about the manipulative personality is from a distance, from those who have studied these personalities.

Experts agree that there are three main types of manipulative personality:

  • The Narcissist — The Narcissist is the ultimate manipulator. They are egotistic, self-absorbed and feel entitled to nearly everything they desire. They lack empathy and consideration for others, so they will easily manipulate to their own gain. They think it is their right to have others do what they say.
  • The Needy — The Needy person is the most difficult type of manipulator to let go of. They are experts at making you feel sorry for them, and making you feel like you are the only person that can help them. Some Needy personalities don’t realize that they are manipulative. They have learned to depend on others for their needs, and simply don’t know how to get along without help. They may cry or become offended when accused of manipulation. Those that realize they are manipulative may become passive-aggressive in their attempts to regain control.
  • The Martyr — This type of personality will give you everything — but at a price. They will do you favors, give you special attention, and be overly considerate, but they expect much in return. Their giving is tied to their desire to be considered a “good person” or be considered important to another person. They “cash in” on the favors they’ve done for you to get you to comply with their wishes. Common phrases heard from the Martyr include, “After all I’ve done for you” and “I would do it for you.”

The most common methods of manipulation are flattery, guilt-tripping, repetition, assumption, confrontation, and gaslighting: a way of twisting information in such a way that the person being manipulated begins to doubt their own perceptions and memory.

The best way to deal with a manipulative personality is to acknowledge their ways outright and respond calmly, and even turn their own tactics against them. The manipulator is counting on you to be surprised, confused, and overreact to them, so don’t be. If they say “After all that I’ve done for you!” reply “I’m very grateful for all that you’ve done. Why do you think I’m not? That’s not very nice of you.”

Once the manipulator realizes that they can’t affect you in the way that they want, and can’t influence your thoughts or actions, they will move on. And even if they don’t — you’re safe. Manipulation is all about control, and once you figure out the manipulative personality, they are no longer in control.

Do you have any experience with manipulative personalities? Do you have tips for how to deal with manipulation?

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Emotional Intelligence: Do You Have It?

emotional-intelligence-eqEmotional intelligence (also know as EI or EQ) is the capacity to know, understand, and manage one’s feelings and the feelings of others. The term was first used by psychologists in the 1980s, although aspects of EQ had been described earlier. There is disagreement over whether EQ is an actual form of intelligence and how it can be measured, or if it is simply a personality trait or learned skill.

Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman was at the forefront of EQ’s global popularization with his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. In the international bestseller he argues that EQ is a vital human skill that helps in nearly every area of life. He says that IQ is not all that a person needs to be successful and may not even be the most important; the rational and emotional support each other to form what we know as intelligence.

A person is born with a general emotional intelligence that largely determines their ability to further learn and understand emotions. EQ has been linked to greater success in work, relationships, and daily life. It has a direct link to empathy, adaptability, and self-confidence.

EQ is usually broken down into at least four parts, or abilities:

  • Self-Awareness — The ability to be conscious of your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. Identify and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Self-Management — The capacity to control and direct your own emotions and adapt yourself emotionally to life’s circumstances.
  • Social Awareness — The ability to identify, understand, and react constructively to the feelings and emotions of other people, and feel comfortable in social environments.
  • Relationship Management — The capacity to create and support positive relationships. Relationship management involves knowing how to communicate clearly, work in a team, and manage conflict.

Some critics of EQ claim that it has little predictive ability — it does not reliably indicate a person’s success in various life situations. Others claim that most models and tests of emotional intelligence are biased toward extroverts. For example, an extrovert is more likely to be comfortable in social situations and have skills and experience working in groups. This allows the extrovert to score higher in abilities such as Social Awareness and Relationship Management.

A low EQ can be improved by focusing on certain skills. Connecting to your emotions, paying attention to non-verbal communication such as body language, and alleviating stress which causes a person to think less clearly.

Whether one is naturally gifted with emotional intelligence or struggles to understand their own emotions, there is no denying that EQ is helpful in life’s social situations. A person who can truly understand themselves and others has an advantage in navigating through the many situations where emotions are as important as intellect.

What’s your EQ?

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Women, Men, and Empathy

empathyAre women more empathic than men?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings and emotions of another person. Empathy is not limited to negative emotions, but includes positive and neutral feelings. The ability to empathize is connected to a person’s own capacity to feel and identify with their emotions.

Most popular opinions on differences in empathy between the genders hold that women are naturally more empathic than men. Women are traditionally and biologically the nurturing sex; women take care of others emotionally, as well physically and psychologically. But has the conclusion that women are more empathic been demonstrated on a large scale? Yes, but not in the way that most people would think. The greater empathic ability of women is likely not biologically determined, but social in origin.

A large number of studies across cultures and time periods have focused on gender differences in empathy. Most of these studies draw similar results: women show a greater capacity to identify with and understand others’ emotions. Women instinctively mirror emotional expressions more than men do. They are also more able to identify what a person is feeling. One study on brain activity and feelings found that while women identified the emotions they saw, their brain’s reflected these emotions: neural centers associated with emotions were activated. They could understand a person’s feelings in many settings — riding a bike, playing, walking.  On the other hand, while men could sometimes correctly recognize the feelings, men’s brain activity indicated they weren’t identifying with these feelings themselves: they weren’t empathizing. Instead they were simply using memory and pattern recognition to determine the emotions from those they had seen before.

baby-empathyOne may be tempted to think these studies show that gender differences in empathy are innate. But they don’t. These studies also show that men and women do not consistently differ in their ability to recognize emotions, most importantly, their own emotions. The first step towards empathizing is being able to identify emotions. This signifies that men and women are born with equal ability to empathize but these abilities begin to differ later on in life.  The brain can reflect exposure because it is plastic: it changes as a result of experience. In other words, the life experiences of women may be causing them to become more empathic, or those of men may be causing them to become less empathic, or both.

The main conclusion to be drawn from studies and surveys on empathy is that everyone is born with the capacity for empathy. People show differences in empathy not due to biology, but because their life has (or has not) been favorable to the ability to empathize.

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