As different as the two women were, both relationships ended the same way: the woman diagnosed me with a psychological disorder (not the same one, mind you). At first I felt guilty. Then I felt like they were controlling me through their amateur diagnosis, which meant that in order for me to become “normal,” I had to become the person they wanted me to be. Maybe I really was a narcissist, like one ex said. Maybe I really was autistic, like another ex said. But either way, being shamed every day for my narcissism/autism wasn’t helping me grow; it was just making me hate myself.
So I escaped both relationships, and on my way out, I was told how I just didn’t get it: how my narcissism/autism prevented me from understanding just how good I had it with them, and eventually I’d realize what a horrible mistake I’d made, but by then it would be too late.
And in both cases, that desperate taunting was all the proof I needed that they never actually believed there was anything wrong with me; they were just trying to keep me in a toxic relationship by making me believe there was something wrong with myself.
From these experiences, I’ve compiled a list of red flags to look for when your partner voices “concern.”
1. Your Partner Uses Your Disorder to Delegitimize Your Feelings
Whenever you and your partner aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, your partner will remind you that the reason you don’t see eye-to-eye with them is because of your disorder. They are right and you are wrong, but there’s an imbalance in your brain that prevents you from seeing that. So they remind you of this, and you shut down. Even if they are right about your disorder, they are still wrong when they use it to silence you. Your feelings deserve to be heard, and the right partner will help you articulate those feelings properly, because they genuinely want to understand.
2. When Talking about Your Disorder, Your Partner Constantly Refers to Themselves as “Normal”
Non-narcissists are also known as “empaths,” because they possess the ability to empathize with others that narcissists lack. Ironically, the people who usually refer to themselves as “empaths” are nothing of the sort. It’s a way of distinguishing your alleged lack of empathy with their actual lack of empathy for you. They claim to be empathetic person by nature, so if they fail to show you empathy, it’s because they are refusing to give into your “narcissism.” In other words, you deserve it.
People not on the autism spectrum are also known as “neurotypical,” because their neuroses allow them to have the basic social skills that autistic people lack. Ironically, if you are constantly referring to yourself as “neurotypical” when talking to an autistic person about the difficulties they face, you lack some pretty basic social skills.
3. Your Partner Convinces You That Everyone Else Secretly Believes You Have This Disorder
When a romantic partner calls you narcissistic, autistic, borderline, delusional, schizo, etc., one of your first responses will likely be, “Why am I just hearing about this now? If I really have this disorder, how come nobody has ever noticed it until you came along?”
And they always have the answer: everyone did notice it, but they were too uncomfortable to tell you.
They’ll then offer out-of-context quotes from friends who’ve observed you, who have never diagnosed you with a disorder, as your partner is doing, but have observed symptoms that might be associated with a disorder. For example, someone might innocently observe, “Your boyfriend doesn’t make eye contact very often,” and your partner will hold this up as evidence of your autism. Someone might observe, “Your girlfriend takes a lot of selfies,” and your partner will hold this up as evidence of your narcissism. All they observed was a symptom, but now it feels like everyone except for you knows about this disorder you allegedly have.
4. Your Partner Alienates Friends & Family by Claiming They Don’t Care about Your Disorder
For this one, I will share a more specific example: my ex told me it was a shame that my parents decided to keep my autism a secret from me. She said that if the kids at my Elementary School had known I had autism, they wouldn’t have bullied me. Their parents would have told them to leave me alone, and they would have obeyed, because all children listen to what their parents say, and all parents teach their children to respect people who are different from them.
This is where they assume full control: your parents are now your enemies, everyone else is secretly laughing at you or terrified of you, and the only friend you have is the person who torments you every day about a psych disorder you never even knew you had. You should read the signs and realize that this person has their own agenda. Even if you really do have autism, your parents did the best they could in raising you, and they don’t deserve to be pulled away from you by an abusive significant other.
5. Your Partner Convinces You That They Are the Only One Who Can Help
Being in these relationships I learned that: (1) my feelings aren’t valid, (2a) I am fatally flawed, (2b) my partner is 100% normal, (3) everyone else is secretly laughing at me or scared of me because of my fatal flaw, and (4) my 100%-normal significant other is the only one who cares. Once I accepted all of these things, I inadvertently helped set up a relationship dynamic where my partner had all the power. I was lucky that a normal person could see past my fatally flawed narcissistic/autistic self and love me in spite of it.
And for a little while (but longer than I’d like to admit), I bought it. Maybe it made me feel safe, knowing that a person saw these flaws in me and was willing to love me in spite of them. But eventually, I realized that they were seeing flaws that weren’t actually there, and that their way of “fixing” me only benefited them. That isn’t to say I’m not flawed. It isn’t even to say I don’t have the personality disorders they diagnosed me with. It’s only to say that significant others can have a very subjective view of what’s “wrong” with you, especially when doing so serves their own interests and hurts yours. Remember who you are, focus on how you need to improve, and if your partner’s needs get in the way of that, they aren’t the right partner, no matter how much of neurotypical empath they claim to be.
This article originally appeared on Giorgio Selvaggio’s Blog
Photo credit: Getty Images