“Abuse” in Context: Neurodivergence Reconsidered

Abuse. Gaslighting. Manipulation.

These powerful words stir up discomfort, yet growing overused with cries such as “Trump is gaslighting America!” It’s easy to see how that can be an exaggeration of the meaning of the word. Yet what about between two people? How on earth could that be a falsehood?

Often, people forget neurodivergence as a factor. And no, I don’t mean anxiety or depression. Autism, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, schizo spectrum, all of these disorders have a direct affect on interaction with people in a deep, complex, and meaningful way. A lot of these disorders are trauma based, including narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. And all of them have caused people to be wrongly accused of abuse

These people are often called abusive a lot. There are whole articles, practices, and websites devoted to NPD, ASPD, and BPD alone, warning on how to “deal” with them. They read like an exorcism guide, “if they’ve been posessed with narcissism, there’s no hope!!! However if it’s another Disordered Personality Monster, get them to Ultra Therapy fast!!!!” If you’re at least half interested in promoting intersectionalism, you can see how this is an issue.

However even the most “woke” feminists and mental health advocates can miss the application of this. An alarming number of people with “scary” neurodivergences get called abusive simply on the basis of their behaviors.

This is not to say that someone with such a neurodivergence cannot be abusive. Anyone can, that’s the whole point. However some of the issues we struggle with most can read as abusive if you’re not listening to us.

What’s the difference? To someone fearing their partner’s suicide from lack of attention, why should you make the difference?


Often missed in a rightful demonization of abusers, intent separates an abuser from someone who needs help. Abusers will act like they didn’t know, but someone with a neurodivergence will tell you right away, “I have this, it causes me to act in this way, I’m doing this to help this.”

We might tell you as the relationship is starting. We might tell you as you meet us in a blurt of oversharing. We might tell you when you say “I’m feeling hurt” with bright understanding eyes, we’re not abusive, we know what this is!

Then, we’ll do what therapy, tumblr text posts, psychiatry, articles, and the scary demonizing websites say is needed: we will work to change. It might be weird. Unrecognizable as change. We might ask you to help, this is now a part of our therapy and we need support as we work to hurt less people.

A lot of people don’t get this far. They don’t come to us from a place of concern. They don’t address the issue as an issue for us as well. They see an “abusive behavior” and disown us. Write angry call outs and fiendish revenge posts, lash out, scream out “They aren’t to be trusted! They’re abusers!”

Some people get hurt by us and think it’s abuse. I feel nothing but sorrow for them, and hope they can feel a little less scared. Others are not so nice. They will fake abuse because they can. We are easy targets. With small, nearly imperceptible slights we’ll catastrophise. When we do that, all it takes it a denying of our feelings and reality to send us spiraling. It’s easy to do on purpose. Ignore texts chronically. Small manipulations. Then you can use our panic and terror to make us do whatever you want, whatever we can to win you back. Fix whatever Bad Thing we have done.

My abuser did just this. He used what he knew, what I told him was a weak point for me. He would use this and exploit it. When I came out to him about a sexual assault earlier in the year, he took this and seized the chance. What before was subclinical became clinical under trauma. I began developing dependent personality disorder alongside my PTSD. When he told me I had been abusive, I ached to become better. I asked him to help me recognize behaviors to fix them, all I wanted was to be better. Yet naturally, I got no such notice. There was no abuse. Not on my side anyways. He took all of my illness and made it into me hurting him, my being gave him pain. I believed I was abusive by nature. I did anything to make him feel better. Including sex I didn’t want. Didn’t think to wonder if I wanted. Whatever I could, for him.

Our illnesses aren’t an “excuse” for behavior. We know that. They’re the reason. They are the illness. And we’re in as much therapy, treatment, medication as we can. Believe me, it’s not fun wanting to die because you think no one loves you, not even your partner. We don’t want this. We’re trying our best to make this go away.

We just need your help. Your love. Your patience.

If you see someone visibly neurodivergent being called an abuser, stop. Talk to them. Think about it. What’s more likely, that we’re failing in our therapy, DBT, panic attacks, medication, all over being abusers? Or that an abusive person found an easy target for demonization?