Trauma, Torture, and False Confessions – This Is Not Going to Be a Light Read (Trigger Warning)
Trigger warning: Emotional abuse/physical abuse/Salem Witch Trials/swearing
This entire post is going to mention emotional and physical abuse, and I’m not holding anything back, so, proceed with caution! There will also be swearing because, frankly, I can’t with a post like this without it.
Yesterday, I posted about how autistic people (children, especially) have trouble connecting NT reactions to their behavior or lack of behavior.
One commenter mentioned being emotionally abused until she told the “truth” about what she did or didn’t do (even though it was anything BUT the truth) just so the torment would stop. After bursting into tears from the flashbacks, I decided to write a post about it.
I’m reminded of the Salem Witch Trials. That’s why I chose the stock image I did.
Women (mostly, some men) were falsely accused of witchcraft and thrown into water or pressed with stones or worse until they “confessed” to being a witch just so the torture would stop. (Of course, they’d be hanged anyway, but at least they were out of their misery.)
Or, this one: She’d be thrown into water, and her accusers would say, “If she swims, she’s a witch. If she sinks and drowns, she’s innocent.”
So, damned if you do, dead if you don’t. No matter what she did, she could not win!
This, right here, is what it was like for me as an autistic child growing up in the ’80s.
I would do something…let’s say I knocked something over and broke it. I might not have even realized it happened, but then the screaming would start, and I’d be yelled at and questioned and threatened until either they got exhausted, or I just gave up.
A little note about young Jaime: I was kind of a badass. I could be accused of something for hours and denied being able to leave the place I was told to sit, and I would NOT BACK DOWN. I was the most determined little shit you’ve EVER seen! Nobody could break me!
Until they did. By the time I was in my early twenties, I just started agreeing with whatever it is people thought I had done in the past, especially family members.
(Article continues below.)
The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.
Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).
Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:
And you know what the real kick in the teeth is? They BELIEVED me then. When I just gave up and “confessed”, they believed me. They swallowed up my words like a smug, self-satisfied baby bird with a worm.
One family member even brought one of those incidents up fairly recently when I’d gone back to sticking to my guns and not letting others accuse me of things I didn’t do.
I’ll tell you the story for context:
When I was 17, I learned how to drive. One family member took me out the most, and, honestly, I’m still very grateful for their help.
But, because I’m autistic, learning to drive was agonizingly difficult! I knew what I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t put everything together in order. If I remembered one thing, I’d forget another. If I remembered the thing I forgot, the thing I just learned would fly right out of my head.
This resulted in me blowing through stop signs at nearly every intersection during nearly every lesson.
When I tried to explain to said family member that I couldn’t see the stop signs (my eyes saw them, but my brain didn’t register them, so it didn’t send a signal to my foot to hit the brake), this person didn’t believe me and kept insisting I did it for attention.
So, finally, sarcastically, I might add, I “agreed” that’s what I had been doing, and they took me seriously!!
Fast-forward about 20 years later, and the topic gets brought back up again, and I’m like, “Hell no, I didn’t do it on purpose! I just got sick of arguing with you!”
This person didn’t know WHAT to believe at this point, and, to tell you the truth, it doesn’t much matter to me anymore.
But, here’s the thing: Torture isn’t effective in getting the truth. That’s been proven time and time again. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but, overall, it’s not an effective technique because wouldn’t YOU eventually confess to just about anything if you had someone emotionally abusing you for hours, days, or weeks? That’s only logical survival instinct!
So, if you have an ND person in your life, ascribing NT motivations to them and then yelling at them or punishing them until they “admit” to purposeful wrongdoing is just torture. You’re not teaching them anything, you’re not ‘toughening them up’ or ‘straightening them out’, you are traumatizing them horribly and, in most cases, irreversibly.
ND people and NT people think and process the world VERY differently. If you understand one thing from this post, let it be this: We are using two different neurological languages, so not only are we not on the same page, we’re not even in the same BOOK!
What we need to do is exchange “books” and read them carefully to understand each other, not emotionally beat each other up because we’re different.
We don’t know what the heck you’re screaming about, and you don’t know why we just gave you a “dirty look”. Calm, respectful conversation is the only way to solve this problem, or we are going to continue to misunderstand and abuse EACH OTHER until the end of time.
And who the FUCK wants that??
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Wait, I’m confused, abuse each other? It’s abusive to be screamed at? We really can’t win, can we?
Oh, no. It’s not abusive to be screamed at. It’s abusive of the other person to do it, but because our brains work so differently from one another, both neurotypes can unintentionally cause each other emotional pain. It’s the constant misunderstandings. I call it “Unintentional Gaslighting”, and I wrote about it here: https://www.thearticulateautistic.com/unintentional-gaslighting-causes-complex-ptsd-in-autistic-people-free-downloadable-ebook/