Am I Just an Asshole?: The Difference Between Autism and Narcissism and Why it Matters

You’ll have to be really honest with yourself about this one.

Over my short career, I’ve had several patients who were self-diagnosed as autistic or with having Asperger’s Syndrome. They would make rude comments and then excuse them with the diagnosis. So, as you can imagine, most people felt guilty for expressing their resentment. According to the DSM-5, in order to be diagnosed with autism, a patient must present persistent deficits in communication across several contexts; have restricted, repetitive patterns of activities, interests, or behavior; and present with their symptoms at an early age. When you observe the detailed criteria and want to find a reason for your selfishness and rudeness, it’s easy to consider yourself to be autistic and provide yourself with a story that absolves you of any normative responsibility. So, how can we distinguish between Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD (and its counterpart, Borderline Personality Disorder), from Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Initially, I gave those clients the benefit of the doubt and accepted their self-descriptions. But, over time, as I got to know them, I caught a peek into the maliciousness of their self-absorption. The individual with autism doesn’t understand that she’s harming someone, whereas the narcissist doesn’t care and, at worst, aims to do so. If they wish to bring you down to their level and make you feel inferior, they’ll nit-pick and expose your flaws. For them, doing so makes one more malleable and grateful. Sometimes, they’ll put you down just to feel superior if they’re feeling low, but at others, they’ll do it to assert their dominance. An autistic person, on the contrary, is just hyperfocused on herself. The distinction here is between the person who’s often rude and the one who’s often, or at least occasionally, nice. Narcissists are frequently charming until you’re theirs. Then, they flip a switch and find fault with most of what you do. The rudeness of autism, however, is fairly stable and isn’t founded on manipulative intent.

Additionally, narcissists use guilt and punishment to make others feel indebted. Around one, you’ll always feel like you should be doing more. You’ll feel unempathetic, uncaring, and generally not good enough. When you succeed, he’ll make you feel guilty for your success (or simply minimize it), as opposed to someone with autism, who likely won’t acknowledge it. Narcissists tend to feel that others’ achievements are solely due to luck and conceive of themselves as the sole victims of circumstance. They’ll say things like, “If I had it as well as you did, I’d be as successful, too.” And, narcissists blame others for their misery, sensing an inherent unfairness to their lots. Thus, their lack of empathy is more conscious: they choose to fail to consider a world that they believe refuses to consider them. The difference between autism and narcissism, as noted in the article linked below, is that one implies a high degree of non-sensitivity, whereas the other implies one of insensitivity; the former doesn’t know and the latter doesn’t care.

Finally, narcissists require and love external validation (both praise and sympathy). They’ll talk over you; they’ll re-direct a conversation about your sorrows to theirs, noting how they’ve had it worse; and they’ll one-up your accomplishments. Whatever you’re going through isn’t an excuse to garner the attention they’re entitled to. Remember, they’re insensitive and won’t give a shit about your struggles.

Unfortunately, it takes time to get to know a person in order to distinguish between the two disorders. I want to be clear in stating that both are in some form diseases of the brain as well as psychosocial ones. Some narcissists prefer to be labeled autistic because it gives them an excuse for their behavior, therefore reducing the likelihood of blame. Others refuse to accept the NPD label, as it implies a moral failing and, therefore, imperfection. But, both are significant psycho/neurological disorders. I wrote this article not to perpetuate the stigma of NPD, but to help others understand it in order to decide for themselves if they wish to continue to associate with those with it. Narcissists are badly traumatized and need help. But enabling their behavior by feeding into their poorly-ascribed labels is a bad way to provide it.

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/narcissism-vs-aspergers-how-can-i-tell-the-difference-1114174

12 Comments

  1. Well Narcissism can be triggered by PTSD too, as a self defense mechanism to survive. The question is how can an empath turn into a narcissist? 2 steps. Force severe trauma on an empath and then take away their mental emotions and that’s all it takes. The PTSD will trigger flight or fight, but given that the body feels like its being attacked constantly, and other emotions can’t rein that person in, that person is completely toxic and that person is stuck in fight. So it’s that person’s duty to walk back their trauma, tame the body’s reactions, and stop the log jam that’s causing the emotional numbness, and that’s what recovery looks like for said cause of narcissism. I’m sure there’s other causes as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not too bad but certainly not clear enough. Wrong termonology was used with the words ‘diseases’ and ‘psycho/neurological disorders’ both do not apply to autism. Hopefully there will be much more research on the actually great differences between autism and narcissism.

    Like

    1. It is definitely neurological. That’s why it’s termed “neurodivergent.” The word “psychological” also just pertains to the mind and behavior. I think you took insult where none was intended. Those words are not meant to make you equate autism with insanity or a broken brain, they are just scientific terms used for the study of the mind and behavior.

      Like

  3. a person can have both ~ one is neurological the other a form of PTSD
    it is very hard to process wtf just happened having lived with one for 25 years

    Like

  4. Can I have both? I think I do. I know when I degrade someone but I also am so disconnected from the world. The craziest thing ever can be happening to me and I won’t be able to acknowledge it (for example, which is a real example, I’ve been near death 2 times and just didn’t feel like in the space of time. I once got rescued from drowning and was thinking of other things). I am also a very distracted person, can’t focus even on the most important ceremony of my life. I can be harsh, degrading, envious, arrogant and egocentric. In fact I am most of those things every day. I want to change though

    Like

  5. I’ve always thought that I have aspbergers, the symptoms line up, my behaviors line up, and the way I learn things has always been explained by the autism spectrum. 5 months ago I started dating a guy who genuinely cares about me, he works hard, plays hard and proves over and over how much he’ll do and how far he’ll go to show me his love. He’s very good at pointing out things that I don’t want to hear about myself and I’m realizing that alot of my behaviors, that I’ve rationalized as aspbergeric reactions, are more likely narcissism. I’m in a bit of shock realizing how I’ve been going about my life and I’m making a journal of how I can change. I don’t want to be manipulative, but I think I’ve let myself wire it into my brain. I’m still doing research, but I feel lost and confused. I do know there is hope for me, and I’m already seeking the professional help I now know i definitely need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you’re finding the work helpful. People with autism don’t fluctuate in their behavior or tend to manipulate. With narcissism, people are treated differently based on the individual’s desires.

      Like

  6. Perhaps an article should now be written entitled ‘Am I just an ableist arsehole?’.

    This new article would explain what is wrong with this ableist attitude that claims autistic people ’cause harm’ in this way.

    Let me help you out here – what happens is that allistic (non-autistic) ableists assume autistic people intend to communicate implicit messages in the way that allistics do. Autistic people (such as myself) only sound sarcastic or mean when we are being judged through the lens of allistic behaviour – we are simply being direct. By that dint, our empathy and kindness is also missed because it is not ‘performed’ in the same way.

    Unfortunately, the ableist allistic – who does not have the empathy to understand that autistic people are simply different, and takes their privileged position as the predominant neurotype as both ‘normal’ and ‘better’ – takes offence where none is meant. Blaming the autistic person for their wounded ego, they cast them as the baddie, rather than taking responsibility for their own hurt feelings and whatever may be needed to deal with them. This is by far the easiest option – and, in fact, the very essence of narcissistic process.

    The harm here is – in fact – to the marginalised autistic, who has to absorb the rage of the projected allistic hurt feelings, from an already disadvantaged standing position of lifelong disempowerment.

    The assertion that all autistic people ‘don’t know’ the impact they are having is also inaccurate. In fact, the very reason so many of us mask and hide our real opinions (as do I ) is because we know how often those with allistic (non-autistic) privilege take offence where none is meant, and cannot face dealing with so constantly being misread and thought mean and unpleasant. This is also in part an expression of our empathy because we understand that these are genuinely hurt feelings, even though we should not be to take responsibility for them.

    This is no more or less than ‘neurotypical fragility’ – autistic people, simply, because of their neurotype – do not have the apparatus to intuitively play the allistic social games of hiding the truth to protect egos, or issuing underhanded insults instead of dealing with the real issue. Those with privilege should be working to understand and make space for marginalised communities – not shoring up their privilege through judgment.

    Like

Leave a Reply to vez Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s