TW: thoughts that romanticise abuse, feelings of worthlessness, internalized ableism
In all my years of studying psychology, I’ve never come across a text that analyses identity, neurodivergence and attachments. With inputs from the wider disability community, this article seeks to reflect such diverse voices on the topic of relational attachment.
What is an “ideal” neurodivergent person anyway?
My attachment history test (don’t ask me if it’s standardised or not) on the internet told me that I tend to suffocate people with love. This, in a world where the knowledge-production of psychology has been exposed to a very limited dataset and demographic (presumably white, cishet, able-bodied) of attachment styles. In an ableist world where neurodivergent attachment styles are criminally under-researched, I’m seen as too eager, too people-pleasing, too loving, too trusting, and too genuine. My disabled friends often tell me the same: They can’t help but people-please – be agreeable, be too scared to upset others and it frustrates them because they want to be their authentic self, they want to put their actual opinions across – they don’t want to be dependent or at the mercy of others for their safety: they want to live a life of agency.
Lived experiences from within the community:
Nu, a non-binary disabled queer person says, “In actuality, it’s not my fault that I’m anxiously attached. My physical disability has made me perceive myself as disposable and easily replaceable to my friends. I view myself as a weakness, as not capable of holding someone’s affection, or being attractive enough to do so. It gets frustrating because I need constant reassurance that others hold affection for me and that I am loved – but then again this is not my fault. I was raised in a world where being “too” attached and dependent on others is seen as a weakness. I am proud to be neurodivergent and needy.”
A dalit queer woman with a physical disability shared: “I simply cannot “let go” of an abusive relationship. A thousand questions are always running (well, limping) on my mind : “What if after this I’m all alone? Even if he’s abusive, he accepts my disabled ugly self. Maybe my body was made to endure abuse. If this is what it takes to be loved, so be it. I cannot break up with him.”
Where moving on is concerned, Tenja, a trans neurodivergent woman says that she would react differently to a breakup if she was an able-bodied woman. “Seeking out someone new after a big breakup, getting the same amount of acceptance and commitment that I received from my ex partner, finding a rebound and moving on is definitely a privilege. What even is moving on? I don’t think I’ve ever moved on. I think I’ve accepted myself and my disabled body’s alone-ness in the world, and somehow that is enough.
How do I carry all the grief in my body after another partner or friend leaves? How do I deal with abandonment: A kind of abandonment that is so present, a kind of abandonment that I feel in my disabled bones. I’m already quite physically disabled and move with laboured breath – how do I move carrying my disability and the grief of all my ex-relationships and friendships? How do I move to carry all their secrets, their quirks, their habits, their fears of the people who aren’t in my life anymore? All I can say is, I wish people came with tone indicators in real life.”
Anna says, “It’s only been a year since I’ve learnt and identified myself as being neurodivergent and disabled. 2021 put me through the worst period of my mental health. The silver lining that got me through it and made it an important year nevertheless, was finding the disabled community. It’s also taught me that most of what I’ve been doing in social interactions is masking and that it’s okay for me to unmask and be my proud neurodivergent self. However, this conformity to masking, which in other words could very well be described as people-pleasing, is hard to let go of. I look at my neurodivergent siblings and it’s evident that they’ve had it tougher because they didn’t mask as much. Ableism doesn’t reward the neurodivergent, it punishes us. So I breathe a sigh of relief when I realise that I’ve been able to get by so far because of my adeptness at masking. But in the process, I feel my authentic self crumble. I feel my mind body tire with the toll it takes. This isn’t people-pleasing, it’s people-pleading. A death wish that you’ll let us be if we pretend to be you, and lose ourselves in the process. This is painting the white roses red so that you don’t cut off our heads. And let’s not even get started about how when I unmask, you accuse me of “faking it” and somewhere my people-pleasing self is still wondering if I can perform my disability in a manner that fits your idea of it.”