My partner discovered he’s autistic in 2014 when we’d been married for 15 years already. While discovering neurodiversity revealed new information and offered our family new ways to talk about issues, it didn’t solve the challenges in the relationship as I experienced them. I learned lots about autism but I wasn’t feeling any better about things and actually began to feel worse.
This article relates my journey, what I recognised in myself, and how I turned it around. The purpose of sharing these unhealthy habits is because knowing about them can get you in a far better place than you currently are and I fully appreciate that what I’m sharing will challenge your thinking about your situation. I was seriously challenged by it too!
Discovering Cassandra Syndrome (or OTRS – ongoing trauma relationship syndrome)
Learning about Cassandra Syndrome (or OTRS – Ongoing Trauma Relationship Syndrome or Affective Deprivation Disorder) was a groundbreaking discovery.
It’s a collection of symptoms that can develop from experiencing the following relational circumstances:
- insufficient social/emotional understanding and reciprocity,
- persistent and cumulative mental/emotional stress,
- living with inflexibility,
- denial and invalidation of your experience and
- navigating unknown difference
It manifests as social isolation, deteriorating mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing, unconsciously behaving more like your partner, self-doubt and a distorted sense of self. Whilst historically and typically applied to neurotypical partners, this same set of circumstances and symptoms can be experienced by neurodivergent individuals too.
It was hugely validating to discover Cassandra/OTRS. I didn’t feel mad or alone anymore. However, everything I read suggested it would persist as long as I was in the relationship, which is really depressing reading when you’re committed to staying, when you know that you love your partner in spite of what’s difficult. Around the same time, I noticed that not every non-autistic partner in a neurodiverse relationship developed these symptoms – intriguing!
As I read more non-autism/neurodiversity literature I also discovered that elements of Cassandra affect people who are in non-neurodiverse relationships too — so neurodiversity was an additional dimension, not the primary cause. That got me more curious. What I subsequently discovered and learned was illuminating and enlightening. It also meant I could do something about it, reverse the effects and get back in the driving seat of my life.
Symptoms of Cassandra Syndrome/OTRS are reversible once you know about it.
The impact of unknown neurodiversity is reversible once you know about it.
Cassandra Syndrome/OTRS is a reactive disorder to a situation you didn’t know you were in. It can be reversed. With new insight, awareness, perspectives, tools and strategies, you can unravel the mystery, of the relationship and yourself, restore your wellbeing and begin to live with purpose and flourish.
These are the Top 5 Unhealthy Habits that I discovered in myself that meant I was more likely to develop Cassandra Syndrome. Do you recognise yourself too?
Being a people pleaser
People pleasing is mentally and physically exhausting. It’s time to stop being the only one trying to fix everyone and everything because you will end up losing yourself trying to save everyone else. I learned to say no. I learned not to help unless asked for it. I discovered what my needs were and learned to put myself first. I recovered from the mental/emotional, as well as physical exhaustion. From this place, I’m better able to love unconditionally and resentment moved out.
Over-accommodating your partner’s needs
The best way I can describe it is a slow and silent haemorrhage of the soul. It can impact every area of your life, your own preferences eroded a little at a time. They’re the kind of things you’re not telling people you do because it sounds crazy, but you don’t know another way anymore. Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle. I’ve learned to restore my sparkle and then hold on to it. You can too.
Dropping out of the social scene
Surround yourself with people who add to your peace, not your problems. I can hear all the reasons in your head why that’s not possible because I said them all to myself as well in the beginning. Over time, I created a supportive social network where I can have fun, laugh, chat and be spontaneous.
OMG, I wish ‘relationship boundaries’ had been on the school curriculum! This was one of the biggest realisations for me. The idea of disappointing someone else was alien to me. Learning the lesson was even harder. You know what though… life is amazing when you know what boundaries you want, you communicate them clearly and you hold yourself to them as well.
Walking on eggshells
Are you on 24/7 high alert? My partner likes peas with every meal. No peas = major problem. I remember running out of peas once and driving miles to buy peas before he got home so the perceived crisis was averted before he was even aware of it! If you’re always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you’re in? Live in the present. Be present. Every day.
There is another way. A happier now and future is possible.
The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much and forgetting that you are special too. It’s liberating and empowering to discover that change starts with you then ripples outwards into your relationships and your life.