Pattern Recognition, Gaslighting, and the Patterns of Abuse

[TW: everything in the title.]

One of the many results from a Google Image search for "pattern recognition." The blue puzzle pieces seemed fitting, given the subject. (Image: a series of blue puzzle pieces interlinked in a spiral pattern. From the upper left and right corners, two pieces are missing, showing a black background behind the puzzle. At the center of the spiral, one piece is missing, also showing the black background.)
One of the many results from a Google Image search for “pattern recognition.” The blue puzzle pieces seemed fitting, given the subject. (Image: a series of blue puzzle pieces interlinked in a spiral pattern. From the upper left and right corners, two pieces are missing, showing a black background behind the puzzle. At the center of the spiral, one piece is missing, also showing the black background.)

“Pattern recognition” has become a keyphrase in the autistic advocacy circles in which I travel.  It’s a reference to the many studies and resulting popular articles claiming that our pattern recognition is superior to that of non-autistics.  But it’s also a reference to the fact that cycles of abuse are recognizable by their patterns – and that people who tell you they aren’t are almost certainly attempting to gaslight you into accepting more of their abuse.

I was raised to believe that the mere acknowledgment of patterns in the way people treated me was not only wrong, but shameful.  That there was something akin to sinfulness in doing it.  That it worked as a “refusal to forgive.”  That by doing it I was “wallowing” or “playing the martyr.”  That it was cruel to assume that if people consistently treated you a certain way, they were likely to continue.

Naturally, this screwed me up for years, not just around people who treated me badly, but around people who treated me well, too.  Around bullies, “you’re bad if you trust patterns” taught me to roll over and keep taking the abuse – because it would be just as mean to them to trust the pattern as they were being to me by shoving me, calling me names, rubbing messes into my hair and breaking my possessions.  Around people who were actually kind, it taught me to run away – because the kindness was certainly a fluke, a fad, or a passing fancy.

For years after I disentangled myself from a long-term abusive romantic relationship, I had no idea how to respond to people who didn’t understand how one gets enmeshed with an abuser.  “Why would you stay with someone who treated you so bad?” they’d ask.  “Why did you put up with that?”  Why didn’t you acknowledge the pattern, is the question being asked there.  Why didn’t you trust the pattern?

Well, because abusers know that if you trust the pattern, you’ll escape their abuse.  That’s why.  I didn’t trust the pattern because I was trained not to trust patterns by the very people whose continued power over me depended on their ability to keep me from trusting patterns.

Ironically, exhortations not to trust the pattern are rife in “autism paaaarent” disputes as well.  The same parents who will, say, take the side of a parent who kills their autistic child or who insist autistic adults are “not like my child” will, invariably, retreat to insults and whimpering when called on the destructive patterns in their speech and behavior.  “You can’t judge me!  You don’t know what’s in my heart!”

No, but I see what’s in your words.  And I acknowledge the pattern.

Multiple times at this year’s AutCom I heard Neurodivergent K say the words “I don’t trust people, only patterns.”  I’ve come to trust these words.  I trust them because the very people who tell me not to trust them invariably demonstrate a pattern of behavior that seeks to destroy me, one way or another.  I trust them because the very people who live by them are the ones who have saved my life – including K.

I trust patterns because I have fantastic pattern recognition, so I might as well use it.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Pattern Recognition, Gaslighting, and the Patterns of Abuse

  1. I must have missed this when it came up; I only just now saw it via ASAN’s tumblr. This is an excellent post and has inspired one of my own. It’ll go up approximately whenever I have time, but still. This topic is so important.

    Like

  2. Wonderful article! I identify with this post so much. In fact, it puts words to some aspects of my life that I couldn’t find words to before. I too have run into no one who understands the sinister rules of the abuse cycle (except some counselors). It is a brainwashing, that unless you’ve been there AND have recognized it for what it is, it’s almost impossible to comprehend. I tremendously applaud your journey of recognition, understanding and healing. And especially your bravery to talk about It, which will help bring understanding to the world. My heartfelt love and appreciation!❤
    J

    Like

  3. This is a serious problem for trauma survivors.

    My Mother who was a raging narcissist always told me that I HAD to love her because she was my Mother and that I HAD to forgive her even if her actions left my arms covered in second degree burns.

    A child in that kind of environment must make himself blind to the his own reality. The way this plays out in my life as an adult is that I was blind to the patterns and sought out psychologically abusive people as friends and lovers because that was all I knew.

    I am only now beginning to free myself from my own pattern of baring my neck for every psychic vampire I meet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reblogging this, Rob. Funny about what you said: my mother also said I HAD to love AND respect her, because she was my mother. When I told her that love and respect are EARNED, I got backhanded. That certainly increased my “love” for her! But of course she bragged about me to all her friends, how I got good grades etc.

      I wasn’t able to recognize these patterns of abuse until I got my present therapist, who taught me how to recognize them. Once it really sank in, I realized that I don’t have the ability to recognize patterns in people, even though number sequences are a piece of cake, and animal behavior is totally logical. That’s why I became a pediatrician (although I should have gone to vet school, same thing). Children are open and honest. When they’re not, it’s a sign they’re being abused. Pattern recognition.

      Thanks for this wonderful post, AutAc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome Laura. My current therapist has really helped me to understand why I don’t see the patterns and I no longer pish-posh my partner when he says some looks
        wrong; if I’d listened to him I wouldn’t have a second life narcissist
        still stalking me eight months after breaking off contact.

        Sigh….

        Like

Comments are closed.