Why do those of us with a PDA autistic profile antagonise others?
To restore balance.
When our threat response is activated and perceives a compromise to our autonomy, the resulting expression or behaviour will LOOK LIKE a grasping for control elsewhere.
PDA is pervasive. It is mostly beyond our control, and so our behaviour or our neurobiological solutions will not make sense to others; and at the best of times, ourselves.
Antagonising others produces an outcome; an energy.
It has often been mistaken as a person seeking power.
But for the PDAer, that power becomes a potent form of control that will have to do for now.
When I'm antagonising, I never want to hurt a person, though I may find myself stuck inside of a loop that won't release me.
I may keep on going, regardless of whether I want to, and the outcome is just as hurtful for me as it is for the other person.
Many parents research anti-social personality disorders when in pursuit of answers around their PDAer's behaviour and demeanour; and whilst many of the behaviour may indicate the same thing, they are very different in origin.
Unrelenting, chronic fear and anxiety fertilised seriously antagonistic behaviour in me as a child toward others at times.
Living your daily life in fight, flight, freeze or fawn is incredibly painful and confusing, hence the profound sense of being "out of control".
Where there is an imbalance of control for the PDA brain, it seeks it out from somewhere else.
There will always be a seeking out of compensatory rebalancing, and sometimes in the most unexpected ways, places and behaviours.
It was often said to me as a young person that I would cut off my own nose to spite my face.
Antagonistic behaviour towards others is an offset.
An economy of control exists, but it is only to have us feeling safe.
Where our environment is fraught with desperation, disapproval, dislike, judgement, rejection..
Our threat response triggered and our need for control activated over and over and over and over.
What does this look like?
A child completely out of control.
And it IS!
A child COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTROL.
OUT OF CONTROL.
As in, we don't feel as though we have any control!
PDA is an extremely complex, difficult neurobiology for others to understand and accept.
When we ONLY focus on behaviour being completely unacceptable, we are responding superficially.
When we meet that behaviour with behaviour management, reward and punishment, we only reinforce shame in our children.
Rather than our focus being solely on our child, the most important, foundational approach is to put ourselves FRONT AND CENTRE as priority for wellbeing.
The concept of self care has become commercialised and often meaningless to families today, so instead I want to reiterate this:
Trauma. Intergenerational trauma.
Undiagnosed, unidentified neurodivergence.
Mental health and wellbeing.
In us. The parents. The leaders.
We cannot parent in ways our children need us to show up for them if we are not addressing our "stuff".
Our children, no matter what challenges, what neurodivergences, what disabilities, are often at risk of becoming targets of resentment inside of their own families when we do not take care of ourselves.
Healing ourselves, digging deep, seeking out support is not a luxury.
It's a responsibility.
We cannot give our children what they need when we don't have what we need; and we cannot give ourselves what we need when we don't know what we need.
Not only do we have permission as families, we have that responsibility to extend to ourselves the same compassion, understanding and unconditional love we seek to extend to our children.
And whilst the answer may be to focus on our children, it really is not.
Healing and reconnection in families begins to take place when we shift our focus away from our children and bring it back to ourselves.
It's only then that we get to return to the moment with them in absolute truth.
Free falling might feel okay for a while, but there's a reason there's a parachute cord.
When we are at our best, the energy we give off is calmer, and the resulting impact is our child's threat response is not nearly as activated.
We tend to trigger dysregulation in one another as families; this is a common part of neurodivergent life.
But we can also learn to co-regulate and find calm together.
Image Credit: Tatiana Syrikova
(Image description: A photo of a man standing on a beach in the shallows of the sea, he is holding a young toddler's hand.)
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