Capitulatory Injury

Is it ever possible for the PDAer to meet a demand or ‘comply’ with someone else’s requests, despite every fibre of their being compelling them not to do so? Well, it depends on a variety of factors.

First of all, we have to be 100% clear about what a demand is and what it means to the PDAer.

A demand, to the PDAer, is the venom that drips from the fangs of a viper. The closer the PDAer is to this poison, the closer they are to a slow and agonising death. It is important to note that there is a duality involved in this process. The PDAer is intellectually capable of knowing that a demand is not lethal in and of itself, but another aspect of their being - their inner Loki - says otherwise. It is this aspect which often prevails over their other, more rational and sensical aspect in the event of a demand appearing. So, it is likely that the PDAer will experience inner conflict or dissonance when confronted with a demand. For example, a mother asks her PDA son if he would be so kind as to help her wash the pots and pans after cooking a meal. The PDA child who is now anxious, quietly enraged and yet still intent on pleasing his mother, refuses, and says to his mother something like ‘I want to help, I feel bad for not helping, but I simply can’t.’ The PDA child in this case is all too aware that he is being unhelpful, but try as he might, something within him - that cannot distinguish doing the washing up (an arguably painless chore) from antagonising a venomous snake - will not allow for him to help his mother. The child may proceed to punish the willing aspect of himself, even though it was the darker and more menacing aspect that was the actual culprit in this instance.

Let’s return to the snake analogy for a moment: if a person were to goad a viper, stomping over to it, waving their hands and kicking their feet near to its face, practically asking to be bitten, then one might describe such a person as either extremely brave or extremely stupid. This is applicable PDAers too and could even be a form of morbid curiosity; the demand is scary and deathly but this gives rise to an unyielding and ever-growing curiosity, coupled with a bit of a thrill. Heck, I would even argue that tempting fate PDA style (foolishly approaching a demand) is practically an extreme sport to some thrill seeking, adrenalin-junkie PDAers!

Let’s look at another example: a PDA teenager manages to gain acceptance into a peer group. The PDA teenager is all too aware of how fallible they can be in this area, but still, like most humans, hungers for communion, and cannot bear the thought of being abandoned as they may have been many times before. Their bizarre behaviours, lack of boundaries and general social clumsiness are invariably the reasons the PDA teenager gets rejected from every friendship group they try to become a part of, but they have decided that this time around, that won’t be the case. So, first thing’s first: a mask is required. The masking process is taxing and inauthentic and largely beyond the PDAer’s control (it naturally envelops the PDAer in situations that require stealth so as to obtain goals). Masking is a necessary evil if the PDA teenager - who is naturally socially destructive - wishes to become a part of a friend group. Demands don’t just disappear when the mask is donned but they are dealt with a little differently. This is no longer a safety zone, unlike the PDAer’s home. Say the group of friends meet up somewhere with a toilet nearby or some other place to which the PDA teenager can escape, they may make frequent excuses throughout the night to go to the toilet, or to take a phone call, or wander off somewhere, but in reality they are just trying to get out of doing things. Let’s imagine that for whatever reason, leaving the group is not an option as there is no demand avoidance refuge nearby. Say they are all on a boat cruising along the coast (weird example I know but work with me here!). Imagine the boat comes to a stop, and each friend of the PDAer takes it in turns jumping into the sea. When it comes to the PDAer’s turn, following someone shouting “your go!” they will ask themselves a question: What is the priority here: keeping my group of friends by meeting the demand or avoiding the demand which might lead to my losing them? If the former is more important, they might actually go ahead and comply. This should not be perceived as submissiveness per se, necessarily, because the PDAer is still staying in control; they have to take a more superficially submissive position in order to keep their environment as it is. They are retaining their position in the friend group through complying. On the surface they are servile, yet inside they are just as controlling as ever. I call this inverted control. It’s not really about maintaining their reputation among peers (which would be the case for an ODD - Oppositional Defiant Disorder - teenager), it’s more to do with considering the long-term goal of staying with a friend group (goal being the operative word here which I’ll come back to later). How they are perceived by the friends is not relevant (which would be the case for the ODD teenager); what matters is keeping a hold of them The PDAer, despite crippling anxiety, may go ahead and jump off the boat and into the sea. They might decide to ‘fall’ in instead of ‘jump’ in, as less control would be lost this way. The object of the activity is to jump in, not FALL in, so the PDA teenager is technically not doing as they’re told, but luckily for them, people wouldn’t necessarily notice this! So even if choosing falling in over jumping in serves as a decent demand buffer, the demand has still been met nonetheless.

Is it a good thing when a PDAer complies with a request? Could it even be a reason to celebrate since progress has been made? Well, not so fast. As established, the demand represents a lethal poison and therefore, meeting a demand, or complying with a request, comes at a great cost. That darker aspect of the PDAer has been defiled and poisoned and tricked. The closer the PDAer is to a demand, the closer they are to death. Meeting a demand can be nothing less than TRAUMATIC, and may stay with the PDAer for a very long time, just like with any traumatic or scarring incident, such as being bitten by a dog.

Let’s imagine a PDA child’s house is on fire: they might run out the door - leaving the house could be demanding at the best of times - but they have prioritised physical safety over emotional safety. That’s what it boils down to really: can the PDAer comply? It all depends on whether they value their physical life over their emotional life. Rewind a bit… that PDA child leaving the house, lest they get burnt alive, may be more traumatised by meeting the demand of leaving the house than they were in a blazing house.

To sum up: meeting a demand can be traumatic for the PDAer, and it is for this reason I have decided to name this phenomenon ‘Capitulatory Injury’.

Personal anecdote: for those of you who have read my book, The PDA Paradox - The Highs and Lows of My Life on a Little-Known Part of The Autism Spectrum, you may be aware that I spent a year of my life doing army training. In the second phase of my training, one of my instructors really, really had it in for me, and he sought amusement from trying to insult me or from trying to embarrass me in front of my fellow recruits. One day, he ordered me to read some scores out on a sheet following a day of shooting on the ranges. I looked at him, gulped and froze on the spot. He then added that I am to ‘crack a joke’ as I read each recruits name out. My heart was literally pounding, and I could barely move. In my mind I told myself “I either do as he says and suffer the excruciating pain of meeting his demand, or I refuse and potentially get kicked off the course”. Staying on the course was at the top of my priority list, so I went ahead and plucked up my courage and read the scores out on the sheet. Of course I didn’t fully comply with his requests. Instead of cracking dry jokes (which is the type of joke he expected from me), I read the scores out in a really annoying voice (which was still a teensy bit funny, but the purpose of the voice was to piss of the instructor which would hopefully lead to his asking me to stop). After I read three names out in my annoying voice, the instructor cringed and told me to stop; phew!

This happened over 9 years ago. It may seem trivial and/or innocuous to any neurotypical readers, but I am still deeply traumatised by this incident to this day. I have flashbacks which precede an upwelling of adrenalin and hyperventilating. My skin grows clammy and my heart starts to race, and this precedes some pretty intense stims (self-stimulatory behaviours) such as whining, whining and flapping my hands, all of which help me to calm down again and arrest the unpleasant memory of complying to that bully of an instructor. Some might argue that being put on the spot and being publicly humiliated is what scarred me, but I vehemently contest this. I have been embarrassed and put on the spot many times in my life, but this was different: I was forced into compliance; it had nothing to do with who was watching me and how many. I prioritised my place on the military training course over injuring myself through capitulation. My goal was to pass the course. The goal helped to steer me clear of avoidance, but in the same way that part of me feels I have to avoid demands to stay alive, I also have to accomplish goals to stay alive. Complying with that instructor’s requests was less lethal to me than failing the course; but although I did it, I have never emotionally recovered from it. This is the perfect example of my own personal experience of capitulatory injury.

Harry ThompsonComment