About two and a half years ago, when I was in a pretty dark place, I got into a fight with the guy I was dating.
I was feeling down and defeated. Autism was kicking my ass. Being a single mom was kicking my ass. My job was kicking my ass. Life was kicking my ass.
So naturally, I turned to my boyfriend for support and encouragement.
He did not respond as I had expected.
"You know what your real problem is? You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it," he said.
Wrong answer. His insensitive reply prompted me to unleash a tirade of f-bombs so brutal that we didn't speak for a couple of days.
But during that time, I thought long and hard about what happened, because he wasn't your average dude who didn't have a clue about what it's like to raise a special needs child.
He had his own special needs child with spectrum issues, an intellectual disability and health issues. His son is verbal, but overall, he probably has more challenges than Tosh does. Yet at the time, his son was attending college - COLLEGE! - at a school across the country. The program had supports in place for special needs students, but he was living independently and had achieved far more than anyone had ever expected. And his parents deserved the credit.
So my guy knew what he was talking about, even if he didn't communicate it in the most helpful way.
When you portray yourself as a victim and seek out sympathy from others, it literally gives you pleasure because the nurturing you receive causes your body to produce dopamine, a feel good brain chemical. Nobody can fault someone for wanting a little relief from suffering, and we've all been there. But just like any feel good brain chemical, it can become physically addictive.
And like all drug addictions, you do it so you can escape from your reality. That won't solve any problems and only leads to a nasty cycle of momentary pleasure followed by increasing pain.
Positioning yourself as a victim also allows you to avoid taking responsibility for yourself and taking risks. Both of those can be scary things, but when you overcome them, the rewards are lasting, and guess what? That awesome feeling you get when you overcome a fear or obstacle? You feel it because when you're successful at something, your brain produces dopamine.
I was doing all the victim things: fishing for sympathy to make myself feel better, avoiding responsibility and avoiding scary risks. All those things had short-term benefits, but living my life as a victim was making me utterly miserable. And because I was miserable, Tosh was miserable too. Which made me feel even more miserable.
Isn't it funny how you can know something all along, but then an event shakes you and causes you see it in a different light and you can never go back? This was one of those moments.
Let me be clear: I didn't magically wake up the next morning an empowered, kick ass super mom. However, my negative patterns were suddenly obvious to me, and each day it became easier to catch myself when I slipped into that victim mentality and turn it around.
If you're a kick ass, empowered super mom or dad, or you're ready to become one, please click below to learn more about my new autism parenting support group, The Cabana. We are a positive, supportive and growth-oriented community of parents who are ready to focus on our own personal development for a change.
Everyone in your family is important and deserves to live up to their full potential, especially you! If this sounds like something you'd like for yourself, I hope you'll join us.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!