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Kathy Marshack News

How to Handle “Micro-Hits” without Losing Your Cool

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Do you often feel belittled and trivialized by a family member who has autism spectrum disorder? “Micro-aggressions” is a phrase coined by psychiatrist, Chester M Pierce, MD, in the 1970’s to refer to the intentional or unintentional ways of invalidating, degrading or insulting an individual based on a bias. Usually it’s used in the context of bullying and discrimination in schools and the workplace. However it perfectly describes much of what we experience while living with someone with Aspergers Syndrome.

Aspie micro-aggressions are those subtle messages that deny your reality and denigrate your status with your Aspie partner or family member. But not all subtleties or micro-behaviors are aggression, are they?

I call this other category “Micro-Hits” because they still throw us off balance. When your Aspie shuts you up with a comment like, “You don’t know that!” that’s a micro-hit. It’s confusing, since you may have been stating your opinion (which you are entitled to, by the way), but now you have to explain why you said what you said.

Isn’t it okay to chat, to offer conjecture, to suggest another possibility, without having to prove your point? We get this. Aspies don’t. They’re not aggressions exactly, but micro-hits still confuse and derail us. It’s time to learn how to stay on track with a snappy comeback, instead of that dazed and confused feeling, as your Aspie walks out of the room.

If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us at the upcoming free teleconference: Micro-Hits. It will be held on Thursday, April 19th. We’ll figure out some snappy comebacks, plus discuss tools to stay confident and calm. Perhaps we’ll even discover new ways to help our Aspies a bit.

And if you haven’t heard yet, my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” can now be purchased on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. Its down-to-earth advice will teach you to protect yourself from those with Empathy Dysfunction. As a favor to me, can you please add your review on Amazon, after you read it? I’d appreciate it.

Confused? Learn the Differences between Sensitivity and Empathy

Monday, March 26, 2018


. If you confuse sensitivity for empathy, you’re not alone. I’ve discovered that both neurotypicals and Aspies have trouble understanding the differences between sensitivity and empathy“He’s a really sensitive guy.” “She’s such an empathetic person.” You may think these statements describe the same characteristic. If you confuse sensitivity for empathy, you’re not alone. In my practice, I’ve discovered that both neurotypicals and Aspies have trouble understanding the differences. For example, how would you answer these questions?

  • Is it sensitivity or empathy to cry at the sight of an injured pet?
  • Is it sensitivity or empathy to feel comforted by an embrace?

Would you be surprised to learn that neither instance is empathy? To produce empathy a person needs an integrated symphony of neurology, traits and skills. Here’s how I define empathy in my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you”:

"Empathy is a dynamic, evolving process—not a human trait. From empathy comes the ability to hold dear the feelings and thoughts of others.
Those with highly-evolved empathy skills do not confuse the psychological boundaries between themselves and others. They can care, feel compassion and sympathize without taking on the responsibility for another person’s intentions or feelings. This distinction is critical. Empathy is respectfully allowing the other person to take responsibility for their life. (In AA and other 12-step programs, the ability to do this is called detachment.)
A symphony may best represent the dynamics of humans empathizing. A great composer creates a musical score that allows for the best use and sound of each instrument, while staying faithful to the melody and the meaning of the piece. Sometimes we hear a solo. Other times we embrace the resonance of the horn section or the rumble of the tympani. Often the room is filled with what sounds like a thousand string instruments. We may feel thrilled, calmed, or seduced by the music.

A symphony is not complete without the audience, which provides energy to the musicians. Have you noticed how much more alive a performance is when the audience emotionally joins with the orchestra? Empathy is like this, too. It is far more than the sum of its parts. It is the sense that everyone in the room is breathing the music. So, too, empathy creates a powerful oneness that lets us know we are not alone.”

Would you like to improve your ability to tell the difference between empathy and sensitivity? If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, I invite you to attend the one of the upcoming Video Conferences entitled “Sensitivity is Not Empathy.” They will be held on three different days: Thursday, April 5th, Wednesday, April 11th, and Wednesday, April 25th. Spaces are very limited, so grab your spot early.

If you haven’t heard yet, I’m pleased to tell you that my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” can now be purchased on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. I urge you to get a copy today. Its down-to-earth advice will teach you to protect yourself from those with Empathy Dysfunction. After you read it, please add your review on Amazon. I’d love to know what you think about it.

My Book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you” is Available!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying youWhat do these all have in common…narcissists, sociopaths, addicts, brain injured, autistics, a vengeful ex, corrupt city officials and greedy neighbors, bullies, stalkers, fake news mongers? Some people are upset that I include autistics and the brain injured in the same list as sociopaths and narcissists. But I do so only because they all lack some level of empathy. I ought to know. I’ve endured a 12-year perfect storm of a high conflict divorce, lawsuits, assaults, cyberstalking, false arrests, predatory prosecution, and the loss of my daughters to parental alienation. Throughout all these experiences I’ve noticed a common theme, namely people with Empathy Dysfunction (EmD).

The increasing prevalence of Empathy Dysfunction helps explain societal and family decay today. On the other hand, empathic acts are the stitches that hold the fabric of all relationships together. As neuroscientists map the human brain, we see the numerous connections that must be made to activate empathy. It’s a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy, and multiple transitions between the two. If one part of this amazingly intricate and complicated connection of circuits doesn’t work correctly, the system malfunctions. When the brain is damaged, whether through a war or sports injury, substance abuse, or congenital brain disorder, Empathy Dysfunction occurs. Empathy Dysfunction is so prevalent it's no longer if you meet someone with EmD, but when...

Have you ever...

  • Been victimized, swindled or lied to by your best friend?
  • Loaned money to loved ones who squandered the gift and never paid you back?
  • Had to fight unscrupulous prosecutors for your freedom?
  • Been forced to defend yourself from your vengeful ex or your ungrateful children?
  • Bumped into a beguiling, but shifty, stranger?
  • Felt someone following you?

If so, you've crossed paths with someone operating with Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). My new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” helps you not only understand why this is happening, but how to protect yourself from those hell-bent on destroying you. 

What will you find inside “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS”?

  • Hard-learned lessons on how to stand up for yourself when dealing with people who literally couldn’t care less about you.
  • A way to identify those with a dysfunctional lack of empathy using the new Empathy Dysfunction Scale (EmD Scale), so you can shield yourself from the destruction they leave in their wake.
  • Clues you should never ignore for your own safety - like a rotten neighbor, friends who start believing the nasty gossip spread by your ex-partner, or a nagging feeling you're being watched. Pay attention, it may be because "they" really are out to get you.
  • Warrior training to protect yourself from dangerous people. If you've been hurt just once, or maybe too many times to count by a person with EmD, apply the warrior training in this book, increase your own empathy to a higher level, and reclaim the beautiful life you are meant to live.
  • Seven life-preserving tips that will protect you and enhance your own level of empathy.

The truth is, sometimes, people are out to get you: Be prepared. Use “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS” to help you navigate the unruly world of Empathy Dysfunction. If you haven’t done so already, please download a free sample chapter. I’m pleased to announce that you can now order the entire book on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. And after reading it, please be sure to go back to Amazon and leave a review. I’d appreciate it!

New Romance? Will Your Heart or Head Lead You to Happiness?

Monday, March 19, 2018


It’s only natural to want to fall in love. Our heart says go full steam ahead because it feels so good. But impulsive action is not always wise. Too many relationships fizzle as fast as they flame.

How can you get your heart and head to work together in a way that leads to happiness? I do believe you can find your soul mate. However, if you’re only in it for a casual relationship, say so before anyone gets hurt. If you want a long-term committed relationship, remember these basic principles:

Commit to your boundaries. Before you begin a relationship, determine what you will or won’t tolerate. Also, identify what you will allow yourself to do. Each of us gives importance to certain ideals and values. Sticking to these creates integrity.

Don’t lose your identity. Hold onto some of your alone time, friend time, and work time. That way you won’t have to fight to get it back later. Your heart may be telling you to ignore your ideals and values for the momentary pleasure, but in the long run you won’t be happy if you sell out. It’s the beginning of losing who you are and what’s important to you. Remember, you won’t be happy if you have to suppress important parts of yourself to keep the peace.

There are three stages to romantic relationships:

  • Stage one – the honeymoon stage of total togetherness.
  • Stage two – you start to assert your individuality again.
  • Stage three – you both meet in the middle and create a genuine, healthy integration of your lives.

Learn to deal with disappointments. No relationship is perfect. Unrealistic expectations undermine your ability to see and appreciate the good in your partner. If you find someone who can work with you to manage disappointment, you can build an enduring trust that lasts a lifetime.

Open up to each other slowly. Think “delightful discovery” not a brain dump. Reveal your story over time as it becomes contextually relevant. At first, the temptation may be to idealize yourself, creating a high, and not altogether accurate, expectation you can’t live up to. Ask yourself, “What mental image is he (or she) forming of me?” One caveat – if you’re dating someone who makes you want to hide your true self, beware.

Ask for what you need. Know what you need and how to ask for it. Yes, this takes self-awareness and forethought. I can’t stress enough the importance of doing this introspective work before you begin a relationship. Then don’t be too shy to talk about your intimate needs.

Be on the alert for narcissistic tendencies, because empathy dysfunctions such as this are more common than you might think. If the other person only wants to be noticed, validated and affirmed, without giving the same to you, end things quickly and don’t try to change him or her. Toxic relationships can damage your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health for a long time.

My new book, “When Empathy Fail – how to stop those hell-bent on destroying you”, (now available for purchase) is designed to provide practical, no-nonsense advice that helps you protect yourself from toxic relationships. The first chapter is free for download, so feel free to download your copy. I’d love your honest feedback after you’ve read it. Please come over to my Facebook page and share your thoughts.

Discover Secrets to Positivity and Happiness That Many Elderly Already Know

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Have you ever looked at an elderly person confined to a wheelchair and think, “How does she do it? She seems so happy. I would go mad in her place!” What is their secret to remaining positive despite the hardships and challenges that life brings? There’s a beautiful article in the NYTimes that might give you some answers and a new perspective on your own life.

The author, John Leland, has been following six elderly people since 2015 and now shares some of the insights he’s gleaned…

  • You can have it all if what you want is within your reach.

  • Focus on things you can still do and find rewarding.

  • Set realistic goals.

  • Try not to think about bad things.

  • Don’t complain.

  • Be lively. You can’t be an old stick in the mud.

  • Form close friendships with the people who surround you, even if it’s in a nursing home.

  • Work hard at keeping up your mood.

  • Strive to live a peaceful and contented life.

  • Talk problems out, don’t argue.

  • See yourself as a fighter.

  • Don’t give in to fear, because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • Be resilient.

He adds, “Gerontologists call this the paradox of old age: that as people’s minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better.” It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Why can elderly people be happy despite their circumstances? Further research sheds light on this question.

One such research project was conducted by Stanford psychologist, Laura Carstensen, who studied brain behavior relative to positive and negative imagery. She found that “older people place high value on goals related to well-being and, all things being equal, cognitive processing operates under the influence of such goals.” She discovered that the amygdala of young people fire at seeing both types of imagery. While the amygdala of the elderly fired only for the positive images. She hypothesizes that the elderly train their prefrontal cortex to inhibit the amygdala in the presence of negative stimuli. In essence, they’ve rewired their brains to ignore the negative and delight in the positive.

If you’re struggling with negativity and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. If you're young you don't have to wait until you're older. I can help you discover practical ways to switch your brain on to positivity. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

Never Give Up Hope On Your Estranged Family Relationships

Monday, March 12, 2018


Never give up home on your estranged family relationshipsToday I’m addressing a very, very painful subject…that of family estrangement. We’ve all heard the sayings: “Blood is thicker than water.” “Family comes first.” “No matter what you do, I’ll always love you.” Family is precious. It makes us feel accepted and loved for who you are, without reservation. It’s the mainstay of civilization. When the family unit breaks down, civilizations actually crumble. History proves that, i.e. the Roman Empire.

However, the state of the American family today is not good. Life isn’t like the Norman Rockwell pictures of generations ago. Of course, it wasn’t perfect then, but family cohesiveness is eroding. People aren’t just drifting apart. They are purposely estranging themselves from other family members. A recent NYTimes article addresses this topic. It generated a huge storm of comments; mine included.

There is nothing more emotionally devastating than being estranged from a family member, especially your own child. It can be worse than experiencing their death, because there’s a personal rejecting attached to it. It’s always nagging you in the back of your mind. The hurt never goes away.

The NYTimes article seemed to me to be very one-sided. It focused on children who felt they needed to cut off their “bad” parents. In my personal and professional life, I’ve seen the other side of the coin all too often. I’ve personally felt the heartache of children with emotional and mental disorders who foolishly cut off the very parents who support them. I’ve written in great depth about this phenomenon in my book, WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you.

For example, my autistic daughter cut me off 12 years ago because she was the victim of parental alienation by my ex. Another daughter, alcoholic and suffering from TBI also cut me off right after assaulting me and knocking me into a plate glass door. It’s naive and narrow-minded to write of estrangement from only the estranged child’s point of view. There are lots of factors. But as for me, I have never cut off my children and never will. With each passing year, I hope to hear from them, even though they shred my letters and block my calls.

Some of those commenting on this article say that holding onto hope makes it more painful. I believe that hope keeps us going. Of course, it would be naïve to put your life on hold as you hope. That’s not true hope, that’s fantasizing about an outcome you’re attached to. As I often counsel couples, hope for the best but plan for the worst. That keeps your eyes wide open and in the proactive place of fixing problems before they escalate.

When estrangement occurs, hope, based on agape love, allows you to wish them the best in their lives as you continue to grow and find peace in your own. It’s not about changing them. It’s about your own approach to life, choosing to be positive and happy despite the circumstances. As you move on and continue to give to others, their love and appreciation soothes your hurt emotions. Perhaps somewhere down the road the two lines of estrangement will once again intersect, and you’ll be able to build a new relationship. That is my hope for all those estranged in the world today.

If you’d like to read the first chapter of my book, WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you, please take advantage of this free download. After you read it, I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.


People with Severe Empathy Dysfunction Don’t Have Close Friends – Why Is That?

Wednesday, March 07, 2018


Most of us crave friendships where we can spend time with people who will share thoughts and feelings back and forth. Jim Rohn famously said, “We’re the average of the five people you spent the most time with.” This illustrates the fact that we are greatly influenced by our friendships, which can be a good thing if we choose our friends wisely. But what happens to a person with Empathy Dysfunction (EmD) who doesn’t have any friends?

They’re left battling the world alone. Not only does it make their life harder. It makes the lives of those they come in contact with harder too. Here are some of the traits of a person with EmD…


  • They have little or no talent for generosity.

  • They haven’t learned to see the world through another’s eyes.

  • They have mercurial moods and give into whims at the drop of the hat.

  • Narcissism and paranoia are rampant.

  • What they call “friends” are just people they tolerate or use when convenient.

  • They can’t tolerate rivalry or anything that challenges their position.

  • They’re suspicious and vain.

  • Compassion and compromise aren’t in their dictionaries.

  • There is no give. It’s always on their terms.

I know it goes against everything we’ve been taught about manners to call people out. You might even think I’m being mean. However, it’s imperative that everyone becomes aware of the growing number of brain disorders that contribute to Empathy Dysfunction. EmD is so common, in fact, it’s no longer if, but when, you will meet someone with EmD.

High IQ, artistically gifted, natural athletic ability, or psychological diagnosis as healthy—none of these characteristics exempt people from having Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). It’s my belief that once you understand how empathy works and how it can become dysfunctional, you’ll have a better handle on navigating life.

Protecting yourself from EmDs requires two vital skills. First, as soon as you suspect or identify EmD in a person, disengage as soon as you can. Second, cultivate your own empathy, so that you operate at the highest level, EmD-5.

I’ll show you how to protect yourself and cultivate greater empathy in my book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you. The first chapter, “No One Calls Me Mom Anymore” is now available for free download. After you read it, I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.

New Study: Bilingual Autistic Children Have Greater Cognitive Flexibility

Monday, March 05, 2018


being bilingual may improve an autistic child’s cognitive flexibility.Have you ever attempted to learn a new language? If so, you know what a workout it can be for your brain. In fact, it helps keep the brain healthy and has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. But did you know it can also be a way to help autistic children gain more cognitive flexibility?

Medical News Today reports on the study headed up by Prof. Aparna Nadig, from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It focused on this question: "Can being bilingual mitigate the set-shifting (cognitive flexibility) impairment observed in children with ASD?"

Cognitive flexibility, or set-shifting, is a part of the set of cognitive processes necessary for goal-oriented problem solving called executive functions. Also included in this set of abilities are attentional control, inhibiting behavior, and working memory. The theory of executive dysfunction in autism has been proposed by some researchers as an explanation for autism. I look forward to seeing more research done on this, so we become better at managing ASD.

In the study, the researchers measured set-shifting by using a computerized dimensional change card sort (DCCS) task and by parental reports of executive functioning in daily life. (In DCCS, children are required to sort a series of bivalent test cards, first according to one dimension, e.g. color, and then according to the other, e.g. shape.)

They found that bilingual autistics did better on the DCCS task than ASD children who speak one language, but not for set-shifting in daily life. Working memory wasn’t changed either. These findings suggest that “bilingualism may mitigate some set-shifting difficulties in children with ASD”.

It’s believed that switching between languages limbers up the set-shifting performance in the brain. It makes sense since we’ve been advised to treat the brain like a muscle that improves with use. Not all researchers agree, but it’s certainly worth a try if it improves the quality of life for your ASD child. Perhaps it even sparks your imagination to think about new ways to help autistic children.

It has been my life’s mission to help the NT/AS community navigate this complicated and life-altering world. One of the best resources I offer is my Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. If you’re the neurotypical member in the NT/AS family, I strongly encourage you to join us. It’s a very supportive and informative group that daily faces, and learns how to cope with, the struggles inherent in living with an Aspie. If you feel more comfortable, you can even use an alias to protect your anonymity.



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