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Kathy Marshack News

Autism or Narcissism – How Can You Tell?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Autism or Narcissism – How Can You Tell?Autism and Narcissism have something in common. They are both empathy disorders, the result of the individual not having a Theory of Mind. What this means is that they don’t recognize that another person has beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and perspectives that differ from their own. Empathy is a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy.

Since Narcissism and Autism display similar traits, how can you tell the difference between Narcissism and Asperger’s?


  • First, Autism is a diagnosis and narcissism is only a trait of many disorders. 
  • Second, not all Autistics are the same since it is a spectrum disorder. 
  • Third, all Autistics are narcissistic since a defining characteristic of Autism is lack of empathy.

It’s important to know that it isn't narcissism per se that defines the Autistic. It is how the Autistic works with their tendency toward narcissism, self-absorption and lack of empathy. If the Autistic takes responsibility for their narcissism and truly wants to repair the rifts that their unempathic behavior creates, then there’s hope for the relationship.

On the other hand, if the Autistic believes that their singular narcissistic worldview is all that matters, then it’s probably irrelevant that they’re diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This person tips toward narcissism and that's how they need to be treated.

If you’ve wasted too much of your precious life trying to accommodate an ASD narcissist, whether it’s a family member, coworker or neighbor, then I invite you to join our Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD Meetup. We have monthly discussions that will help you deal with this crazy making life.


Our next free international teleconference: How is Autism different than Narcissim? will be held on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. You’ll find out how to distinguish whether it’s narcissism or Autism that you’re dealing with. That makes all the difference in how you’ll respond.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and you need some 1-on-1 with me to discuss your situation privately, please feel free to contact my office and we’ll schedule an appointment to discuss ways to improve your situation.

Theory of Mind - A Necessary Component of Empathy

Monday, December 26, 2016


Theory of Mind, the ability to recognize that a person has beliefs, intentions, desires, and perspective differing from your own, is a component of empathy.In order to have empathy for another person, you must have a Theory Of Mind. That is, you must be able to recognize that another person exists and has beliefs, intentions, desires, imaginations, emotions, etc., to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that differ from your own. The Theory of Mind perspective kicks in the other aspects of empathy, such as understanding and nurturing.

Recently a New York Times article reported on new research that shows that pregnancy changes the brain in the regions associated with Theory of Mind. They report:

“Only the pregnant women showed gray matter reduction, thinning and changes in the surface area of the cortex in areas related to social cognition. Changes were so clear that imaging results alone could indicate which women had been pregnant. The researchers said they did not yet know what was being reduced in size: neurons, other brain cells, synapses or parts of the circulatory system.”

Researches are hypothesizing that the brain is pruning away portions of gray matter as a process of specialization, thereby increasing the mother's ability to resonate with her baby.

Understanding this may also help us to understand Theory Of Mind when it comes to autism. If development of theory of mind is biologically important for the survival of a newborn, the lack of this vital element surely affect relationships in general.

What feels so natural to us NTs and especially to mothers is not learned, but biological. This means that we have to build "workarounds" with our Aspies if we are to communicate effectively.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our low cost Video Conference on Thursday, January 12, 2017, at 9:00 AM. We’ll discuss “Theory of Mind is vital for survival”. This video call is an opportunity to learn more about the mind of your Aspie and how to reach them...but also to take better care of your need to connect with others who have a "theory of mind."

Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More Resilient

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More ResilientAs we enter this season of thankfulness, it’s good to reflect on how often we ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for today?” Not only does a daily gratitude practice like gratitude journaling make us more pleasant to be around, gratitude also improves our health.

Asking yourself this simple question every day is powerful enough to change your brain’s chemistry! As a result, people who look for reasons to be grateful experience better mental health, emotional wellbeing and resiliency in the face of difficulties. Why does gratitude have such power?

When you experience gratitude, neural circuits are activated in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production increases, and these neurotransmitters produce calming results. The more you stimulate these neural pathways, the stronger and more automatic they become, which is an example of Hebb’s Law that states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

This means that if you’re looking for the negative, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger. But if you begin a daily gratitude practice, you will start noticing what’s going right in your life instead. This is great news! You can remake yourself into a positive person, even if you’ve tended toward being negative your whole life.

One interesting study on gratitude was conducted by the Department of Psychology, at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. They partnered with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation to see how “gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind.” Dr. Glenn Fox describes their research and finding:

“The stimuli used to elicit gratitude were drawn from stories of survivors of the Holocaust, as many survivors report being sheltered by strangers or receiving lifesaving food and clothing, and having strong feelings of gratitude for such gifts. The participants were asked to place themselves in the context of the Holocaust and imagine what their own experience would feel like if they received such gifts. For each gift, they rated how grateful they felt.
When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference. These areas include the ventral- and dorsal- medial pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex."
A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting. The pattern of [brain] activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.”

In other words, gratitude doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves being a morally and socially aware individual who is able to display empathy. (This may help explain why you feel unappreciated and unloved by your partner who has Aspergers. Their brain functions differently so they are socially awkward and lack the ability to deeply empathize with you.)

Why not begin a gratitude journal today? Write down five things you’re grateful for. As your list grows, you’ll look at life differently, plus you’ll have something encouraging to read when you’re feeling down. High on my gratitude list is that you’re part of my community.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome – Can You Tell the Difference?

Monday, January 18, 2016


narcissistic personality disorder or aspergers syndrome which is itIf you met someone who has poor self-awareness, who doesn’t show remorse, who doesn’t learn from mistakes, who can’t empathize, appreciate others feelings or even reciprocate those feelings, and he treats people like objects, would you think the person suffers from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder or from Aspergers Syndrome?

It would be a tough call wouldn’t it? It’s difficult to distinguish between the two without a clinical evaluation. Both disorders lack empathy as a guide.

So what’s the difference between the two disorders?
The difference is that those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder intentionally manipulate others, because they’re self-absorbed and see others as useful tools to achieve their goals, not as people with feelings. They’re often described as “vicious”, “malignant” or “malicious” because they stop at nothing to get what they want. On the other hand while the Aspie is focused on achieving a goal and is self-absorbed, it just doesn’t register that others would feel differently than he does. A person with Asperger’s doesn’t intentionally set out to hurt anyone. He wants to be loved, have a family and a home, but he just doesn’t know how to connect.

One of the key traits in people with autism is that they lack what is known in psychology as a ‘theory of mind’, which is also known as ‘mind-blindness’. Theory of mind (T.O.M) means you have the ability to understand that other people have thoughts that differ from your own. People with Asperger’s see things from their own point of view, and can’t imagine how something may affect someone else, which makes them seem self-centered.

It’s not fair or reasonable to treat someone who is unintentionally being insensitive as if they were someone who is doing it on purpose because they don’t care about your feelings. Neither is it fair for you to simply take it.

Under the increased pressure of the recent holiday season, those prone to narcissism may have become even more narcissistic. And even if your Aspie usually sticks to a responsible code of conduct, they may be inclined to dip into narcissism as they find it difficult to regulate emotions.

You need to be prepared so that you don't collapse under the pressure. Let's discuss how to stay strong in the face of narcissistic manipulation. There are some simple tools to stop this destructive type of communication. Most importantly it is about being true to yourself. Trust your instincts. If your Aspie makes no sense, or seems overwhelmed, or makes you feel crazy, they just might need a break. And so do you.

I invite you to our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with AS International Teleconference where we’ll discuss the topic: Narcissism and the ASD Adult on Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 2:30 PM. Come and learn how to distinguish between a "normal" ASD communication snag and truly selfish narcissistic manipulation and what you can do to cope.

Neuroscience – Unlocking the Mystery of the Theory of Mind and Empathy

Friday, March 27, 2015


Through brain-mapping, neuroscience is unlocking the mystery of the theory of mind and empathyEmpathy has long been an enigma to me. I have written two books that explore empathy disorders among those with Asperger Syndrome. Problems with empathy explain why folks with ASD struggle in their relationships with loved ones. And it explains why those loved ones are often furious with their ASD partners and family members. Yes, it’s true that we humans are a product of nature and nurture. However, with the advent of neuroscience that can peer into the workings of a live brain, we’re finding powerful evidence that a huge chunk of empathy is hard wired.

A recent New York Times article reports about this in the context of trying to peacefully integrate the Roma (many call them Gypsy) into Hungarian society by busing the children to different schools. It’s reminiscent of the race struggle that occurred in the United States. What’s interesting is that now, with greater understanding of how empathy works, they’re applying new techniques to resolving these issues.

Emile Bruneau, cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has spent years studying conflicts in Israel and the West Bank, along the U.S./Mexican border and within the political parties of Democrats and Republicans, is on the scene trying to find out, through brain-mapping, when and how empathy breaks down.

Neuroscientists have already mapped out the “theory-of-mind network” of the brain. Theory of Mind (ToM is a theory because the mind in not directly observable) is the ability to attribute beliefs, intentions, desires, imaginations, emotions, etc., to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Within that ToM network, they’re pinpointing specific tasks such as how the brain makes moral judgments.

How will things turn out for those in Hungary? Time will tell. Many of the conflict-resolution programs have not worked well because they haven’t tapped into the power of empathy. While many are empathetic toward their own family and group, they are able to mute their empathy toward their “enemy”. We’re hopeful that intervening on a psychological level will make societal intervention more effective.

Empathy is an important component to peaceful family, business and community relationships. Each act of true empathy brings us closer to happiness. Do you find yourself struggling with controlling your emotions, so that you can truly see how others are feeling? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can discuss techniques and tools that can help you improve in your art of empathy.


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