Your partner isn’t a narcissist. He has autism. And so do you.

No one has devised a perfect questionnaire for determining a narcissist, which is why the New York Times makes the argument for cutting narcissism from the DSM.

We know what narcissism looks like: pompous clowns who are sad on the inside, treat people like shit wherever they go, and perhaps most importantly, have no idea that they look this way to other people.

That sounds like autism to me. Not all autism, but the version of autism where there is the most focus on knowing information and least focus on understanding people.

The narcissist wants people to see when they are right and the narcissist wants people to listen to them, but the narcissist does not want to listen to other people. The narcissist does not notice other peoples’ feelings, but if the narcissist’s feelings are hurt and they get angry.

That sounds like autism as well. Not all autism. But people with autism who I don’t like.

When the narcissist is having a terrible time in life, they might seem to change, but the narcissist does not have enough personal insight to change. They might seem to understand that they are all about themselves, but they don’t really understand.

This is everyone with autism: We think we see ourselves and we think we are managing the parts of our personality that are anti-social. But if we could do that, autism would be curable.

We go to therapy to complain about a parent or partner or terrible dates. And therapists need a word to describe people who are transgressive. Narcissism is a word that enables people to empathize with how hard it is to live with the person.

Except that every time I coach someone with autism, they bring up the word narcissist to describe someone in their life. But autism is genetic, and it can’t be that everyone in the family has autism except the narcissist parent. Really. Autism is genetic. The parent has autism too.

Sculptures by Laurent Craste remind me of autistic men with high IQs who can’t understand themselves, or other people, and let their rage and anger destroy the people they love. I grew up with a father like this and attracted men like this. I know what it’s like to live in fear. They have periodic urges to change but it’s clearly impossible for them.

People with narcissism have the same type of brain as people with autism: very high IQ with unpredictable dips in certain areas. People more numerically gifted are more stubborn and rigid. People less numerically gifted are better at camouflaging those autistic traits. Narcissism, then, is the numerically gifted version of autism.

Why is this important? Because people with autism marry other people with autism. We are drawn to each other because it’s genetic so autism feels familiar to us. Also, we don’t play normal dating games so neurotypical people screen us out of their dating pool; we’re too weird.

So you and your partner have autism. You are not diagnosed because the mental health profession has no idea what they’re doing with autism. They are not trained well in diagnostics and they miss it all the time. So you really need to recognize autism yourself. Luckily it runs in families so if you have one person you can catch everyone. There is never one person with autism. Really. I swear.

You will both always have autism, but if you understand your autism you can use it more effectively. For example autistic people are competitive because we don’t understand how to be valuable to people outside of logical ranking systems. You and your partner both have this trait. But your partner is more competitive than you and less good at masking it.

At some point in the dating process you liked that you’re both winners. And everyone was on good behavior so no one noticed that you are low-conflict and your partner is high-conflict. But the truth is you’ll do anything to avoid conflict. So you give in. And the high-conflict person sees that and assumes they’ll get what they want.

Your partner doesn’t have to change for your relationship to change. You can decide to face conflict and establish boundaries. For example, someone can blame you for whatever goes wrong, but you don’t have to accept that as truth. The person can pick fights with you but you don’t have to take the bait. You could leave, but that won’t change the fact that you don’t deal well with boundaries or conflict. And it won’t change that people with autism marry people with autism.

So consider that narcissist is really the word for “autistic person I hate.” And you can make things better by managing your own autism more effectively. Give it a try. If nothing else, the number-one complaint about people with narcissism is they blame everyone else for their problems.

101 replies
  1. Markisha
    Markisha says:

    Wow. This was all the things I didn’t want to hear. I appreciate the truth telling though. This is my life and my marriage in a nutshell. My husband is autistic but is convinced it’s only me and 1 of our daughters because we mask the least. Sounds like a pot calling a kettle black. I’m tired of it all. It’s so difficult to cope with something he refuses to see. He used to go to an autism support group that was actually an autism hate group where women (presumably not autistic) vented and degraded their autistic husbands. My husband would leave the meetings feeling much better about himself and his life because he was “not like them” and doesn’t “hate” me. Unfortunately for him the group stopped accepting his request to join the meetings. I wonder why? Maybe he was in Rome but wasn’t doing what the Roman’s do? I don’t want Rome or the Romans either. But I can’t get out. Even if I could I’m not sure there is anywhere else to go that won’t be like this. The autism will be right here with me cloaking everything.

  2. Brian O'Connor
    Brian O'Connor says:

    I’ve got to disagree with you on this one. Autistic people aren’t vicious, destructive assholes on purpose just to make themselves feel temporarily superior and because they’re motivated by extreme fear and self-loathing. Autistic people are smart enough to understand that it’s bad behavior to treat people like shit and, if they’ve been insensitive, to purposely adopt different behaviors. Narcissists know what they’re doing and choose to do so.

    Just because someone’s behavior *appears* similar to how *some* autistic people behave doesn’t automatically mean that person is autistic.

    You really got this one wrong. You certainly are an expert on Penelope Trunk and her journey with autism, but you aren’t an autism expert, a psychiatrist, or an expert in narcissistic behavior.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You wrote “Autistic people are smart enough to understand that it’s bad behavior to treat people like shit and, if they’ve been insensitive, to purposely adopt different behaviors.”

      If this were true then autism would be solved. The the core problem for autistic people is we can understand input for a single context, but we cannot generalize that input to effectively change our behavior in other contexts. This is extremely frustrating to people who deal with us on a regular basis.

      That said, your reply to my post is a great example of the stubborn disposition that arises from anchoring. You have in your head that there is a narcissist in your life. You don’t want to change that view, so you ignore my points and you make arguments that do not respond to what I’ve said.

      The experience of not being seen is what is so difficult. And because I’ve been writing this blog forever, I’m accustomed to people who argue with me by ignoring my points to make their own. But I always have to be on my toes to not get personally frustrated, not get dragged into a discussion, and not use language that is angry.

      Because the truth is that I love having discussion here and I really appreciate anyone who comments because we always learn from each other. Like everyone who finds themselves talking with someone who is arguing right through them, I’m here for the frustrating part because there are parts I treasure.

      Thank you for commenting.


      • Nathan
        Nathan says:

        I think the biggest difference between an autistic with or without NPD is that an autistic will see something as black or white, all or nothing. An autistic with NPD will see something as all for them, and nothing for others.

        Let me explain.

        I’ve only recently realized this is possible, and quite possibly more common than we currently believe.

        But it makes sense.

        Autistic people often learn coping strategies throughout their lives to help allow them navigate what is a very confusing and illogical society.

        However, I am beginning to think that the trauma of being forced into a different way of thinking to survive may in some cases have a psychological impact – and many people who live in a very insecure and psychologically damaging environment and are forced to adapt, do so by developing an unstable narcissistic personality – or potentially Borderline Personality Disorder, or even a combination.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      I agree with Brian. I think in this case, Penelope has a hammer so everything looks like a nail. I’m no expert on narcissism either, but aren’t they deliberately manipulative and charming (sometimes only in public), with a need for admiration? Most autistic people don’t have the social know-how for the first two, or care about the third. Both autistic and narcissistic people are described as lacking empathy or consideration, but in the case of autistic people, they lack the social skills to understand others or express these traits, while narcissists could do so but truly don’t care to. There is a current trend for people to describe everyone they don’t like as a narcissist, but switching that label to autism is really not helpful or accurate. If there are overlapping traits between the two, it is only in certain cases.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Click the links. Researchers show that people who exhibit the traits of narcissism do not actually have the ability to change because they don’t have a clear enough picture of themselves. Which is autism.

        When I tell someone I don’t know my left and right, they don’t believe me. They think I’m exaggerating or lying. Or, they think no one has tried to teach me the “simple trick” they know, so they teach me. But they don’t understand what it is to not understand the thing that is so obvious and clear to them. Because they can’t imagine it they can’t believe it. But that doesn’t change what’s true for me.

        The same is true with your pronouncement that “narcissists could understand others but they don’t care to.” I know you didn’t read the journal articles I linked to. And I don’t think you even read the New York Times article I linked to. Because both take a clear position, based on years of research, that narcissists have no idea how to fix themselves. If you had read those links before you wrote your comment, you wouldn’t be so certain that you know what’s going on inside the person’s head.

        The reason there are overlapping traits but only in certain cases is because narcissism is, in effect, a spectrum disorder. So just like some people with autism have OCD and some don’t, some people with autism have narcissism and some don’t. But there is nothing that is a trait of narcissism that does not also fall under the umbrella of autism. Narcissism is like dyslexia, eating disorders, speech delays — it’s all under the umbrella of autism.


        • Jennifer
          Jennifer says:

          The study you linked to says “the narcissist admits to a problem only when abandoned, destitute, and devastated. He feels that he doesn’t want any more of this. He wants to change” which is not the same as caring to understand others. It is instead, caring only about being alone. Like the thief who is only sorry he got caught.

          I’m sure that narcissists are who they are, and can’t help that. I also wouldn’t be surprised if family trees with autism were more likely to also contain narcissism, or if they were sometimes co-morbid conditions.

          However, I disagree that narcissists are really autistic. The two disorders have different criteria. Autism does not include: sense of entitlement and self-importance; requires constant admiration; exaggerates own achievements; looks down on others; expects special favors and compliance; takes advantage of others; envious and believes others envy them; insists on the best of everything; unable to take criticism; belittles others to appear superior.

          Really the criteria they have in common are: monopolizing conversations, difficulty regulating emotions; inability to recognize feelings of others; problems adapting to stress and change; and (in some cases) coming across as pretentious, perfectionism and feelings of shame. Narcissism is defined more by the traits it does NOT share with autism.

          • Cheryl
            Cheryl says:

            Hi, When you wrote this, ‘The study you linked to says “the narcissist admits to a problem only when abandoned, destitute, and devastated. He feels that he doesn’t want any more of this. He wants to change”’, I was reminded of a statement that a true-crime writer made: some people only change when they’re in pain or they want something.

        • Abigail
          Abigail says:

          Couldn’t agree with you more. This is something I discovered a few years back when I realised ‘my narcissist’ was autistic and realised so many of the ‘narcs’ that I knew were also autistic!

    • Charlotte
      Charlotte says:

      Brian, I agree. I’m a developmental psychologist who works with families who have a child on the spectrum. There are definitely cases of the apple not falling from the tree, and the parent being unable to see or accept that within themselves, at least not simultaneously with learning their 2-3 year old is autistic. There are also cases in which autism isn’t evident in the immediate family, but there are adult or child cousins who are wired that way. And then there are families where it’s apparently cropping up for the first time — parents and near relatives, even twins aren’t affected. It’s a brand new thing for them to deal with.

      I worked with one family whose daughter was autistic. They deliberately didn’t vaccinate her younger brother, just in case there was some truth to the fantasy that childhood vaxes cause it. The day after his 18 month birthday — when many kids are getting a round of shots, he very suddenly shifted from an affective, connected boy to one who spent hours jumping off the couch, putting a full set of wooden alphabet letters in order, then messing them up and getting back off the couch. He had been verbally advanced but lost every one of his words. Neither parent was autistic at all. The girl benefited from therapies but the boy did not, even though he was diagnosed and treated early.

      There’s still a lot we don’t know. People with autism aren’t narcissists, for the exact reasons you explained, and I know plenty of narcissists who are socially adept, not terrifically bright, not always awful but usually tiresome. trump comes immediately to mind as a sociopathic narcissistic. He is not autistic.

    • Tracey
      Tracey says:

      Totally agree with you. If you have ever been subjected to a nasty and relentless narcissist revenge, then you would not agree with this article. Narcissist who l have been subjected to in a family are calulating and evil.

    • UnmaskingGirl
      UnmaskingGirl says:

      Of course it’s a generalization, but she’s got a very important point and this article is very accurate to the lived experience of many people with autism and their partners. People with autism DO marry people with autism. And autism absolutely can look like narcissism. A great explanation is, if you don’t believe her, look at the person’s motivations. If they are flexible in their ability to charm, they are actively manipulating and power-seeking, and it’s always instrumental (to get something) — maybe you could call it narcissism. Neurologically, though, it’s still a blindness to others’ hurt and fear. They often have alexathymia (can’t genuinely make sense of their own emotions). When psychopaths see a facial image of someone looking terrified, they get confused and often have trouble identifying it. Difficulty with facial expression interpretation and alexathymia are also often autistic traits. Though some people on the spectrum are socially adept but it’s utterly exhausting for them. Also, narcissists are genuinely surprised when they are abandoned, outsmarted, or defeated. They have really serious mind-blindness.

      The “you can’t be autistic because XYZ reason” is so hurtful and demoralizing to people with autism. We know that the picture of the severely disabled person, the “obviously something’s different about them” person, is still what people expect. But for a huge, huge number of us, you’d never know unless you asked. Many of US never knew until we were older. And the experience of autism is so utterly varied from person to person. One person might be raging and stubborn and and emotion-blind, while another might be creative, social, quick-witted and very high masking.

      Penelope hits the nail right on the head with, “If this were true then autism would be solved.” There’d be no meltdowns, no rages. There’d be no people terrified that they’ll lose all the people they love because they keep getting stuck in problematic and rigid behaviors. There’d be no issues with theory of mind (mind-blindness). We’d all know better and keep from screwing up.

      I guess the question for people who deal with this incredibly difficult mind-blindness is: Do we morally demonize them, or do we choose for ourselves what we want in our lives? The origin of the issue morally neutral — we just have to choose what we do with it.

  3. Graham
    Graham says:

    This is not true. Narcissists are manipulative and it is not true to say that everyone with ASD is manipulative. Narcissists use silence and guilt as weapons but not all people with ASD do that. I could go on.

    You would expect me to disagree with you on this one I know but having worked with countless people suffering from the effects of being in relationships with narcissists and also knowing that narcissists don’t come to therapy because they don’t believe there is anything wrong with them whereas plenty of autistic people do, I find this argument so reductionist that it almost feels as if by putting it out there you are being deliberately provocative just because it makes for a good post.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like that you think I’m trying to be deliberately provocative. Because it’s you assuming that I have nefarious intentions. Which is the same thing you do with the narcissists, right?

      I have actually held this post for six months because I wanted to make sure it was really well researched and made sense. If I post stuff that is deliberately provocative no one would read the blog, so I have to be extremely careful to be right when I publish something that’s a new perspective.

      You are thinking I’m trying to poke everyone, while I am worrying for six months that I won’t get it right or I won’t be clear or people won’t come back to read. I hope this at least makes people think twice about being able to tell what motivates people who you see behaving poorly.


      • Mabel
        Mabel says:

        Just take the L on this one, Penelope. I read this and immediately thought it must be another one that Melissa didn’t edit. That you say you say on it for six months is not a good look. But I agree with a the larger point that emerges: narcissism and autism are just labels we throw at people who do things we don’t like. I don’t believe either term has any use value. It’s better to see people as exhibiting archetypes with light and dark sides. A woman might have a strong identification with the Black Widow who destroys men after love bombing them. Another person on the low end of autism might exhibit the shadow side of the alchemist which makes them driven in a way that alienates other about an interest most folks think are crazy. Journalists call Donald Trump and Amber Herb narcissists. Does that help? No. Does one embody the archetype of carnival barker and mob boss? And the other the Destructive Princess. Yes. . I haven’t heard Meghan Markle’s podcast but if she gets us out off dead labels (like narcissist) and into specific language like archetypes then I will. Stop using DSM to read your life and turn to stories, old stories instead.

      • graham landi
        graham landi says:

        I didn’t say you were trying to poke everyone. I said it gave me that feeling which is a different thing. I don’t think you have any nefarious intentions but I do believe the argument is reductionist.

    • Jenny
      Jenny says:

      Hey Graham,

      I’m a bit confused. It sounds like you think Penelope is saying that all Autistics are Narcissists? In which case I totally agree that would be reductionist and provocative.

      I’m curious about how you came to that conclusion, because when I read the post I got the message that all Narcissists are Autistic. So it’s like, all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

      Thanks for clarifying your point, I’m working on practicing empathy, so exploring other viewpoints and reactions is helpful.

  4. Dana
    Dana says:

    Penelope, this is why I continue to read your blog. The way you think is so interesting and always causes me to consider things differently, regardless of whether or not I agree.
    Your theory that narcissism possibly being part of autism and the examples and descriptions you gave are so close to how my marriage felt. It was hard to say my ex was a narcissist because he wasn’t the outgoing, boastful type. When I was married I had come to the conclusion he was a covert narcissist. At the same time, I knew he was on the autism spectrum. I always had a hard time resolving these two seemingly opposite traits.
    Thank you for giving me a new way to understand this :)

  5. Stephanie B
    Stephanie B says:

    OK(!) Well, interesting commentary and insights, PT. Going to have to digest and process, but the scenarios you lay out surely do sound…familiar. As one commenter mentioned, thinking about things differently is a new beginning…

  6. Sorsha
    Sorsha says:

    Hey Penelope! I follow Dr. Ramani on youtube and one of the interesting things she said about narcissism and the DSM is that in every other case, people are diagnosed based on how much their issues are affecting their own lives, in a negative fashion. She said with narcissism the negative behavior affects people around the narcissist and rarely does the narcissist see these traits as hurting themselves. I did try to click on the links you shared above, but the NYTimes is behind a paywall.

    In any case, this idea is very interesting.

    So, what are your thoughts on someone who behaves this way, consistently? When his daughter tells him that her grandmother is dying, he responds with “good” cause he doesn’t like his mother-in-law. When he cancels a visit with his sister and she tells him she thinks she can get a refund on the airplane tickets, he responds with, “good, use it to buy flowers for when your husband dies of covid.”

    This kind of cruel lashing out to the point of destroying his relationships seems more extreme than autism. I know he loved his daughter and he loved his sister. He didn’t want to destroy those relationships. Yet, he continues to be cruel to people in his life who don’t behave the way he demands. As an outside observer, it looks like he sets out to destroy those people and those relationships. He is charming with everyone else. The people I know who are asd work really hard to mask and are agonized when they hurt someone’s feelings. Not this guy. He will shrug and say that they deserved it or that he was angry and dismisses the harm he caused.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This man in your example is like many people with autism. All of us hold ourselves to higher standards in public than at home. We let down our guard at home. An autistic person misjudges what is okay to do at home due to lack of social intelligence and lack of self-control.

      Part of autism is having an a-typical frontal lobe. We literally have less ability to self-regulate than normal people. We have less self-control. It’s more difficult for us to be decent in public and it’s more likely we’ll snap at home. Also, people who don’t snap but instead isolate/ disappear/ don’t connect are still sabotaging their relationships, just in a different way.

      You can’t tell how difficult it is for someone to manage themselves, how much pressure they’re feeling, how much they have to tune out to get through the day. You see the person selectively processing information because we are so overwhelmed about having to do things we don’t like. But all of us with autism do this. If you can see how you do it yourself then it’s much easier to see how it could be possible that other people are doing it.


      • Sorsha
        Sorsha says:

        “Also, people who don’t snap but instead isolate/ disappear/ don’t connect are still sabotaging their relationships, just in a different way.” —-ooo, I hadn’t looked at it like that. good point!

        “But the people don’t process the information because they don’t like it.” —-I’ve seen this, in myself and others. This is an excellent point.

        I guess the ultimate problem is, whether someone is asd or a narcissist, in the end, we are mindreading. If I assume someone is asd, then I can assume they truly are doing the best they can. If I assume someone is a narcissist, then I believe they are purposely trying to destroy people. But in both cases, I can’t actually see inside them to know what their true motivations are. Hmm.

        I guess at this point, for those of us who love these people, our best efforts are to decide if their behavior is something we can tolerate in our lives. Can we find compassion for the person causing harm? In some cases does compassion for ourselves mean we need to distance ourselves from the destruction they have caused or are causing?

        It’s a really interesting viewpoint and it’s so much easier to say someone is a narcissist and cut them out of your life. It’s so much harder to say someone you love is on the autism spectrum but they cause too much pain and then cut them out of your life. But whatever the cause, the destructive behavior is not going to stop and that’s heartbreaking.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Yes. Totally agree. It’s heartbreaking. I’m sure that part of being a successful adult with autism is being good at boundaries so we can maintain relationships with people who are not good at boundaries.



          • Charlotte
            Charlotte says:


            As others have alluded to, do you think narcissists ever suffer from sorrow over having accidentally hurt or offended someone? Having lived with a few, I can report I’ve never seen that.

            Do you know many autistic people who deliberately charm, enthuse, and serve others for the purpose of later exploiting them? Who are so tuned in to others’ social reactions they know exactly how to tailor their campaign?

            I don’t.

  7. Elemjay
    Elemjay says:

    So would a person who presents like say Donald Trump be potentially autistic rather than narcissistic?
    And if women with autism present in a different way, how then would this apply to women who show narcissistic traits? Being a queen bee, putting everyone else down, the push-me-pull-you dynamic wouldn’t immediately strike me as autistic behaviours…..

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Here’s an example of what some do that is similar to the way men tune out feedback they get that they don’t like.

      Women have a baby and go back to work even though they don’t need the money – they have a partner earning money. The women don’t say my partner should stay home instead. The women say they think it’s fine for the baby. But it’s not. There is no research that says it’s fine for the baby. I could show these women 400 articles but they go to work anyway because stopping work to stay home with a baby seems too boring and/or difficult. They don’t mean to treat the baby poorly, but doing the thing that is really hard for them has made them downplay the importance of the baby’s needs, and downplay the input they are receiving about that they are making a poor decision. In this case the women are already dealing with so many pressures that they can’t handle the thought of having to change their whole life to stay home with a baby. So they don’t. This is arguably more detrimental than the examples we have of narcissism in men; because the baby is so impressionable and needs a single caregiver so desperately.


  8. Guy
    Guy says:

    Interesting perspective and can see how you might think that, however having the unfortunate experience of having married a narcissist and being manipulated by her charming ways, it took her blindsiding divorce and blatant lies during the process that opened my eyes to the level of evil that composes a narcissist with borderline tendencies. Having to coparent is impossible feat that requires limited interactions that are documented in writing because of how deceptive and untruthful they are to others. The projections are constant in any court proceeding and the written communications are what reveals to others her patterns of lying. Her own parents apologized the day we divorced and revealed how she has exhibited a pattern since high school of seeking out married men, ( a trait she does while married ) and how placing her in therapy never helped, and how each of her previous husbands were good men who she cheated on, (she moved onto marring husband #4) just as she had done in our relationship.There are many different varieties of narcissism, we are all narcissist to some degree, however the narcissist wasn’t born a narcissist, some form of trauma in their childhood created this psychological reaction to manifest itself in a unhealthy way. It destroys relationships and psychologists don’t want to treat anyone who doesn’t see they have a problem that needs fixing, and a narcissist is never wrong, it’s everyone else who is wrong and they are very charming in convincing everyone else they are as they play the perpetual victim to obtain their drug of choice, control over others. They don’t experience the pain they inflict in others intentionally because it’s the reaction they get from their target and their audience that makes them feel good about themselves. My fortunate moment came from the court ordered therapy because of her claims against me during the divorce. The psychologist took one read of the accusations made are stated correctly she was having an affair, it wasn’t long before the session turned to how to protect myself from her behavior going forward, and even with that advice 12 years later it’s still a challenge with very limited personal interactions. What she couldn’t obtain in court, she has proceeded to do to me in all her interactions with the parents of our child’s friends, painting me out to be the bad guy, as she uses her charms to solicit their sympathy, it’s a pattern repeated after each divorce, it’s what she used to manipulate me into feeling sorry for her about her previous husbands being so abusive to her. Now I know it’s all a lie, because she’s psychologically sick, not autistic.

    • Sorsha
      Sorsha says:

      I’ve seen someone who is narcissistic and made up blatant lies in an attempt to get her children to end their relationship with their father. She lied to get a job in Africa and fortunately was caught and fired before she could move her children there. She spent years trying to turn all of her children against their father, including in the end making up the lie that he was into childporn. It was horrific to witness. I think Penelope has an interesting viewpoint. I think she’s correct, some people we are afraid may be narcissistic are really just on the autism spectrum. But most of the people I know on the autism spectrum loathe lying.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I agree that people with autism hate lying. And we’re bad at it. That said, I can point to times when every autistic person I know has lied. Either intentionally or unintentionally. When it’s intentionally it’s usually because we tell ourselves it’s for the best. Like, the dad is crazy so the mom is lying to deal with the crazy dad — that’s what the mom tells herself. But she can’t see her own crazy part. Or her impact on the kids.

        A lot of times we lie because we can’t deal with conflict, and we tell ourselves we’re making it better for everyone, but actually many people would rather have the truth with conflict.

        So what I’m saying, is being cruel and lying are similar to autistic people. We are just trying to survive. We would never think we do either. We can magically explain away anything because we are smart and we believe everything we say to ourselves.


        • Jane
          Jane says:

          Here’s the issue:

          I don’t care.
          I bet a lot of people don’t care.
          I don’t care if my narcissistic, alcoholic, father is autistic. Makes no difference.
          He didn’t feed his children and left them to fend for themselves. Fuck him.
          Autism is not an excuse. Alcoholism is not an excuse.
          Some people are just assholes.
          The rest of us don’t have to sit around being punching bags just because, – autism.
          Fuck that.
          Handle your shit.

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            I really appreciate this comment, Jane. All writing has a point of view and my writing is no exception. My parents are both old, they will probably die soon. And I don’t want to be angry at them. Even if I don’t trust them to always be kind to me, I want to trust myself to feel kindness toward them. I want to find a way to feel forgiveness. They destroyed my childhood, and they have not done much to repair the damage in our adult relationships. But they have tried. And if I don’t acknowledge that they’ve tried, then I have nothing.

            One way to find forgiveness in my heart is to understand how my parents could be so smart and accomplished and so incredibly incompetent raising us. I know they can’t see me as anything besides the kid who ruined their fun and took their money and their time when they didn’t want to give it. But I don’t have to see myself that way.

            Part of seeing myself outside of their framework is me trying to understand how they could possibly dislike me so much. If I’m likable, then why were they so angry that they had to deal with me? Understanding this through autism makes sense to me. Their complete lack of control and lack of empathy is more factual to me than conniving.

            When you say fuck that, I get it. When you say handle your shit, I get that, too. This is me, handling my shit. It’s why, probably, I never shut up about autism. I want to believe we can handle situations like this. We can help families like mine. We can save some kids from the experience I had. Narcissism feels hopeless because I wouldn’t know how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


          • Michelle
            Michelle says:

            I resonate with this. My own autistic/narcissistic dad and stepmom almost let me die when I had a life-threatening illness, several actually. they were extraordinarily cold and selfish while I went through hell, neglecting me and traveling a ton to expensive locations, and I’m surprised I made it through it all alive. It doesn’t really matter what the reasons were for this behavior, they were just awful as parents/stepparents for the most basic task of keeping your child alive and healthy. Sounds like your ex had the same issue.

            I’m not angry at him though, because I don’t really think he understood what he was doing, I think he was mind-blind to it. maybe there is a special category for how you feel about people who acted horrifically but were clearly not aware of the impact they were having.

          • Jenny
            Jenny says:

            Penelope, your reply to Jane is beautiful. It deserves it’s own post. You’re being vulnerable in the hopes that you can help even one more person.

            You should know you are making a difference that is rippling outward. You helped me see myself, and now I’m practicing being more vulnerable too – so that I can help others see themselves reflected in me. Just as you did for me.

        • Charlotte
          Charlotte says:


          Surely you see the difference between lying at various times for mostly unselfish reasons, and using a deceptive persona and an errorless feel for what people are most ashamed or insecure about in order to use that information to harm and control them in an attempt to acquire what a narcissist believes he needs (the feeling of love, approval, and acceptance), because for whatever reason he was unable to absorb that during the critical period of early childhood?

  9. Guy
    Guy says:

    My ex attempted to deny custody because children are a source of narcissist supply, and the courts once aware of the deception granted joint custody 50/50 in physical and legal, which is a blessing and a curse, because a narcissist doesn’t follow court orders, and children can see it for themselves as they get older, and they know who is what, and that is a reward unto itself, in that they won’t be subdued like their parent into a relationship with a narcissist when you support and empower their ability to preserve and protect their self esteem and how not to become codependent, but confident enough to know mistakes are opportunities to learn and make you stronger, and embracing them openly as a part of who you are is a important part of being true to yourself as much as it is to others…….which is what they should seek in others, and is what is found in your articles, and why they are enjoyed, because love of self comes before you can truly love another, something a narcissist may never know. Keep up the good work, it’s all food for thought essential to a fulfilling life.

  10. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Maybe another angle is, if you’re autism-spectrum, then what can you do personally to try not to be narcissistic to people in your life, since you might be at some risk for it.

    Personally I use CBD, which seems to improve my empathy and my ability to automatically think of others’ perspectives. I do a lot of health treatment and thyroid and general autism treatment (methylfolate for MTHFR, immune support, detox support, ozone), which have made me noticeably less autistic than the rest of my family who haven’t done these things. I learn extensively about narcissism to try to recognize the patterns if I slip into them (I am most prone to it if really struggling with my chronic health issues and barely getting by).

    this YouTube channel has lots of videos from a “narcissist perspective,” can help you recognize the thought patterns of that state and try to avoid them:

  11. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I think a lot of how we deal with parents is based on therapy which is very focused on putting blame on others, it’s kind of a self-serving profession, they want people to spend money on it so they offer something very self-serving and satisfying to clients. It’s almost like if you don’t hate your parents they assume you’re not far enough along in recovery or something, the goal seems to be to hate them and remove them from your life.

    I think it might be better to look at it as a public health issue. If you’re in a situation where your parents were too diseased to offer proper care, whether due to addiction, childhood trauma, brain injury, autism, then you might need to put up strong mental or behavioral boundaries with them for your own mental health, like the ways you interact with them or how often and what they can expect from you. It’s not about blaming them or hating or being angry at them, it’s about self-protection and validating the gravity of what you went through to show yourself that you value yourself. It’s about getting the correct foundation for rehabilitating yourself after what you went through and building the best life you can for yourself. You don’t want to be mentally stuck being a caretaker to (and making excuse after excuse for) your autistic parents for life and never getting to create your own life.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love this comment. I’ve done one-hour coaching sessions with about a thousand different people, and at this point I’m certain that it takes only an hour for a coach to tell someone what their problem is and what they need to do to fix it. It’s just that a coach needs to have a very large community (like a blog) in order for that business model to work, because a person doesn’t schedule another session for two or three years — until they have another big problem.

      So, Michelle, what you say about blaming other people, it’s part of a larger problem that therapists are really sales people — telling clients whatever they need to hear so they’ll come back for more and more sessions. It’s damaging on a wide scale and probably what’s causing our mental health crisis today as well.


    • graham landi
      graham landi says:

      Michelle, you need to find some better therapists.

      As a therapist, I would never try and encourage a client to hate their parents. What on earth is the point in that? Who benefits?

      A client I once worked with for a long time said in his first session with me, “I don’t want to come out of this hating my mother.”

      By the time we had finished he had realised that he needed to allow himself to hate his mother so that he no longer had the need to.

      That’s the purpose of therapy which is very far from a self-serving profession when done properly.

      • Charlotte
        Charlotte says:

        Yes. When I was in therapy in my early 20s, I learned to notice and acknowledge various ways my childhood left me ill-equipped for a happy life. I didn’t hate my parents, but I gained insight into my own behaviors and how some of them were no longer useful outside that particular family system.

        I dipped in and out of treatment over the years, most recently with a psychoanalyst and an intensive schedule. She charged me $100 an hour, part of which was reimbursed by insurance. She wasn’t greedy. She didn’t steer me. She was exceptionally talented and brought new things to my awareness that made me able to change (and find relief) that were evident to people I habitually interacted with.

        There are many poor therapists out there. I’ve been in classes with therapists-in-training and am aware of how many are trying to resolve their own issues obliquely while preserving a feeling of superiority over other people with “problems.” And other unhelpful features. I worry that naive clients might not be able to distinguish between qualified and unqualified therapists. But there are many good, and some excellent, ones, too. No one has devised to have me despise a parent.

        My 28 year old son is now in therapy with someone good. I’ve given him every permission to hate us, to be angry for ways we failed to meet his needs. Every adult child, if they’re honest, has some residual confusion or resentment about what happened when they were younger and had little power. So far our kid is focused on other issues; we haven’t been confronted or had any Talks as a result of his treatment, though that could still happen (and I would welcome the chance to apologize for any ways I may have hurt him).

        What a broad and rigid view it is to see all therapists the way Penelope seems to. I hope her regular readers aren’t dissuaded from needed treatment because of slander about motives or greed. It’s a shockingly black and white view, and not accurate on the whole.

  12. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I think a loooot about this, sorry for all the disjointed comments, but I feel like I almost lost my life to this issue (autism causing my parents to behave narcissistically) so it’s been important for me to ponder it.

    What I usually come down to is:

    I’m not angry but I judge and have boundaries based on people’s behavior:
    I judge people based on their behavior.
    I don’t think anyone is fully to blame for their behavior — even the worst narcissists or even murderers were harmed by someone or something.
    I am not angry at people for things they can’t control, in fact I get less and less angry at my parents as time goes on (you feel angry when someone is behaving worse than your expectations, but if you expect them to behave in weird autistic/narcissistic ways then it’s not surprising)
    If you have heinous behavior and are unwilling to modify it and I can’t get anything to work after trying many accommodations for many years, I will have strong boundaries with that person, potentially including never speaking to them. This is not done with anger or blame but out of self-protection. I have done this with one person out of self-protection and I still wish the best for them and have zero hard feelings toward them.

    Responsibility to try to be good to others who depend on us and avoid narcissism, as autism-spectrum people:
    I think those of us who know we are autism-spectrum should really take stock of how to be the best we can be if we have any roles where others depend on us (spouse, parent, even pet parent ha), perhaps reading books or taking advice from other survivors of autistic parents or autistic partners or learning about narcissism to make sure we avoid those patterns.
    I think there could be a real help from survivors of these situations offering advice to autistic people. It could help the autistic partners and parents to focus their efforts where they would be most valuable. it might be different things than they expect, or even things they can partially automate or fit into their needs as an autism-spectrum person. Sometimes even just small things like buying your wife flowers once a month or something, even if you have to put it on the calendar. Or making a note to ask your child on a recurring basis about their life and goals, or tell them you love them regularly. This is if they even accept their diagnosis and are willing to accept advice.

  13. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I don’t think anyone should be making excuses to behave narcissistically. it’s extremely destructive and harmful to others and can push people away.

    If we want the benefits of having spouses and children as autism-spectrum people, then we should take the initiative to learn how to do these things in ways that won’t have the other people involved feel like they are with narcissists. There are things that people with any level of autism can do. You might have to find approaches that work for you.

    the pattern of:
    Using others as objects or “need-satisfying objects” and not thinking about their needs or perspectives
    Being unwilling to take feedback or criticism or hear how you’re impacting others
    Acting as though your needs are the only ones that matter
    It’s not a good pattern! Even if you have an excuse for being more prone to this pattern, who wants to be this person who is toxic to others and who juste leaves a trail of hurt and damage and crushed dreams for others?

    It’s something people can fall into when they are really struggling, but if you want to have the benefits of a spouse or children, you have a responsibility to try your best not to fall into these patterns (and to find your own ways to be better, that work for you). Education, reading, learning about common complaints of children or partners of autistic people, finding hacks to do things that might come to neurotypical people more naturally, etc. it’s a way to show love to the people who depend on you.

  14. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Sry for so many comments but this post makes me think there is a need for two things:

    1) Resources for autism-spectrum diagnosis and coaching on how NOT to act like a narcissist if you take on interpersonal responsibilities as a partner or parent. It’s one thing to simply ask for accommodation if you’re just living with your parents or in a care home, but if you want to have the benefits of a spouse and family — and if you’re healthy enough to have gotten yourself into these roles –you have a duty to try to learn to interact with these people in a way that’s healthy for them, even if on the backend your approach is different from a neurotypical approach (you might need to use a lot more reminders, mental exercises, automation, self-care, etc.). If you know you could be at risk for narcissistic behavior in these roles because of autism-spectrum risks, then learn about what it looks like to avoid it.

    2) Resources for survivors/victims/partners/children of autistic parents and partners for their situation that are SEPARATE and DIFFERENT from the therapy industry surrounding narcissism. Right now if you want help coping with autistic parents in particular (there are more resources for partners of autistic people), you typically end up having to go to children of narcissists resources, since there is almost nothing out there. The resources people have tried to start on surviving autistic parents seem to get shut down and deleted because of harassment from autistic people saying they are being discriminatory. I think we could use resources to help with these unique situations and the unique needs of these partners/children/etc. There are lots of things to think about that are not really discussed in narcissism recovery, such as how you might need to fulfill for yourself many tasks your autistic parents did not do or encourage for you regarding your health and medical treatment, career growth, personal grooming, style, life stages, building your own family, etc. Also there could be spaces of acceptance for autistic partners or family members. I know I felt a lot more accepting toward my dad after having him do Storyworth stories and it became clear just how autistic he was from how bluntly and succinctly he answered the questions and how little he seemed to know about anyone else, it was clear he’s really suffering with a disorder and not just acting like an asshole to spite me. I wish I could help create this but it’s difficult when it’s such an emotional topic and so prone to getting shut down, like youtube videos on this might get removed for being “discriminatory” if they suggest autistic people struggle with parenting.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      For starters, maybe they shouldn’t call their groups “Survivors” or “Victims” of autistic parents. I’m sure there are challenges to growing up with any disabled parent, but nobody is starting a “Victims of Blind Parents” support group.

      • Jenny
        Jenny says:

        Great point! There is for example CODA – children of deaf adults.

        Children of Autistic Adults might be a less controversial way to describe it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      MIchelle I love all your comments. I hope everyone takes the time to read these comments carefully — I believe really strongly in what Michelle is saying. The best teacher I’ve had for how to be a good parent is to listen to people I coach tell me how terrible their autistic parents were. Because I can see myself in every single parent. Not that I do everything terrible but there are parts of me in every terrible parent because I’m autistic too, and it’s a struggle to be a good parent when we have autism. I want to be a good parent. I try really hard. But I know I need help. And what has helped the most is hearing what it’s like being a child of an autistic parent.


  15. You and this article does not speak for me!
    You and this article does not speak for me! says:

    I speak as an autistic, and I seriously hate when woke articles give me lectures to accept myself and pretend that autism isn’t curible when there have been countless developments in treating autism(medical drug developments being one of them). Everytime this “journalists” falsing state that autism isn’t curible that use no scientific citation to back their claims up other than their so-called desire to be accepted. They don’t speak for me. I hate when media people claim that they do when they don’t.

  16. Joey
    Joey says:

    You clearly know nothing about what Autistic experience is or what it’s like to be Autistic. The whole article stinks of a lack of empathy, a shit ton of ableism and a person who has nothing else going for them that they have to shit on Autistic people coz they aren’t getting shat on enough. So so sad.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      This seems more accurate. Penelope’s links above don’t support the claims she is making. Posters commenting that their parents didn’t feed them or get them medical care; their exes were serial cheaters who manipulated others through charm; their acquaintences made up lies to prevent spouses getting custody…those behaviors have nothing to do with autism.

      I care about this, because as someone with many autistic family members including my child and possibly myself (undiagnosed), I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to confuse it with worse pathologies. For example, many reports about school shooters mention the possibility of Asperger’s. Autism does not cause violence, and if these perpetrators had Asperger’s, it was in addition to something else. But many people don’t understand autism, and form the impression over time that people with it are dangerous.

      Now here comes a slippery slope conflating autism with narcissism, when they have so few traits in common and stem from very different psychological causes. There is a reason that different diagnoses exist, and should be understood as separate.

  17. Cee123
    Cee123 says:

    This is horrible, insulting and prejudiced towards people with autism. You dont know what youre talking about. People with autism generally dont have narcissistic behaviours. In fact, narcissism seems to be FAR more common in the general population than in the autistic population. What an absolute load of CRAP this article us. Not only is it misinformation, it breeds stigma, hatred and judgement towards a condition that, today, still isn’t completely understood or accepted. I am disgusted reading this and as a person with autism I’m also insulted being thrown in the same category as people with NPD which is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT condition.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I know Dr. Ramani really well. She’s been doing narcissism for more than a decade. So what would she do if narcissism was removed from the DSM? She has a huge conflict of interest. Her whole livelihood is predicated on the idea that narcissism is a disorder that is separate from everything else.

      This reminds me of the problem with dyslexia right now. It’s been well proven that there is no clear definition of dyslexia — it’s a confusing amalgamation of a bunch of disorders. But many people have spent their lives dedicated to dyslexia and they operate as if nothing has changed. They have to.


      • Sorsha
        Sorsha says:

        Yes, this is a common problem and a great question to ponder. Unfortunately, in Dr. Ramani’s case, she spends most of her time helping survivors of narcissism abuse. She’s talked about how difficult and dark that can be at times to assist people dealing with this trauma. Her book called, “Should I stay or Should I go?” is all about the different methods that are best to use in any given situation. She said most of the world will dismissively say, “Just leave!” but she acknowledges that there are many reasons someone might stay, just one being to ensure they are always present when the other parent is around the kids. If you have separate custody you can’t be there to try to soften the other parent’s abuse, as they will be alone with the kids at times. It’s a valid point and that alone makes me feel compassion for anyone who stays so they can be a shield for their kids. Those people are superheroes.

        Scott Adams has talked about how he reached out to the leadership of BLM and tried to work with them to solve the problem of systemic racism. He said it became clear over their several discussions that the leadership didn’t actually want a solution as then BLM would be unneeded. That’s what your question about Dr. Ramani reminds me of. It’s a really good question. However, I have watched her channel long enough to know, she would happily retire. The toll on her for her service to abuse survivors is heavy and costs her a lot.

        I’ve seen the results of narcissism abuse vs autism fallout. The narcissism abuse is horrible to the point of almost destroying people. The autisitic fallout is sad, but understandable. My dad is an aspy and my brother is a narcissist. I love chatting with you Penelope and hearing your ideas and considering your points of view on a variety of topics. But, my experience with my dad and my brother has my heart saying you aren’t right on this. My concern is that people on the spectrum will be stigmatized if this viewpoint becomes standard.

        I’m glad you expressed this and enabled your readers to have this discussion. I think it’s been very valuable. I think the fact that you waited 6 months shows your thoughtfulness and concern about not causing harm. I think you’ve done a fabulous job bringing this up.

      • Charlotte
        Charlotte says:

        That’s an interesting charge against Dr. Ramani. I wonder if you can see that you use autism in exactly the same way, without the training to know what you’re talking about that Dr. Ramani has.

        Peer learning, like picking up tips from children of autistic parents, is no substitute for actual training. Differential diagnosis is a thing. It’s something you learn from people who know more and have more experience than you do, and through trial and error and good supervision, not something you pick up during an hour-long phone call.

        You’re doing a disservice to people with autism when you collapse these two diagnoses. Especially when you are in no way qualified to do so.

  18. Allison
    Allison says:

    Yes. The mental health profession has no idea what it’s doing with Autism. Thank you for stating that.

  19. Allison
    Allison says:

    I have found, in my small circle of life, that the potentially autistic people I know who would certainly fit the more negative and destructive title of narcissist have a very traumatic childhood and upbringing. While I think all humans have trauma and all autistic people certainly have trauma, these individuals have more complex, deeply trauma experiences.

  20. celestial
    celestial says:

    I must take issue with your statement that “mental health people have no idea of what they are doing with autism” and “Therapists telling people what they want to hear (because they are salespeople) is probably happening with the mental health crisis”. These statements are so broad as to be meaningless and/or damaging.
    1. There are infinite numbers of studies going on concerning autism. Please check educational psychology dissertations, clinical psychology research, and many education based studies. Licensed psychologists have spent decades trying to understand, diagnose, and accurately help those with autism and their family members. There may be some mental health professionals who have no background in the area but to brand “mental health people” as incompetent is not fair or accurate. You have insulted a great many skilled and dedicated clinicians with this statement.
    2. “Therapists telling their patients what they want to hear”…I cannot imagine where this idea came from. If one isn’t hearing things he/she doesn’t want to hear, he/she is not truly in therapy, they are in a conversation with someone who is not doing the job. I am a retired clinical psychologist and I spent hours telling people uncomfortable truths. This was NOT the job I would have selected had I wanted to be a salesperson, believe me. And how do you explain all the mental health issues in young people (depression, anxiety, phobias, substance abuse) who have never seen or consulted (or even heard of) a therapist? That does not make sense.

    As for narcissism being an advanced form of autism…please. I know people of both persuasions and there is a definite difference in both relationships and actions between the two. I would trust my autistic friends with my life while I wouldn’t trust the narcissists with a plant I liked.

  21. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Penelope, maybe someone told you that you have narcissistic traits, and you’re assuming those traits are due to autism (the diagnosis you’ve already accepted about yourself.) So you’re thinking that everyone with autism is this way, but that’s not true.

    I realize that it is rude to post this, but you often tell posters you don’t know that they are autistic based on their comments. So, I figured you wouldn’t mind.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You are not the first person to ask me this. Other people have asked me the same question, but privately in email — if I have been told that I’m narcissistic. I have not been told I’m narcissistic. But I do have a horse in the game.

      I have dissociative identity disorder (DID). I don’t write about it because I think you will all think I’m batshit crazy and we’ll have to talk about multiple personalities ad infinitum and I’m not ready. So I’m hiding it down here at the bottom of the comments. The cause of DID is intense, ongoing trauma before age 3, and most people with DID come from war zones or the foster care system.

      I have worked very hard to understand why I had to split my brain into pieces in order to survive my life before age 3. And then I have to grapple with how could my parents possibly be so cruel and incompetent?

      My dad had a therapist who labeled him a narcissist. That’s when I realized how completely ridiculous that label is. I knew how the therapist would see him that way. But I also knew the depth of my dad’s inability to function in life is far past narcissism.

      I also saw my brothers’ therapists all label my mom a narcissist. To me, that was my brothers giving the therapists an incomplete picture of my mom, and also the therapists having an incomplete picture of women with autism. In fact, women with autism have a very high risk of psychologically and/or physically abusing their kids. Even now. (I know it’s not a popular truth. I’m just the messenger.)

      So this is the perspective I come to narcissism with.

      This doesn’t explain why my parents nearly killed me. But it explains why I became obsessed with understanding why so many people call autistic people narcissists.


      • Sorsha
        Sorsha says:

        Hi Penelope and everyone,

        Cinema Therapy is a fun youtube channel that approaches movies from both a therapy standpoint and a psychological standpoint. In this video they talk about DID and what it is, and what it isn’t, because of course Hollywood gets a lot wrong in order to create an entertaining story:

        And in this clip they explain what gaslighting is:

        For me, I am glad to know you have DID, Penelope, and when you feel ready for it, I’d like to hear more from you about how you manage it, how it impacts your life.

        I understand where you are coming from in trying to wrap your mind around how your parents could make the choices they made. Sending you hugs my friend.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        Do you have a source for the claim that mothers with autism are more likely to abuse their kids? I googled, and mainly found articles stating that women who were abused in childhood were more likely to have autistic children, or that women with autism were more likely to be sexually abused themselves. The closest thing I found was a study that found many other issues, but did not conclude that abuse was more likely. I could see that the other issues might result in abuse, but that was not stated in the conclusion:

        “A comparative study of autistic and non-autistic women’s experience of motherhood

        A. L. Pohl, S. K. Crockford, …S. Baron-Cohen Show authors

        Molecular Autism volume 11, Article number: 3 (2020)


        There were differences in education, gender identity and age of mother at birth of first child. Autistic mothers were more likely to have experienced additional psychiatric conditions, including pre- or post-partum depression, and reported greater difficulties in areas such as multi-tasking, coping with domestic responsibilities and creating social opportunities for their child. They were also more likely to report feeling misunderstood by professionals, and reported greater anxiety, higher rates of selective mutism, and not knowing which details were appropriate to share with professionals. They were also more likely to find motherhood an isolating experience, to worry about others judging their parenting, or feel unable to turn to others for support in parenting. However, despite these challenges, autistic mothers were able to act in the best interest of their child, putting their child’s needs first.”

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Thank you for asking. I have read that journal article 200 times. I think about it nonstop. The author, Simon Baron-Cohen, is the God of autism research. I have incredible respect for him and I read everything his name is on.

          That said, there is absolutely nothing in his research to allow him to write that last sentence. Nothing even comes close. That last sentence is completely irrelevant to the data set in this paper. But he has to write that because this data set is the largest anyone has published for autistic mothers. And he doesn’t want to offend them. So he adds that at the end to make sure he can still get autistic mothers to talk to him.

          There are not a lot of people who can write about how likely autistic mothers are to mistreat their children. Probably only me. For one thing, I’m an autistic mom. Okay. So here you go:

          Until very recently women with autism were unknown because they camouflage which entails passing in social situations (Maria Tubio-Fungueirino 2021). Today we can recognize women with autism and in fact, we understand that the experience of camouflaging causes depression (Eilidh Cage 2019) which makes depression an integral part of the phenotype of female autism. (M. South 2019).
          In addition to depression, autistic women frequently have borderline personality disorder (Nancy Minshew 2019) which is so similar to autism that scientists suggest borderline personality disorder could be another of the autism spectrum disorders. (Nicoletta Vegni 2021). Social isolation stems from depression and borderline personality disorder so it’s not a surprise that the number one health problem for autistic women is social isolation (Simon Baron-Cohen 2019).

          We have a plethora of data going back to the 1990s that shows mothers who lack a support network are more likely to be abusive (Sara J. Corse 1990). Also, socially isolated mothers are more likely to neglect their children. (Diane DePanfilis 1996) But even though we know autistic women face chronic social isolation as parents, scientists have not applied this research to help women with autism.

          Researchers identified solutions in the 1990s to decrease risk of maternal isolation leading to maternal abuse (Frank J. Moncher 1995). These are strikingly similar to recommendations researchers identify for autistic women to mitigate isolation in 2022. Scientists fear backlash if they draw a connection between socially isolated, depressed women in child abuse studies and socially isolated depressed autistic women (Yoko Kamio 2019). So science is largely silent on the experience of autistic mothers (Moyna Catherine Talcer 2021).

          The closest scientists will get to the topic is: Children who are autistic are likely to have experienced childhood trauma (Warrier 2022). Parents with autism are more likely to be involved with social services (Griffiths 2019.) Autistic mothers have anxious children (Duvekot 2015).

          This is my life’s work. Stay tuned for more.


          • Jennifer
            Jennifer says:

            To recap your comments on this thread pertaining to mental health professionals:

            – Dr. Baren-Cohen is lying about the conclusion of his study, to avoid offending autistic mothers (why do a study on autistic mothers, then?)

            – Dr. Ramani on narcissism, and also experts on dyslexia, have conflicts of interest and are just protecting their jobs.

            – Therapists are salespeople, who tell patients what they want to hear so they will come back for more sessions.

            – Multiple therapists who labelled your parents as narcissists were all incorrect.

            – Mental health people have no idea what they are doing with autism.

            I see a theme here. When you say that nobody has told you that you have narcissism, is that because you’ve never consulted a professional for a diagnosis? Are you actually diagnosed with autism? Or did you self-diagnose, because you are good at pattern recognition and have a tendency to offend others with blunt comments, so that sounds like autism and the professionals don’t know as much as you do anyway?

            This would explain some of the things you attribute to autism that don’t sound like it to me, such as “being cruel and lying are similar to autistic people. We are just trying to survive. We would never think we do either. We can magically explain away anything because we are smart and we believe everything we say to ourselves.”

            Maybe you are instead, a narcissist who is just good at patterns. Or, maybe you know you aren’t autistic, but get more blog followers and coaching customers if you say you are. Because, you are quick to project that others are lying to benefit their careers.

          • Jenny
            Jenny says:

            The Baron-Cohen line:
            “However, despite these challenges, autistic mothers were able to act in the best interest of their child, putting their child’s needs first.”

            That is a VERY carefully worded statement.

            “were able to act in the best interest of their child”

            – best interest as the parent sees it
            – IF the parent sees it, very likely they are missing many things

            “putting their child’s needs first”

            – Setting a bad example that everyone else matters more than yourself.
            – Gotta put on your own air mask before you help anyone else.
            – their child’s needs according to them, again likely missing some

  22. cr
    cr says:

    is there a personality disorder diagnosis that is useful? they are more or less designed as a way for psychologists or doctors to dismiss clients they don’t like or don’t have the insight or energy to work with. beyond “narcissism” being a potential way to identify numerically gifted people with autism, the typical person might use the term when they mean “selfish,” or “jerk,” or “doesn’t do what i want them to do,” or “doesn’t like me.” (people love to call someone they dated for a month off tinder “narcissists,” as if they are qualified in psychological assessments!) i’m sure it sounds like i’m someone who was wounded by being called a narcissist, but in reality i endlessly have to mask irritation for incorrect word choice and this one has been *exhausting*. the unscientific ways of allistics have destroyed any clear meaning that was once implied by this word. but maybe that’s good because it was harmful to begin with.

  23. Dale
    Dale says:

    The lack of a questionaire that identifies narcissim may be because narcissm is usually seen as a way they treat people, but the same treatment may have different causes. I had an ex-girlfreind that was throwing herself at two different guys on our dates, and I realized she was trying to make the guy she wanted jealous. I thought it was the guy she turned down my proposal for, who had broken up with her. It was over 30 years later that I found out that I was the one she was trying to make jealous (in both cases). My ignoring her behavior I am sure she saw as narcisstic, but was due to low self-esteem, not arrogance.

  24. Jeff P.
    Jeff P. says:

    It’s a little strange that you paint with such a broad brush when describing what you understand autism to be. I mean, we all know the saying that if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. You indicate that self-awareness would be a cure, but I think you know that what really goes on is that we develop coping mechanisms to function in a neurotypical world. In fact, you even cite the research in the comments. Furthermore, I am not competitive and have no use for ranking systems, because of the one generalization that I can agree with, that we see little reason to adhere to social contracts.

    I love your writing, but the last several paragraphs are a stream of consciousness with a whole lot of alleged causation about a whole lot of people.

  25. Hiya
    Hiya says:

    If two autistic people marry they don’t have autistic kids guaranteed. There’s always a probability. Autism is a complex disorder. Most autistic people do not get married. Even high functioning ones. I don’t think you’re autistic. Similar to the people who think Asperger’s means genius I think you admire the cachet of it and like a catch all for things about yourself you find uncomfortable. I do think you exhibit many of the traits of BPD and certainly depressive disorder but I’m not your dr it’s simply an impression. Autism is not something you can test for. Except in severe cases, it’s always someone’s opinion. Most kids diagnosed with ASD have traits overlapping with many other disorders ranging from Odd, ocd, adhd…
    I love temple grandin but no most socially awkward nerds aren’t autistic. They are socially awkward. If social awkwardness is the autism spectrum so be it but I find it preposterous and degrading. Very few autistic people do not have communication and language difficulties and if there is a high functioning subset without this you should see behavioral difficulties especially with ocd and other forms of repetitive behaviors, and significant social misunderstanding. If you’re so high functioning why are your problems in any way more noteworthy than someone else’s. Making everyone smart but awkward autistic like making everyone part of a victim group is morally and intellectually ridiculous. So you’re autistic but run all these seminars about how to use your traits to achieve I don’t buy it. You’ve had so many boyfriends and easily. If you’re autistic I don’t know what it means. I’m not offended you think you are. I’m offended by how far you take it. You’ll never ever help the autistic people who really need it. But I get it. You self diagnosed and this is a big pop topic for you.
    There’s an old saying if you think you have Alzheimer’s you don’t in most cases.
    Did you ever think narcissists can’t change because they don’t think they’re bad. Or the more likely scenario- their behavior is habitual. You see people in life who are thoughtful versus highly impulsive. It is insanely difficult to reroute highly impulsive knee jerk habits. I think you combine not recognizing your habits are a true problem with them being habits and the probability of change is sadly quite low.
    I think you are an interesting vain and often misguided person who has an insane talent for self promotion. You should’ve gone into advertising
    This post was a total miss and that’s ok. Keep on a postin

  26. Emily
    Emily says:

    I think a lot of autistics become narcissists because of the inherent trauma of having autism in a neurotypical world hellbent on changing you (for the better or worse). Narcissism develops when a child is taught intentionally or otherwise that he/she is inherently unworthy of love – something that often arises in autistic children due to peer rejection or constant negative attention from the caregiver. The autistic then learns to gain any positive attention possible in order to fill the void of being an outcast, relying on their talents or intelligence for self esteem because he/she cannot obtain this self esteem easily from relationships.

  27. Ozzy
    Ozzy says:

    Penelope. The NYT writer you referenced does not make the argument for cutting narcissistic personality disorder from the dsm at all. He discusses the initial recommendation from the committee to scrap it in favour of a different model of diagnosis, and the criticism of this recommendation. If anything, he sided with the critics, saying that “most of us would agree that this is an easily recognizable profile.” It is also not true that the committee made this recommendation because there is no clear definition of narcissism. (Besides, this decision was apparently reversed, because NPD is in the current DSM 5).

    The quotes you use to define narcissism – where are they from? The way you format them in italics immediately after the NYT link makes it seem like they are quotes from the article, which they aren’t. I googled them and cannot find them anywhere else.

    You’ve made an error of identifying broad traits that autism and narcissism have in common, and concluding that they are the same thing. In fact the narcissism traits you provide are so broad that they could apply to any person who has ever lacked self awareness and been a bit selfish.

    If autistic people are ever cruel, it is usually because of their bluntness and being oblivious to other people’s feelings. Narcissists on the other hand certainly are not oblivious to the feelings of others. They will go out of their way to manipulate others, and hurt others to punish them because of a (often wrongfully) perceived slight, or to make themselves feel better. They are often bizarrely jealous and competitive, and have a grandiose sense of self. They are extremely concerned with how they look to others. They will systematically ignore boundaries. They live for narcissistic ‘supply’. Pretty much none of this applies to people with autism as a rule.

    The more I go through this article the more I’m seeing inserted links that don’t back up the associated claim you make, and huge jumps in logic. Eg claiming that narcissists and autists have the same brain, and then linking to a pop psychology book on narcissism?? The description of the book mentions that both disorders exist on a spectrum, but this doesn’t mean they have the same brain. A similar error is made in your conclusion that narcissism is autism for people who can’t mask.

  28. Pete
    Pete says:

    This is a very interesting post and comments. I have recently been diagnosed with autism and my partner I believe is a covert narcissist. She believes she is autistic. There are certainly overlaps. But there are differences. I see in her an intentional maliciousness, she gets pleasure from upsetting plans or happy events for me, in me failing. I don’t in her, if I disrupt plans it is not out of maliciousness but out of being unaware or eccentric. She also shuns responsibility and shifts blame to me, I don’t on her, I probably tend to take on too much. She also feels different – but different, special – superior. I feel different as in awkward, eccentric.
    What I find interesting is that autistic people seem to be catnip for covert narcissists and vice versa – although I think autistic people know what is going on but kind of put up with a level of abuse, because of their low self esteem, trauma of being outcasts? Both Covert Narcissists and Autistic people are suffering from low self-esteem, both with voids to fill and they hook up with each other for different reasons – but ultimately they are both using each other in a way to fill that void.
    I have found some growth in myself through self-analysis and reflection, my partner doesn’t seem to grow, self analysis seems too painful, acknowledging faults too painful. As a result of the changes, I now find myself with someone I really do not like, and see through all the manipulation.
    I think these relationships exhaust autistic people, but fuel the narcissist. Even physically as my partner sleeps well with no anxiety, barely a line on her face, I am like the portrait Dorian Gray worry lines growing deeper.

    • Kay
      Kay says:

      I’ve been through a similar Pete and my partner also thought he was autistic. I made excuses for his behaviour, due to sympathising with him. However, it was me that turned out to be autistic. There are definite overlaps between the two, but there are distinct differences as you say.

      My partner was incredibly cruel and devoid of empathy, despite being astute and able to read people very well. I stayed in that relationship until it destroyed my mental and physical health, due to thinking he was autistic and not intentionally meaning to cause me harm.

      I agree that we are still learning about neurodevelopmental conditions and personality disorders. However, no expert would make such bold claims (like the title of this article) unless there was concrete evidence to support them. I think this article is harmful and inaccurate to us as autistics/those who are being abused.

      • Pete
        Pete says:

        Dear Kay, so much of what you say I can relate to. Making excuses for the bad behaviour of your partner, out of empathy always trying to support them and accommodate them. However not realising the more you are bending over backwards, rather than helping, the more you are enabling.

        Mistaking the personality disorder and conscious abusive behaviour as a mental illness that needed unlimited sympathy and understanding is where my troubles really began! I just couldn’t understand how someone I cared for and was kind to could be so malicious towards me, real hatred out of nowhere sometimes.

        But you hit the nail on the head apart from some mirroring there is a real void of empathy as hard as it is to admit, also you hit the nail on the head with the deliberate nature of the behaviour. It is conscious, it can be switched on and switched off.

        It really think it is like trying to comfort a wolf in sheeps clothing, yes sometimes it feels normal and fluffy but just below the surface they are ready to hurt you. It makes no sense, but I guess a coping strategy developed in childhood, too painful to look inwards, develop a cruel way of reeling in an empath to dump on. Anyway thanks Kay and hope you are free and recovering. I took a job away from home, miss my children terribly and worry about them too as they are certainly being impacted, but I simply needed to decompress for a while I couldn’t take any more of the crazy cycles of abuse, the anxiety is slipping away now…but still don’t know what is next as kids still young, and hell would have no fury like a covert narcissist scorned…

      • Pete
        Pete says:

        Dear Kay, so much of what you say I can relate to. Making excuses etc. etc.

        Mistaking the personality disorder and conscious abusive behaviour as a mental illness that needed unlimited sympathy and understanding is where my troubles really began! I just couldn’t understand how someone I cared for and was kind to could be so malicious towards me, real hatred out of nowhere sometimes.

        But you hit the nail on the head apart from some mirroring there is a real void of empathy as hard as it is to admit, also you hit the nail on the head with the deliberate nature of the behaviour. It is conscious, it can be switched on and switched off. Autistics can mask, I know about that! But that is very different, that mask is just to help us fit in, but to hide a cruel dark behaviour.

        It really think it is like trying to comfort a wolf in sheeps clothing, yes sometimes it feels normal and fluffy but just below the surface they are ready to hurt you.

        Anyway thanks Kay and hope you are free and recovering. I took a job away from home, miss my children terribly and worry about them too as they are certainly being impacted, but I simply needed to decompress for a while I couldn’t take any more of the crazy cycles of abuse, the anxiety is slipping away now…but still don’t know what is next as kids still young, and hell would have no fury like a covert narcissist scorned…

  29. Amaya
    Amaya says:

    So… autism is a neurological development that is recognizable in the brain, including an overgrowth of the prefrontal cortex. Narcissism is not, instead linked with parent-child dynamics (hint: autistic kids are no more or less autistic regardless of parent-child dynamic). In fact, the only visible brain difference we have at this time for narcissism is an under-development of the pre-frontal cortex in comparison to the average, adult, neurotypical brain.

    This means it is physiologically more likely (key term) that narcissm and autism CANNOT be concurrent. So if you have “autistic” friends presenting significant narcissistic traits, chances are they’re the ones giving autism a bad name because they’re twisting the symptomatology to garner sympathy. Miss me with this confirmation and generalization bias BS.

    Penelope, please volunteer yourself when a study pops-up specifically to compare brain scans of these two diagnoses. It’s ironic that your entire premise is based on the idea people explain away what they don’t like when you’re explaining away that you don’t like your own narcissistic traits (and that of anyone you meet, apparently) by subsuming them in one you do – autism. I think you would be an enlightening candidate if you showed the other autistic developmental differences but no prefrontal cortex differences to consider if the overgrowth of early autism is offset by the narcissistic retardation/cessation/decay (there is nothing released regarding what directly causes this under-development – running theory is environmental interference, see: parent-child dynamic) of growth.

    Readers, please don’t confuse opinion with fact like Penelope with her “holding the article for 6 months to see if she’s right because: anxiety” (comorbid in 40% of narcissists, btw). It is fine to want recognition for novel perspectives that incite reflection of assumptions, but it is not okay to dismiss entire populations of experiences, generations of research, and one’s own need for diagnosis/treatment out-of-hand for the sake of a novel assumption over the observable (especially in mass).

    • Mirra
      Mirra says:


      I agree that this article isn’t the best and asserts things without much behind it. However, I have seen autism, high-functioning, in my father, brother, and others in my family. They absolutely have NPD, at least in my family. Overall, I haven’t seen that in the general population though. Great input.

  30. thomaschaytor
    thomaschaytor says:

    The blog post “Your Partner Isn’t a Narcissist, He Has Autism – and So Do You” by Penelope Trunk challenges the common stereotype of people with autism as cold and unfeeling. It provides a personal account of how autism can affect relationships, and offers a fresh perspective on the challenges faced by individuals with autism and their partners.

  31. Mirra
    Mirra says:


    I enjoyed this article, but I wonder if you can respond with regard to John Robison, who married a person who struggled with depression. He later had a treatment and it stopped his autism, causing him to feel too much to continue his relationship. While I agree autistic people might favor to be around others who aren’t neurotypical, I don’t think that always happens. I haven’t seen that pattern at all. Can you share a resource that shows that autistic people couple with others on the spectrum.

    Narcissistic personality disorder is very different, but has some similarities, to autism. I grew up around a narcissist, and he had autism. My brother has both, as well. It’s a complex discussion. Thanks for the writing.

  32. JC
    JC says:

    Hi Penelope! Last year I began to suspect I might be ASD as it would explain a lot of things in my life. At the same time, my marriage was already over and as I tried to discuss my suspicion with my then wife, she refused to talk and I had a major meltdown, said lots of terrible things, and it wasn’t pretty. In the wake of what happened, I began to believe I was NPD. I became so focused on that because a lot of the DSM criteria fit and I saw how my behavior and actions over the years were hurtful to my partner. I think I also latched on to the disorder because then it would make sense and be understandable why she decided to end things. I was so focused, in fact, that I proclaimed my self diagnosis to the world and began seeking the diagnosis.

    But things nagged at me the whole time.

    People who had been in relationships with narcissists all said it was intentional, that the person was manipulative, that they love bombed for control, and that, more than anything, a narcissist would never believe that they had done something wrong and want to change. I had never done any of those things to my knowledge and I had not only figured it out but immediately began seeking help.

    I had supported my spouse having friends, I didn’t have total control of finances, I never looked through her phone for “dirt”, I told her I knew she’d be great at things she didn’t think she would, I supported and loved her with all of my heart, and I never suspected or accused her of anything untoward.

    But I saw how my meltdowns through the years were hurtful. I saw how my random flare-up’s of anger was abuse. I understood how my “matter of fact” attitude could be interpreted as arrogance. So I pressed on and finally got assessed and diagnosed as NPD last month.

    Now, as I continue to see all the posts and watch all the videos about narcissism and the intent of everything, I wonder if I was mistaken after all. I wonder if I knew so much about the diagnostic criteria for NPD that I made myself fit the diagnosis, that I manipulated the results because I knew so much about it. I basically became an expert on the disorder, at least as far as the diagnostic criteria are concerned.

    And yet the whole time, I was constantly checking ASD against NPD, seeing how some traits or behaviors overlap and could be interpreted by someone else as either ASD or NPD. The whole time it has hurt me and made me angry at times how people insist that a narcissist is intentional because I was never that. I may be a lot of things but intentionally cruel I am not. I don’t lie in general and I never lied to any partner. I don’t see the point. I don’t understand why someone would want to control someone or manipulate someone the way others claim narcissists do.

    So today, I was back at it, Googling “can I be a narcissist and autistic”, and I found this post. Interestingly enough, you published this shortly after I had decided/accepted I was a narcissist.

    It’s also interesting that I took several online assessments for both autism and narcissism. The autism assessment at immediately showed that I had a strong likelihood of being autistic (23 points out of 25 or 30) but when I initially took the narcissism assessments found on the r/narcissism subreddit, they came back negative and I know I had to run them 2 or 3 times to get a positive result.

    So I guess I’m just saying that I am so damn confused. I appreciate this post because, if I am autistic, it validates some of the harder aspects of my behavior, like meltdowns and lack of control once it starts. Also a lack of intent or desire to hurt others because, above all else, I never get pleasure from any hurt anyone has received from my behavior.

    If you read this, thank you for publishing. I have started to explore your blog a bit and look forward to reading other things you’ve posted. I know a lot of people in here have given you the business because of how bad narcissists are. It hurts me because I know that I never want to do the things or be like the people they describe.

  33. jacq
    jacq says:

    I have autism and i was abused for aong time by my mother and my ex who have npd and sociopathy tendencies. there is a huge difference and if you ever been victimized you know the difference between narcissistic traits and autistic traits. people who gas light you and lie so that they can gain things from you and then throw you out if you dont fulfill their needs. they lie, cheat, and will put their children in horrible situations for selfish gain. autistic individuals would be burnt out keeping up with all that abuse ever day. lack of empathy is not an autistic trait. the ability to express empathy is but we will apologize and we dont lie or pretend something didnt happen. we may not express emotions the same but we would never victim blame or pretend abuse didn’t happen. when i have a fit or rage i never say no i didnt that was you. THERES A HUGE DIFFERENCE AND THIS ARTICLE WAS CLEARLY WROTE BY ANOTHER NPD TRYING TO MAKE THESE DISORDERS WORK. npd target and victimize people with autism often. this article is spreading ignorance and anyone with autism dont ever let a npd gas light you like this article is doing to you right now. recognize manipulation and gas lighting and get the hell out of there

    • Brana
      Brana says:

      What you wrote resonates with me too. I don’t think you can apply the conclusion of the writer like a DSM V list of qualifying criteria. And maybe many of the comments here are responses based on feeling that this article implies it is the diagnostic criteria. My advice is to take this for what it is — an opinion.

  34. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    The absolute blatant ignorance of this blog is astounding. You clearly know absolutely nothing about autism or narcissism and seem to be relying solely on glib mainstream overgeneralised and reductionist statements picked up from a cursory glance of ‘Psychology Today’. Well done you

  35. LG
    LG says:

    To make a determination of a psychological condition takes years of training and formal education, to do so absent those qualifications is second guessing professionals from publications not intended to replace them. Cluster B personality disordered individuals are not defined as autistic in the DSM, and would leave any diagnosis to a licensed and formally educated psychologist, psychiatrist and not cause harm to anyone by making uneducated claims to the contrary.

  36. Jen
    Jen says:

    You’re incredibly wrong on so many levels.. comparing narcissists to actually being autistic is wrong on so many levels and youre not even correct in your comparisons. As an autistic women who was in an emotionally abusive relationship, my partner was not also autistic and this view is harmful as hell.

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