The Cassandra metaphor has been widely used by women who are in an intimate relationship with a partner who shows features of autism, whether he is officially diagnosed, self- diagnosed or just suspected of being on the autism spectrum.
The name Cassandra is taken from Greek Mythology. Cassandra was a young beautiful prophet who received the gift of prophecy from the god Apollo. However, when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he cursed and punished her. Cassandra was left with the ability to foresee future events, but without the capacity to prevent or alter them and without the ability to convince others or prove the validity of her warnings.
The Cassandra metaphor is used in psychology to describe a phenomenon in which individuals who suffer from physical or emotional abuse are disbelieved when they attempt to share their experiences and suffering with others. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of many women in mixed-neurological relationships, who try to share their marital experiences and hardship with the extended family, friends or health care providers.
People who witness the couple’s relationship from the outside are not exposed to the spouse’s rigid daily routines and do not communicate with him on an emotional level, as his wife does. People who are acquainted with the spouse and are familiar with his behavior in different social contexts are often exposed to a completely different persona, who is wearing a mask designed especially for them (learn more about it in the post: http://mixedneurological.com/behind-the-mask/).
When women complain about their spouse or when they express their frustration with their mixed-neurological relationships, the reactions they are likely to receive from the social circles around them would be that they are exaggerating and that their expectations are probably unrealistic or too high. Even their best girlfriends would not understand their complaints and may respond using clichés such as ‘all men are alike’, or that they are lucky to have such great husbands. Women also frequently find themselves accused by their spouses and by their surrounding of being too dependent on their spouses, of not appreciating what they have and ignoring the positive aspects of the relationship.
Most professionals lack the knowledge and expertise to diagnose high-functioning autism in adults, do not recognize the harm caused by a mixed-neurological relationship and as a result, fail to assist women who seek their help. Women who turn to professional help are often disappointed, feel misunderstood and are left without any effective support nor solutions to the difficulties they are dealing with. Couple therapy that ignores the issues related to features of autism is not effective. Couple therapists who do not identify high-functioning autism or lack the knowledge and experience of working with mixed- neurological couples, may cause more damage to the relationship and worsen women’s feelings of misery and despair.
To sum up, Cassandra is the woman whose valid concerns and complaints are dismissed or disbelieved by others, and the lack of validity she is forced to deal with, creates an extreme internal conflict that worsens her distress. She starts to doubt her own judgement, she loses her self-confidence and she often wonders whether she is losing her sanity…
If you are a Cassandra, you need help and support and the best thing you can do is talk to someone who understands and knows exactly what you’re going through.
Dr. Pnina Arad