Thank You for Saying My Name

When I looked into the Zoom screen, I saw a beautiful woman sitting in front of me. We were meeting for the first time for a psychotherapy appointment arranged a few weeks earlier. From her intake forms, I knew she wanted help with her Neuro-Divergent relationship, but other than that, I knew very little about her.

“Good morning, Shirleen. How can I help you?” I said.

Shirleen smiled shyly and looked into the camera as if to let me know she was “seeing” me. She took a long pause and said, “Thank you for using my name.” This comment told me a lot about Shirleen right away.

Addressing someone by name, especially their first name is a social skill that most of us take for granted. Yet, I want you to consider the impact of recognizing the person behind the name. “Shirleen,” is a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor. But more than all of those roles she manages to juggle, she is a human being — a soul. When I greeted her by her “given” name, I honored the unique individual in front of me. In that moment, she became more than a role. Shirleen is.

If you are Neuro-Typical in a Neuro-Divergent relationship, you may be tearing up, as you realize how seldom — if ever — your Neuro-Diverse family member uses your name. My autistic mother never used my name. She called me “daughter,” my role. My former husband, also autistic, did not use my name either. He just started talking at me. Even my autistic daughter, Bianca, never called me “Mom.” Instead, she spelled it out, “M.O.M.”

Think about it. Failing to use your name is just another example of the Empathy Dysfunction so common among our Neuro-Diverse loved ones. Autists can recognize your significant role in their lives, such as daughter, mother, and spouse, or someone to talk to. But without empathy, they don’t recognize who you are. They don’t know how to honor and respect and lovingly connect with the special person who is right there in front of them.

Years ago, when my autistic daughter Bianca was participating in Portland Symphonic Girl Choir, I had a stark comparison between my own child and another mother’s daughter. Bianca forgot part of her uniform for a performance, so I dashed out of the concert hall to buy her a pair of pantyhose. As I raced back from Fred Meyer, I found the girls all lined up, ready to go on stage, with only a few minutes for Bianca to wriggle into her pantyhose and get back in line.

As Bianca jumped back in line, she said rather loudly, “Thank you M.O.M.” Then she turned to face her group.

Out of the sea of girls, I heard a delightful voice saying, “Oh my goodness. My Mom spells her name the same way!” Then there was a burst of laughter from several of the girls, as they started walking on stage.

I felt oddly special but I couldn’t put my finger on it way back then. Now I realize that this other mother’s daughter recognized me and recognized Bianca in one short amusing quip. (Plus she connected with the energy of all of the girls at the performance). Whereas, my own daughter treated me according to the function I served: M.O.M. brings pantyhose to the rescue. The other daughter recognized the Mom who cared.

The simple act of empathically connecting with another person by using their name is important, isn’t it? Shirleen was so hungry for this connection, that she felt overwhelmed with gratitude when I started our conversation with her name. If you spend years being nothing more than a role in the lives of your Neuro-Diverse family members, you may come to feel invisible. You may even forget who you are.

Human beings need each other. We come to know who we are in relation to others. Without these almost imperceptible acknowledgments (such as using your name), we can come to feel unimportant, inadequate, and depressed. After all, empathy between people is love — and without love we are alone.

13 Replies to “Thank You for Saying My Name”

  1. I’ve had an extreme light bulb moment over the past week, and am realising that all of the cute quirks and bizarrely confusing miscommunications I’ve been having with my long-distant boyfriend are almost certainly due to undiagnosed aspergers. I am so deeply in love with this man, and we have been intending to marry later this year. But, with this sudden realisation that his frequent faux pas’ are not just a quirky character trait, but rather, an inability to see and understand my deepest emotional needs, I am realising that I just don’t think I will ever feel deeply satisfied in a marriage with him. I also suspect he may be treating me as a special interest, and that all the doting attention I am currently receiving would suddenly disappear after marriage (as I read is a frequent occurrence in relationships with Aspies).

    I’m truly DEVASTATED and crushed to come to this realisation, as he is a sweet, kind, and good man, and truly tries his best to meet my needs (and often he does, but other times misses the mark in the most confusing and frustrating ways).

    I have a question… Where do I go from here? I do believe it is best to end this relationship, and sooner rather than later, so as not to lead him on, but how do I explain such a sudden switch of the flip to him? Last week we were excitedly discussing our plan to marry, this week, I cannot foresee a future together. He has done nothing wrong. I don’t want to put blame on him. I don’t want to hurt him, or leave him without any explanation whatsoever. He has no idea he has Asperger’s, and I don’t intend on bringing this up, especially not in the context of a breakup. If he learns he has Asperger’s, I want him to learn of it in the context of feeling loved and accepted, not rejected. So, how can I lovingly explain to him what must seem like extremely confusing and hurtful behaviour on my behalf?

    1. The best place to start is with a good NeuroDivergent aware therapist. It will be very complex to explain this to your NeuroDiverse loved one. It will be difficult for him to grasp what he is missing. For example, the other day a NeuroDiverse man complained that paraphrasing felt “stilted.” He had no idea that paraphrasing with empathy is a loving way to affirm the other person. He thought paraphrasing was just words. Empathy is More Than Words.

    2. I feel for you, and I have been there myself. Like you, I was really devastated by the realization, after 16 years together, that my (beloved, often kind) husband’s tendency toward hurtful and rude behaviors toward me and others was due to Asperger’s. But the grieving, which carries a knowledge that there’s no “cure,” ultimately did me a world of good. My advice echoes Dr. Marshack’s: I urge you to get to a couples’ therapist who specializes in neurodiverse relationships. (It may give your fiancé pain to hear that you think he has Asperger’s, but in our case my husband was so tired of a lifetime of feeling “in the wrong” that it was a relief to him to finally have a name for his difference, and it reduced the amount of blaming in our marriage.) My second piece of advice: take care of yourself. If that ultimately means breaking up with your partner, I urge you to do it before marriage, as these problems can indeed get much much worse once you move in together, as they did for me and my husband (though now we are on more even ground, still with a lot of daily wear and tear, and even quiet heartbreak, because of the neurodiversity). You sound like a lovely, compassionate woman, and I think you will handle all this with grace and kindness, whether or not you ultimately decide to stay together. Take care.

  2. For decades, I noticed my husband did not say my name, just like he didn’t say I love you and he never showed that he was grateful for me in his life, and during sex, he never looked me in the eye or kissed me. The name thing is definitely something I noticed after re-reading a letter from an old flame, where my name was mentioned frequently. Using somebody’s name is like a verbal caress.

  3. I have been married to this man for 21-1/2 years and have yet to hear him address me by my name. He just starts talking.

  4. Yes, it’s all too familiar. Never uses my name. Never says he loves me. Once, years ago, out of frustration, I told him I would no longer answer him unless he used my name. He got very upset, and things got very tense. I decided it wasn’t worth causing him such distress. Still don’t get addressed by name. He just walks into the room, and regardless of what I’m doing, starts talking, and seems completely unaware that he’s rudely interrupting something I’m doing.

    1. Oh my goodness, I hardly know where to begin to tell you about how much that happened to you, Kathie, has happened to me. Manipulation, coercive control, keeping me short of money, making my family believe I’m ‘bad’ so isolating me, on and on and on. I considered divorce but know the tactics that would be used against me, and also could not risk my children being used as pawns, as they would have been.

      I’m still formally in my marriage to this man (undiagnosed Aspergers, highly respected physicist) but making my own life, as far as I can, while continuing to support particularly my children (diagnosed Aspergers son, undiagnosed but clearly has it daughter).

      I think it was my narcissistic mother’s likely Aspergers that drew my husband to her: they got on like a house on fire – my parents were ‘important’ people in our city back in the day, and my husband loved that, while mother thought husband was ‘important ‘, too. Brain injured sister who I used to help hugely but who hated me so much I had to withdraw was a sort of ‘golden child’. None of my achievements were appreciated. I used to say to myself, ‘When is it ever going to be about ME?’

      My mother also virtually kidnapped my son, spoiled him thoroughly, and turned him against me. I helped and looked after her in every way I could manage while working and looking after husb and two difficult children for years, with no thanks.

      Eventually all ganged up on me – I was scapegoated – and my mother managed to punish me from beyond the grave by disinheriting me, so removing my one hope that I might finally have a bit of money for myself so I could buy myself a small place to retreat to sometimes. Heartbreaking, but one has to move on.

      And none of the AS people in my life ever call me by my name.

      Despite the ghastly slog of it all, I maintain mainly excellent relationships with my now adult children. I try never to hit back, but rather to model good behaviour. Some of it seems to be slowly rubbing off. But my now retired (and hoarding – another horrible issue) husband won’t change, and I don’t nag him to, either. We barely talk (he is not interested in words). I am as pleasant as I can manage to be, without being a victim.

  5. My husband calls me by the initial of my first name, “J”. His mother, also believed to have been on the spectrum, started the habit. We have been married for almost 31 years, and it has been hard on me. Yes, he is kind, hard-working, and a good man, but we do not connect on a physical or emotional level at all. How can I justify leaving someone who is basically a decent person?

    1. I am 11 years into my marriage, with two children. I believe my husband has autism although he is in denial (I’d asked him to complete an online test). I am so unhappy and lonely. This his is not a life, my anxiety is through the roof. It is a lifetime of being permanently wrong. I dream of leaving him but feel so tied by the children.
      I am terrified that my children see this as an example of what a marriage is.

  6. As someone who has tossed up the go or stay option, I’d say,do the exercise of comparing what you stand to lose and gain. I realised my husband would get another partner because he needs a support person.I’d be less well off, my kids would be in a more complex situation.So I stayed but bought myself a new life, take holidays,spend time with people who appreciate me and now we are managing as flatmates and my life is fulfilling for me. Put yourself as first equal and tend to your needs.It takes a while but it will work if you make it your focus.
    Strangely, my husband also respects me much more.

  7. Wow, I feel validated. I can relate to this so much. In almost a decade I can count on one hand the amount I have heard ‘him’ say my name. I have asked if he could try on occasion. Doesn’t happen.
    What I find odd is he seems to refer to others by their name, however I would need to observe this more.
    This one little thing has a profound impact on human connection.
    I feel sadness and alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, all appointments are virtual
close-image
If you have a loved one on the Spectrum, please check our private MeetUp group. We have members from around the world meeting online in intimate video conferences guided by Dr. Kathy Marshack.
Learn More >
close-link
Join my Meetup Group