Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dr. Sabra Explains Autistic Thinking

(I'm going to reprint a post that turned out to have legs. People keep finding it, and they either love or hate Dr. Sabra, and they obsessively TELL me about it. As far as I'm concerned, that's fine.)


My friend Dr. Sabra (not her real name) is a psychiatrist of fame and powerful flair. I thank God every day that I'm her friend and not her patient, since paying her consulting fees would definitely make me more depressed than before. She's famous for cracking her patients like whips, for being plain-spoken to the point of eye-popping rudeness. Who needs it? If I want someone to tell me off, there are many friends and relatives who are eager for the task, and they won't charge hundreds of dollars an hour.

According to rumor, when in full psychotherapeutic rant, Dr. Sabra might accuse one patient of "wallowing in the mire of your Mickey Mouse obsessions," or another of "returning to your evil Ex like a dog to its vomit." Not everybody enjoys being accused of having inferior obsessions. Not everyone wants an impossible but beloved former partner to be compared to barf. Dr. Sabra will also sometimes casually mention, during a session, that she hates the patient's haircut.

But, whether you love her or hate her, she knows her psychiatric onions. So she was the person I asked to explain a term which has been cropping up lately: "Autistic Thinking." Politicians, poets, conspiracy theorists, celebrity couples, suddenly everybody is accusing everybody else of this. What does it mean?

As Dr. Sabra considered the phrase, her eyes gleamed like a mighty tigress spotting a juicy gazelle. "That's one of my favorite subjects. It's simple. And the phrase has almost nothing to do with true autistics. It has to do with whether a person insists on lying to himself.

"There are two types of people in this world. There are people like me, who know that reality is their friend. They don't want to wander in fantasyland. Their home is planet earth. They want their feet on the ground and their eye on the prize, whatever that might be for them. They want to listen, learn, think, and then move in response to reality. I love people like that. They really have a chance in this world.

"Then there are the autistic thinkers. They think that reality is whatever they prefer to believe.
'No, it's not, you idiot,' I tell them. A lot of my patients are like that, but also many everyday people who would never think of themselves as disturbed. I've conducted thousands of hours of sessions, and believe me, they don't always sound so different from conversations with friends. A patient tells me that the earth is 6,742 years old, or that the drunken husband who shoved her head in the toilet last Saturday night is really a good guy at heart. 'No, he's not good,' I tell her. Or a friend tells me at a bar mitzvah that his adult children, who haven't visited for eleven years and only call when they want money, really love him. 'No, they don't," I tell him. Is that cruel? How cruel would it be to let him keep waiting for those children?

"We all know people like this. There's something wrong in their heads that makes them think they can mash reality around like it was a piece of Wonder Bread. One of my acquaintances is a nasty gossip. She makes up stories about people she sees as a threat. She's fearful that she's going to lose her partner, be kicked out of the house that the partner owns. She was spotted rushing around outside throwing gravel on a neighbor's roof whom she dislikes, God knows why. She said it was because of 'something she heard.' Would you like to be holding your breath until this woman admits to herself that she heard WRONG? What would you call someone like that?"

"Hysterical cow?" I suggested.

"You got it. An autistic thinker denies the plain evidence of his senses, and is an enemy to his own brain. Some of them are rich and successful, but I always think of them as orphans of the storm. I picture them driven across the sky by violent winds, with their heads upside down and their hair spiralling out in electric shocks, like in a Marc Chagall painting. When they're my patients, I try to convince them to climb down, or jump, or cannonball, or do whatever they need to do so they're no longer stuck in the sky of delusion.

"Why are they so afraid? Truth, facts, reality, all of these can cause pain. But it's always better to know. Because nothing, nothing, could ever be more painful than to move like a stranger in their own minds."


  1. I guess I'm way too realistic, for autistic thinking. I'll have to admit, I've made some people very mad in my life, for speaking the truth, which is exactly what she seems to be doing. The big difference... she gets paid righteous bucks!

  2. I've never heard this term applied before. I do recognise these people your friend describes, those with their heads stuck firmly up their arse, convinced the sky is polka-dot purple, regardless of whatever evidence pointing to the contrary. I fear folks with this kind of mind-set are dangerous, and not only to themselves. If their version of absolute truth is applied unquestionablly to those around them (I am thinking of certain parents here), because their delusions are internallised as absolute truth, they can brook no challenge, often transmitting their warped reality upon those susceptible to their certanty.

    Though, I confess I am confused as to why this is labelled as "autistic" thinking. As you know, my son lives with autism, and I've learned much of this condition. People with it tend to have difficulty (together with a myriad of other things) reading emotion from others, and tend to interpret everything literally, lacking the skills to empathise or to process abstract thought.


  3. I absolutely agree with you that "people with this kind of mindset" are dangerous. And that one of the saddest outcomes is, they're determined to transmit their delusional ideas to those who are close. I think that whenever we need to make a judgment about whether a person is benign or toxic, take a look at their kids. Those with children who are honest and, especially, kind are almost always good people. Those with kids who are malicious bullies are almost always cruel themselves--or at the very best, stunted screwups.

    Yes,that phrase "autistic thinking" is misapplied, as Dr. Sabra said. It isn't right that it should be used lightly. As you know better that anyone, true autistics have a lifelong struggle and should be respected. Their struggle is so brave.

  4. I think another term for this is "republican thinking."

  5. Had to laugh at Prof Chaos comment. I had my first run-in with a Republican the other week - like the three monkeys, she seemed deaf, dumb and blind to all logic - what an exercise in frustration! Gahhhhhhh, I know nothing of American politics, I don't even consider myself a political animal, not usually. SHE invited ME into her site, and I confess, I've never read such drivel. Ugh.

  6. Yes, Repubs are very much like the three monkeys, you got it right! Some call them Repugnicans, because their thought processes are Repugnant. We have been having a good laugh, watching the Republican candidates' debates.

  7. I live in the middle of one of the most conservative counties in America. So you know, I heard that stuff all the time. Believe me, it is Repugnant...
    Nice post Margaret!

  8. Thing is, in her response to my comment, she made some sweeping claims which staggered me so much I asked her where she quoted her figures from. This she ignored (sigh). So I did a little research of my own, PROVING beyond doubt she was talking out of her arse (it's alright, I kept it clean and articulate for her site). Her reply? "It's always they who shout the loudest who are heard, besides, statistics can always be manipulated to suit what ever purpose is convenient." Steam was coming out of my ears - SHE is the one who got up on the pulpit, not me. SHE, now being unable to find anything to validate her wild claims, decry's all research as invalid! Grrrrrrrrr.

    Sorry - I shall go away, drink a bottle of vodka, and lie down in a darkened room for a week or two - I'm sure I'll be much better next time I call by (blush)..

  9. As a bleeding heart liberal blue-stater I totally endorse the republican comment. :)

  10. Shrinky--Sounds to me like you ran across a Tea Partyer who was all hopped up on arrogance and falsa data. There is no way to make sense of their theories, because they are disturbed people who are completely nuts! I suppose there must be political crazies like that in Britain, but right now I think America leads the pack with these notorious goofballs!

    Copyboy--"A bleeding heart liberal blue-stater"? Copyboy, you should guard your health and have lots of children, America needs more like you! :^)

  11. Oh boy, I really did have a good old rant in here, didn't I? (Blush) It's okay, I'm over it now, if only I could say the same of the nasty "hang-over" I'm left with..

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, today the sun is shining - who can think politics when there is a garden out there a-calling? I do so hope summer is also visiting early for you too, dearest Margaret? Everything is always right with the world, when the flowers come out to play!

  12. Bullshit. This woman probably has a personality disorder herself in the cluster B area. Not sure if malignant narcissism is still it's own category or the faded rose is called by the name of psychopathy now. Many high level professionals and those in a situation of power over others are afflicted with this disorder and one of the most telling characteristics is their treatment of others, verbal abuse, and feeling superior. So, if it walks like a duck ( and quacks loudly )....