Is anxiety at the root of PDA?

I’ve been doing some thinking (actually I never stop thinking haha my brain doesn’t have an off button), is anxiety really at the root of Pathological Demand Avoidance? Or is there something else.

A couple of years ago, if you’d asked me if I ever felt anxious I’d have laughed and said “nope, I never feel anxious”. Ironic no? Not when you consider that for a long time I could only ever describe my emotions as either being Good or Bad. Even now I still struggle with feeling, describing and understanding my own emotions (Alexithymia). It was only after learning about PDA and actually googling what anxiety feels like that I realised I was feeling it literally every day. It took a while for this to sink in.

The thinking around PDA is that Demand creates Anxiety which leads to Demand Avoidance (D=A=DA). What doesn’t fit is when I cannot identify any anxiety around a demand, in fact, sometimes I don’t have any feelings at all about a demand, it might even be something that is fine for me to do, but I have a knee-jerk reaction to avoid said demand. It’s like it goes Demand leads to Demand Avoidance with no emotional reaction in between (D=DA). These demands are often ones I try to talk myself around to meeting, this is then when I start to feel anxiety, sort of like Demand leads to Demand Avoidance then me trying to Comply which creates Anxiety which leads to more Demand Avoidance (D=DA=C=A=DA).

I’m not the only one here, other PDA adults have said they don’t always feel anxiety when faced with a demand. So are we so used to feeling anxious that we only notice it now when it peaks? Or is anxiety merely a symptom of demand avoidance? Is our ausome autism getting in the way of our noticing when we feel anxiety? Does anxiety only show up when we are either pushed to comply or when we know we’ll struggle to meet the demand? Is anxiety what happens as a direct consequence of us being physically unable to do anything needed/wanted straight away?

From the start it’s been noted how anxiety must be at the root of demand avoidance, why else would a person feel the need to avoid everything around them. So can emotions happen without a cause? Because often there is no real reason to feel anxious, why would picking up a book to read make me anxious? Why would going to the toilet, something I’ve done a million times before, all of a sudden make me anxious?

Some say it seemed like their PDA child was born angry at the world, that from a young age they avoided things. It would take a while for a child that young to develop anxiety around things, especially things they have no understanding of. So how could anxiety be the cause of their demand avoidance? Or is anxiety triggered by literally anything, even before we have any understanding of the things triggering it?

So many questions. Maybe if we were able to scan PDA brains in an MRI machine we would be able to tell if demands always trigger an emotional reaction or not. Maybe if I knew more about the way emotions and the brain/body works I would be able to answer some of my own questions. We may never truly know what happens at the point of demand avoidance, but for now, we do know that anxiety plays a large part in demand avoidance, and so we will continue to use strategies which work around anxiety, because it seems to help and it’s all we’ve got.

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4 thoughts on “Is anxiety at the root of PDA?

  1. This is something that really interests me. Researchers at Newcastle University have found that the trigger to demand avoidance is what they call ‘Intolerance of Uncertainty’ – acceding to a demand takes away that sense of control. They also found that anxiety isnt there all the time, but the intolerance leads to anxiety at increasing levels as the demands are perceived to be greater. I believe they will be publishing the research in a few months.

    1. Hi Riko, as always, thought provoking post. x Hey, I agree with you, I have always struggled with the basic theory that saying no was due to immediate anxiety. I see that PDA comes without thought, its a hardwired response, a compulsion to non compliance. Anger and anxiety arise as a result of further pushing. I am able to study my daughter very closely, we are always together and because she has severe OCD I can see the difference between her anxiety (fear) of germs and her avoidance to touch things because of that fear and then compare that with her inability to agree to do anything because of her PDA, there is definitely a difference between the 2 conditions and where the root of the response comes from if that makes sense. I agree that the strategies we are using for PDA are the best ones to use, this causes our problem of not being able to tackle the ocd with traditional therapies for us but we are working on it. I’m also going to be really controversial now and throw out a feeling that I have which is that there are many energies and layers to life that we cannot see.We are silly if we only look at PDA from a medical perspective. I believe the universe has big plans and there are spiritual reasons for our PDA folk being here and almost forcing us to live in different ways and deeper understanding of one another. My daughter did not want to be born, she was late and a long and difficult birth, she was a discontented baby and she often says she does not want to be here, I think we have a to to learn, and posts like yours make us sit up and think that little bit more. Thank you! xxx

  2. This is a really interesting topic and I think I’m in agreement with you, I think there’s a precursor to the anxiety, which is something connected to the need to feel in control, at the top of the hierarchy and sometimes superior to others. Please don’t take this as a dig at you, its not, its just something I’ve noticed in both my daughter (who’s 7) and my husband, both of whom seem to fit the PDA profile (he scores 55 and she 65 on the EDAQ). They’re generally able to cope when they are assured of their ‘special position’ within the group. As soon as this is cast into doubt, by having to comply with a demand, or because someone else gets praised, or someone lower down the pecking order feels they can criticise them (god forbid!) that’s when the anxiety sets in and difficulties occur. I describe the efforts of my daughter in this regard, when she masks at school, as having to take off her authority along with her coat and hang it on her peg for the day. It must be a huge struggle that uses up a big proportion of her daily spoon allowance!

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