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Nine Signs You Have Complex Neurobiology – And Why Not Honouring It Might Be Why You Burnout

Emma Offord is a clinical psychologist specializing in neurodivergence. She is the founder of Divergent Life, a neuroaffirming private practice. Emma is passionate about the neurodiversity movement, developing more empowered ways to think about neurodivergence, providing creative and somatic forms of therapy for the ND community.

 
Executive Contributor Emma Offord

At divergent life, we’ve been exploring the complexity of neurodivergence. Neurodiversity of course is always going to be complex because by its very nature it’s about the diverse range of human brain biology that has evolved over millions of years. There is nothing we know in nature (yet) that rivals the expansivity of the human brain. But what we’re discussing in this context is more than that. It is about your identity, experience, and discovery as a neurodivergent individual. And why honouring that might be at the root of preventing burnout.


Female head with geometric shapes and lines symbolizing connectivity.

We are going to take you on a journey looking at nine signs that could indicate a complex neurobiological profile – what we like to call, NeuroHybridity. And the link to burnout. 


What does it mean to have a complex neurobiology or be a neurohybrid?

The human brain really is an incredible machine. And while we have done a lot of research to understand it better, it holds many more secrets to be uncovered. When it comes to neurodivergence there are huge areas of uncharted territory for us to explore. 


As we explained in our previous article " A Guide To Becoming Neuroaffirming”, neurodivergence or being neurodivergent refers to a group of individuals whose neurotype falls outside of what is currently deemed to be typical for the human population. 


While more research is coming through, much of the medical model of neurodivergence is based upon research conducted decades ago. And still holds to the concepts of disorder and dysfunction to describe and categorise what are, in fact, beautiful deviations and developments of the brain that have underpinned the success of our entire species for millennia.


The differences inherent in a neurodivergent brain have evolved for a reason. We need the creativity, lateral thinking, high energy, pattern spotting, strong imagination and resilience of a neurodivergent brain. It is these skills that have created some of the most revolutionary developments in human history. We have innovation hard-wired into our evolutionary backstory.


In order for us to start to understand neurohybridity or complexity, we need to take a look at the medical model and the labels of diagnosis. 


The medical model defines disability (which it categorises neurodivergence to be) as being caused by a dysfunction of the individual that requires treatment or a cure, see here. Therefore, research that is conducted is undertaken to identify the dysfunction with a view to finding a cure. And so, for that cure to be useful and correctly applied, the dysfunction needs to be labelled and categorised by and of itself. The medical model doesn’t allow for hybridity, or a holistic view of the individual. It can’t. Because it needs to try and simplify it as a condition as much as possible, in order to treat it as effectively as possible. 


For example, if you go to your GP and request a referral for an assessment for neurodivergence and depression, you will end up with two different teams, in two different departments. Two separate referrals must be made. And those two conditions will be treated separately. 


Equally, if you seek a diagnosis for neurodivergence, that diagnosis cannot be accommodated under a single diagnostic pathway. You will have to be looked at by an Autism specialist. An ADHD specialist. Someone who understands anxiety disorders – which OCD is currently categorised as. Different specialists will look at Tourettes. And learning disability specialists will be brought into assess for dyslexia, dyscalculia, and occupational therapy for sensory profiing. 


The diagnostic criteria are listed in the DSM-V, which was last revised in 2022. But this model has existed since 1952. Which is an extraordinarily long time in terms of medical advancement. In some areas anyway. But for neurodivergence, the medical model is now lagging behind contemporary thinking and emerging definitions. 


In 1952, we had things like: the Iron Lung that treated polio; the first heart surgery where the heart was successfully stopped and restarted; lobotomies were still being routinely performed on patients with OCD. Now we have vaccines for polio, heart surgery routinely performed on a daily basis, and happily, lobotomies are no longer performed at all. 


But the language of the medical model of disorder around neurodivergence has hardly changed at all. For example, electroconvulsive therapy is still used in certain situations, sometimes even with restraints. And some types of medication can be thought of as a kind of chemical restraint to quieten unwanted ‘behaviours’.


So the upshot is, that while you can currently get a diagnostic label for each individual neurodivergent condition, there isn’t - as far as the medical model of disability is concerned – a way of bringing all of these conditions together and looking at them holistically. 


And this is what Divergent Life is starting to do. We are re-evaluating what it means to be neurodivergent, and the complex inner world we inhabit. And through that lens, we are developing NeuroHybridity. 


What is neurohybridity?

Neuro is simply relatinWhat is NeuroHybridity? Neuro is simply relating to the brain and nervous system. And hybrid means a mix of characteristics, a composition of different elements. So when we talk about NeuroHybridity, or being a neurohybrid, we simply mean a bringing together of a range of neurobiological traits, physical, sensual and psychological experiences, strengths and challenges, and how they merge, mix, adapt, and evolve through and around each other, to create a unique and beautiful individual.


We adore the work of Dr Sarabeth Berk who founded the concept of the hybrid professional, see here. In her work, Sarabeth describes being a hybrid professional as something that defies traditional labels and roles. Much like our thinking for the medical model of neurodivergence that insists we have separate labels. But Sarabeth goes further. She talks of the integration of professional identities and where they intersect is where we find that hybrid professional identity. 


We’ve taken this concept and adapted it to apply to NeuroHybridity. As an ND person, you may have a number of neurodivergent identities, and at a more granular level you will have a range of traits, passions, interests, awareness, and experiences. But it is at that intersection of these parts of you where you will find your flow state, your true self, where you can unmask and be you. We call it the NeuroHybridity Sweet Spot. 


How might you recognise neurohybridity in yourself?

The neuroaffirming model of neurodivergence demonstrates that no two ND people's brains, perception of the world, their sensory experience, traits, strengths or challenges are the same. In a NeuroHybrid model, your identities and experiences as a neurodivergent person overlap and layer like a Venn Diagram to create a sweet spot where they all converge that is completely unique to you and where your flow state occurs. 


As a professional or entrepreneur, a forwardthinker or driver of change, you could have a beautiful, complex, strengths-based sweet spot. This is where your energy comes from. Your enthusiasm for your specialist subject or interest. Your need for and active seeking of justice. Your love of beauty and the natural world and the need to protect it. Your compassion for your family and children. Your drive to seek something new, fresh and different. 


As a neurohybrid you might have... 

  1. Multi-identity: More than one neurodivergent identity, such as AuDHD, or OCD and Autism, or multiple identities like OCD, dyslexia, tourettes, ADHD 

  2. Abilities and Talents: Identified as having creative, emotional, sensual, existential, intellectual, or physical ability and giftedness 

  3. Unique Inventiveness: Use your creative ability in unique and inventive ways beyond the usual definitions of artistic creativity, including entrepreneurial endeavours, innovative problem solving, parenting and educating your children in nontraditional ways, gamification of day to day tasks or activities – essentially bringing flair to the mundane 

  4. Intensity: High intensity in your interests, using them in other areas of your life, or having created your career around your many interests 

  5. Career Chameleon: Many types of careers in your lifetime, multiple careers at once, or found you become restless or bored with a single area of expertise 

  6. Overlapping Traits: Have a number of neurodivergent traits with complexity and overlapping features that have predominantly been separated out via diagnostic labels 

  7. Post-Traumatic Growth: An experience of a meaningful psychological evolution that some individuals undergo after a life crisis or traumatic event that creatively alter their engagement in life 

  8. Unusual Divergent Identities: You might also go by the names of skip thinker, chameleon, disruptor, free spirit, divergent, visionary, contradictory, unpredictable, transcendiary, dynamic 

  9. Emotional Expansion: You may have been described as emotionally too intense, too much, highly empathetic, or that you would be more loveable or acceptable if your emotions were more 'level' – we call this being emotionally expansive, and actually believe this to be a unique gift to be cherished and nurtured 

What is the link to neurohybridity and burnout?


Multi-identity

Being limited to one single identity, or only having a diagnosis, treatment plan (within the medical model), support for, or recognition of a single part of you could lead to chronic trauma. Trauma can occur when our bodies get trapped in a state of fight/ flight (sympathetic response) or freeze/fawn (parasympathetic dorsal response). If our agency to choose, live authentically, be understood and feel accepted are compromised, we can end up stuck in a trauma response for a long time. On the outside it might not be obvious, but on the inside we are just existing. We are functional, but not flourishing. 


Abilities and talents

Having a brain that sees things uniquely might sound like a boundless joy. But if our abilities aren’t recognised or appreciated, or we are underestimated because of our diagnostic label and stereotyping, then we can end up heavily masking. This can look like ‘acting dumb’ to hide your real gifts. Or becoming intensely frustrated that your views and opinions are dismissed. Abilities that sit outside the understood model of physical, intellectual or artistic talents can go unrecognised. All of this can lead you to a state of apathy and malaise, perhaps leading you to hide your talents or shun them entirely. 


Unique inventiveness

You might be the parent who decides to home educate their child. You could be the coworker who finds unusual solutions to problems. Maybe you are an inventor. These endeavours involve risk. You are pushing against the standard social norms and capitalist ideals that have evolved over the last two hundred years or so. Standing up to the questioning, undermining, the well-meaning yet unsolicited advice and opinions can all sap your energy. It takes a lot to keep pushing against societal and generational expectations.


Intensity

The level of intensity we bring to our areas of special interest can bring us total joy. That state of flow is where we are happiest. For example, ND brains operate extremely effectively when in a flow state. A flow state, also known colloquially as ‘being in the zone’ is a state of being fully immersed and focused on an activity with complete and full enjoyment. Being dragged out of that flow state is where some of the dysregulation can stem from. Being unable to, or not allowed to, occupy that state of flow, where we are comfortable, happy, regulated and achieving, is like a mental torture for us. And can be devastatingly exhausting. 


Career chameleon

There can be a lot of shame for some ND people who ‘can’t’ stick to a single career, skip around setting up different businesses that don’t last, don’t climb the corporate ladder, or are unable to get paid work. The value we place as a human species on what we do to earn money to live is actually quite extraordinary. And if you don’t fit into the traditional molds then you can feel judged, harshly criticised, and less than. 


Overlapping traits

Having traits that straddle many neurodivergent diagnostic labels, intermingling, sometimes coexisting, oftentimes wrangling against each other, brings complexity. As we’ve discussed, complexity isn’t something the medical model can deal with very easily (it’s why we didn’t conduct medical research on biological females for centuries, because of our hormonal cycles). We can be shamed, misunderstood, ostracized, othered, and neglected by medical professionals, teachers, managers, families and friends because we don’t neatly fit into a box. The whole, square peg, round hole analogy. 


Post-traumatic growth

This is an interesting one. The evolution and changes we may undergo as a result of post-traumatic growth can be profound. And can shift us dramatically. What once may have felt safe and enjoyable, may now feel unsafe or boring. The people we once spent time with may now seem shallow. Our perceptions, interests, values may change radically in a relatively short time. This can lead to isolation, grief, and a deep sense of loss, even while we celebrate our newfound fascination and zest for our new identity. 


Unusual divergent identities

There is a lot of joy and beauty in finding a way of expressing your identity in unique ways. But we may still find people labelling us as inconsistent, crazy, irritating, too intense. This can lead to relational trauma and an erosion of trust in our peers, caregivers or figures of authority as their labelling invalidates our experience leading to internalised shame. 


Emotional expansion

Similar to having unusual identities, being emotionally expansive is not in itself a negative. But for people who are uncomfortable with our expansivity, or perhaps are struggling with their own aftereffects of trauma or are experiencing sensory overwhelm, we can feel too much for their nervous systems. This can also link strongly to pushing against traditional norms and values. Our uncanny ability to see through BS, question or query everything (appears as asking ‘why’ a lot in children), our need to understand and to refuse to do things if we don’t have that understanding – these are all seen as inconvenient and exhausting to some. Yet if we have to mask our expansivity, hide away our empathy and ‘pretend’ to be less than, we can end up in a kind of functional freeze state for years. 


So being a NeuroHybrid in this world that tries so hard to simplify to make you easier to treat, cure, support, and make more acceptable can lead to lasting nervous system impacts. Ultimately, you get burnt out from trying to pretzel yourself into whatever shape is going to be most acceptable to those around you. And that is utterly exhausting and unsustainable.


How can we live authentically as a neurohybrid?

There is no quick fix or easy response to this question. Unmasking, finding your true self, de-coupling from conditioning, unlearning all the internalised ableism, and finding a way of restructuring yourself is a life’s work. And you need safety to be able to do these things. But here’s a few ideas for you to start pondering to help you on your journey:


1. Educate yourself: whether you are diagnosed or self-identify, find out as much as you can about neurodivergence, and the different neurodivergent identities you already know about. Then begin to explore other identities that also could be part of you, including giftedness and strengths-based traits


2. Be open: explore these identities and their traits, self-reflect and try to be honest with yourself about who you really are and what resonates for you. If you feel particularly repelled by a particular identity or trait, explore why that is and where you’re feeling that rejection in your body


3. Unlearn, then re-learn: start to dismantle your belief systems by asking yourself challenging questions, like:

  • Is this really what I believe?

  • Am I showing up as my true self in this situation or masking?

  • Am I going my own way or am I taking on the views of those around me to keep the peace?

  • Is this opinion I have ableist (supporting of minimising the experience of a disabled person, or thinking of yourself as of less value because you behaving in a traditionally acceptable way)?


4. Learn about the nervous system: this could be your biggest ‘a-ha’ moment. Unlocking the secrets of your neuroception and how your brain operates to keep you safe – and why sometimes it's a bit wonky – can be life changing. 


5. Explore psychological safety: 


  • Does it feel safe for you in this situation/with this person? 

  • What does psychological safety feel like for you? 

  • When do you feel most safe?


Conclusion and summary

Discovering your uniqueness, strengths, and neurohybridity is a gift to yourself. It is a way of showing up for yourself with complete truth and honesty. By honouring your unique self in this way, you are giving yourself a strong message of acceptance. As neurodivergent people, we’ve craved acceptance our whole lives. This is why we mask and hide our true selves away from the day light, because our realness has been undervalued, minimised, crushed, and shunned. 


Finding a way of living, thriving, flourishing needs us to value our own experience. And to step into our true identity. This can be an incredibly difficult but ultimately rewarding journey. Because with authenticity comes less masking, less hiding, and eventually, no more burnout. 


We celebrate your neurohybridity. And we invite you to discover it, and explore how to harness it, by following @divergentlives on instagram. We also support you by offering a range of coaching services and programmes designed specifically for discovering your neurohybrid identity. You can find out more by downloading our NDIP information pack.


Divergent Life is a private psychology and coaching service specialising in remote neuroaffirming neurodivergent assessment. 


Our mission is to support neurodivergent people to flourish and thrive. 


Understanding your neurobiology and how it interacts with the world around you is a basic human right. Through your neurobiology, we will help you forge a path towards relational, educational, physical, and psychological safety.


We provide diagnostic assessments, therapy, coaching, and group programmes, specialising in the experiences of neurodivergent women and men, and supporting children and families, too. We use a neuroaffirming, trauma informed approach, getting curious with our clients about their vulnerabilities, challenges, and strengths. 

 

We work with you to understand your diagnosis and self-identification through a trauma lens. This helps you reduce the impact of neurodivergent trauma, becoming confident and knowledgeable about your own neurobiology. 


Follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Read more from Emma Offord

 

Emma Offord, Neuroaffirming therapist, coach, and thought-leader

Emma is a thought-leader in neuroaffirming approaches to neuro divergence diagnosis and support. She is trailblazing new ways of defining neurodivergence through the lens of giftedness and strengths. While still recognizing and validating the challenges and stigma neurodivergent people face, Emma is leading the way in dismantling societal norms associated with the medical model of disorder. She’s the founder of Divergent Life, a neuroaffirming organisation providing diagnosis, therapy, and coaching to individuals, and guidance for organisations to become neuroinclusive.

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