I made that sound creepier than it is, but who likes normal titles anyway.
Today class, we’re going to discuss empathy and emotions, because I’m getting very bored of people thinking I’m a robot.
I’m not sure why this is a stereotype, I think it’s even a diagnostic criteria for ASD, but we most certainly do not lack empathy. Sure, we might not have both parts of it but it’s still there, and often far stronger than anyone realises.
Empathy comes in two parts, a cognitive and an emotional. Speaking purely on a personal level, I only ever experience one or the other. If someone were to die for instance, I am aware that to other people this is a bad thing and that there should be some reaction, but emotionally I feel nothing. Autistics tend to empathise with another person’s struggles by relating it to a similar experience of their own. To us, offering one of our own memories seems to indicate more of an understanding of emotion than a whimsical “oh, that’s so sad”. This doesn’t always come across however. NT’s tend to view it as us dominating the conversation, or attempting to enter some kind of pissing contest. While some of us (as with anyone) are that narcissistic, that’s generally not the case. It’s simply two people trying to communicate empathy through different means.
On the other side, I experience emotional responses to things that I’m not consciously aware of, often things that aren’t even happening to me.
An argument was going on in German, which I don’t speak. I can’t consciously read tone of voice or body language in real time, so in my mind I had no idea what was happening. But I could feel it. I could feel the anger and the pain from both parties. It’s not a particularly nice feeling, especially when some people use it as a tool of manipulation.
Emotional empathy wouldn’t be a particularly bad thing, especially considering it could help me read people a little better. Except, I feel these emotions to a greater extent than the people putting them out. I’m like a god-damn emotional amplifier, and it’s incredibly exhausting. I had to take a nap afterwards because my spoons had just upped and flown away.
If you were to see two people arguing in the street you’d probably recognise they were both angry by their voices, or their faces. Even by how they were stood or gesturing. I can’t see any of that, but I can certainly feel it. It’s like the two people have moved their attention and are both shouting at me.
It also happens with TV shows, I feel for people in awkward situations. It’s like I’m there in the show experiencing it all with them. It was especially bad when I was trying to watch Netflix’s ‘Atypical’, I could just feel everything happening to him (also didn’t help that some of the scenarios were so relatable).
In the same way that all of society never seems to say what they mean, my facial expression, body language and tone of voice don’t reflect my emotions. I have to warn people of this almost as soon as I meet them otherwise things get awkward. You can’t judge my mood based on my face, it just doesn’t express anything. This is particularly an issue on birthdays, which are already awful enough. You could buy me the best present in the world, but outwardly I won’t show it. This isn’t a conscious choice, it’s just how my brain works. Instead, trust that when I say I like it, I actually mean it.
So many people have made comments at public events, a recent one being “Why did you bring him? He’s clearly not enjoying himself.” Except I was, I just don’t portray enjoyment in the way society expects it.
I also can’t be forced to express things I can’t feel. Or, in plain english, I can’t be fake. “Fake it ’til you make it” isn’t a thing for me. If I’m over-stimulated or out of spoons then trying to get me to smile in a picture just isn’t going to work. Trust me, I’ve seen the results and you do not want to keep that photo.
I guess this also ties into what I said in Functionality Labels, you can’t base anything on how we appear externally. It’s another reason why we have so many issues fitting in, everyone else is automatically reading and reacting to each other while we’re left behind.