Hi, I am looking for information on what people may understand of empathy in people on the spectrum, from what I can gather it maybe more people with Asperger's (as it was), who experience high levels of empathy. What is known about this? What are people's experiences?
Unnecessary ramble you don't have to read haha
What I can gather so far: though the information I have found is sparse and I am unsure if it is reliable. The bit that makes the most sense to me seems to suggest that people with what was classically called autism can often ( though not all) struggle with emotional empathy but can still develop very high levels of cognitive empathy. They can understand emotions but not feel them, meaning, as I interpret it that it needs to be more of a conscious process to realise what someone is feeling whereas NT people may grasp this more easily and intuitively.
Whereas some things I have read seem to suggest that Asperger's can go the other way, sometimes excessively high levels of emotional empathy.
Alexithymia also seems to be a factor, (the inability to recognise one's own emotions) my reading seems to suggest that this can largely occur independently of autism but that this can be a large factor in seeming lack of empathy, also in causing more problems for people with high emotional empathy but low cognitive empathy. How I would interpret that being that when you can feel the distress, joy any other intense emotion of another but do not understand it it can easily become highly confusing and overwhelming which seems to tie into some of the intense world theories that people have for autism in general.
My personal experience ; I am undiagnosed, a non qualified (for autism diagnosis) councellor told me I had asperger's but at school I spent a long time in the special needs department (due to dislexia) and was never diagnosed I suspect she would have caught this then as she was qualified to diagnose it and should have been clearer as a child (though I maybe mistaken in that). I still do not know for sure, though I suspect that yes I show many of these traits, I am aware that this is a simplification but I suspect I am very close to Asperger's but not quite enough traits to count for a full diagnosis.
I had a chat a while ago now with someone with a recent autism diagnosis. When I was struggling with my own potential diagnosis who said that he experiences very high levels of empathy. What he describes sounds very much similar to what I experience. For personal reasons discussing this further with him is difficult. I am trying to understand.
I was until recently very unaware of my own feelings, though I suspect that is far more to do with upbringing. I think I have high levels of empathy, described by my councellor as I grew up in an environment where is was necessary to care for another in order to survice so I feel the emotions of others before my own, I find it far easier to tell what I am feeling with time away to process. I also have a dangerous tendency to excuse bad behaviour towards myself as I am able to understand their perspective why they act that way and so do not enforce boundaries as I should. The first councellor describing this as I would likely, as I was autistic, always be more vulnerable to abuse and being exploited than most people. A terrifying concept. Being a large part of why I changed could councellor, this one is much better for me, but has little to no understanding of autism, she does not think that I am. But I would like more knowledge on this is anyone has anything relevant to any of this.
I’m generally confused by the empathy, sympathy, compassion.
I can’t even decide how empathetic I am. I scored low.
I admit I can be cold. When my grandparents died and my mum cried I was more annoyed at the situation than sad. I just wanted her to stop crying so everything could go “back to normal”. Yes, it was sad that he died but he had rather long life and yes, I understand she was sad but no, I didn’t really “feel her pain”. The same thing happened when my husband’s farther died.
And I’m not sad when I hear random stories about some people being murdered. And I don’t really care about my coworkers’ stories - about their problems with boyfriends or some other personal issues.
But then, sometimes I start thinking about them. Those people who died. Who were abused or murdered. And I think - what did they think? Were they in pain? Where they scared? How someone could do something bad to them? How can someone abuse small child who is scared and cries and begs them to stop?
And then all I want to do is to help those suffering vulnerable people but I can’t. I can’t even think about what happened to them because it is too much for me and I cry and I just can’t stop this uncontrollable crying.
It hurts and I really don’t like that feeling.
You're projecting your feelings onto those people who's stories touch you. But the reality of the situation, for them, is different.
For example, anybody who harms a baby is completely out of their minds. They wouldn't, at the time, be considering the baby's feeling at all.
Also, babies live in the moment, so as soon as something is over, it's over, so they're restored to their natural loving mindset or nature (in fact it never left them) and even while it's happening, they haven't yet developed the faculty to think about and consider what's happening to them and be able to judge it as a good or bad experience. To them, it's simply an experience.
So maybe you think about those things some times as a way of bringing to the surface the feelings of compassion and empathy within you as a way of showing yourself that just because you don't ordinarily express them that way, like most other people do, you have still got them.
You simply experience those qualities in a different way from most people. Which of course is different from the masses which means it is viewed as almost inferior, and because they think that because we don't express ourselves in the same way, we must therefore be without these qualities and the absence of them, they think, is somebody who is cold and heartless.
But that's just what it looks like to them, from their experience of empathy and compassion. They just have a different way of expressing it.
Neither way is right or wrong. It's simply that we autistics seem to experience our emotions etc in a rather more unique and varied way than what the masses do, who seem to follow a prescribed formula that doesn't touch us in the same way.
I started off by trying to give my thoughts in a short simple way, it seemed impossible for me to condense my thoughts, and the more I tried the harder it got, the more I tried to say about one thing or another it didn’t seem right to condense it?
I finally decided whatever I felt like saying was my way of sharing my feelings and that by doing so it also helped me,
writing it all down freely, using typed words, not spoken felt like a release for me,
so no apologies for the length of this reply , or indeed the times it reads as contradictory.
They are my thoughts and feelings, raw, unhindered, free flowing and honest.
I feel fragile emptying my mind in this way, I have faith that what I write will just be read, heard, felt,
I am on a journey of self knowledge, who I really am, the hidden often self denied me. The never seen or heard me,
It is a tough journey, but I am getting there , slowly but I will get there, I need to be me, just ME.
When attending a funeral as a young child It seemed to me it was not considered the done thing for men to show feelings, especially not to cry,
As children the topic of death was not talked about, we were sheltered from it, no way were young children considered when attending a funeral. All we saw was sad faces returning.
I have very deep emotions, As a young boy I copied my peers, man up, it didn’t mean I wasn’t feeling sad, I could dismiss my feelings and told myself that although I had much sorrow nothing I could do would change what had happened, so deep breath and carry on.
I also watched people crying and being consoled, I wanted it so much to stop as it hurt me so much, as a child I had no way of easing the sorrow I saw.
So decided to be a child and carry on playing,
As I got older some would say “ well you don’t seem very upset” oh boy,, if only they could see the turmoil in my head, no matter how upset I felt it was never going to make what happened different, fact! They had gone, fact! I could only see the beautiful things they were, the kindness they gave freely. Why get upset because they were no longer here?
I struggle to put across my feelings here now, they seem to be contradictory? ,,, even to me as I struggle to write them.
Yes I feel deep sadness but usually at the injustice of a life cut short by disease or misfortune,,, old age seemed a natural thing do die of, isn’t it what all old humans do.
Now that I am older I allow my true sadness to come out,
Now that I am older, and have worked where I am for over thirty years,
a fair few of the men I first knew who taught me so much when I was young and hungry for knowledge have passed away, my mates have passed on, I attend all of the funerals regardlesss of who they were.
Everyone one of them added to my life, it doesn’t matter how, wether it was companionship or laughter, frustration or there rejection of me,
I look around me in the church or crematorium and I see many people, some family, some ex colleagues, young children, most appear to be just going through whatever is expected, devoid of any real feelings.
As I look on I think of the person who has died and remember all the times we shared, the happy things, the interaction and working together we shared, All the things I learnt and felt as we met up each day and worked together, played together, argued together, each one enriched my life in some way,
So there I am, thinking about them, enjoying all that they meant to me, I am not sad, I feel the joy they gave me.
So if allowed to be there on my own I would be happy.
Only when I see others start to cry or comfort another do I then feel the over whelming emotions start to build within me, I try so hard to hold back, I look up or around, focusing on whatever I can to stop the tidal wave of feelings that are held deep inside me,
When I can no longer hold back the tears they flow, I shake and tremble, my whole body feels The hot feeling start at my feet and spread up my legs flowing higher and higher, again and again it flows, I release every emotion I have ever held back, every sad moment fills my mind, I cannot stop it, it is all or nothing, The people either side of me, often my fellow workers look away, won’t look at me, they seem to blank me out?
I no longer hide my emotions, I feel ever more the need to allow my feelings out, not hold them in, not deny them, whatever anyone ever thinks of me as I sob openly with tears running down my face and my body shaking and trembling,,, I need to release them, once I have allowed my feelings to flow freely I can then start remembering all the good they did, the friendship they gave me, the richness they gave me by just being themselves. I feel a sense of release,,,
Ok I also felt very sad when one young colleague took his own life, He always come across as being very strong and nothing ever worried him, beneath that hard exterior was a struggling being that tried so hard but kept failing. He had lost his wife and two children because he played the field, drank heavy, played hard, he ended up living on his own , tried to follow his dream, went up north to become a gamekeeper,
That too was denied him, he enjoyed the feeling of freedom, nature, his own boss, but pressure to perform targets to meet, breeding birds to be shot, he gave up and returned to us,
I wished I had helped him more, I reached out often, no matter how much he pushed me away, he seemed Hell bent and determined to spiral ever deeper , no matter how much he caused me to hurt, and he did, often deliberately making things difficult for everyone including me. I always tried to make him feel valued, and that if he ever wanted to talk I would listen, He was a real man, a bloke, strong, determined, angry, constantly showing all just how hard he was, how nothing ever phased him, drank harder than anyone, fought often until beaten or arrested as seemed to be often the case, he could then Bragg about it. But he never quite felt able to let go and connect with me,
one New Year’s Eve he drank a bottle of whiskey and locked himself in a shed with a generator running, he closed his eyes one final time and slept.
I attended his funeral, the room was packed, many outside,
I didn’t cry this time, I felt angry, sad but could not cry?
I felt the sadness his family felt, looked on and saw many who seemed to be just fulfilling a role,
I feel sad about him, but angry and frustrated that even though he had many many friends not one was with him over Xmas, not one was with him New Year’s Eve, He was alone in a caravan in a field, that is where he finally ceased to exist . A life gone, denied by most, tolerated by some, but no one ever reached out a true hand to support him in the way he needed most, I kept Trying, He would often seem to lower his guard but suddenly raise it again.
Thats me,,, my head full of thoughts now unloaded,
thank you if you carried on reading, and thank you if you skipped to this part,
take care all of you. X()x
I can relate to a lot of what you said and you described, in your words, what I was saying to Aurora. That often times we need something ‘sad’, such as a funeral, or a sad thought, to enable us to let out our stored up emotions. It’s a great relief, and they are far better out than in.
You didn’t say anything contradictory in your words, although you are still believing some untruths ~ but don’t worry, we all do that until we don’t :)