The Question of Empathy

And so we come to this issue.

You’ll hear the meme that autistics don’t feel empathy throughout literature. I’ve heard it over and over certainly. The idea is that we’re completely incapable of thinking outside ourselves. We struggle with knowing how to put ourselves in another’s shoes. We’re supposedly cold people who can react to hearing about the death of another’s family member with “so?” We only cry when we’re hurt and usually over petty things. You can go throughout the media and see this depiction over and over.

None of that is true even remotely of course. I’m a married man after all. I’m absolutely not a sociopath. I’ve frequently dropped everything to be with Amanda when she was hurting and I worry about her when I know she is. Not just her either. If my friends hurt, I feel for them. I thought yesterday at length about my friend Lauren’s still grieving boyfriend. I feel for others.

The issue here is that we’re very, very bad at expressing our emotions. I mean we’re dreadful to the point of showing severe impairment. We look cold, undeniably. We’re not very expressive visually and we definitely can sound cold. So I get where the misconception comes from. But that’s not the same thing as being unempathetic.

We’re also, and I concede this very sadly, self-centered. But I need to explain why we are before I can go forward. I’m definitely not as prone to thinking about the needs of others as an NT might be in no small part because being me requires a lot of focus. Even thinking about what matters to us requires a lot of effort. Sure, I might forget the thing you asked me to bring you, but if you’ll look up my life, you’ll see I forget an equal amount of things I need. All of this stems out of our sensory overstimulation. Trying to leave the house is hell.

So yeah, we look like we’re emotionless and don’t care. Except we don’t really feel that and I want to really go into that. It’s frustrating for us to try to be heard always, but especially here. When someone is hurting, we want to help them. We want to fix things. We really want to ease the pain. And we can’t do that of course. It hurts us in turn. It has a sad impact then that we often seem to get angry at the people hurting but I stress we’re not! We’re angry because someone we love is in pain.

If there is light here, it’s that we can learn. We can get better at expressing how we feel. It takes practice. It also requires openness. We need to tell others that we do care as clearly as we can. If it requires going a bit overboard, we’ve got to do what we need to do. This misconception must die. We aren’t sociopaths.

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