Aspies Don’t Lack Empathy – Just the Opposite
A common trait that people associate with Asperger’s is the lack of empathy. This misconception could be due to “normal people” lacking the ability to empathize with Aspies. Chew on that irony for a moment.
First let me give you two sources who can explain this idea better than I, and then I will give you a glimpse into my own brain.
- Seventh Voice: Theory finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much.
- Luna Lindsey: The Irony of Empathy and Autism
This has been an emotional topic for me. I am neurodivergent, and my world is rich with sensory perception sensitivity, compounded by forms of synesthesia and living as an empath. Sometimes I feel so much that I have to brace myself. It’s not just my own emotional and physical feelings, but those of others. If I care about the person, it’s intensified, but even a stranger’s emotions can touch me. And I mean touch me — where I am feeling the joy or anger or – sometimes – physical sensations that are supposed to stay put inside of that other individual. Add in synesthesia, and my eyes can strain from the changing lights that surround each person.
If I ground myself against the emotions, or motion with my hands as if to push away the feelings, I can come across as uncaring. Sometimes I have to the leave the room, regroup, and come back prepared for what I am walking into. And sometimes I even feel anger and hurt at being assaulted by that other person pushing his or her emotions onto me, worse when there’s a demand that I only listen and “take it” instead of letting me try to fix it, to eliminate the source or to heal the person so we can both stop hurting. However, sometimes it is important that the person go through that whole process, and it also isn’t always my place to “fix” anything. Luckily there is a way I can meet this need without such harm to myself.
When allowed to be who I am and to use the strategies available to me, I can be my most powerful self – the self who is loving, nurturing, mentoring, healing, and creating. It just needs to be on my terms, and – with the help of others able to empathize with me – I am learning what those are. For example, I have honored some requests by parents to advocate for their student in a public school, and this usually involves sitting in a room with emotions running high from the teachers, parents, and especially the student, making sure everyone’s feelings and needs have been heard and understood. I can calmly direct that conversation with a balance of using empathy to guide me but, as far as people in the room can see, a gentle but solid power. They don’t know I’m trembling inside as I take each blow. If I weren’t allowed to put on my armor beforehand, I wouldn’t be successful.
A former boyfriend once described it this way. He sat across a table from me as he expressed anger, and then apologized when he realized he had been mistaken – a fact I knew the whole exasperating time as I tried to “just listen” to him, as he insisted, instead of eliminating the source of his hurt, which I finally did by saying a single sentence. He described my demeanor during it all as calmly keeping multiple swords sheathed at my belt – a power kept in check. What he didn’t realize was that those were swords I kept collecting from him, sheathing them one by one in an effort to keep us both from being hurt. Either he was going to let me get a word in edge-wise or I was going to (figuratively) whack him over the head with the next one that came my way. Which pretty much describes our breakup.
I’m a messy empath, but I have learned much. The relationship noted above about killed me but served as the catalyst for me to become stronger and a better partner for my current relationships – all of which are a source of loving support and inspire me to be a better person. They are self-aware individuals who value the same traits that befuddle neurotypicals. It finally occurred to me that I had to be picky when it came to dating (and shouldn’t everybody do this for themselves?). For me, I realized that I can only be that intimate with somebody who is highly capable of empathy, and I was more likely to find that among other neurodivergents. Including Aspies.
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