Since being officially diagnosed with Autism it’s been a relief while also being hard to get my head around.
Funny how once you get something you suspected confirmed more doubts than previously come to the surface.
One thing that has often thrown me off course to seeing anything about my suspected autism for a while was the stereotype of autism and lack of empathy. Because I most certainly don’t lack empathy.
But recently it’s come to my attention that the idea of autism and lack of empathy may be a misleading concept.
And I can see how this arises from things I’ve experienced and it makes sense.
See there is a paradox (as with most things human and brain-related it seems!) between lack of empathy and too much empathy.
They can look the same.
Speaking in plain language it doesn’t appear to make much sense. How can too much of something also look like the exact opposite?
I don’t know the mechanisms as to why but what I do know is that when you’re overloaded with empathy it’s a burden, something I regret to say because having so much empathy makes it so that the idea of saying it’s a burden feels… ‘mean’
But for this post I’m thinking of myself, I’m being purely selfish.
I’m going to say it for exactly what it is. It is a burden.
I’ve recently read about different types of empathy and how you need a bit of all three (from my understanding) to actually be able to use that empathy to others and your own benefit.
These are the three types of empathy:
Really from what I can gather the idea is that they should come become one whole. Empathy.
But cognitive, emotional and compassionate are parts of the whole of that Empathy.
What happens when you have an overload of one, making it so that there is no fuel left for the other components to work?
It looks like a lack of empathy.
The person may appear angry rather than caring.
They may withdraw, the withdrawal looking like a person who couldn’t care less.
They may not just appear angry but actually act out in an angry way.
They may be silent and therefore not being able to comfort the person.
They may be abrupt in their sentences rather than being careful about what they say.
I know this because those things are me.
I seem to have an overload of the ’emotional’ component of empathy, leaving little room for the other two parts to make their move.
I become overwhelmed.
An example would be noticing even the slightest change to someone’s patterns of behaviour that may suggest something isn’t quite right. It may also not suggest that anything is wrong.
But once I notice that slight change I go into worry mode. It doesn’t help that actually I have all too often had accuracy in my noticing of a changed pattern and then hearing, seeing later that something wasn’t right!
I noticed someone wasn’t parking their car the same way. It was a subtle difference and when I mentioned it to people, they looked at me like I was crazy. “He’s parked in the same place as usual,” They’d say. Yes, but they were not parked as straight as usual and looked as if they’d very lazily parked.
Turned out the person in question was ill. That’s as little as I know about it, yet I noticed that. And just from that, I felt a wave of worry and care.
But mixed in with that was frustration. I wished I’d never noticed such a change. I wished I could block out those little tiny things that are so subtle no one else notices. Because what I don’t know won’t hurt me, and other people hurting, hurts me.
This leaves me vulnerable though. To people who can only be classified as ‘toxic’ whether it’s their fault or not.
I’m talking about people who seem to constantly need to push their problems out into the open for everyone to see always, who need an almost constant stream of empathy, day, night, months, years at a time.
When someone is bombarding you with signals you should be feeling empathy, when it’s constant I admit I become angry. Because I can’t handle it.
Again it makes me look careless. I may even say to the person “I don’t care,” in an argument but that is rarely if ever the case. Really “I don’t care,” Means “I care too much so shut your fucking mouth and give me some peace.”
When you have so much empathy yet you can’t quite figure out how, if, what needs to be done it just makes it all the more draining.
This tied into the fact that I have my own problems, emotions, thoughts that are also very intense and you have yourself a little Depression cocktail, mixed with chronic fatigue and the aches and pains that come with being exhausted. add more than a dash of anxiety over seemingly trivial things (to other people) and you have yourself a brain that feels like it’s the mint in a shook up coke bottle.
I post this purely to try to raise awareness that (for me at least) it’s not a lack of empathy, but too much.