Autism and Emotion.
It is as difficult to explore emotion in autistic people, as it is in non-autistic people. Everyone is different. I have an autistic friend who is very emotional, expresses her emotions at the time she feels them, and adapts her life according to how she feels. Her autistic differences are more prominent in other areas of the spectrum.
I have emotions, because I am a human being. Everybody has a different relationship with their feelings, but the relationship I have with my feelings is confused and disconnected. Rarely am I conscious of my feelings, even physical ones. The concept of something so abstract is difficult for my brain to process.
This can be useful.
I am calm in a crisis, rational and logical. I am clear and focussed, and I get things done with pace and detail. I am reliable with a strong sense of social justice. I respond well to direction. I am never too busy, too tired or too sad to help someone. I put other people first because I am intuitive to their feelings, and it is more comfortable for me to fix things for them, than think about how I might feel myself.
I can quickly simplify and solve problems that others find too complicated, because of their feelings about it.
It’s not that I don’t have the emotions, I have them intensely. It’s just I cannot identify them and respond to them with compassion, so I continue to function robotically, sticking to routines, as if the feelings are not there, even through traumatic times.
But feelings and unexpressed emotions don’t just go away when you don’t pay them attention. They are messengers, sent to help you know how to respond safely to situations, help you know what you like and what you don’t like. If you ignore them or fail to acknowledge them, they present themselves more physically, in the brain, in the body causing aches, or in sensitive organs like the stomach.
When I had depression and anxiety the conditions looked different in me. They were extremely physical. I needed help from mental health and bereavement services but they couldn’t access me because I was unable to verbally communicate my feelings, or connect the relationship between my mind, body and behaviour.
My understanding of emotion is visual, like an animal or a scale of numbers. It is in the lyrics of songs and in drawings, but it’s not in my mind. I cannot distinguish between sadness, excitement, guilt or shame etc. because I cannot see them. The question ‘how are you feeling?’ can sometimes feel threatening because I need help to know. Therefore, I will usually say a learned response like ‘fine thank you,’ or respond with, I feel….’ followed by an action/thought: ‘I feel like I should not have done that,’ or a sensation I have practically felt, ‘I feel prickly.’
I am working hard with therapy, to be able to access my feelings for the first time, and live a wiser and more balanced life with limits and boundaries.
It’s taken me thirty years just to learn how to know when I am tired. But I can notice it in another person within a second of seeing them.
This autistic vlogger has made a video to dispel the stereotype that all autistic people lack emotion and empathy. She is cool and worth following. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nSy1ZczpJQM