Normally when I think about Aspies and being Aspie, I think of us as the ones with superpowers – being logical, being exact, being effortlessly quirky. However, this week I learned about a neurotypical (NT) superpower that made me green with envy – that of being able to literally sense other people’s emotions.
I knew I had heard that NTs were supposed to ‘know’ how other people felt without being told, but I’d never really thought about *how* they did it. Then when my counsellor was telling me that I seemed a lot brighter and more relaxed than the last few times she’d seen me, she went a bit further. She said that she feels my emotions – she *FEELS* them!
She can sense extra or different emotions that she knows aren’t hers, in something called counter-transference (which I had also heard of, but also not given much thought). I don’t think I am quite conveying how much that blew my mind, my eyes nearly went out on stalks. It was like she’d told me she had x-ray vision and could see through walls. I can barely detect my own emotions, so the concept of feeling someone else’s, knowing they’re someone else’s, and being able to explain them to the person concerned, seems amazing to me! It also made it much more real than just being told ‘NTs know how each other are feeling’.
I know counsellors have extensive training, but this is something I would be incapable of doing even after a lot of training. I might become a little better at not flying off the handle when my partner comes home irritable, and I become irritable because I have somehow ‘caught’ it off him and attributed it to myself (that’s the closest example I could find to think about what it might be like). However, I could not do what she does and I really wish I could! I need the step by step walk me through it – tell me, show me or make it obvious.
I spend a lot of time worrying about how other people are feeling, and whether they are ok, so it would really help me to understand and look after those I care about. If I seem to ignore others’ emotions, it is because I don’t know how they are feeling, not because I don’t care. This discovery has definitely put to bed anything wonderings I had about whether I should have trained in a clinical role, it would be like trying to teach dancing with no sense of rhythm – possible, but why would you?
Now I’m not saying that all NTs can necessarily perform this feat, well or at all – I’ve had plenty of well-meaning but completely clueless people tell me (incorrectly) how I am feeling (I’m also not saying that no Aspies can do this, because not all Aspies have alexithymia and they might have better spidey senses than me…). But I do hope that people who can feel others’ emotions (I am deliberately avoiding the word ‘empathy‘, you may have noticed) realise they have a superpower, and don’t assume everyone can do it. And that they use their powers for good.
Anyway, I know I haven’t written for a while (I’ve written drafts, but seem to have become afraid of pushing the ‘publish’ button), so I thought I would share that with you.
© Catastraspie, 2013.
I’m constantly asking ‘are you ok?’ of my husband… Though I do know when someone is sad, the eye-leaking is a give-away! 🙂
He he! Yes that’s one of the clues I’ve worked out too 😉
It’s something that I’m actually starting to distance myself from, a bit. I’ve had other people identify my feelings for me for most of my life, some of them misguided but with most of them I believed and trusted their assessment of my emotions, because I couldn’t find words for them myself. And now, I’m starting to figure out that the words I was taught don’t really fit how I actually feel. My emotions are far more complex than those words.
So no matter how sensitive someone is, I’m trying to not let them name my emotions for me anymore.
Thanks for your comment. That’s really interesting, and I agree that it could be confusing or leave someone vulnerable to be told how they feel. I am hoping that I will learn to label them myself over time by recognising the thought patterns and behaviours that go with them. Have you got better at doing it yourself?
Working on it! I found a list of emotion words from the Center of Non-Violent Communication though http://notesoncrazy.com, but I can’t really link the more complex words to a feeling inside me. It’s confusing. (Hey! That’s an emotion word. Which I use a lot). 😛
Oh that’s really useful, thank you! Wow there are a lot of words, I think I only use about 6 on a regular basis. Must widen my vocab 🙂
Oh, in case anyone’s interested:
Click to access feelings_inventory.pdf
That truly is a superpower. I had no idea that the ability to sense other’s feelings was so distinctively developed in some people. Wow. Also, I love that included that illustration of Deanna. 🙂 It’s great to see a post from you!
Aww thank you!! 😀 x
It was very quaint watching you “dance” around that super special word we all…love to hate. I have found from my experience that I can be quite in tune with other people’s emotions despite my deficits in those particular areas based on my personal study of behavior, psychology and physiology in general. Yes it is very difficult and more like a conglomeration of reverse anaylsis, multiple choice and I guess one could use the word intuition, but when I notice that “the air is different” I may be able to back-track and possibly pin-point a certain issue. This has mostly helped me in gambling oddly enough, where I bassically pretend that I can visualize other people’s biorhythms (a psuedo-science with my personal interpretation where someone’s mental state goes up or down based on sudden occurences and stimuli) changing and modifying my behaviour accordingly based on their “+1’s” for good feelings/thoughts and vice versa. Granted this is exhausting like running a mile or two or a hundred even, but it’s work. Basically I’m saying that I can form a hypothesis like most, but I’m usually correct in my assertions because people aren’t so special that I can’t figure out what they’re thinking because they’re too “complicated” for me to asses however not to sound redundant, it is still very much a gamble, but people send out so so so many non-verbal subconcious clues about where they are mentally that it’s impossible for me to not be curious. “Oh you’re sweating and breathing heavier, you’re flushed, your pupils are dilated, your tone changed, you might be being sassy now, your movements have changed from invitational to closed off, etc.” As far as other people defining my emotions that is not much of a problem for me as I just tell them what they should already know. Usually in a “you’re wrong, but it was interesting that you tried” kind of way and if someone new tries to define me then that is not the end of the world either; they’re still wrong. I don’t act the way I feel out of conditioning unless you count neutrality and annoyance as such. Being aware of my own feelings is a “mixed bag” a “hit or miss” (because I can’t look in a mirror all the time) but more often than not it’s that horrible. Sure some nights I will wake up in a cold sweat and say “Oh yeah…I was in love five years ago, oh well.” Of course this is all “theory” it is on paper and there is a huge difference between that and practice, but I just couldn’t help myself from rambling because after finding your site I “felt” relieved and had an enjoyable time “thumbing” through. I know that none of this of mine is useful information, I just wanted to express kind regards as reading people has always been an extreme passion of mine; I had wanted to become a psychoanalyst in my younger years but resolved to give that dream up in favor of not risking a disservice for someone in need.
He he, yes I think I’ve stopped using that particular word in recent years. It sounds like you are a lot more observant than me in terms of noticing changes in autonomic nervous response. I find I am fixated on listening to the words and the rest of my brain occupied with trying to think of something to say.
Supposed “NT” here. I am hypersensitive to people’s emotions and feel them while they are experiencing them. I would say it’s frequently a disadvantage (you could think of it as the opposite side of Aspergian traits)–since it makes it more difficult to be objective about situations and that level of empathy is often not helpful to the person who is firsthand experiencing it. Like someone who has Aspergers, I have to work hard at diminishing this social reaction/trait/symptom so that I can react in a more socially prudent manner (in this case, with more objectivity).
Frequently the person communicates so much to me in body language that I know what they will be saying next. When you constantly know the gist of what someone is going to say with 85% accuracy (conservative guesstimate) it makes conversations maddening. It’s hard to be patient and let people talk. And sometimes it leads to arrogant thinking on my part–I feel like everyone around me is predictable and stupid. Obviously this isn’t correct, but I do get frustrated with how slow people seem. In junior high I had a friend with similar attributes. It was like having ESP. We could exchange small looks across a classroom and not need to say anything. Usually it was us being arrogant little turds and exchanging sarcastic observations. In this manner it was a benefit, but that particular friend was a rarity. My brother and I can sometimes communicate in this fashion, but I can’t do this with most people and it’s not an intimacy you want to share with someone you don’t know really well.
So this superpower” can be a huge deficit: if someone around me is experiencing severe depression or anger–as a chronic depressive, I recognize what they are feeling and begin to feel that sadness that won’t leave, my body starts to feel heavy and ache, and my head begins to feel dull, weighty, and bereaved. It’s not my depression initially, it starts as me being overly empathic, but it soon becomes my depression if that makes sense. And I can’t control it unless I realize what is happening at the time–which often doesn’t happen.
Likewise with anger. Just being around someone angry, like my brother who is prone to anger, I feel my blood pressure rise, my body tense, the muscles in my neck tighten, my forehead tighten, and suddenly I am very angry. Even though I wasn’t experiencing anger before I was in the presence of someone who is angry. And then I’m prone to pick fights with my husband, be shorttempered at my children, and feel building rage. I have to work very hard to recognize what is originating outside of me vs. what is originating inside of me. I think that the work that I must do to be more socially adept is actually quite similar to the work that someone with Aspergers must do. It’s a constant project. Yes, there are certain professions in which being a super-empath has benefits, but I would say that on the whole it makes life more difficult.
Wow! O.O That’s incredible! I hear you that it’s a curse as much as blessing, and I can’t even comprehend what that must be like. Thank you so much for your comment, it certainly gives a lot of insight into another world. You must have coping strategies & things like that. Can you tune it out or is it constant?