Above is my empathy quotient.  The last neuropsychologist I saw believed I was not on the spectrum because I am capable of empathy.  I suggested to him that perhaps it wasn’t an issue with feeling empathy, so much as expressing it.  Then I asked, “If you don’t feel empathy, doesn’t that just make you a sociopath?”  He said that sociopaths choose not to empathize, and Autists simply can’t empathize.  That was very confusing to me.

I feel that he was close to getting it, but didn’t quite.  I can only speak for myself and my observations.  I know I am an empath.  As a younger person, I came off as not really caring about anyone else, but was often described as “sensitive”.  Seems a bit oxymoronic.  I think I had my own feelings, and everyone else’s feelings being received, but wasn’t really able to process it all, so I withdrew.  I believe that part of Autism is being a conduit.  How you learn to process is heavily influenced by environment.



8 thoughts on “Empathy

  1. The thing about autistic people being unable to empathise has already been thoroughly debunked in several places, so I’m not going to go over that again. What I do notice in myself is an inability to *instinctively* predict other people’s emotional states. I can’t accurately read their non-verbal cues, and so I depend on either them telling me how they feel, or inferring it from other information they give me (like the language they use, the situation, and so on). When making a decision, I also don’t always take other people’s emotional response into account (failure to put myself in someone else’s shoes).

    The difference for me lies in anticipating an emotional response (which I can’t), reading an emotional response (which I also can’t), and *responding* to an emotional response – which I’m very good at. I care deeply.

    Where I don’t see this as a typical autistic failure is because 99% of neurotypicals fail in the *exact same way* when it comes to anticipating and reading *my* emotional response to things. The only difference is that a) they are not aware of failing at this, and b) even when I try to explain, they deny the possibility of me having a different response than most people. I’ve only met two neurotypical people in my life so far who had an instinctive empathy with me without me having to explain how I felt.

    • I know that when my son is not stressed out, is not overwhelmed by the difficulty he perceives, that he is a real sweetheart. If someone told me he was incapable of empathy, I would say that person was a deluded fool. Of course he feels empathy. I can think of many examples.

      I don’t consider myself an NT by the strict non-autism definition, but I had tons of problems reading nonverbal social cues myself. As best I could remember, I was often in an emotional fog of sorts. Anyways, I’m going to guess that many NTs generalize and quickly forget that empathetic intuition does not necessarily come reflexively or easily.

  2. Well said, thank you. I agree there’s no need to discuss lack of empathy, as it”s not a real issue. I’m more curious as to why we’re perceived this way. When I was younger, I would get upset, and my feelings would matter more than those of others. I don’t believe we have the market cornered on this. I was not very good at hiding it, as many NTs are, though. I also believe difficulty processing extreme empathy is a factor. This would explain some differences in male/female differentiation, as we are more conditioned to express and process these feelings. I also believe that difficulties with understanding motivation, especially for deception, come into play.

  3. It’s not that we don’t feel, it’s that we feel too much… It’s this overload that makes it easier to avoid than experience. It’s not fun having a thousand emotions coursing through you and not being able to make heads nor tails of them. I shut down.

      • I think there’s a tendancy to overcomplicate the issue – it loses it’s effectiveness after that. I feel too much at times and hate it – I can’t speak or comunicate at all, so I avoid it and can appear at times to be distant. I’m no use to anyone as a mute in turmoil.

      • “Overcomplicate the issue.” Yes. My son has autism– I’m not sure about me. I have felt those swirling feelings, and much of it was with my bipolar mood disorder. Now chronic pain is a factor.

        I see doctors and scientists finding more and more complexity in the human brain, especially person to person, but as an individual, yes, I think it would be useful for me to come back to simplicity. I tend to overcomplicate things generally!

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