“Our Workarounds on Empathy and Theory of Mind”

Diablogue #14: 

 

Enjoying an outdoor snack in the Rockies.
Enjoying an outdoor snack in the Rockies.

We’re back! Apologies for missing our post last week due to circumstances beyond our control.

Helpful Hint:  Be direct. Ask for what you need. A person on the spectrum is not wired for subtlety, grey, or to take hints.

 

So, let’s diablogue: 

Christina: You sometimes experience challenges with being able to grasp or accept that others can think or behave very differently from you. This can cause you great angst. For example, you can’t fathom —or tolerate—liars, whereas as I can observe or experience someone lying and ‘imagine’ or ‘back-engineer’ a set of life experiences—or even a one-off situation— that might have caused that person to lie. This is related to the concept of “theory of mind.” Here’s what the Autism Research Institute says about it:

“Theory of mind refers to the notion that many autistic individuals do not understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. Furthermore, it appears that they have difficulty understanding other people’s beliefs, attitudes, and emotions.” https://www.autism.com/understanding_theoryofmind

Ken: I would have to say I agree with your statement, and that explanation is valid. It applies to me.

Christina: Let’s talk about empathy.

Ken: Empathy is an emotion. As an aspie, I have behaviours as workarounds for my challenges with emotions.

Christina: But you have emotions… you’re not a robot. In fact I’d say you often over-emote.

Ken: That is correct. However, depending upon the situation and the sensory and emotional confusion, they are often totally on or totally off.

Christina: Inappropriate? For the situation, you mean.

Ken: That is correct. Also, misapplied. For example, most people on the spectrum have binary thoughts. We have yes, no, right, wrong, up, down.

Christina: Yeah. That’s why you have such a hard time with schedules with hard deadlines.

Ken: Yes. A deadline is a promise. Either I keep it or I break it. I either succeed or I fail. And I cannot tolerate personal failure. From the point of the failure on, my day and my performance rapidly degrade.

Christina: No matter the degree of ‘failure’?

Ken: Correct. As I previously mentioned, there is no degree. Either suceed or fail.

Christina: So, let’s get back to the problem. You cannot empathize, but I need to you to. All the time. Daily. Big things, small things.

Ken: My workaround is to act kindly towards you. I draw on my deep moral compass of equity and equality.

Christina: So you don’t feel what I feel—which is “theory of mind”—you respond to the unfairness of the situation, of life. Or whatever.

Ken: Ultimately, I treat people—you—the way that I want to be treated.

Christina: With kindness?

Ken: To be acknowledged, validated, accepted, and understood. So I try to follow those internal guidelines and enact them externally. In other words, to treat others the way I want to be treated. I cannot violate my own ethical and moral codes

Christina: So your workaround for your inability to conventionally empathise is to draw on your deep moral codes.

Ken: Yes.

Christina: That’s a natural workaround.

Ken: Hardwired. Another example is that I cannot stand rudeness in others and I cannot tolerate it in myself—it is against my moral code.

Christina: Ok.

Ken: So, what is or are your workarounds for my challenges with empathy?

Christina: Logic. My logical brain reasons out what’s happening and why you cannot give me, in some moments, the emotionally-aware response I need. I still want it though—crave it, even, sometimes. I’m wired for it. So if the feeling is acute I’ll ask directly for what I need, like a hug or for you just to listen or let me be sad and not say anything or try to fix it.

Ken: And how do I function in those situations when you ask me?

Christina: You almost always instantly do what I ask. I can depend on it. Which reinforces my rather unusual—for me— behaviour, to ask directly for something another kind of man would sense and respond emotionally to—for me—at least to some degree. Lots of men are a bit thick about that stuff just because they’re men.

Ken: I do that because I know that I am black and white and don’t see the grey. So when you make the grey black and white, I then know what to do and how to do it and will walk through hell to give you what you need.

Christina: That shows me you are not a cruel, hard, or cold person by nature. You just have a kind of emotional blindness. Some other men might slough off my needs or trivialize them. Slam the door and go off for a beer (laughs). But you will move mountains to fill my smallest of needs once you know exactly what they are.

Ken: Yes. Because that is the right thing to do. You are doing many things for me, and this is the way I must reciprocate rather than be just a taker in the world. To carry my half of the relationship. It is my responsibility to look after your emotional wellbeing, though I am ill-equipped to do it sometimes. You help me to help us. Anything less would be unacceptable for me. You see value in this relationship and work very hard for its success. How can I in good conscience do any less?

Christina: That is worth a lot to me. It really is. I can make things clear; it’s not a lot to ask, really. I’m used to doing it by now. Well, maybe in the odd stubborn or weak moment I’ll choose to just be upset that you didn’t notice, quietly be sore about it. Resent it even, or feel sorry for myself. But that’s pretty rare now because I know how immature those reactions are. How unkind. You are a gargantuan model of kindness, and I feel crappy if I don’t reciprocate with kindness.  Overall, though, I’d say that I’ve learned to accept your package of actions—kindness, patience, and perseverance— in lieu of conventional empathy, or a so-called sensitive ear.

Ken: I see the value in this relationship is that you are one in a million. Where others in my life have given up or given in, you just keep giving. Because of that, we keep going the extra mile for each other. Our hearts demand it of us.

Christina: Yeah. What can I say to that?!

 

Next post #15 ~ Topic to be determined!

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