January 21, 2021

Autism and emotions

By rosieweldon

One of the most infuriatingly incorrect stereotypes about autistic people is that we are ‘robots’ that don’t feel anything. There are countless media representations of us being out of touch with how we may unknowingly or uncaringly hurt people and not feel a connection to others (think Sheldon Cooper).

However, this is not the case for the vast majority of autistic people, and certainly not for those of us with hyper-empathy. Hyper-empathy means we have an abundance (i.e., lots of) of emotion and emotional response.

Living with hyper-empathy is quite honestly exhausting. It feels like my ‘cup’ of emotions is permanently full and one drop more is enough for it to spill over the edge. I can see a bird fly and be overcome with an emotive response of hope and freedom, enough to bring me to tears. I feel intensely connected to the world and environment around me. A song, a trailer, an advert are all things that can easily bring out a strong emotional response in me.

On top of those kind of triggers there are day to day ones. It can be incredibly hard to shake off the weight of the news, especially this year. It can be hard not to focus on a struggling friend or family member when it feels like I am carrying their emotions with me.

I do sometimes wish I could turn down my emotions. Sometimes I do even dream of being this robotic autistic person that doesn’t feel intense emotions. There are times when I will cry at night-time for absolutely no reason other than being overcome with emotion. I guess those birds flying, songs connecting, smiles from loved ones, just build in me and it all comes out. It’s not a bad emotional release, it’s just a release. It can feel like the emotion of the day is just swirling around me until it comes out. It doesn’t feel bad to let it out, just embarrassing that I don’t even know why I’m crying.

Autistic confusion from things like subjectivity and not understanding a conversation can be triggers to tip over my emotions. If I feel confused it can overwhelm my mind and add to my emotions. My autistic mind hates subjectivity. I crave placing things in their rightful place. So, to have an overwhelmingly intense emotional response that rarely makes sense can be incredibly frustrating. It can also be frustrating when my inability to understand other humans creates emotional situations that I don’t understand. To feel a strong emotional response that I don’t understand and can’t place. Just heightened confusing emotions.

However, in all honesty, I wouldn’t change it for anything. When I say I love being autistic it is predominantly because of my hyper-empathy. To live life so connected and so emotionally responsive. To watch a butterfly and have to physically contain myself from showing the happiness it can bring me. To feel so strongly about doing what I can to bring kindness to others and help people.

Would I be writing if I didn’t feel so in tune with helping others? Would I have spent countless hours helping my accounting firm become dyslexia friendly if it didn’t keep me up at night thinking of dyslexic people struggling?

Hyper-empathy is exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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