Saturday, September 19, 2009

Defining Ourselves via our Emotional Baggage

I don't know if it's just me, just aspies or everyone but it seems that most of the deep one-on-one social and philosophical conversations I have these days are about living with excess emotional baggage.

It's perhaps an "age" thing because I really don't remember my friends talking about these issues when we were younger. Strangely enough though, even my conversations with today's youth are picking up these angsty traits.

There are two good reasons why I'm beginning to suspect that its a trait that is stronger in aspies than in NTs.

The first is that my "meaningful" conversations are increasingly being held with other aspies and the concept of emotional baggage seems to be increasing proportionately.

My other reason is that when I examine my life and my present day actions, I'm relying on some aspie traits which I know aren't as strong in the average NT. Chief amongst these is the vivid long term memory,


The Influence of the Past
There's no doubt in my mind that we're all influenced by our past, NTs and aspies alike. We see that behaviour in animals.

For example; When our dog, a shi-tzu cross maltese, was a pup, it took an unexpected leap from an adult's arms. The dog landed quite painfully on hard concrete. The dog was ok but it must have hurt.

We rarely pick up the dog up nowadays except to show her things (eg: the rabbits who live over our fence). Even though nearly ten years have passed since the incident, the dog is still very unhappy about being picked up (she loves sitting on our lap though).

It's clear that we're all defined to some extent by our childhood (or in this case, puppyhood) but I think that the accessibility of the memory is a key factor.


Accessible Memories
There's no doubt that vivid memories (trauma) are remembered both by animals and people. There's also little doubt that these memories, both negative and positive affect our future actions. Where I think the aspie differs is that key memories don't necessarily need to be large or traumatic in order to be "vivid".

"Can't move on" is a phrase that is often associated with Aspergers. In fact, I'm sure it appears somewhere in the official criteria.

The inability to move on is due to a number of factors including; change resistance, routine, insecurity and memory. Children with aspergers seem to take things in like sponges and retain them forever. They revisit those memories over and over again and after a time, even the smallest and least traumatic of them can become a major influence on their lives.


Spiders...
So, we're clearing away cobwebs when you suddenly discover that your colleague is arachnaphobic. So you ask them "why are you so afraid of spiders?";

A typical NT answer: "Uh, I don't know, I just don't like them".
If you're lucky, you'll get a comment about their hairy legs.

An Aspie answer (my answer): "When I was four..." cue rather long story about watching my first Doctor Who (a special interest) story ever in which the hero is killed by a giant spider.

The spiders don't look quite so frightening
now but it was very scary aged four.

I know it's fiction but I don't just have the memories of the show to contend with. I also have years of bad experiences (all the other times I was scared of spiders) plus years of imaginings and bad dreams - yes, I remember them well - to contend with.

I'm an aspie and I remember everything, except sometimes names and faces and anything told to me in the last few minutes. My long-term experiential memory is great, the short term memory is abysmal.


Tune in next time...
As usual, I've waffled on and just realised that it's already a long post and I haven't gotten very close to the topic. Sorry, I'll cover the rest in my next post.

16 comments:

themadandwild said...

You're very correct with the memory thing, and in fact the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, far better than any personality system. However, I think the reason the NT just gives a vague answer is not so much because they don't remember, but because they don't want to go into it.

And your post wasn't nearly long enough for me.

MsEsty said...

This makes so much sense to me, not only for my son who has been recently diagnosed with Asperger's, but also for myself. I know I have many Asperger traits even though I don't think I would be diagnosed with it. I've never connected his difficulties such as total school refusal with his obviously vivid memory but I'm grateful to you for making that clear to me! A lot of what you write makes it much easier for me to understand my son :)

The Rambling Taoist said...

Well, I guess then I'm an anomaly amongst anomalies! :)

I have virtually no memories of anything involving myself or other humans. I can see rather vividly in my memories objects and places, but not people. My childhood is a big blur and I have to depend on others to fill in the blanks.

In fact, I seem to be one of these people who lives in the moment. Once the moment ends, I move to the next one. Both my short-term and long-term memory are abysmal. Of course, there are some advantages to this too!

StatMama said...

I'm always impressed with how eloquently you describe the Asperger's experience. I need to improve on giving more vague answers, but it just seems so superficial to me. As you noted, I tend to launch into the full story...which few actually want to hear.

M said...

yeah the memory thing, and it's impact on baggage, is huge.

happens a lot that i'll be listening to someone...and pointing out ways they are contradicting themselves...and it's just not conducive to conversation. remembering much of what a person says...it should be helpful, and it should be fair to point out previous statements...but it creates more problems than it solves.

it's frustrating. people. they're not down with the memory thing.

RobinPlaysChords said...

This article hits on a couple of issues which seem quite relevant to me - not just at this present moment, but throughout my life. I'm a 20-year old Aspie who has an obsessive compulsion for closure on past events, and this has lead to a lot of baggage being carried for a number of years. I went to a specialist school and although I did well academically, I had a lot of vividly bad social experiences which I wasn't able to easily shake off - no matter how big a deal the problem actually was - and not being able to let go of some of those experiences has made it difficult to go into new social situations. It has also helped me pick more suitable social options which are less likely to have a traumatic outcome.

I haven't been following this blog for too long, but what I've read so far has been concise and thought-provoking. Keep up the good work! (And sorry for the length and rambling of this comment!)

M said...

i watch boat loads of doctor who, by the way.

when i was a little one in the 70's, it had a robot dog. that was all i needed to approve of a show. now dozens and dozens of episodes from each decade are available on netflix, to watch instantly, so i've been going through a lot of them. from third doctor john pertwee to the current fellow, david tennant.

there. extra comment. i do that.

Lindsay said...

My memory works a lot like yours does, Rambling Taoist.

What I remember, especially from childhood, is mostly colors, shapes, and fleeting sensory impressions. I don't really remember sequences of events, or feelings, all that well.

Sometimes I'll have a vivid memory of an episode, but a) even that is likely to be characterized by sharp recall of extraneous visual details and a relatively vague idea of how I felt or what I was doing, and b) there's no rhyme or reason to what episodes in my life I happen to remember vividly. They are not all, or even mostly, the emotionally salient ones.

I do have a good memory in general, though; it's just not usually autobiographical. I think of it as a sort of visual echolalia, in which images I have seen before come back to me randomly.

Anonymous said...

"However, I think the reason the NT just gives a vague answer is not so much because they don't remember, but because they don't want to go into it."

Or, could this be a case of AS remembering details instead of general concept? i.e. the AS person remembering the specific details and incidents leading to fear of spiders, but instead the NT just subconsciously feeds all that experience and info into a general concept of being scared of spiders?

e said...

I am also similar to Rambling Taoist. I have no history in the sense of looking at my life as a video. There really aren't any snapshots either. Just a random caption here and there. If I have a memory of an event, it is more like I took notes on it for one reason or another and not a memory of the actual event.
It isn't just childhood, either. I've lost most memories of my children, which is very distressing.
I get completely absorbed in looking at pix of my kids when they were little. The pix of me are almost alarming because although I know they are me, they still don't seem real.

Rachel said...

What you say about memory is absolutely true for me. I've also noticed that many autistic people feel things very acutely, so our memories are often loaded with feeling and significance. I think this is part of the reason that I have difficulty with transitions; I just don't skim the surface enough to be able to make quick changes. I'm generally plumbing the depths and that makes coming to the surface and shifting gears a much slower process than for the average NT.

Sparrow Rose said...

My memory is also closer to rambling Taoist, Lindsay, and e, though not identical to what they describe.

I remember details, things, events - including events involving people. I am much shakier on conversations and emotions. I lost a friend of many years, in part because I couldn't remember some conversations we had that were important to her. Later, she said I hurt her and I couldn't remember what I had done and even when she recounted it for me, it seemed misty and only small portions of it seemed vaguely familiar. This was something that had occured only a year previously. I couldn't remember what I had or had not told her and I couldn't remember an accurate timeline of which events happened before or after which other events. She was so upset by all this that she said some very unpleasant things to me and told me to never contact her again. I feel awful about it, but I don't feel awful about my part in it because I was just struggling along as usual, doing the best I could, considering the circumstances, and treating her well (as far as I knew) because she was important to me.

I should note that she did not accept or understand Asperger's Syndrome and when I responded to her saying that everyone feels a little out of place from time to time by saying "you don't understand" as a prelude to explaining it to her better, she became deeply offended that I should tell her she didn't understand and said that I should know better since she had been my friend for so many years and defended me when others talked behind my back. (I remember this conversation because it took place in e-mail and I've been able to re-read it periodically when I've tried to understand more about why the friendship failed.)

I'm sure (though I have no concrete evidence) that my fuzzy memory has caused me to lose other friendships and potential friendships in the past.

When I think of someone I haven't talked to in a while, I will remember if we parted on bad terms but I am never able to remember what the conflict was about. I am glad that I at least remember the bad terms because that's enough to protect myself from people who would otherwise hurt me over and over with me coming back for more again and again because I can't remember what happened. At least I am able to remember that *something* happened and thus keep my distance. But I can't even remember whether I did something wrong or they did something wrong or it was a mutual misunderstanding so sometimes I heap guilt on myself for ended friendships when I'm honestly not sure why the friendship ended.

eaucoin said...

Gavin, when you put it under the microscope, this dwelling on the past (as opposed to reframing our memories to help us get on with it) does appear unhealthy! Excess emotional baggage does sound pretty lame. But someone who defines themselves or is defined by their emotional baggage is essentially a survivor. I'm making a mental note to myself not to show my scars to anyone who doesn't ask to see them!

Aspergeek said...

Lol, my fear of spiders comes from seeing "The Thing" when I was rather young.

The "spider head" thingy creeped my out so much I had nightmares for weeks.

I agree that emotional baggage is huge issue.

I'm in a situation that I have a close friend, with who'm I've experienced some of my highest highs and biggest trauma's.

She seems to be looking to obtain closer contact with me again, but due to our history together and past experiences, I don't know how to react, how to behave, how to communicate, how often or when to simply send her a message.

I'm at a complete loss, I want to return to being the best and closest of friends, but at the same time I'm afraid of it, and even more afraid of letting her back in my inner bubble and then her leaving again.

Sparrow Rose said...

Aspergeek: the former friend who I mentioned above was very similar for me - highest highs and deepest traumas.

A few months ago, she tried to contact me on facebook. I was so shocked, confused, saddened, (and yes, hopeful) that I couldn't handle it. I didn't respond with words. I blocked her account.

The emotional baggage was just too heavy for me to pick up again. I had no choice but to erase her and block a chance for her to communicate with me again.

Anonymous said...

Hi everybody, I have just found this site and read through a couple of topics so far, its amazing how I can relate to alot of things mentioned. I have a 9 year old son who was diagnosed with Aspergers this year, myself on the other hand have not been diagnosed and its scary how my son and I are so similar. I just wanted to comment on the 'memory' topic. I have very vivid memory from my childhood alot of happy ones and a few not so happy in there aswell. I remember things such as, what people are wearing, the colors, the scene, the weather, where we were standing ect...my head is full of video clips and i think im running out of space...I explain my mind to be a storage container full of cluttered boxes tipped out all over the place. Since seeing my physiologist My mind is now an organized filing cabinet. When I have 'down times' over analyzing and over thinking those boxes come back and everything comes flooding out and I am constantly thinking 'replaying' over and over and space out...its so tiring mentally and physically along with my everyday life style and active mind it nakes me 'blow up' so to speak it builds up so much that at times I can no longer deal with it and turn on my loved ones..nasty words, hate, anger, rage (never physically doing nothing) but punishing myself for not holding it in not managing my thoughts 'memories' to myself I am always a failer no matter what the situation I have no explanation to as why I have these outbursts and typing this is the first time iv been able to explain it really.. I have tried a memory book everything i think of a memory I wrote a small caption but as usual it got old and Bord me so i no longer do it, I have lots of UN-finished projects and ideas. I don't mean for this comment to go on so much and you are all prob asleep ....I am just trying to understand myself more in order to relate and help my little boy...thank you so much for taking the time to read my comment :-)