In my last post on this subject, I talked about getting to the stage where you really feel empathy. This is sometimes quite difficult to achieve - and sometimes, it's just not possible at all.
Sadly though, many aspies reach a stage of real empathy but are unable to effectively convey it to the real world.
Some Examples of Aspie Expression
I was going to start with an example of my own but I've been meaning to talk about Bev's videos for a long time and this seems to be an excellent opportunity.
Bev's videos are clear and to the point. They explain in a matter of minutes, things which take me hours to explain. They're also often just a little amusing and are always heartfelt.
I can see myself in this. When I make a serious social mistake, I just want to get out of there. Sometimes I try to fix it but I usually just end up making things worse. It's common for my "solution" to involve a quick escape followed by a bizarre act of random kindness later.
in order to truly understand the video, you need to realise how much the parrot means to Bev. The parrot is a friend and a comfort. By offering the parrot, Bev is offering comfort. I guess it's like a child offering their comfort blanket to someone else.
Of course, although this is a particularly selfless, empathetic and kind act, the neurotypical reaction is a WTF? moment. The problem isn't that there is no empathy but rather that its particular form of expression isn't understood by NTs. It's over their heads though and they'll simply decide that the aspie has "no empathy".
Once, when I was at work, a good friend fell over and ripped the knees out of her suit. She arrived at the office in a flurry of tears, some of pain but mostly of embarrassment. I remember poking my head in to find out what all the fuss was about, finding myself overwhelmed by the crowd of sympathetic people and making a quick withdrawal from the situation.
I didn't go back to my desk though, I went out to get her some chocolate. She received it with thanks and I think, a bit of puzzlement. Years later, I'm asking myself the question - Why did I do that? Why did I choose such a bizarre form of expression? I guess it's because to me, chocolate is often a comfort food. I never considered what was appropriate for the situation, I just went for what seemed "right" for me. What would probably help me to take my mind off such a situation.
Another time, after asking a woman (who I'd never met) and who was returning from maternity leave "why would you come back to this place when you've got a beautiful baby to play with at home", I was told that the baby had died. I made some hasty apologies (and probably made matters worse) but I went back and made sure that she got our newest computer and gave her top priority IT support for the next three years, She eventually left the company to have her second (and third) babies.
Again, it begs the question - why such a bizarre form of empathy? To be honest, I really don't know. I didn't have a lot to offer her at the time. The other thing that's worth noting is that it carried on for three years. It's rare that I see NT empathy lasting more than five minutes.
It's clear in all of these cases that the aspie is not only feeling empathy but is also responding in an extremely empathetic manner. Unfortunately, those responses are too deep to be accepted and appreciated by the neurotypical mind.
Giving NT-Compliant Empathy Responses
Ultimately, the only empathy that matters to most NTs is personal empathy. Personal to them, not to you.
In my chocolate example, the empathy would be correct if the colleague in question had chocolate as a comfort food but in most cases, they really just want a bit of fussing over.
To give NT compliant empathy, you need to have listened to the other person and taken particular note of their grievances and psychological needs.
Sometimes, good empathy is just a matter of being a good listener. Sometimes it's telling them what they need to hear; "ie: You were right to do that...".
It's a very rare thing indeed when the need for empathy is a search for a solution or a request for resources.
Giving Empathy to Your Significant Other
My wife and I would raise our kids entirely differently. She tends to have a playful, unstructured and spontaneous approach while I'm rigid, timetabled and more prepared.
Both approaches are valid and while a structured approach makes handling children with aspergers much easier, spontanety prepares them for the challenges of life. Neither approach is better than the other, they're just "different".
I tend to let my wife drive the interactions with our children most of the time because she's with them when I'm at work. My approach tends to be reserved for weekends or for when I'm on holidays.
Quite often I'll come home to stories about how one or both of the kids did something particularly destructive or how their behaviour was appalling and caused major embassment.
My wife simply wants a sympathetic ear and usually I'll oblige but it's very difficult to stop thinking that such behaviour wouldn't occur under my rules. Similarly it's hard to stop myself from pointing out obvious solutions particularly if I've talked about them before or set them up only to have them remain unused.
Sometimes I fail. Sometimes, particularly when I'm tired, I give her solutions instead of empathy. When I do that, I know that I'm not being a very good husband. Solutions are things that I personally like to hear when I've got issues with the kids but they're not expressions of empathy that my wife appreciates. As I mentioned before, to give proper empathy, you need to give the other person what they need - not what you need.
Whenever you're giving empathy to your significant other, take a moment to think about what they really need. You'll find it changes a lot of things and improves your relationship.