On the Matter of Empathy
It's a really interesting article because it not only talks about an aspie experiencing a profound moment of empathy but it also talks a bit about what that particular aspie wants from neurotypicals. I found this part fascinating because often I just don't know what I need.
Interestingly, the post talks about the possibility of empathy being a learned skill for people with aspergers. It's something that I agree with. My empathetic capabilities have increased significantly as I've gotten older mainly due to repeated prompts from my wife but also as a result of reading and understanding other people's positions on empathy.
Sometimes I'm so busy that I forget the most basic things.
For example, this morning, I drove to the bus stop but forgot to release the handbrake on my car. It's not the first time I've done that and I'll wager that it's probably not going to be the last. I thought the car felt a bit sluggish and made a mental note to check the tyres when I stopped. Of course, I forgot to do that too.
For me, lack of empathy is a bit like forgetting.
Apart from the most powerful raw emotions, like extreme anguish, love, hate and sadness, I often forget to consider other people's emotions. I'll see something and think of my own feelings but won't necessarily look beyond them. Examples being at school when I'd get good grades, I'd be happy about myself but wouldn't think to feel bad for a friend who didn't pass.
Sometimes it takes someone else to snap me out of this. I'll see someone else responding "weirdly" to another person and wonder why... then it will hit me and I'll realise why they're feeling bad. Sometimes the lateness of my empathy or the intensity of it is simply out of place. I will go and talk to someone and be empathetic hours after the problem. This can often make things worse because I'll be reminding them of something they've tried to forget.
Even worse, sometimes I'll have talked to that person about something else, work for instance, several times between the "incident" and the time I've actually offered empathy. It sometimes "weirds them out" and I'm sure that sometimes they think that I'm actually being insensitive but it's just that it sometimes takes me a long time to realise that empathy is needed.
At other times, my empathy is all wrong. I try to do the right thing but totally put myself in it. Once, several years back, a girl I knew got seriously embarrassed to the point of public crying. Public crying always gets me. It's a sure sign that something is wrong. In fact, often people have to cry before I realise that they're sad. Long faces and doleful looks (whatever they are) just don't do anything for me.
In this instance, I pushed my way through the crowd and had a quick talk to her, told her that nothing had changed and that nobody would think any less of her and gave her a quick hug - and I'm not a huggy person.
As I turned away, my wife was "starring daggers at me". How dare I offer someone else empathy! She didn't talk to me for hours later. It took me a long time, several days in fact, to understand what I'd done wrong. In all honesty, I'm still not sure if I've got the right answer.
Finally... sometimes when my mind is clear, my empathy appears out of nowhere and I find that it's my NT colleagues who are without empathy. This happened once at work when a lady was unexpectedly retrenched. My colleagues were all grumbling about how she didn't do a whole lot of work anyway and for some reason, I was the only one who thought about how she must feel. I went up and talked to her and I gave her a hug - and she burst into tears. It was only then that my colleagues started to fuss over her.
There's a pretty good chance that empathy can be learned.