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Mysty
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01 Jun 2009, 4:58 pm

Aili wrote:
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Switching back to my opening topic, I disagree strongly with the popular but harmful misperception that aspies and other aspies lack empathy. My prediction is that this notion will be once and forever dispelled very soon. We may struggle with it, but we do not lack it. Indeed, we may have too much of it...

I definitely agree with this. I have way too much. I always thought lack of empathy was a guy thing not an aspie thing. I'm glad to hear that neither is the case.

Now could someone pass on a link that explains ToM?


I don't have a link, but, basically, theory of mind means the ability to have a theory about what is going on in someone else's mind. That is, realizing that others have a mind separate from my own, and what is in their mind is different than what's in my mind, and being able to have ideas about what they do or don't know, how they feel, etc.

Althought I haven't seen anyone put it this way, I think, there's having theory of mind -- having ideas about what someone is thinking (different from my own thinking), and ability to be accurate with it. And, just as I noted with empathy, it's easier the more like me someone is.

One person I know, I have a really easy time understanding his thinking, good empathy and ToM with him. And it's really, well, sometimes frustrating, sometimes amusing, sometimes just interesting, to see others who don't get his thinking, who make wrong assumptions (guesses, theories, ideas) about what he does something.



gbollard
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01 Jun 2009, 5:33 pm

No_Exit wrote:
mikebw wrote:
A definition that kind of made sense to me is this: Sympathy is having feelings for a person, key word FOR. Empathy is having feelings with a person, key word WITH. Sympathy does not require experience, while empathy usually does, that is to say that to sympathize with someone you need never to have been in their shoes, whereas to empathize with someone you need to have had a similar experience.



Mike,

Thanks for sharing your definitions. After I read them several times, I realized they actually work quite well in that, to empathize, you generally (but perhaps not always) have to have experience, but to sympathize you don't necessarily have to (though you can) have empathy.


Well done Mike. A great definition - and one which I too agree with.

So... Why are we seen to lack empathy?

1. Because Aspies take less information onboard
We don't read expressions as well and we're often so caught up in trying to follow a conversation that we miss the nuances (tone, body language, expression). As a result our "picture" of an event can be less complete than an NT. It probably takes us much longer to recognise someone's mood and realise that they require empathy.

2. Because our own experiences are often limited
There are various reasons why aspies may have a more limited experience than NTs including sheltered lives, naeivity, inexperience and difficulty reading expression. We improve over time but it takes time to build up experience.

3. Because it's hard work
Being empathetic is very hard work. You have to detect the situation and respond appropriately. You need to control your voice and expression and you need to say the right thing at the right time - not what comes into your head. Much of this is totally alien to the aspie who is used to speaking their mind. I'm sure that a lot of this is also quite foreign to the NT but that they are more "practiced" and that tone and expression at least, come more naturally to them. A tired person is less likely to spend the effort to empathise than a refreshed person.

4. Because our minds are wired differently
Just as men and women's minds are wired quite differently (women like empathy, men prefer problem solving), the aspie mind is different too. In fact, much of the "extreme male brain" theory (which I don't personally agree with btw) comes from the fact that even female aspies tend to prefer problem solving to empathy.

5. Because stupid tests give dumb answers
No exit has already referred to the puppet test (quoted below). It works for young aspies but not for older ones. This isn't because we grow less aspie as we get older, it's because we start to understand the point of the test and give the required answer. If anything, I think that the test demonstrates that young aspies have trouble processing language and miss the key parts of the sentence.

No_Exit wrote:
When you realize the types of experiments that were used to come up with this nonsensical and demeaning theory that aspiess lack empathy, you realize they were badly flawed experiments to start with. ..... Take for example that ridiculously flawed puppet experiment. Just because the autistic subjects couldn't anticipate where Judy would look for the marble hidden by Jane (or whatever those puppets names were) doesn't mean autistic's lack empathy.



Aili
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01 Jun 2009, 6:31 pm

Mysty wrote:
I don't have a link, but, basically, theory of mind means the ability to have a theory about what is going on in someone else's mind. That is, realizing that others have a mind separate from my own, and what is in their mind is different than what's in my mind, and being able to have ideas about what they do or don't know, how they feel, etc.

thanks Mysty.

gbollard wrote:
1. Because Aspies take less information onboard
We don't read expressions as well and we're often so caught up in trying to follow a conversation that we miss the nuances (tone, body language, expression). As a result our "picture" of an event can be less complete than an NT. It probably takes us much longer to recognise someone's mood and realise that they require empathy.


I would argue that Aspies--at least some of us (i'm hoping its not just me) -- take in too much information and have a difficult time sorting out what is relevant or what is appropriate to respond too. Also, a common reaction from being bombarded with lots of intense feelings can be shutdown. As a result, a person can be seen as "unresponsive" and lacking in emotions.


gbollard wrote:
2. Because our own experiences are often limited
There are various reasons why aspies may have a more limited experience than NTs including sheltered lives, naeivity, inexperience and difficulty reading expression. We improve over time but it takes time to build up experience.

I'm not convinced that experience is needed for empathy.


gbollard wrote:
3. Because it's hard work
Being empathetic is very hard work. You have to detect the situation and respond appropriately. You need to control your voice and expression and you need to say the right thing at the right time - not what comes into your head. Much of this is totally alien to the aspie who is used to speaking their mind. I'm sure that a lot of this is also quite foreign to the NT but that they are more "practiced" and that tone and expression at least, come more naturally to them. A tired person is less likely to spend the effort to empathise than a refreshed person.

It sounds as if you are saying that expressing empathy in an appropriate way is extremely hard work, not in fact being empathic. I would agree with you there.



gbollard
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01 Jun 2009, 11:13 pm

Aili wrote:
gbollard wrote:
1. Because Aspies take less information onboard
We don't read expressions as well and we're often so caught up in trying to follow a conversation that we miss the nuances (tone, body language, expression). As a result our "picture" of an event can be less complete than an NT. It probably takes us much longer to recognise someone's mood and realise that they require empathy.


I would argue that Aspies--at least some of us (i'm hoping its not just me) -- take in too much information and have a difficult time sorting out what is relevant or what is appropriate to respond too. Also, a common reaction from being bombarded with lots of intense feelings can be shutdown. As a result, a person can be seen as "unresponsive" and lacking in emotions.


Yes, sorry. You're right. I was oversimplifying things. Aspies actually take more information in during a conversation, including facial expression, tone, body language, little grey hairs, shoe colour and texture, books on the bookshelves, everything. It gets to be too much to sort through and I guess we dump a lot of it. For whatever reason, it doesn't sink in as part of the whole "this is how you express grief, anger, happiness, excitement etc.." lesson.

If we assume that experience (not identical experience but similar) needs to be present for empathy (or at least empathetic displays) to be effective, then it follows that we are taking less relevant input when compiling that experience. I know you're not necessarily convinced that experience is required.



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02 Jun 2009, 6:09 pm

gbollard wrote:
If we assume that experience (not identical experience but similar) needs to be present for empathy (or at least empathetic displays) to be effective, then it follows that we are taking less relevant input when compiling that experience. I know you're not necessarily convinced that experience is required.


Well, if by definition empathy requires similar experiences then its not really an issue of me having to be convinced but me needing to understand. so along with rereading gavin's 5 points, i thought about it (somewhat reluctantly i confess) some more yesterday.

If i'm getting the definitions right, sympathy has always come to me easily whether i want it or not. I pick up other peoples feelings too easily. Even imaginary people (actors) or animals. Empathy however, is different. My first reaction is "empathy is not productive". Productive meaning that it does not help one move out or away from a place filled with negative emotion. What might be productive is solving the problem causing the stressful situation, breaking down the problem into smaller parts that are not so overwhelming, coming at the problem with a different perspective, etc.

However, after thinking about this for a while, i realize that this too is incorrect. Empathy *is* in fact, quite productive. or should i say it *can be*.... for instance i, along with others who have responded to the OP on this thread all empathize quite well with him. WP forums, are in fact a way for aspies -- those of us that have developed such unique experiences -- to find others who understand and empathize. why? i think it's because the connection made between someone who understands does help us get out of the muck. aspies are still human and humans require social connectedness. isolation breeds hopelessness.

So, going back to the original example of the situation put forth by the op: struggling to leave the house...perhaps what the spouse on the verge of downward spiraling emotions needs is just a nod, a smile, or a light touch on the shoulder (depending on what an individual aspie can handle), and something to the effect of a sincere: "I know."



elancee
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11 Jun 2009, 1:39 pm

Aili wrote:
I would argue that Aspies--at least some of us (i'm hoping its not just me) -- take in too much information and have a difficult time sorting out what is relevant or what is appropriate to respond too. Also, a common reaction from being bombarded with lots of intense feelings can be shutdown. As a result, a person can be seen as "unresponsive" and lacking in emotions.


I'm totally with you on this, Aili. I regularly "shut down" when bombarded with information and intense feelings!



physicsgirl
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11 Jun 2009, 4:03 pm

Yes. It goes both ways!! ! I am AS and so is my dad, my mother will never love me (but I wonder if she ever loved anyone anyway---she is now 63 and has an order of magnitude less friends than me because nobody is rich, educated, pretty, ect. enough for her) because she is so hateful to my dad (and by extension me). I think the thing about "teaching people with AS empathy" is a crock because I see my mother form of empathy as a lie (even between NTs). Here is a classic example my mother can cry rivers over some sappy story she hears on the news (and then go call her limited friends who all think like she does and say how bad it makes her feel). My father on the other hand might donate a large sum of money to an appropriate organization (he gave $10,000 to UNICEF after my son was born, because he loves is grandson that much!!). She always uses gender-feminism (the idea that a women's way of thinking is better than a man's) to degrade him. For example, she always calls him a male-pig (funny because he encouraged a military career for his daughter) and said he never helped with the housework (I guess she wants sympathy from me now that I have kids)---but he does help---she said he never changed a diaper, but then when I came home to visit my dad got up with my son at his 5 am feedings and feed him and changed his diaper (very,very nice of him!). I know this because when I woke up my sons diaper was on backwards and he was on the couch playing with my father. I didn't say a word about this, but one day my mother found out--she then made fun of my father to everyone she knew about this. The next day he woke her up at 5 am to change the diaper and she yelled at him! (what did she expect??). My father has a very true and sincere love of his family (even her) and others (he makes a living helping people in crisis), my mother is so consumed with her emotions that he is unable to respect anyone (I have stopped seeing her because she locked my son in a closet because he did typical toddler things).



relieved
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19 Jun 2009, 10:06 am

I'd just like to say as an NT my understanding is that sympathy is intellectual (objective) and empathy is emotional (subjective). To me, this means empathy impacts your own emotional state. You feel it in your heart, as opposed to sympathy which is more like 'oh, that must be awful'. Feeling empathy involves you.

Just my 2 cents :)



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19 Jun 2009, 12:54 pm

MKDP wrote:
I am amazed when other people just can't figure out how to deal with autie meltdowns, agitation, sensory overloads, etc. For me, what always works everytime, is just the other person, rather than reacting with escalation of the upset (or wanting to drug it), just comes over and gives a very long, very deep, pressure hug and holds me for awhile and tells me it is ok -- this calms the overstimulation, for me. But, heck if I have ever met ANYONE who *gets* this is how to calm me down. Most people just don't understand autism and how to deal with it.

I am curious. There are people at our church who, when they see me, will go out of their way to collect another of my bear hugs, and it would give me great pleasure to give you a bear hug if it would enable you to avoid a meltdown, except I would be a total stranger to you. Would a hug from a total stranger calm you, or because I am a stranger would it only escalate the problem?



Last edited by willmark on 19 Jun 2009, 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

willmark
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19 Jun 2009, 1:08 pm

Mysty wrote:
Thus, for that reason, the more we tend to be different in our way of thinking, the less empathy we tend to have, simply because we meet less people who we easily have empathy for -- nothing to do with capacity for empathy. So, aspies probably do really have less empathy simply because we are different, not because of anything to do with capacity for empathy.

But you don't have to be limited to other people who are like you, or I don't. Maybe my being 50% NT makes this possible, I don't know. There are a lot of folks in this world who are not like me. Extroverts are a good example. I see patterns in everything, and even in other people's behavior. I expose myself to situations, like this forum, and discussion groups, etc. where I can read or hear people's descriptions of what it's like to be that person. Once I become familiar with the patterns of other types of people's experiences, I can draw upon that knowledge to show empathy to people about experiences that I don't experience myself. Is that something that an aspie or an autie could learn to do? I don't know.



Last edited by willmark on 19 Jun 2009, 1:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

elancee
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19 Jun 2009, 1:19 pm

relieved wrote:
I'd just like to say as an NT my understanding is that sympathy is intellectual (objective) and empathy is emotional (subjective). To me, this means empathy impacts your own emotional state. You feel it in your heart, as opposed to sympathy which is more like 'oh, that must be awful'. Feeling empathy involves you.

Just my 2 cents :)

Ah, going by your explanation, I will attempt to describe what happens to me objectively and subjectively when someone is hurting:

my emotions become overloaded by the sadness and pain> I may cry or feel like crying but realize that it is inappropriate to do so> my objectivity is overwhelmed by the consumptive "involvement" of my emotions in the person's trouble and thus limits my intellectual ability to determine what the appropriate response is. The only time I'm 'safe' just letting out how much pain I am feeling on someone else's behalf is if I know them well and have a close bond. Otherwise I am in great danger of appearing overly-dramatic (have been accused of this many times) or extremely odd!

I would say I have less ability to sympathize and extraordinary ability to empathize!


willmark wrote:
I am curious. There are people at our church who, when they see me, will go out of their way to collect another of my bear hugs, and it would give me great pleasure to give you a bear hug if it would avoid a meltdown for you, but I would be a total stranger to you. Would a hug from a total stranger calm you, or because I am a stranger would it only escalate the problem?


When I am in "melt-down", yes a hug, but even better, holding my hand or gently laying a hand on my shoulder (the physical communication of caring and inviting me to receive it, allowing me to choose to be hugged) even from a total stranger, is GOOD. MKDP is right about being told 'it is okay.' The verbal reassurance is important, too. Showing me that I'm not entirely alone in my torment and that someone is actually concerned about me makes it subside more quickly!



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19 Jun 2009, 2:04 pm

elancee wrote:
Ah, going by your explanation, I will attempt to describe what happens to me objectively and subjectively when someone is hurting:

my emotions become overloaded by the sadness and pain> I may cry or feel like crying but realize that it is inappropriate to do so> my objectivity is overwhelmed by the consumptive "involvement" of my emotions in the person's trouble and thus limits my intellectual ability to determine what the appropriate response is. The only time I'm 'safe' just letting out how much pain I am feeling on someone else's behalf is if I know them well and have a close bond. Otherwise I am in great danger of appearing overly-dramatic (have been accused of this many times) or extremely odd!

I would say I have less ability to sympathize and extraordinary ability to empathize!

You aren't describing anything here that I don't also experience, and you are female. Avoiding crying can be very difficult to accomplish sometimes. Sometimes it's just easier to let it go and let folks see a grown man crying. The only difference is my intellect seems to live in a separate part of my mind, my other me, the verbal logical part of me, and is uninhibited by the emotional overload most of the time. The left brain will take control when the right brain becomes overwhelmed, if I let it.

elancee wrote:
willmark wrote:
I am curious. There are people at our church who, when they see me, will go out of their way to collect another of my bear hugs, and it would give me great pleasure to give you a bear hug if it would avoid a meltdown for you, but I would be a total stranger to you. Would a hug from a total stranger calm you, or because I am a stranger would it only escalate the problem?


When I am in "melt-down", yes a hug, but even better, holding my hand or gently laying a hand on my shoulder (the physical communication of caring and inviting me to receive it, allowing me to choose to be hugged) even from a total stranger, is GOOD. MKDP is right about being told 'it is okay.' The verbal reassurance is important, too. Showing me that I'm not entirely alone in my torment and that someone is actually concerned about me makes it subside more quickly!

Thank you. I am always looking for ways to be helpful.



Mysty
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20 Jun 2009, 12:50 pm

willmark wrote:
Mysty wrote:
Thus, for that reason, the more we tend to be different in our way of thinking, the less empathy we tend to have, simply because we meet less people who we easily have empathy for -- nothing to do with capacity for empathy. So, aspies probably do really have less empathy simply because we are different, not because of anything to do with capacity for empathy.

But you don't have to be limited to other people who are like you, or I don't. Maybe my being 50% NT makes this possible, I don't know. There are a lot of folks in this world who are not like me. Extroverts are a good example. I see patterns in everything, and even in other people's behavior. I expose myself to situations, like this forum, and discussion groups, etc. where I can read or hear people's descriptions of what it's like to be that person. Once I become familiar with the patterns of other types of people's experiences, I can draw upon that knowledge to show empathy to people about experiences that I don't experience myself. Is that something that an aspie or an autie could learn to do? I don't know.


I don't think that really affect what I was saying. People have more empathy for people like them. Being able to learn to have empathy for those who are different doesn't change the human tendency to have more empathy for those who one is more like.



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12 Jul 2009, 7:26 am

I cannot empathise, I can go through the expected motions, you know, administer concerned look here, hug there but it all seems like nonsense to me..I only tend to genuinely 'feel' something for another person if they are truly devestated, crying near me does nothing unless it there's a possibility of long term damage, if there will be potential physical or psychological damage then something switches on in my head and I start to feel 'emotional'. Perhaps that is a primitive form of empathy..



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12 Jul 2009, 9:27 am

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Empathy: is it a two way street


i think it is and that is why there are so many "head on collisions".



willmark
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13 Jul 2009, 8:31 am

relieved wrote:
I'd just like to say as an NT my understanding is that sympathy is intellectual (objective) and empathy is emotional (subjective). To me, this means empathy impacts your own emotional state. You feel it in your heart, as opposed to sympathy which is more like 'oh, that must be awful'. Feeling empathy involves you.

Just my 2 cents :)

Empathy to me is co-experiencing another's emotions. For me it often occurs by itself, sometimes when I would rather not experience it. With some it's like sharing a memory buffer, and I feel what they are feeling while they are feeling it. This too can be overwhelming, particularly when the other person is feeling anger toward me. This used to cause overwhelming anxiety, but I have been working on trying to feel their anger with out responding to it with fear. Sometimes I don't know whose feelings I am feeling at first. Once I started feeling cut off and disconnected, and this was puzzling me. I couldn't imagine why I would be feeling this, so I started looking around me to see where those feelings might be coming from, and a moment later, I suddenly knew. I explained this to my wife, and without batting an eye, or showing any surprise, she said, "Yes. I have been feeling cut off and disconnected from you because you have been working so many hours, and I never get to spend time with you."

No, empathy doesn't just work both ways, but ideally it should. I expect that for most people this doesn't just occur by itself the way hearing or seeing do if you have those senses. I'm afraid I have no advice on how to develop this if you don't already experience it.