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No_Exit
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28 May 2009, 2:24 pm

Hello all,

Other than my introduction a day or two ago, this is my first official post. For those that may not have seen my intro (which may be pretty much everyone if you are like me and not inclined to look at the "introduction" section of a forum), I am 46, recently diagnosed (officially), married w/kids, professionally doing fine, sometimes socially inept, and completely inept at empathizing with NT adult female emotions.

My question relates to the concept of empathy in a relationship. My understanding of empathy (and correct me if I am wrong) is that empathy means to "understand another person's situation, feelings, and motives as though you were in walking their shoes." Further, as I have come to understand, there's also a closely related notion of a "correct way" to "show" empathy. That is, after you empathize with another's emotion, you are supposed to "do X" to demonstrate your empathy.

Drum roll... My actual question is this: Is it reasonable to view empathy as a two-way street? That is, in an AS/NT relationship, should both partners endeavor to demonstrate empathy toward the other?

Now that I understand what empathy is and how it is important in my relationship with my wife, I'm trying to learn (as quickly as possible) how to interpret her emotions and respond in the way that she needs. At the same time, when she is in a state of emotional volatility (by that I mean high intensity, rapidly changing or even simultaneously felt emotions), I simply cannot keep up and I become overwhelmed and want to either (a) scream or (b) hide.

It doesn't help that this often occurs when I am trying to solve a problem like "help get my (also AS) son to school." It's hard enough to get him to school sometimes. But, when she gets emotional about the fact that he can be hard to get to school, it makes it even more difficult ... (at least for me).

I'd like to be able to ask her to, "please understand that when your emotional intensity is high, I just want to scream or hide, and it makes it hard to complete important things, like getting <son's name> to school."

Does that make any sense? Can an NT person tone down their emotions when they are in a volatile state? And other than hiding or screaming, do you have any helpful suggestions for alternatives? To me it is painful to hear, like nails on a chalkboard. (Hmm... I think that description is something I might want to include in the discussion, assuming it makes sense to talk to her about it.)

TIA,

"Doc"


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mikemmlj
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28 May 2009, 2:31 pm

Your post made me laugh man, that was an intense way to ask your question. The short answer to your question is yes, but remember most of us aren't professionals here, and your question is pretty in depth pal.. :D ..Are you trying to understand female emotions through logic and reason? That would drive Spock to a mental breakdown!


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No_Exit
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28 May 2009, 3:58 pm

mikemmlj wrote:
Are you trying to understand female emotions through logic and reason? That would drive Spock to a mental breakdown!


LOL. I tried the logic approach for many years and failed miserably. I'm just trying to figure out what her emotions look like and then what she likes to hear me say in response. That's probably what NT men do from the start, while it took me 18 years and a new diagnosis to figure it out. 8O

I really can get the emotions if she gives me a little time. But, when she's stressed out, her emotional state changes so fast that she's already at State 5 before I've figured out State 1. And this can occur literally within a minute or two ... It's frightening, one minute she's levitating over the bed, then she might turn her head 360 degrees and puke green stuff on me. Ok. I'm exaggerating a little. But, the rate of change was not exaggerated. :lol:


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TheSpecialKid
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28 May 2009, 4:15 pm

I need to watch this, in case anyone gives a good explanation of empathy...
Cause I'm completely lost on that topic, never understood it, at all. :?



No_Exit
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28 May 2009, 4:22 pm

TheSpecialKid wrote:
I need to watch this, in case anyone gives a good explanation of empathy...
Cause I'm completely lost on that topic, never understood it, at all. :?


Ok. I will fess up. I looked it up in the dictionary...


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Aili
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28 May 2009, 5:38 pm

you have also just described the reverse of me and my husband. Stressful situations trigger an emotional response from him. He gets loud and animated while i try to work out a rational solution. This makes him more loud and animated. I get over-stimilated. I get caught between wanting to race for the "shutdown" door and knowing i have a certain responsibility in front of me -- the one that caused the stressful situation in the first place. in other words this:

Quote:
when she is in a state of emotional volatility (by that I mean high intensity, rapidly changing or even simultaneously felt emotions), I simply cannot keep up and I become overwhelmed and want to either (a) scream or (b) hide.


Understanding why a person gets stressed out in stressful situations is not empathy in my opinion. I also don't think wigging-out over little things is a female thing. It's a stereotype.

Yes, i do believe our spouses need to learn how to be empathic with us. They need to learn how *their* tantrums hurt *us*. It's abusive otherwise. pure and simple.



mikebw
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28 May 2009, 5:52 pm

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.

And in my experience asking someone who is highly emotional to tone it down is a good way to get them to turn it up. So I'd not suggest going the direct route to accomplish that.

Good luck.


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Aili
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28 May 2009, 6:13 pm

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.


nice!



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28 May 2009, 6:16 pm

Aili wrote:
Understanding why a person gets stressed out in stressful situations is not empathy in my opinion. I also don't think wigging-out over little things is a female thing. It's a stereotype.


Aili,

You are so right and I apologize for being overly general in what I said. In this regard, I've had similar experiences with NT males. My initial reactions are roughly the same, though I am better at handling out of control male emotions now. When I was younger I would hide. Then I took martial arts and decided to start screaming and pounding my chest like the other guys. That was equally pointless.

Now I just ignore them or tell jokes, depending on the situation. For example, about a month ago I was flipped off at the kart track. After the race session I went up to the guy and said, "hey, I noticed you signaled to me that I was number 1. But you are mistaken... I was number 2 in that race. My 8 year old son, the one who beat both of us, was number 1." The guy laughed when he realized I was really joking, that I wasn't angry, and that my 8 year old son is freakishly fast in a go kart.

Aili wrote:
Yes, i do believe our spouses need to learn how to be empathic with us. They need to learn how *their* tantrums hurt *us*. It's abusive otherwise. pure and simple.


I've always felt that way. FWIW, I did discuss the issue with her. It seemed to go ok. Will see if it has an effect the next time she's stressed out.

On another topic, how would I recognize if a woman I know well has AS? For example, my sister... She's sure an awful lot like me (diagnosed), my son (diagnosed) and our dad (not diagnosed but who IMO seems very AS-like in many respects).

Best,


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28 May 2009, 7:47 pm

Hi No Exit and welcome to WP.

Empathy is much more than understanding of one's feelings.

It's very easy to understand why someone is crying when a loved one dies.

With Empathy, it goes beyond that. You will feel sad as well.

When you wife gets frustated and her actions make you frustrated, you're actually emphasising - though admittedly, it's a negative form.

Most of what is said about empathy in relation to aspies is a myth, so just ignore it.

Instead, concentrating on your question... You can't do anything "in the moment". Once your wife has "lost it", you'll have to wait until she calms down. Instead, you could say.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to try a different method of getting our son to school". I need you to just watch without becoming involved because it might work, or it might not. Make it clear that it's a sign of respect to give you a chance to see if it works.



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28 May 2009, 8:21 pm

gbollard wrote:
Empathy is much more than understanding of one's feelings.

It's very easy to understand why someone is crying when a loved one dies.

With Empathy, it goes beyond that. You will feel sad as well.


Actually, that's the definition of sympathy, not empathy. And IMO it is a common mistake that many people make when they hear that aspies aren't good at empathy.

I'm actually great at sympathy. But that gets me nowhere as (1) for those that want sympathy, you must first have empathy and (2) my wife prefers empathy with no sympathy. (Perhaps strange, but true.)

gbollard wrote:
Instead, concentrating on your question... You can't do anything "in the moment". Once your wife has "lost it", you'll have to wait until she calms down. Instead, you could say.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to try a different method of getting our son to school". I need you to just watch without becoming involved because it might work, or it might not. Make it clear that it's a sign of respect to give you a chance to see if it works.


Now that is a very interesting suggestion that just might work with her. I noted that someone earlier said something like "don't say anything when she's upset," which is my SOP. But, your suggestion could actually allow me to say something at the time (thereby reducing the nail on chalkboard sensation) and not risk making her even more agitated.

Thanks all for your thoughtful suggestions. Gotta run now for "family time."

Best,


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gbollard
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28 May 2009, 8:33 pm

No_Exit wrote:
gbollard wrote:
Empathy is much more than understanding of one's feelings.

It's very easy to understand why someone is crying when a loved one dies.

With Empathy, it goes beyond that. You will feel sad as well.


Actually, that's the definition of sympathy, not empathy. And IMO it is a common mistake that many people make when they hear that aspies aren't good at empathy.


Actually. I don't think it's sympathy.

Sympathy is when you feel sorry FOR someone - as in "oh, the poor guy has lost his relative"
Empathy is when you feel the emotion in their shoes - as in "oh... it would be awful if I lost my relative"



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28 May 2009, 10:12 pm

gbollard wrote:

Sympathy is when you feel sorry FOR someone - as in "oh, the poor guy has lost his relative"
Empathy is when you feel the emotion in their shoes - as in "oh... it would be awful if I lost my relative"


I have never found a definition of empathy that contains the word "feel" in it. IMO that's a slippery slope. But, to avoid a semantics-related argument (that probably won't help much in the end), I think the situation is much more complex than either of us can really discuss succinctly as we've tried. My thoughts about the topic are more along the lines of the following, which I think is a more complete treatment of the relationship between empathy and sympathy.

http://www.scn.org/people/autistics/empathy.html

Best,


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28 May 2009, 10:50 pm

Thanks for the link, it presents some interesting material.

I'll have to think about it a bit more and and see what I can internalise.

I think that the problems I've got in this regard tend to be related to the vastly different uses of the word. There's no general consensus of the meaning. My wife will sometime say negative things about my empathy in irritation but by these definitions, what she's actually looking for in me isn't empathy.

Of course, she doesn't want me to feel sorry for her either - so she doesn't want "sympathy".



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28 May 2009, 11:43 pm

Gavin, I hear you. In this case I not only empathize, but I sympathize too! :?


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29 May 2009, 12:32 am

No_Exit wrote:
gbollard wrote:

Sympathy is when you feel sorry FOR someone - as in "oh, the poor guy has lost his relative"
Empathy is when you feel the emotion in their shoes - as in "oh... it would be awful if I lost my relative"


I have never found a definition of empathy that contains the word "feel" in it. IMO that's a slippery slope. But, to avoid a semantics-related argument (that probably won't help much in the end), I think the situation is much more complex than either of us can really discuss succinctly as we've tried. My thoughts about the topic are more along the lines of the following, which I think is a more complete treatment of the relationship between empathy and sympathy.

http://www.scn.org/people/autistics/empathy.html

Best,


I'm not seeing a clarifying explanation of the two. I think this link clarifies the two nicely and may give you some examples of how to model your responses to your wife.


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