I’m an alien, not a robot.

One of the things that I’ve grown accustomed to over the years is being accused of lacking any emotion. This actually seems to be a fairly standard charge for NTs to level against aspies and it is one that I find particularly frustrating. I’ve been called Data and Spock before, but I always took it to mean that I was cool under pressure and had a logical thought process.

I have emotions and feelings and as I have stated before here, I feel them pretty well. My problem is not in feeling, is it in identifying. I can tell you if it’s a 1 or a 10, but I couldn’t necessarily distinguish between happy and excited or sad and… well I’m really not sure how this sentence finishes because those words don’t really mean much to me. I deal in good and bad and 1 to 10. (There are exceptions, frustrated is a good one, I can identify that one perfectly).

Anything approaching a 10 and I am going to get overwhelmed, good or bad. It’s just too much and I don’t know what to do with it. I tend to stim to try and stay calm, some of my stims are more destructive than others. Shutting down is my last line of defence before I hit meltdown territory. I can’t talk when I feel like this. My brain is whirring away trying to process everything, the feelings, the thing that has made them happen, it can be exhausting. I just don’t have the capacity to talk too. I hate not talking, I am very good at avoiding situations where it happens around people, in fact I am like a bloody ninja at avoiding or escaping such situations. Same thing for meltdowns, I am very good at keeping a lid on things until I am back in the safety of solitude.

I think that the idea that aspies are unfeeling is a classic example of the miscommunication and misunderstanding that occurs between NTs and people with ASDs. There are times when I’ve been told that I don’t give anything away and I’ve thought to myself that my feelings are being broadcast loud and clear, people are just not listening on the right channels. I guess facial expressions are a grey area, I know some aspies make the “wrong” faces to match their emotion. I know that sometimes if my brain is whirring away that my face maybe goes vacant, but again, this isn’t an indicator of a lack of feeling – it is in fact the complete opposite.

I am used to my emotions being misinterpreted, just as my words are, so yes sometimes I will attempt to swallow them. Part of the reasoning for this is that I am terrible at predicting how somebody else will respond. Sometimes people get upset or angry and I have no idea why. (Aside: This is what lack of empathy means, it doesn’t mean that we do things because we don’t give a shit, or because we want to be cruel. Doing or saying things that are designed to be cruel and upset people is not caused by Aspergers, it is caused by being a douchebag). I’ve lost track of the number of times when my Mum has said to me “Well didn’t you think that would make x angry?” and the answer is almost always “No, I really didn’t expect it to”.

There is only one thing worse than a 10 and that is when I realise that I have made other people feel things. That in itself is overwhelming, it is like an amplifying feedback loop. I have to say sorry and fix the situation right away. I hate thinking I have made someone sad. Of course, if the feeling I invoked was a positive one then I’m likely feeling pretty pleased with myself and on top of the world.

So, plenty of stuff is being felt and nobody should ever doubt that. Maybe I’m totally alone in how I handle feelings? How do you guys feel? What coping strategies do you employ? Let me know in the comments.

5 thoughts on “I’m an alien, not a robot.

  1. This is something that makes me crazy!
    In an education lecture the lecturer put up a slide about ASD that read “People with autism often don’t experience emotion”
    I set her straight… I am now known as the crazy special education lady that derails classes.
    In my experience a more intuitive understanding of your impact on others can develop as you age. Social development doesn’t stop!

  2. Gretchen Leary was asking on twitter what awareness meant to each individual. For me, it’s having NTs know things like this.

    Hopefully I will get develop better skills in this area. :)

  3. Oh, so true.

    Emotions really are a difficult thing to understand, but to say that we don’t have them is just… wrong. We don’t tend to be great at comprehending them, and I know I can get overwhelmed by intense emotions, but we definitely have them.

    My psychologist in Toronto once put it to me like this: Aspies have the same range of emotions as NTs – it’s just that for the most part, they’re pastel – not as intense – because of the hardwiring; when they do get intense, we tend to overload on them. (I’ve since figured out that he’s probably not entirely right about this – I’ve read some blogs where Aspies mention intense emotions that they don’t get overwhelmed by – but I’m the only Aspie he’d interacted with and he’s not trained in dealing with ASD, so he could only go by my experiences.) He was well aware that I had emotions.

    What he taught me to do (and admittedly, I’m not great at following this instruction, but when I have – usually under his coaching – it’s worked) is: Try to find a word to describe what I’m feeling. This is usually “top-level” – the cognitive level – where you say things like “I’m upset” or “I’m happy”, and generally mean a range of emotions, rather than a specific one. Then we’d dig a little deeper, and try to figure out what were the more specific emotions that made up that “cloud”. Quite often, “upset” tended to translate as a mix of frustration and anger – but to get down to that level, I had to go through shame and embarrassment first. I’d often have to try to analyze the “why” of the emotion I felt to help define it “properly” (meaning give it a label that I could grasp and manipulate to convey information to others).

    I don’t know that it would work for everyone (in fact, it probably wouldn’t, given how different we can be). I tend to be an analytical thinker doesn’t feel most things strongly (unless I’m repressing a lot more than I think I am), so that approach can work for me.

    Other than that, and cat-cuddling, I don’t really have coping mechanisms for my emotions. At least not ones that would do anyone (including me) any good – I tend to repress and avoid, which I suppose are coping mechanisms of a sort, but they’re the kind that do more damage than good.

    *shrugs* There you go. My 2 cents!

    ;) tagAught

  4. I guess I repress and avoid too, but I am trying to get better at just feeling. I may just try the digging deeper, but I think I will try this with a trusted friend. Like you said, there is a certain amount of embarrassment and shame, although there probably shouldn’t be.

    Thank you for your insight tagAught.

  5. I don’t really like the “alien” metaphor either, to be honest. I belong on this planet just as much as the next guy. But I understand why it’s a popular one. What else would be considered an equal to humans, yet different enough to warrant changing expectations?

    I prefer to be called a dragon instead. It’s just as good as “alien” in describing the comparison to allistic people. There are a lot of other similarities to autism here, and it would be easy to write allegory on that basis. What other creature is so misunderstood as to be treated as something lesser? What other creature holds such a treasure of wisdom, shared only with the worthy? What other creature sees things as they really are, unfiltered and uncensored? I have to admit, I don’t remember whether I’m talking about dragons or about autistic people.

    Plus, I feel like it fits me better as a person than “human” ever could. I guess that’s what really matters.

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