Chaos taming itself
To be human is to struggle with troubling emotions. To be autistic is to sometimes struggle with strange emotions that are difficult to understand or put into words.
Many people still seem to believe that autists do not experience emotions, or at least deep emotions. I believe this prejudice also explains in part dehumanization of autists: when people are unable to read our emotions, they assume that we do not have any. Or that since doing something does not prompt an “appropriate” emotional response, we need more incentive and more forceful treatment.
Most of us have quite normal emotional capacity (though do keep in mind, that there is great variation just like there is in neurotypical population -point is, ability to *experience* emotions is not a differentiating factor between neurotypes). Term ”special interest” alone should hint, that our passion and intensity have been noticed -and promptly pathologized. But the biggest difference between us and general population is the way we express emotions.
Also, many of us suffer from alexithymia which, in my opinion, is not an autism trait at all but trauma response to serious gaslighting most of us have been subjected to in childhood. It is no wonder you have difficulty with recognizing even strongest emotions in your 20’s, if you have been told all your life that what you feel bad feels actually really good, that your intense pain does not really exist and that “everyone” likes what you claim to dislike and therefore you just fail to understand your own good. How could such a systematic abuse not leave any marks?
We construct social reality differently from most. Our body language may be different, muted or affected by noticeable stims. We have our own culture, love languages and our ways of expressing empathy and care differ from neurotypical. Our intentions and actions are easily misinterpreted, sometimes with tragic consequences. And yes- it works the other way around as well! I am not the only autistic person who needs to remind herself that neurotypicals are not insincere and shallow even though their expressions of sympathy may read to me instinctively that way.
Too often, we are afraid to express our feelings out of fear of ending up rejected as too intense. When we are not accused of being emotionless robots, we are accused of being “too much”. Too sensitive. Too passionate. Feeling too much for what should be insignificant. Melting down like nuclear reactors and shutting down like when our brain pulls the emergency brake. Instantly liking or disliking things because our powerful senses deliver us in that instant as much information as neurotypical brain gathers over much longer time period. And of course we empathize wrong if we mirror the other person’s feelings instead of responding their emotional need.
Communication skills are very important for us. Most of us are not born geniuses in that regard. Many of us do not get a very good upbringing at home. But we can practice and we can learn. Communication is about finding the right words and building courage to express them. Learning communication will turn an annoying brat into a steadfast activist, a complainer into a well-respected analyst, an annoying person into an effective advocate. While the extent to which we can hone our abilities varies, one thing is certain: we can always try to do tomorrow better than we did today. Learning follows practice.
As usual, if we follow advice that assumes we are just clumsy neurotypicals or that neurotypical way of experiencing emotion is right while ours is wrong, we end up unwell and encounter difficulties because we try to regulate emotions by application of force where there should be gentle acceptance. We have been taught to believe that control means hiding, suppressing or denying our feelings. For residents of Takiwatanga, however, it should mean understanding born from reflection. Sometimes understanding leads us to accommodate and accept our feelings, sometimes we need to gently guide emotional energy into constructive and fulfilling outlets.
Instead of battling against our emotions, we need to learn ways to “release our chaos” in a way that harnesses and shapes it. Power of emotion is not a monster to be feared and chained. It is just energy that can be used to boost us when we need it. Autistic passion is a beautiful force of nature and with skill, we can wield it in service of good. And so chaotic, shapeless energy building up within us turns into magic that can heal and change the world.
When you wish to understand better autistic experience, Kaiao can help! Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll discuss more.