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Aspie expressions - showing emotion vs feeling it

Is it true that aspies show less expression in their faces? It might be true at times, especially when you don't have to perform for the outside world, but sometimes it's just the wrong kind of expression you show the world.

When someone is expecting hearts and flowers all over my face (no, not literally), they might get a thin smile, struggling at the edges of my mouth as my ability to express myself buckles under the weight of their expectations.

When I need to show sympathy and concern, I might have a flicker over the eyes, a sense that I am thinking and feeling an emotion but not making it clear which one. The truth is that I am wanting to show sympathy but am let down by the fact your dog is salivating over my leg or the clock is skewed on the wall. Sorry. I do care, honestly.

And joy? Pure joy? That one is on a need-to-know-basis and if you aren't in the vaulted inner circle, then you don't need to know.

The real problem lies in the expected expression, as compared to the expressions in the Big Book of Faces, handed out to most children by the age of 5 and referred to ever-after as the one true reference for how people should look when Happy, Sad, Angry, Worried and Excited. There are sub-sections dealing with Anxiety, Stress, Anticipation and all the other, more complex shades of emotion which tag along behind the hotshot main chapters.

Children learn from this (mythical) book and other storybooks, they learn from achingly simplistic Disney films and the example of adults whose emotions are often complex but to the child are pared down to Approval (happy face), Disapproval (all manner of scary faces) and Indifferent (refer to Approval/Disapproval and try again).

If a child is faced with someone hard to understand who doesn't show a clear emotion in their face, then that child is likely to ask, 'How do you feel?' Another child would answer, telling them how they feel. An adult would probably gloss over it and insert some appropriate emotion that children can understand.

When you get older, people usually stop asking how you feel, or they ask but don't really want the real answer. Paradoxically, they expect to see the truth of your emotions in your face, as a shortcut to finding out how you are. It doesn't make them anymore likely to care but they can go away, satisfied that you are as grumpy as ever.

If you are expected to be happy, like when you meet people at a special occasion, then they also expect you to look happy. This doesn't often follow as special occasions can be a pain in the behind at the best of times and a tortuous assault on the senses at their worst. Looking happy is not high on the list, but is expected to be up there, top of the pile, where everyone can see it.

Present giving is another time to Look Happy, no matter that you find yourself the centre of attention and the recipient of a plastic chicken clock. Meeting new people, always a Looking Happy moment. Going shopping for new clothes - that makes everyone happy (didn't you know?).

When your natural expression is a bland serenity, borne out of many years of trying to take life one step at a time, then adding the Happy to it doesn't come easily. To express an emotion you first have to feel the emotion and if you don't feel the emotion strongly, then the expression might not change enough for people to see how you feel.

Also, you may feel gloriously, joyously, kittens-in-flower-meadows happy and still not show it because there is also a host of other things going on at the same time. So your inner happiness is there, all in one piece, but your outer self is batting away distractions and obstacles, just like any other day.

So, what is the solution to looking how you feel? Well, it's very simple: stop caring about it. Feel how you want to feel and look how you want to look and let other people and their expectations fall away.

It doesn't matter if your face tells a more muted story than your heart. If people want to know how you really are, on the inside, then they should ask. Small children know how to do it so grown adults shouldn't have too much difficulty.

Looking happy is vastly over-rated, as is being expected to look how you don't feel. Being happy is far more important and the expression on your face has very little to do with it. Expecting one to be inextricably linked to the other is like expecting tomatoes to turn themselves into soup and then wondering why your bowl is empty.


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