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Aspie Empathy and the Cabbage Effect

I know people get upset and it is sometimes necessary to be there while they're upset, rather than hide in the next room - especially if you are the reason they are upset. But then we come down to the usual rigmarole of understanding the upset (which is fine, I understand you are upset) as opposed to knowing how they feel (how on earth do you feel?).

I have a vague idea of how I would feel if I was upset like you are, I just don't understand how you feel in this situation. How you feel and how I feel are different things and my own perceptions cannot be trusted.

So many times I've been caught off-guard by people reacting oddly to things which have no effect on me. What are they doing now? What are they talking about? Hadn't we finished with that? It didn't bother me, why did it bother them?

I know what it's like from the other end, with others not understanding why I react as I do, so you would think this might make me more sympathetic when the roles are reversed? In theory, yes: I realise you can be worried when I'm in blythe spirits. In practice though?

Well, in practice it can be very hard to link up the knowledge that you are upset and the understanding that you are upset when I am fine, with the ability to connect with your feelings in a way that helps me to see how you are feeling.

Let's call it the Cabbage Effect: I know cabbage is very nutritious (the knowledge), I know that I don't like cabbage and you do (the understanding) but I have absolutely no idea how anyone in their right mind could really enjoy cabbage (the ability to have a deeper understanding).

Cabbage is green and full of good stuff which helps our bodies thrive yet I would rather languish on my bed, too weak to turn on the computer than put any cabbage in my mouth. Let me crawl to the cabinet and pop vitamins, let me eat something, anything else, let me do whatever it takes not to eat cabbage ever again as long as I live.

Even watching someone enjoying cabbage is not enough to convince me on this emotional level, leaving me with a logical knowledge of what another person thinks and feels without an emotional belief that it's possible to feel that way. I tend to think they have been brainwashed from an early age and don't know any better.

In terms of a deeper understanding of other people's feelings, this cabbage effect is key: I see them react, I hear their words, I watch their tears or anguish and I know they are saying what I need to hear. But instead I feel that if they were to react differently, as I would react, then we could talk.

There is a mismatch between realising how people feel and behave and understanding why their feelings and behaviour are different from mine.

The cold aspie, the heartless aspie, the unfeeling, non-empathetic aspie, the one who can watch you cry from behind the door frame and be gone the next time you look up. I am this person.

From my end, I have to train myself to trust others to behave as they must and treat them with kindness even if I have no idea what they are going on about. But from your point of view, friends, family and best beloveds, you must also know that your aspie is trying to be as empathetic as they can bear.

Just because they look at you so wary and pat your hand from so far away doesn't mean they don't care. A hand reaching out to pat you as if you might bite is still a hand reaching out. It might be tentative but it still counts.


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