Autism and Sorting Emotions

Do you know and understand your emotions?


So many of us have been trained to comply, trained in obedience, trained to respond in only certain ways to certain demands by others.
Many autistic individuals on forums I attend have said they learned to disregard their feelings because they were told over and over that it didn’t matter, they must do what they were told from a very early age. “do it” nothing else was discussed or explained.

Regardless if the emotion was fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, their emotions were disregarded and told either verbally or by actions that what they felt was unimportant.

I internalized this to a great degree, since insisting on my own opinion led to punishment even before I could talk.

Resistance was futile, trying to give my opinion or have any influence on my own situation regardless of discomfort or upsetting circumstances, etc met only punishment, shaming, and other very unpleasant experiences.

So much easier to be compliant and to do whatever I was told, jump to it, make sure I was safe by appeasement no matter the personal cost to me. I will do anything you say, don’t be angry, don’t hurt me! That was the only way I lived for 40 years. Survival mode. I had no idea I had alternatives. I had to have it explained in detail that there were other options available. Rigid autistic thinking would not let me see this for myself.

I became depressed and anxious. I attempted suicide at age 30 and was sent to therapy.
I learned that I could not express emotions at all. I could not even find emotions to express.
3 therapists spent talk time asking me how I felt and all I could do was sit there and cry.
I said “I don’t know” repeatedly, or shook my head and remained mute. Miserable and discouraging. I had begged for therapy throughout childhood thinking it might help and when I finally got the opportunity, it seemed like it was yet another failure.

“Talk therapy” may not work with autistic individuals for this very reason. Discussion might need to be based on something else besides feelings. “what do you think happened” What seemed to be the problem? Why do you suppose they did or said that?? etc might work better for most of us. (what do you think?)

I finally found a therapist who could reach me and teach me by asking me to write and read.
I was able to write and revise letters to the person or thing that was upsetting me and through multiple revisions and reading back what I wrote, I was able to begin to sort my feelings.

I had to learn how to get angry and to sort that anger from sorrow. I had to learn to recognize frustration, I had to learn to sort all the feelings I had locked away. I had to recognize I was having these emotions and to sort out exactly what they were.
After 30 years, those emotions were locked up tight and it took lots of emotional homework and scary memory sorting to begin to understand even the most basic of my personal needs and wants.
I really had no other want except to appease other’s demands for so long, this was very, very difficult.

I wish I had found books on emotions back then, but I suspect there was little out there (I never looked!)
Today we have a wonderful tool called an emotion wheel. It actually names our emotions and helps us refine our understanding of our feelings. What a wonderful tool!
I found some good ones on the “therapysystems.co ” website,
You can find others all over the internet in a simple web search.
I know there are many children’s books explaining emotions today. Even Mr Rogers came after I was mostly grown. Since I never relied on TV It might not have done a thing for me anyway.
I can’t use video/tv etc, I rely on printed words.
Others will find video explanations useful, or podcasts.
We have so many resources to use to learn more about ourselves today. It is never too late to “find yourself” and have better self understanding.

It took a lifetime to find out I am autistic.

It is taking a lot of time to find the “holes” in my life experiences and to fix them.
Life has never been better.

If you have problems with outbursts or upsets but can’t define exactly why you are upset, if you cry easily, anger easily, or mostly feel not too much of anything, learning more about emotions may help you too.
I never understood “why” I was feeling upset and anxious, I never understood why I was fearful , overwhelmed, depressed. I still can not define anything that makes me “happy”. It is still a work in progress.
I would love to hear from others who find sorting emotions a struggle. What has helped sort emotions for you?

3 thoughts on “Autism and Sorting Emotions

  1. While reading this I started crying, I think because this resonated so much with me. I’m a visual thinker and I can’t visualize my emotions, making it extremely difficult to know what I’m feeling. I never thought about it, but my feelings have been locked away too. I had a lot of trauma growing up, and it was often safer to hide my true feelings. Until now I thought I’d be stuck never knowing what I feel. I’m definitely going to speak with my therapist about unlocking those emotions. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Your post resonated with me as well. I found that when I started studying Nonviolent Communication that there were all these emotions listed that I had never even imagined. I like the wheel concept of organizing them. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

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