Why is recognizing and sorting emotions so hard???
Of all the things I have learned about autism, this is one I struggle with the most.
As a child I was trained to instant obedience and punished if I cried or resisted any direction at any time. I learned to be silent, obedient, and that my feelings and opinions did not matter.
Over time the lesson was repeated endlessly and I was fawning and appeasing, fearing the next round of punishment for things I only began to understand in my early teens.
Without insights and intuitive responses to the physical body language, words, thoughts of others, I simply waited in deep anxiety and fear for the next instructions telling me where I should be, how I should think, what ( they said) I meant when I behaved differently than “they” wanted me to. ( see “learned helplessness” )
I was labeled as willful, mean, spiteful, and I eventually became those things as I tried to understand and defend myself from what seemed to me as unfair treatment in so many ways.
I avoided contact with others, avoided doing things with others, rarely approached others, but waited and hoped they would approach me.
Any attempts at self initiated contact was met with failure repeatedly. ( see rejection sensitive dysphoria, it becomes a self fulfilling negative behavior pattern)
I got therapy at age 30 which helped tremendously with communication and started me on a path of positive thinking.
I have struggled to sort my emotions under layers of self protective resistance. I had to learn to recognize anger, how to get angry, how to direct it in healthy ways. I had to learn to recognize sadness, and I learned that the predominant emotion in me all my life has been fear.
Fear I would do or say the wrong thing, fear I could not cope or handle any situation I might get into. Fear about interacting with others, fear about being physically assaulted. I still struggle with fear and anxiety all these years later although I know logically that I am not in physical danger and have not been for many years.
Knowing about my autism has helped tremendously, and I learned that the struggle to sort emotions is a common one. I wonder how much of our struggles are because we misunderstood everything from an early age and nobody explained about our emotions and how we use them, as well as the significance to our selves of every emotion???
I believe I can get better at sorting my emotions, that I have got better over time, and my current “project” is to see if I can find happiness. So far that emotion eludes me.
I can find peace sometimes, even feel content.
I rarely experience what I understand as joy, and happiness is simply going under my radar or not present.
I have found a new book about “finding happiness as an autistic adult” and am reading it with interest, but also with deep dismay.
I find the “exercises” described by the therapist who wrote the book upsetting and difficult.
I wonder if this is simply because I was programmed by childhood training to fear having emotions and to block them out like a good little robot?
I wondered after reading the first few pages, if the therapist/psychologist/ author is NT?
I am struggling with many of the concepts and the ideas behind them and this is upsetting too, since struggling to understand written words in not something I experience often.
She does seem to understand the idea that “happiness” is going to be very different for most autistic people compared to the neurotypical (NT) idea of what makes people happy.
This is going to be the year of emotions for me. I have recently joined a writing group to see if I can improve what I post here, make it better. The leader of the group seems to want us to find and express emotions, and maybe that will help.
I can’t help thinking about how late I am coming to all of these things, and how grateful I am that I found out about my autism and can make sense now, of so many of the painful “whys” of the past. What a relief!
I am so lucky to have the time and opportunity to do so. I think with sadness of all those like me who grew into old age never understanding, and who may yet be in pain and filled with struggles, never knowing the key . Autism explains so much. I hope you find what you need.
5 thoughts on “Autism and Emotions”
This really resonates. Happiness has eluded me my whole life, no matter where I was, what I was doing, or who was (or wasn’t) in my life. My outlook is essentially negative, I am coming to realize, since so many encounters with others in my life have been hurtful and rejecting. I’ve almost never felt I fit in. I have joined a large meetup group in my area and have never actually attended any get together, either on Zoom or in person, as I’m terrified of not fitting in there either. My emotions go from anxiety to depression, to anger to guilt, to self pity to hope and then back to anxiety on any given day (and it’s tiring). I only have a better outlook in Church, or in prayer, or when my husband takes the time to hug me or chat with me a bit, which are my lifelines. I can’t have a cat due to allergies; a small happy dog might help, but hubby doesn’t want one. I watch pet videos instead. Therapy, on and off helps, but I already know practically everything there is to know about my issues and I don’t get much practical help there, just emotional support, which is helpful, but doesn’t change my essentially negative outlook.
I’m glad you found a writing group, and I hope it helps you find some emotions you have been hiding from, some better, more helpful ones. Thank you for continuing to provide insightful content.
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I also struggle with emotions, especially happiness. Sometimes I wonder if I feel it without knowing.
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This post moved me to tears. I felt your words and struggles so very deeply. I seldom cry other than when feeling emotions for others. Many emotions elude me unless they are via a Lense of others. I experience hyperempathy. This is my experience of emotions for the majority of my life. Many of your experiences are similar to my lived experience and I wonder if some of what you articulated so beautifully actually brought forward some emotions of my own…
Thank you for all you share. As a fellow late diagnosed Autistic with intense conditioning and subsequent trauma this helped me.
I am so very grateful that you take the time (regardless of how much time you have in your life to do so) and effort to write and share your thoughts and musings. They offer much rich “food for thought” for me often and even a deep sense of validation of my own current or lifelong reflections.
It warms my heart to think that you have found a group that helps with your writing process. I believe writing is a rich source of therapy for everyone.
I wish I had the capacity to gift myself it regularly.
Blessed be. 🙏🏻❤️
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thank you! ❤ it is wonderful for so many of us to discover we are not alone, but that there are others "out there" who do understand. ❤
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Indeed, it is. ❤