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.