I’m dizzy from too little sleep but a thought is occupying me so intensely that I want to try to write about it anyway.
Autistic people are often described as lacking empathy and I wonder how much of that misunderstanding that has to do with an interpretation that overlooks sensory overload and emotional overload from hyperempathy.
For me (I have no clue if this is common or not), I seem to be interpreted as cold when I’m a bit overwhelmed. When I’m really overwhelmed I often cry, but before that I almost freeze. I have a mild kind of shut-down. My face and body language don’t do much at all, I avoid eye contact and I don’t know what to say. Since I get overwhelmed easily, this happens a lot.
Years ago, I was in love with someone. She was in love with me and the tension was strong between us, but for a number of reasons I didn’t think anything would happen. One day she kissed me. Coming close enough to perceive her scent, the feeling of her skin and her hair, the fact that it was happening, the crisp air, the trees surrounding us that looked like they were on fire in the sunshine that was surprisingly strong for October – all of it was too intense for me. It was wonderful but too overwhelming for me to grasp. The rest of the day I could hardly talk and my ability to focus was gone. I felt like the floor I was walking on was moving and I was in a state of overload. Later I found out that she had been disappointed that there were no magic in it. She had expected it to be more intense, considering how much tension there always was when we talked.
This is just one occasion out of many where I have felt overwhelmed but afterwards found out that other people thought I didn’t care at all or that I didn’t feel much. I’m interpreted as cold and without feelings when in fact, I’m feeling more than I can handle.
As I wrote in the beginning, I don’t know if this is common or not. However, it hurts like hell when people accuse me of not caring or lacking feelings. Claiming that people (autistic people or any other group) aren’t experiencing emotions at all or are lacking empathy just because you lack knowledge is dehumaninzing and can be very harmful.