Emotional Sensitivity in Aspergers

I have touched on this topic before when I wrote about the myth of people with Aspergers lacking empathy but I feel it deserves a post of its own as it’s an element of Aspergers that most people don’t understand. I also read a fantastic blog post dealing with neurodiversity and emotional sensitivity written by a good friend of mine who is dyspraxic. Her blog can be found at http://www.thinkoutsideofthecardboardbox.blogspot.co.uk and is well worth a read! Her blog post inspired me to write my own post on emotional sensitivity and particularly how this affects people with Aspergers who ironically are often perceived as uncaring when this couldn’t be further from the truth!

I have always described my emotions as intense. If I am happy, I am ecstatically happy, giggling and grinning. If I am angry, I feel consumed with frustration and rage. If I am stressed or anxious, my mind is a spiral of negative thoughts. If I am sad, I can cry for days on end. With positive emotions, this is an asset as it means I enjoy them in a more intense way than most people. However, when things go wrong, the negative emotions can be overwhelming and have become increasingly hard to control over the years. Like a lot of people on the spectrum, I tend to fixate and obsess on certain ideas and, to me, disappointment is one of the hardest feelings for me to process as it affects me so profoundly and often leads to emotionally and physically exhausting meltdowns which leave me feeling generally lethargic for the next few days and often give me horrendous headaches from all the crying. I am mature enough to realise that disappointment is a part of life but I still can’t seem to tone down my reaction to it, no matter how many disappointments I go through.

One thing I have noticed about myself is that I have a very strong sense of justice. I always become very upset and angry when I see stories in the news about human rights abuses, children or vulnerable people being mistreated by those who are trusted with caring for them or animals being abused. I have to scroll past videos showing mistreatment of animals on Facebook, not because I don’t care but because I care too much and the images keep playing over in my mind, upsetting me over and over again. I donate regularly to charity and always try and do the best I can to help people who are struggling. Of course many people without Aspergers are also very emotionally sensitive. The difference is that society never has any trouble believing that whereas most people on the spectrum are perceived as uncaring and emotionally cold when, in fact, most of us feel emotions to an intense level and this may explain why we come across as aloof, because what we are feeling is so strong that it overwhelms us to the extent that we appear blank.

My emotional sensitivity means that I am also extremely sensitive to criticism, whether real or perceived. Although I have become a lot better over the years, I am still inclined to take any criticism personally and feel that I am being judged even when the criticism is more general. I do learn from constructive criticism but, at the time it is being given, it feels like my whole worth as a person is being questioned. This ties in with my lack of self esteem which I am sure would not be as much of an issue if I wasn’t so sensitive. On the positive side, it also means that, although praise embarrasses me at the time it is given, I remember it fondly afterwards and the memories always make me smile!

Another positive side to emotional sensitivity is that it can make us great friends. I can only speak for myself but I care deeply about everybody in my life and I want only the best for them. I know how much it hurts to be disappointed and I would not want any of my friends or relatives to go through that. I make mistakes-that’s only human but I would never knowingly upset anyone close to me.

The saddest thing about our emotional sensitivity is that it’s often the ones who care the most that get treated the worst. Most people on the spectrum have been through incredibly rough times with bullying and prejudice and yet most of us (and I have chatted with literally hundreds of people on the spectrum online and face to face over the past few years) would never knowingly treat someone else badly. Please think of this the next time we may inadvertently offend you and gently explain to us what we have done wrong and understand that, 99% of the time for 99% of us, any offence caused is completely unintentional.

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3 Responses to Emotional Sensitivity in Aspergers

  1. vontoast says:

    I can relate to this. Care and sensitivity. Too much of it. Whoever thought to lump empathy outside the Asperger’s circle couldn’t have been more wrong. We are not all the same though. I don’t handle criticism or compliments well. I’m working on it. A strong sense of justice. Absolutely.

  2. Jen says:

    I am the same way. If I get upset over something and am told I was rude or handled something wrong, it feels like I was just told someone died. I will cry for days over hurting that person. I physically feel trapped in grief and will need consoled to pull out of it after countless apologies to the other person or I can’t stop obsessing over it, and feeling I did the worst thing in the world when I was trying so hard to do the opposite. A lot of people have a hard time understanding this, and worse, a lot more don’t even believe I’m really hurting that much, and take my feeling bad for hurting them as a way to guilt them and that I actually must not care about them. That then will tear me up even more because that is so far from the truth of my feelings and intentions. 😦 Yes, my meltdowns are ridiculous, but I do hurt that much and it is out of my control. It would be a lot more helpful if more people could be open to listening to us when we explain what we intended and that we do care instead of slapping the uncaring label on. 😦

  3. Jen says:

    PS, thank you for writing this. It helps me feel less alone.

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