Emotional Dysfunction: Alexithymia and ASD

A typical aspie-NT conversation about feelings:

NT: What’s wrong?

Aspie: I don’t know.

NT: You look upset.

Aspie: . . .

NT: Are you sad? Angry?

Aspie: I don’t know.

NT: It’s okay. You can tell me.

Aspie: . . .

NT: Fine. Don’t tell me. I was just trying to help.

When an aspie says they don’t know what they’re feeling, it’s a literal statement. We aren’t trying to dodge the conversation. We aren’t withholding information. We aren’t being rude, mean, cold coy or vindictive.

I’ve had variations on the above conversation many times and it’s as frustrating for me as it is for the person who wants to know what’s wrong. The reason? I have difficulty identifying my emotions and even more trouble verbalizing them. Working through my emotional constellations has helped me identify some of the specific issues I–and many autistic people–have in processing and identifying feelings.

emotion

(Photo: Joe Shlabotnik / Creative Commons)

Predictably, I’ve grouped the issues into three general categories:

  • modulation (moderating the strength of my own emotions)
  • determination (identifying emotions in others)
  • discrimination (separating emotion directed at me from general expression of emotion)

Modulation: The Glitchy Volume Control

There is a common misconception that autistic people are unemotional. You’ll often hear this refuted by autistics themselves, who say they are too emotional. So which is it? For me, it’s both. My emotions gravitate toward the extremes of muted or intense; few emotional experiences fall in the midranges.

My default emotional state is neutral. I don’t feel especially good or bad. I’m present in the moment and content to be so. Externally, I may come across as serious or subdued, but reduced expressiveness shouldn’t be confused with a negative state of being or a lack of feeling.

The feelings are definitely there. Most of the time they quietly mind their own business and I need to consciously check-in to see what they’re up to. When they decide to fully surface on their own, however, they’re intense.

Unlike most neurotypicals, I don’t have a lot of ability to modulate the strength of my emotions.  Imagine a radio with an on/off switch and a glitchy volume control.

If you think about this in terms of the weak executive function associated with Asperger’s, it makes sense. Humans use reasoning, rationalization and labeling to modulate emotion. All of these methods fall under the umbrella of executive function. Labeling emotions, in particular, seems to be hard for aspies.

Determination: The Broken Mirror

Just as I have difficulty labeling my own emotions, I have trouble identifying what others are feeling. I struggle with interpreting facial expressions and body language. I’m weak at perspective-taking. Basically, when it comes to reading emotional clues, I’m like one of those old-time detectives who had to solve murders without any forensic evidence. There’s only so much information you can gather from what people tell you outright.

This difficulty determining what others are feeling is a big contributor to the stereotype of the empathy-deficient aspie. If someone is giving off “I’m sad” cues that I fail to recognize, when I don’t console them, they’ll assume I’m cold and unsympathetic.

For neurotypical people, emotional interaction is like looking in a mirror. They expect to see a reflective emotion looking back at them and when they don’t, they assume the mirror is broken.

This isn’t to say I’m oblivious to other people’s emotional states. I get the obvious ones and the ones that I can derive from contextual clues. What I tend to miss are the subtle or unexpected emotional states.

Discrimination: Missing the Target

I’ve always been disturbed by confrontation and conflict, even when I’m only a bystander. By default, The Scientist is in charge of “confrontation with others.” If something needs to be argued over or complained about–a botched repair job or an over-cooked restaurant meal–that’s his department. While he’s making that phone call or waiting for the manager to appear, I go off and hide.

As an adult, I’m not proud of this. Why do I desperately need to flee a situation to which I’m nothing more than an observer?

Because, I recently realized, I don’t discriminate between anger that is aimed at me and anger in general. When someone is angry, I invariably feel like I’m the cause or the target, even when I rationally know that I’m not.

If The Scientist calls me after a bad day, I hear how upset he is and immediately feel distressed. Not distressed as in “I should console my husband because he’s had a bad day.” I feel distressed in a “this is incredibly stressful and I want it to stop” kind of way. My brain immediately goes into “fix it” mode, searching for a way to make the other person feel better so I can also relieve my own distress.

Of course, a conversation with an upset spouse is upsetting to most people. But what about a conversation between two strangers that I’ve merely overheard? Twice in the past two weeks I’ve witnessed one person berating another for an etiquette infraction at the swimming pool. (Yes, we take our lap swimming seriously around these parts.) Both times I felt my heartbeat skyrocket, as if the anger was directed at me. In reality, I’m sure neither of these people even noticed I was standing nearby.

Even now, as I’m sitting here in Starbucks typing, the woman at the next table is telling a story about how mad she is at her sister-in-law; I can feel my blood pressure rising at the tone of her words. Words that are completely irrelevant to me. Words that, thanks to my funky brain wiring, I find impossible to tune out.

Yes, not only does my autistic brain not know how to interpret the emotional content of other people’s conversations, it also refuses to tune them out. And people wonder why we aspies like to spend a lot of time alone.

It took me a long time and a lot of thought to figure out why I respond to secondhand distress like this. Why should I feel emotionally assailed when the angry words are aimed at another person?

In part it’s related to my upbringing, but there is also an element of weak executive control at work. In theory, I should be able to rationalize away my overreaction by telling myself that I’m observing generalized anger (or frustration or sadness), not anger directed at me. I should be able to put myself in the other person’s shoes and direct my emotions at the target of their distress, rather than feeling like the target myself.

Alexithymia

The three areas where I have difficulty–modulation, discrimination and determination–are actually core traits of alexithymia.

Alexithymia (literally: having no words for emotions) is impairment in identifying and describing emotions. Specifically, it’s characterized by:

  • difficulty identifying feelings
  • difficulty distinguishing between feelings and bodily sensations related to emotional arousal
  • difficulty describing feelings to others
  • impoverished imagination and fantasy life
  • a stimulus-dependent, externally oriented cognitive style

When I look at the list of alexithymic characteristics, I also realize that when I’m emotionally uncomfortable, I’m more likely to have physical complaints. I’ll be feeling frustrated or sad, but  complain that I’m uncomfortably cold or intolerably sleepy. This isn’t a connection I would make on my own, but once I see it described as part of alexithymia–like so much about my autistic self–it suddenly makes perfect sense.

There is a lot of overlap between alexithymia and ASD, both in the perception of emotions and the difficulty in verbalizing feelings. Not only are autistic people very likely to exhibit the characteristics of alexithymia, their parents are as well. However, many non-autistic people also have alexithymia, so it isn’t exclusive to ASD.

Alexithymia isn’t a clinical diagnosis like autism. It’s a construct (theory) used to describe the traits of people who have difficulty verbalizing emotions. It’s also a helpful way of thinking about some of the challenges that aspies have with processing feelings.

—–

More on Alexithymia and ASD:

  • Next Tuesday, we’ll be doing the Alexithymia Questionnaire for Take-a-Test Tuesday.
  • Alexithymia and Grief at Unstrange Mind is a challenging and insightful piece about the mourning process 
  • Great example of an Alexithymia cheat sheet in the form of a flow chart at Radical Neurodivergence

56 comments

  1. earthendee

    Wow! When I read these posts it makes me want to have all my friends and loved ones read it and then tell them, “THIS is what I’m dealing with! This is why I’m act like this.” Not all of it is exactly like me but enough of it that I feel like I’m reading about myself. I suspect that some of the stuff which I think doesn’t relate to me really does and I just haven’t realized it yet. I’m so thankful that I found your blog!

    • musingsofanaspie

      Your comment made me smile. Thank you. I’m glad it’s helpful and I feel the same way when I read everyone’s comments. It’s good to know that there are other people out there who feel similarly or share our experiences.

  2. unstrangemind

    Thank you for an awesome post!

    I used to go around in circles with my ex: he would be mad at an inanimate object (his computer, his shoes, the car, whatever) and start yelling at it. I’d cringe and ask him not to blow up like that because I can’t handle it. So he’d say (still in that angry tone of voice!) “Why are you upset? I’m not yelling at YOU!” And I’d squeak out in a tiny breath, “now you are.”

    • musingsofanaspie

      I think it’s impossible for people to really understand the way emotion can bleed off a target unless they experience it happening first hand. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can identify what’s happening and ask my husband to change the way he’s speaking about something so it’s not distressing to me. It seems to help him as well, because just paying attention to that deescalates his level of upset.

  3. unstrangemind

    Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention — the example you start your post with? That’s one reason that people with ASD end up traumatized by psychotherapy from people who don’t understand autism. I spent most of my childhood in therapy sessions, being told that I was being evasive and not cooperating with the therapeutic process and stuffing and all kinds of other things because I was unable to say how I felt about something. That was damaging.

    • Petra

      Very important addition!
      I think a lot of people also miss their diagnosis or don’t get any help because of this. And the ones who DO get “therapy” get the wrong advice, and get told they’re not doing enough.

  4. arianezurcher

    This. “I don’t discriminate between anger that is aimed at me and anger in general.” Yup. That’s me. Totally get it. The conversation between the two women who just happened to be sitting within earshot? Yup. Blood pressure rising. Feel sick. Can’t eat. And that’s how I felt just reading about you hearing them!

  5. Erin

    I have recently learned that I show high alexithymic traits. I had never heard of alexithymic before, but it makes sense. I have a active imagination and fantasy life, but I have a lot of trouble understanding emotions. I often find myself trying to describe what I am feeling to my husband so he can give me a label so I can call it what it is. It is really annoying not understanding the sensations that you are feeling. It can drive you crazy. I don’t feel that people are angry at me necessarily, but I feel a lot of guilt when people direct their frustrations toward me. I always think that I have done something wrong and I can’t figure out what it was. It is just weird and frustrating.

    I also know what it is like to have the wrong therapy. I had gone in for counseling due to PTSD and this was before we knew I had Aspergers. I was bounced around between five different therapists and I was labeled difficult and unresponsive by more then one. The therapy actually caused me to go backwards. It just made things worse.

    • musingsofanaspie

      I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience with therapy. That seems to be a common problem. I’ve had several people (including 2 medical professionals) suggest that I get myself into therapy but I can see myself getting labeled at difficult and unresponsive pretty easily.

      Alexithymia is so frustrating. Your system of getting your husband to help with label emotions sounds like a great idea. I’ve found that being aware of it and working within the confines that I know I have makes a little less so.

    • lavoyageviolet

      I can really relate to this. Almost all of the alexithymia traits describe me perfectly, except for the “impoverished imagination and fantasy life” part (I have a HUGE fantasy life, to the extent that I could probably be considered a maladaptive daydreamer). It sounds like your therapy experiences were much worse than mine, but I’ve also had trouble with therapists who place tons of emphasis on asking their patients to describe their feelings.

  6. theamberaven

    Oh, wow. I have this. Wow… wow. I didn’t even realize that I had this. Wow.
    XD Sorry, a little incoherent. Too many thoughts coming to mind right now and they just. Won’t. Leave. Me. Alone. I may leave another comment when my thoughts organize themselves. :3

    • musingsofanaspie

      Oh, I hope you’re doing okay. Please come back and write some more when you can. I was really surprised when I found out that I have it as well, but also relieved because it gives me a way to make sense of all of the confusing emotional stuff that happens in my life.

      • theamberaven

        Thank you. :) I’m fine, it was just… shocking. See, this has been a problem for me my whole life, and I was just dealing with this exact problem earlier today. It just makes so much sense.

        I am constantly guessing at my own emotional state. I know the names of emotions (blame my inner writer), so I try to label myself with them… only to find that they do not actually fit too well. I, too, am usually rather neutral until I feel some sort of strong emotion, and I have no emotional regulation whatsoever. When I am upset, I usually can’t identify why, and I usually just guess that it has to do with something that it doesn’t have to do with. It can be very confusing, but it was even worse when I was younger. Now, I can usually identify why after I really, really think about it.

  7. Terra

    I have a lot of issues with this as well; I know I’m feeling something but I’ll be damned if I can articulate clearly what it is. I also feel secretive about my emotions; not sure if that’s a by-product of not knowing exactly what they are or whether I don’t get good reactions when I’m honest or a combination of both or something else entirely! I wonder where the non-imaginative part comes in though, because while I identify with everything else on here, I’m very imaginative.

    • musingsofanaspie

      I sometimes feel secretive about emotions too. Like they’re mine and I don’t want to share them? Or it’s too private to talk about? I’m not sure how to describe it, but I think I know what you mean.

      The imaginative part is puzzling to me too. I write fiction so I know I have some imagination. :-)

  8. Life&Ink

    Geepers you’re smart! :-) Love your categorical brain. It’s wonderful to see patterns, make and understand processes, to take the guess work out of as many things as possible to free up our brains for that which we do have to figure out. Does that make sense or did I just write a sentence you have to try to figure out??? When I read your section on Determination i thought about how I wish people would let down their defenses and just be more straightforward and honest with others, less afraid to express their feelings. Why must we attach shame to certain feelings? So, it seems, people hint at some feelings rather than just come on out with them. I don’t like a lot of poetry for this reason. I don’t want to work that hard to understand something, to decipher another’s meaning. If you want me to know something then spit it out, and then I will understand. :-)

    • musingsofanaspie

      That came across perfectly! :-)

      There is a lot of reading between the lines required when it comes to figuring out other people’s feelings and I suck at that. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll just ask outright if I need to. Also, I’m with you on the poetry thing. I love Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda and beyond that I’m at a loss. All that symbolism! Too much work required.

      (and my daughter the published poet is probably cringing right now)

  9. Quarries and Corridors

    Another fantastic post, I can see myself pointing several friends and family members at this one! :)

    There is absolutely no doubt that I have incredibly poor emotional awareness, especially for negative or complex emotions. I mean, the first time I realised that there was a difference between sadness and the sensation of crying or trying to stop oneself from crying was when I read Tony Attwood’s book about 10 months ago aged 32!

    However I can’t relate at all to ‘impoverished imagination and fantasy life’, if anything I spent much of my teens escaping into elaborate fantasies about parallel universes and the paranormal! I read somewhere the last time I researched this that people with Alexithymia supposedly have boring dreams and prefer non-fiction to fiction. Again, can’t relate to those at all! I wonder if that’s a difference between autistic Alexithymia and the type caused by other reasons?

    It’ll be interesting to do the test for this on Tuesday, I wonder if the frequency with which I feel positive emotions might put me into the ‘impaired’ category (that apparently 85% of people on the autistic spectrum fall into) rather than ‘severely impaired’ (which was still almost half).

    • musingsofanaspie

      Thank you! It always gives me a little thrill when some says they relate enough to want to share a piece of writing.

      I don’t understand the impoverished imagination aspect of it either and I’m starting to wonder if there is an ASD subtype of alexithymia. Or if the NT/ASD experiences of alexithymia are different. One of my hobbies is fiction writing. I would generally much rather read fiction than nonfiction for pleasure. My dreams are vividly detailed. All through childhood I had imaginary friends with whom I had elaborate interactions. And yet, I fit the rest of the alexithymia criteria like I fell out of a textbook definition.

      You aren’t aware of any alexithymia tests online that are modeled on the TAS-20 are you? I was only able to find the Online Alexithymia Questionnaire and I have some reservations about it.

  10. feministaspie

    Fantastic post, as ever. Really looking forward to trying this Alexithymia test on Tuesday! I can definitely identify with the “emotion on/off” thing – I can’t force myself to express sadness/anger/excitement “properly” when I’m expected too, even if that is how I actually feel, but when the reactions DO happen, it’s really over-the-top. I also can’t stand conflict between family/friends, even if it’s just “minor” bickering or talking behind each other’s backs rather than a full argument. This tends to lead to a rather, um, negative reaction… and then I’m called over-sensitive. :P

    • musingsofanaspie

      Thank you! :-) The Tuesday test should be fun (well, you know, relatively speaking). This seems like a subject that so many of us relate strongly to.

      Conflict. Ugh. It makes me want to run away.

      • feministaspie

        Yeah, same here. One of those things I didn’t realise was autism-related until very recently. If I can’t leave, I’ll just apologise incessantly like that’s somehow going to make it stop. XD

  11. Mados

    Excellent post… I love this phrase:

    For neurotypical people, emotional interaction is like looking in a mirror. They expect to see a reflective emotion looking back at them and when they don’t, they assume the mirror is broken.

    “They expect to see a reflective emotion looking back at them”, I think you are very right about that….

    I can see that I have some of the mentioned difficulties as well, but not at all. Difficulty identifying feelings – Yes, often. Difficulty distinguishing between feelings and bodily sensations related to emotional arousal – Yes, very much so. Difficulty describing feelings to others – Sometimes, but I can also be really good at it, especially in writing (assuming the feelings are identified). Impoverished imagination and fantasy life – Totally the contrary. A stimulus-dependent, externally oriented cognitive style – Totally the contrary, I need very few external stimuli and easily become over-stimulated.

    And as for your detailed descriptions: Modulation: Yes. Determination: very similar to what you describe. Discrimination: very much the contrary! I’m usually relatively unaffected by anger outbursts that are not directed to me, apparently less affected by most people. I primarily just observe and reason according to my inner flowcharts of making sense of people: 1. The person is obviously angry. 2. Why is the person angry? 3. Who/what is the target? 4. Is the person mentally unstable/dangerous, and am I in danger? 5. How to minimise the danger/impact/shock on surroundings? (observe how other people react, are they loosing control?) 6. What is the key to actually solve the problem? 7. Can it be solved? What can I do? …

    Even sometimes when the anger is directed at me, I don’t even get upset … if I am representing someone else (e.g. an employer), then I don’t necessarily take the anger personal. In the best case I just calmly follow my inner problem solving script and update it with the new experience. Just 2 days ago I had an obviously mentally ill lady screaming at me. I still came back, because she had not given me the outright, explicit rejection I need in order to tick the ‘refusal’ box, write the reason and close the case. I wasn’t happy to go back, but I wasn’t emotionally upset either, just like ‘I don’t like when people scream at me’ (especially not if they’re loud!). I’ve experienced similar situations when I worked as an in-home carer … someone totally attacking me with all sorts of complaints directed towards my employer. I knew already she was like that (I had been warned) and did not get upset, and it actually ended with her becoming sort of friendly.

    • Mados

      apparently less affected by most people = apparently less affected than most people.

      Sorry… my English skills or attention is not up to scratch today!

    • musingsofanaspie

      I would think that on the job, the ability to stay calm when others get angry is a big asset. It sounds like you’re able to rationalize away the negativity via internal dialogue, which is one of the coping mechanisms I read about as I was researching this. Perhaps I need to work on that.

      I did some more reading about the “stimulus dependent externally oriented” thinking style and apparently what this actually means is that a person things in concrete terms and is not introspective (doesn’t spend time thinking about their thoughts and feelings). Not sure if that changes your view of whether it fits you. I do think in concrete terms but I’m also introspective so I guess it somewhat applies to me.

      Also, no worries about the typos. I have a problem with missing words too – sometimes I see words that I didn’t actually type! :-)

      • Mados

        Yes, it is.

        It sounds like you’re able to rationalize away the negativity via internal dialogue, which is one of the coping mechanisms I read about as I was researching this.

        I don’t think I actually have an internal dialogue (it would be a monologue if anything) The 1., 2., 3., etc sequence was to convert my reasoning to a list others can easily relate to in writing, but that is not actually how I think it. My thinking is more like neutrally studying a lab animal acting out a specific pattern of behaviour in order to categorise its components and sequence, and then each category corresponds to a sequence of correct (= works well) responses which I don’t precisely know in advance, but I’ll try with a sequence from a situation that is as similar as possible, and then adjust it according to the feedback I get (‘update the script’). I don’t like the way this sounds… it sounds rather callous… but I don’t think it is bad. Responding calmly and rationally to emergencies/conflicts is in everybody’s best interest, and this is learned behaviour. I have been in many situations through my adult life where an adult behaved ‘off the scale’ erratic/angry/emotional, and I do remember feeling totally off my feet and in a state of shock and like ‘loosing it’ after such incidents until long ago, so my current non-emotional reaction is a well adapted coping strategy. Albeit it could maybe also be dangerous in some situations because low emotional distress = no urgency to get out of a situation of potential danger. Even though I don’t feel like I’m the target, the reality could be different.

        (Maybe I should ad that it doesn’t always work that way for me… I do loose my temper sometimes when provoked on a bad day … What I describe is the ‘best case scenario’, and I do mostly respond like this)

        I did some more reading about the “stimulus dependent externally oriented” thinking style and apparently what this actually means is that a person things in concrete terms and is not introspective (doesn’t spend time thinking about their thoughts and feelings). Not sure if that changes your view of whether it fits you. I do think in concrete terms but I’m also introspective so I guess it somewhat applies to me.

        OK, that is different. I am very introspective, but also very concrete in how I perceive what others say (I know, that’s not fair) so I can’t answer that one clearly either then.

        • musingsofanaspie

          The way you analyze a situation doesn’t sound callous at all. It sounds very rational and practical and quite useful. :-) I think you’re right that you’ve developed a coping strategy for dealing with emotional situations and one that serves you well, so I don’t think you feel negatively about it. I’d like to get to that place at some point, in fact.

      • Mados

        Ps. I am so impressed with your conscientious reply to every single comment you get! Considering that there are quite many, on both new and older posts.

  12. littleostow

    Thank you for writing such a great piece! This post is exactly what I would like to tell the people around me but cannot find the words to describe it, you did it for me :)

    “My default emotional state is neutral. I don’t feel especially good or bad. I’m present in the moment and content to be so. ”

    BINGO! I sometimes blamed myself for not feeling happy when I should be, but was made guilty by others because I wasn’t showing it… It is a huge relief to know that I am not the only one feeling this way.

    For point number 3, Discrimination: Missing the Target, similar to your Starbuck experience, I recently left a job because I kept picking up nervous energy/vibes from the person sitting next to me (also my boss/friend). Though the anger/angst she felt was not directed at me nor came from me, I couldn’t block them out, from the physical – desk vibration and keyboard noise while she was typing away furiously on her keyboard – to the invisible, like I was being stalked by the creepy dark storm clouds that circling her. I ended up having a meltdown in the office and couldn’t talk or look at her, it’s embarrassing and I felt guilty afterwards.

    Thank you again for sharing :)

    • musingsofanaspie

      It’s hard to feel happy on demand! People can have such rigid expectations when it comes to what emotions are appropriate.

      I’m so sorry to hear that you had to leave you job because your colleague was giving off all those negative vibes. I had a coworker like that once and being around her just set my teeth on edge all day. It’s easy to imagine how the constant overload pushed you to a meltdown.

  13. hickeyj

    Yes! I’ve had the above conversation above SO MANY TIMES! I’m definitely pursuing a diagnosis now. I don’t think I’ve ever had as many “aha!” moments as I’ve had reading your awesome blog. Thank you so much

    • musingsofanaspie

      Your comment made me all bouncy and happy. I know exactly what you mean about those aha moments because I’ve had them reading other blogs and talking to other autistic folks. It’s quite an experience. :-)

  14. Sabrina

    Great information! I deal with many aspects of this personally. My partner is also an Aspie and every time I have a generalized emotion, anger, sadness or whatever he personalizes it! This hit the nail on the head of what is actively difficult in our relationship. Will be sharing this with him and our relationship therapist!

    • musingsofanaspie

      Oh, I’m so glad you found it helpful. Since I’ve started to figure this out, it’s really helped my husband and I avoid what were common uncomfortable situations for us. I hope you’re able to put it to use in your relationships as well!

  15. Christine Hoff

    My sons are 13 & 15. They both deal with this a little differently for each. Please write a little on how this can affect them in school! My thirteen year old shuts down! When he is overwhelmed he thinks he is going to throw up, he gets pale, goes into a cold sweat, gets weak in the knees, then he has to lay down. He will lay down anywhere because I don’t thinks he has control over it! Then he sleeps……..for a long time!
    I understand this! School not so much! This usually revolves around homework and he saves it until He gets home. I think he does not process his day until he gets home, when the teachers speak to the whole class he takes it personally. Then there are the threats over homework. He has 3 big triggers homework, staying after, and now the math teacher for all of her not so wonderful teaching methods! He works so hard all day! He is super smart most times he doesn’t need the homework! He knows the material! I hate school too! Frustrated because they Teachers are not taught about my son different operating system! Torn between what I know is right for him and what society demands! I wish there was a better school for him! Sad that what they are making him learn is a big fat wate of his time! Thanks for listening!

    • musingsofanaspie

      It sounds like your son is experiencing classic sensory overload. When I get overloaded, I get an incredibly strong urge to sleep, so I completely understand. Is this something you can work with the school on? Perhaps if he had a quiet place he go during the day to escape the sensory overload for a while? Or have you tried scheduling a period of downtime for him right after school so he can recover? Perhaps he could spend and hour or two of quiet in his room or indulging in a special interest and then do homework when he’s recovered a bit? Or maybe his teachers would allow him to do less homework if he’s able to keep his test and other grades up? A lot of homework just amounts to “practice” it seems and if he’s got the concepts down, why waste time on the extra practice, right? Sorry lots of questions and not many answers. I really feel for him though.

      It’s so hard when kids are on a constant “treadmill” having to run just to keep up with the demands of their day.

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  18. Liz H.

    “When I look at the list of alexithymic characteristics, I also realize that when I’m emotionally uncomfortable, I’m more likely to have physical complaints. I’ll be feeling frustrated or sad, but complain that I’m uncomfortably cold or intolerably sleepy. This isn’t a connection I would make on my own, but once I see it described as part of alexithymia–like so much about my autistic self–it suddenly makes perfect sense.”

    This makes so much sense to me, and isn’t something that I’d ever thought of before. I’ve been so frustrated when trying to explain to my husband why, when I try to tell him, “I’m so tired,” that I don’t mean that I have to sleep. That I’m trying to explain some strange internal weariness that comes from an emotional state that I can’t entirely verbalize. Instead, I wind up trying to explain what my “tired” is, he tries to be helpful and offer to let me take a nap, and then ends up upset when I throw my hands up in frustration. I feel badly, because he is trying to help…but it just isn’t in a way that I need it.

    • musingsofanaspie

      Even though I know I do this, I still have trouble remembering that if I’m feeling unusually cold, I need to check my emotional state too. Maybe if you explain that version of tired, your husband will recognize it and suggest that you take some time alone (or do some activity that you find relaxing/recharging) rather than suggesting a nap. My husband and I have found a lot of little things like this where by changing one element in the chain of communication we both feel better. It does take some practice though. Still lots of spots of frustration.

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  20. Natalia

    I’m 25 and have only now started to suspect I may be an Aspie. As a teenager I had been diagnosed with first ADHD and then depression, but I never felt like those things quite fit, and therapy and medication never did anything. I had always suspected my dad fell somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but for some reason never considered it for me. Now I just don’t know, but it all makes so much sense. I’ve recently changed schools, got married to the love of my life (who entered the military right after our marriage), and moved out of my parent’s house to live more than half-way across the country. The stress has gotten to me and although I’m happy with my situation, the change overload is doing quite a number on me. Anyway, I’ve always had issues with modulation and discrimination. In fact, my family walks around thinking that I must be unhappy because I have a problem expressing my happiness, especially in public. Other times, I am unable to feel empathy for those I care the most about, while other times I break down crying over a stranger’s misfortune. I have meltdowns, which usually comes from long stretches of me not consciously expressing my stress. I can’t bear to hear yelling, it feels like I’m being yelled at and I break down. When my husband is upset over his day at work or something, it feels like he’s upset at me (although rationally I know he’s not) and I start to make it about me–which makes it hard for me to help him through his stress and makes me appear/be self-centered. I’m definitely going to read into this condition more, since I also score above average on all these aspie quizzes online :p The funny thing is, the more I apply these things to myself, I realize how they apply to my husband as well. I guess that’s why we have such an easy time understanding each other, but are often perplexed by everyone else. Thanks for your awesome blogging!

    • musingsofanaspie

      Wow, that’s a lot to cope with in such a short time. I can see how it would trigger the realization that you might be on the spectrum. Big stressful changes have a tendency to do that in undiagnosed adults.

      As I’m reading your comment, there’s a mother and child in the apartment upstairs from me yelling at each other and crying and it’s making me want to go out for a drive to get away from them. :-/ Alexithymia is one of the aspects of being on the spectrum that I could really live without. And I know exactly what you mean about how difficult it can make a marriage. At least your husband has a lot in common with you in other ways. It’s great that you understand each other so well.

      Good luck with your continued exploration and thank you for letting me know that you’re reading!

      • Arsenik & Old Lace

        Thank you. In regards to alexithymia or empathy in general, I was wondering if this is common at all or if anyone else can relate….

        The few people I am close to, I have trouble feeling empathy for when they unload their burdens on me. Of course I recognize they are sad, angry, distressed, (or even happy) but I have a hard time feeling those things with them. I can’t think of a time when I was able to feel with them at all. I may feel a level of sympathy for them, because I care for them and their well-being, but I cannot relate to their emotions (though I know I’ve felt those myself towards my own situations). I have trouble displaying sympathy as well–sometimes all my mother wants is a hug to soothe her tears, but I can’t bring myself to do it and if I do, I am so horribly uncomfortable. Usually, my form of sympathizing with some one is to attempt to find a solution to their trouble (which is why many who consider me a friend actually seek my style of sympathy, because often I can help them find a way out of their problem). On the other hand, if I see a homeless person on the street I randomly break out into tears. Most of the time, I have to flee from watching those god-awful animal rights commercials for fear of crying. I’ve even been know to feel empathy for criminals of the most heinous kind. So my empathy springs up a bit lop-sided. A while back, my coworkers were telling me about a woman in the company who had just recently been diagnosed with cancer, and I burst out laughing. I laughed so hard I couldn’t stop and even became teary. My coworkers were horrified, and quickly mumbled an excuse or another. I really have no idea what I found so funny. I have no idea what that’s all about, does anyone also deal with this?

        • musingsofanaspie

          I have a similar experience with people I’m close to. I think in some way I’ve learned to harden myself against those feelings because if I don’t, they’ll overwhelm. But it’s not something I do intentionally so I’m still not quite sure what’s going on. But yeah, I can sit nearby and watch someone I love be emotionally devastated and I’ll basically turn into a stone. And a big yes! to finding a solution to people’s problems as a way of sympathizing. I have to actively make an effort not to do it sometimes because I know that often people just want someone to listen.

          The inappropriate laughing is something I’ve heard others talk about but I’ve never experienced it myself. I think being alexithymic means we have very unreliable (uneven?) emotional reactions and often there isn’t really an explanation for why they happen.

  21. Arsenik & Old Lace

    You know I think you’re right about hardening yourself to overwhelming feelings. As a child/tween my emotions were completely unchecked and would have crying fits that lasted hours. Often caused by the slightest things. Its what prompted my parents to seek a psychologist, and I was diagnosed with depression. I was completely unable to explain what I felt to my psychologist though–not due to lack of motivation (I actually looked forward to our sessions at first, hoping I’d figure myself out), but there’s just a block. I can’t explain it. I guess eventually I learned to just harden myself against those things, for fear of having to experience another fit. They were exhausting, embarrassing, and made my parents fight a lot.

    It’s all so weird, I can fake empathy in a socially acceptable way to acquaintances and colleagues just fine (most of the time!). Maybe I just feel too comfortable around my loved ones, and expect too much from them. Expect them to know and understand what’s really going on in my head when I don’t show it. All of this is just so interesting! Time to continue binging on your blog!

    • musingsofanaspie

      Those unchecked emotions sound a lot like meltdowns, actually. I had some horrible ones when I was a teen, probably for the first time. I don’t really remember meltdowns prior to puberty.

  22. Pingback: AS and Marriage: Managing Conflict | aspermama

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