Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two More Emotions I Don't Seem To Have

I've mentioned that I'm asexual. Recently I was realizing that there are other emotions that most people feel and I don't seem to feel.

Embarrassment is one. I've never blushed, and from what I've been told blushing is easy to see in someone of my complexion. I've heard people talk about how they 'wished the floor would swallow them up' or something like that. When I've wished stuff like that, I was terrified, not embarrassed.

And in fact, I often seem to feel fear where others would feel embarrassment. This is probably due to bullying. If I do something most people would find embarrassing, it wouldn't normally bother me, except that I've learnt that other people are likely to treat me badly in reaction to it. (Ironically, my fear laugh tends to show up in situations where I feel threatened by another person, and probably some people have mistaken it for an embarrassed laugh.)

This study describes a protocol for eliciting embarrassment experimentally. They asked participants to sing, karaoke-style a popular song, and told them that two confederates would be viewing their performance. Then they played back a video that alternated between the professional performance of the song and their own performance of it, while monitoring heart rate and blushing, and afterwards asked participants to rate how they felt when they saw their own singing.

I often sing to myself in public. I tend to sing below audibility of others, because people give me an odd look if they hear me and this odd look reminds me of the way bullies would often look at me. But in a situation where I don't expect others to do anything to hurt me, I'll happily sing audibly. I'll even sing to a friend despite strangers being able to hear me easily, because friends are protection from bullies.

I also tell people incredibly personal things immediately upon meeting them. I've consciously curtailed this because some people have treated me badly up[on finding out certain things, but I don't seem to feel an instinctive need for secrets like most people do. If I knew no one would abuse me for it, I'd happily tell the entire world every thought and feeling I'd ever had. I do have a need for physical privacy (I don't want anyone to see me in the bathroom) but not for emotional privacy. I suspect this is linked to lack of embarrassment.

I wouldn't be surprised if lack of embarrassment is common among autistics. It could explain a lot. One big difference between autistic and NT kids is that NT kids have many activities they will do alone, but not in social situations, while autistics will often do those same things in full view of others. Things like scratching yourself in private places, picking your nose, etc. In addition, besides autistics actually having different interests and behaviors than others do, we probably seem even stranger because we're less likely to suppress an action that no one else does. Many times I haven't paid enough attention to others to realize a certain action is atypical, other times I just don't care.

Once, in the middle of summer, I had a rough day in large part because I walked outside a lot in windy weather (wind blowing my hair around is a very unpleasant sensation for me). I got home to find that the power was out and I didn't have any books to read. So I decided to walk to the library. But I was sick of wind in my hair so I decided to wear my parka with the hood up to block the wind. My Dad, driving home from work, spotted me and called out to me. He said he'd recognized me easily because of the parka - 'there's only one person I know who'd wear a parka in this weather'.

If you'd asked me whether it was normal to wear a parka in the middle of summer, I'd have said no. But it didn't occur to me that I'd be the only one doing it among a large social group. I also didn't think about what others might think if I walked outside in summertime with a parka on - what mattered was that, for me, excess heat was preferrable to more wind.

As for the other emotion I've noticed recently...

I don't think I feel hatred. I remember some people on a forum awhile back, saying that 'everyone has probably wished someone would die'. When I said I'd never wished that, they accused me of lying and pretending I was better than everyone else. But it was actually the truth. The closest I've come to a revenge fantasy was a fantasy in which I turned into a dog and mauled one of my bullies, and he got a permanent disability and his 'friends' turned on him and started bullying him too, and being bullied made him realize how bad it was so he turned nice and befriended me (not knowing I was the dog, of course).

I have said 'I hate you!' in the course of a meltdown. At that exact moment, I really do feel something similar to hatred. But the feeling disappears once I calm down. I've never hated someone in an enduring sort of way. I'm not sure if I've felt angry - most of the time when people think I'm angry, I'm really scared. But I think I have felt anger over injustice that doesn't personally affect me (therefore triggering no fear).

I was sexually abused by two cousins of mine. Most people, if they'd gone through something like that, would hate those two cousins. If they didn't, they'd hate my uncle, the one who screwed those kids up and made them into abusers (probably deliberately - he liked to corrupt people). I don't hate any of those people. Most people would also hate my first grade teacher, the worst teacher I've ever had. I have no idea why she treated me the way she did, and I would never trust her with a child, but I don't hate her. My emotions, when I think of her, are a muddle of fear, sadness, confusion, hurt and shame, but no hatred. Same with the bully featured in the revenge fantasy I described above. If he'd have said sorry for what he did and started treating me nicely, it's entirely possible that me and him could have become friends.

This doesn't mean I don't take revenge, but, as my revenge fantasy shows, it's always directly tied with the hope of changing the person I'm avenging myself on. If I realize my revenge-taking won't change them, the desire for revenge disappears. This is why I don't support our jail system - because it doesn't change people for the better. I find it very hard to understand why some people seem so determined to punish wrongdoers that they'd ignore anyone who tries to convince them that this doesn't work. Clearly, this is not just a rational attempt to prevent further crime. There must be an emotional component to it that I don't feel.

Note: I do not think my lack of hatred (or embarrassment, for that matter) makes me better than anyone. We can't help what we feel. It's what we do with our feelings that really matters.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

Very true!

I have read an article in the MyCareer website about social fear and how it can stop people from performing in interviews.

Fear takes up a lot of emotional territory!

2:38 AM  

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