• Tag Archives Cognitive Empathy and Affective Empathy
  • WHY IS IT UNFAIR TO SAY ASPIES HAVE ZERO EMPATHY?

    BECAUSE IT’S NOT TRUE

     

    I received a comment recently that I wanted to share as I think it will be a common source of confusion for others:  

    Please read my definition of cognitive and affective empathy HERE first (if you haven’t already)

     

    David wrote:  

    “I’m confused. You say aspies have zero empathy, but elsewhere you say they have affective empathy, just not cognitive empathy. From how you explain it, what you call “affective empathy” is what I have always thought was “empathy”. What you call “cognitive empathy” sounds like reading someone’s thoughts, which sounds impossible, but doesn’t sound like what I think of when I think of empathy. Isn’t it a little unfair to say someone has zero empathy when they do have affective empathy?”

     

    David,

    Awesome comment because you are absolutely correct! While my posts will center around all-things good and amazing about my Aspie husband in the future, I chose to begin this blog with a lot of the mis-information out there. If you read my WHY AM I SO ANGRY? post, you might think my husband was evil and I was a horrifically abused wife too dumb to leave him. That is how I felt for a long time, and how a lot of spouses (like myself) feel because they do not grasp the big picture yet. I wanted my posts to grab the current feelings of many of the wives out there… so they could first empathize with ME and realize I get what they are going through; hopefully lending some belief in my current thoughts and their desire to implement my suggestions in their own marriage.  My intention of striking a chord with the desperate NT wives out there is also why some of my post titles are seemingly negative and unfair to those with Asperger’s syndrome.  

    I can appreciate how the post you commented on WHAT DOES ALTRUISM HAVE TO DO WITH IT? seems very biased toward praising neurotypicals while blaming Aspie husbands for lacking empathy and damaging our relationships.  It was important to me to first acknowledge the incredible strength and mentality of those who fall in love with Aspie men because… I am going to be flipping it around in most of my future posts, beginning with this one.  

    I intend on showing all of the reasons our Aspie husbands are of equal strength and good intention and these same NT women often unknowingly create much of the misery in their marriage.  Since I began this blog entirely for neurotypical women struggling in their marriage, posts like the one you commented on do give confusing messages. Understanding the difference in cognitive and affective empathy, and how the function of both processing mechanisms paralyze communication, is the first step to finding a happy NT-Aspie union.  

    I never expected so many adult men and women with Asperger’s syndrome to take the time to read what I wrote and post their responses to it.  I am both delighted and humbled by this.  

     

    Back to why my words are unfair:

    It is incredibly unfair and cruel to suggest someone with Asperger’s syndrome does not have empathy in general. This belief is what destroys countless lives every day. This statement is what I want to change when people hear the term Asperger’s syndrome.

    Just like you, affective empathy is what EVERYONE thinks of when they hear the word.  Affective empathy is the most important part of what it means to be a compassionately empathetic individual. Affective empathy is what humanizes us and the common bond we have for one another that creates all the best things in life.  Only sociopaths (aka, psychopaths) lack affective empathy.  

    Obviously there exist other neurological anomalies and injuries that can debilitate empathy, but they also impair so many other neurological abilities that they are incredibly apparent… unlike Aspies and sociopaths who are elusive and have only empathy deficits to account for their cognitive differences with neurotypicals.  Again, sociopaths lack affective empathy but have cognitive empathy, Aspies lack cognitive empathy but have affective empathy (polar opposites).

    There is confusion about this because no one realizes there is an entirely different version of empathy (the cognitive part) that symbiotically functions to enable and enhance the affective part for neurotypicals.

    When someone cannot utilize their cognitive empathy the way the majority does, it stunts the affective part. It does not eliminate the fact that affective empathy exists and is fully functional for those with Asperger’s syndrome.  The absence of cognitive empathy disables the ability to show affective empathy appropriately based on the expectations of an NT (not their fault, this is because social norms that deviate from what NT’s comprehend as normal are viewed as negative and wrong).

    I am going to assume you have Asperger’s syndrome? I may be wrong but I am making this assumption based off of your summation that cognitive empathy sounds like “reading someone’s thoughts” (which it kind of is), and that does not sound logical or possible to you. If I did not possess this ability (and understand that those deemed neurotypical also do) than I would agree that such a concept sounds ridiculous.

    Of note: Not every neurotypical is good at utilizing their cognitive empathy effectively.

     

    No, I do not think I am psychic

    I do not think I can accurately look at a stranger (or anyone) and factually read their mind.  That would be CRAZY. What I do have (NT’s) is the ability to information-gather based off of someone’s facial expressions, body language, tone/pitch of voice, timing in delivering their words, taking in the same nonverbal language from those around this person, and the “hidden” meaning behind what someone says vice what they actually mean.  All of these things combined enable a person to come pretty close to accurately guessing what someone is thinking or feeling.  We learn to do this before grade school and it comes SO NATURALLY and rapidly we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

    As I have said before… the closer we are to a person (knowing their past behaviors, feelings, desires, or how they responded emotionally to a similar situation) the more likely we will guess what they are thinking/feeling correctly.  If it helps to call it “guessing” in lieu of “mind reading” then that is totally understandable and more accurate.  We are only guessing and no one can read another person’s mind; it just so happens NT to NT guessing is often spot-on.

    Since Aspies very rarely have “hidden meanings” in their words, and they cannot information-gather the same way we NT’s do… we (NTs) keep fudging everything up. We keep thinking there is hidden meaning in words, over-analyzing behaviors, and seeing the delay (or incorrect) response to our feelings as inappropriate, rude, aloof, condescending, mean, uncaring, insensitive, or cold.

    Eventually I hope I will help other neurotypical women to STOP DOING THIS!  Maybe when the NT women finally make sense of their husband’s behavior they can help create an army of advocates who want the world to also understand their incredible husbands.  

    Wishful thinking perhaps, but I believe it can be done.

    Understanding cognitive vs. affective empathy and how they work to enhance one another has to be very confusing and suspicious to someone who does not utilize cognitive empathy. I also realize the suggestion that an Aspie has zero cognitive empathy makes people with Aspergers feel angry that they are being deemed defective or broken.

    I think those highly empathetic neurotypicals (the wives of Aspie men usually are) and those with Asperger’s syndrome are both defective (SEE: WHY AM I SO STUPID?). With that being said, I do not for one second think that either of them are “broken”; just different.

    color

    If you don’t see the green number, you must not love me!

    My good friend is color blind.  He does not see the same thing when he looks at colors that I do. He is not broken for this, he just sees the world different than many of those around him.  My friend cannot control this, nor can he ever see the colors others do… he just has to accept that they exist for others.  My friend has a genetic mutation (I hate that word because it sounds bad) that causes the wiring in his brain to process color different.

    Someone with Asperger’s syndrome who cannot process cognitive empathy is not broken, they process information differently. Because it is the minority who has to navigate without that processing ability, Aspies end up being shunned and made to feel broken.

    My friend got made fun of for a long time for screwing things up that required the color vision capabilities of those around him. It might have been something simple like picking up the wrong color legos or puzzle pieces as a child, to painting his home in unappealing colors as an adult.  Sometimes people made fun of him and he felt like he screwed things up (but he never knew why).  When my friend finally learned he was color blind to some of the shades others could see, he stopped thinking he was a screw-up. When he was able to articulate this to people, they stopped giving him a hard time when he showed up in a green shirt instead of a blue one (military) or other areas where color-selection comes into play.  The people who were close to him began to help him instead or teasing him, like his wife laying out the correct color undershirt for him to wear to work the night before, or helping him navigate through other color-conundrums. 

    Lucky for my friend, something like color-processing is not often associated with personal feelings so when he had messed up in the past, his character was not attacked for being “uncaring and cold.”

    Lacking cognitive empathy adversely effects how easily a person can show affective empathy and therefore… people take this difference in neurologically processing information as personal.  Aspies get screwed by a society who thinks they just lack empathy altogether.

    They do not lack it, they simply cannot show it the same way we neurotypicals anticipate unless we directly state what we are thinking or feeling.  But alas, we don’t accept this different perspective because we don’t understand it… neither Aspie nor NT does.

    If only I could think that way…

    The honesty and simplicity in how those with Asperger’s syndrome communicate is something to appreciate and emulate. It is what we NT’s should be striving for in many ways.

    It would be so much easier if we could stop basing our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors off of our assumed reality.  How many problems would be solved if neurotypicals just stopped reacting to what someone was “thinking” and chose to directly ASK THEM instead (and also believe their response as the truth)?  NTs are NOT always correct in their guess-work (obviously) and they are awful at it when they are guessing about their Aspie husband.

    It can screw us NTs up from time to time and cause us to believe a reality that does not exist… like when we assume we read nonverbal messages correctly but are way off target and then react to those messages by being upset, angry, offended, etc.. Sometimes our cognitive empathy steers us in the wrong direction but if we utilized the direct language Aspies use, we could avoid the whole misunderstanding.  This is what occurs the majority of the time in Aspie-NT marriages because we cannot read a person with Aspergers the way we can read an NT.  The reason for this is that Aspies lack cognitive empathy and therefore they do not operate under its existence in their lives. They are equally unaware of how their nonverbal messages come across to the outside world as they are about the nonverbal messages coming from it.  Without the knowledge of how they send out nonverbal messages, they never learn (from social interaction in childhood development) how to regulate their facial expressions, body language, etc. This regulation begins to occur without thought for NT’s so 9/10 times, the nonverbal messages they are sending out directly match the inner thoughts and feelings they are having.  With an Aspie, there is a disconnect with that and the nonverbal messages they are sending out do not often accurately match the internal thoughts and feelings they are having.  Neurotypicals don’t know this though, so they are receiving incorrect messages frequently from the Aspie in their life and they are responding to them as truth.

    Let me try to clarify.  Let’s say there is a neurotypical 5 year old child grocery shopping with their mother and their mom accidentally pushes the cart into their little leg. The child may feel a slight pain and make an automatic facial expression that reflects this pain.  The mom apologizes profusely to the child, who is in no way upset with their mom for the accident, and continues to make the same facial expression of pain because now their leg is hurting a little when they walk.  About ten minutes later, the mom notices that the child still has this look on their face but since time has elapsed and mom thinks it could no longer be a look of pain, she begins to associate the look with being angry at the mom for hurting them.  Mom again begins to apologize profusely and the child says, “I know you didn’t mean it, it’s ok mom.”  

    If this look keeps up (because the leg is still sore) the mom may eventually say, “I said I was sorry, why are you so mad at me?”  The child, having never said they were mad (quite the opposite) will then become aware that they are giving a facial expression that makes mom think they are in fact, angry.  This triggers those synapses to connect the dots between the face they are making and it’s confusing message and they automatically adjust this facial expression in the future.  This happens without purposeful intention… it is just the way the brain naturally wires itself through experiences in childhood.  The next time someone does something by accident, this child will automatically avoid that facial expression of discomfort so they do not make the accidental offender feel guilty, unless of course… they want the person to feel bad, then the look will remain (something that also occurs without thought).

    Hard to believe this happens, but it does.  

    That is how a neurotypical brain adapts to its social environment… so that their nonverbal messages do not cause unwanted emotional responses in others.  This happens in thousands of situations growing up and become an unspoken language based off of sending/receiving messages nonverbally throughout their youth.  This is why a neurotypicals ability to identify someone’s feelings (another neurotypicals) without the use of direct language become fairly accurate the closer they are to them.

    This is not the case with a person who has Asperger’s syndrome.  The Aspie child in the same situation will NOT understand that their facial expression is making their mother think they are angry.  They will know that they are in pain and their nonverbal messages will send out whatever response it wants to at that moment and there will exist no connection between the mother’s emotional response of guilt and their uncontrollable outward manifestation of whatever made her think this.  They will not even identify that their mother is feeling guilty when she says, “I said I was sorry, why are you still mad at me?”  They will take her words at face value; they may repeat the same sentence or say, “I know you didn’t mean it, I already said it was ok mom.”  They will not be aware that mom is giving them nonverbal messages in her question that show a face of guilt, or that her tone of voice is apologetic and she is really saying, “I am really sorry, I would never want to purposely hurt you.  I am concerned you think I did it on purpose because your facial expression is telling me that and that makes me feel badly that you would think that about me.  Please tell me you are not angry, and then please stop making a face that makes me think you are so I don’t feel guilty anymore.”  

    Holy crap that is a LOT of information mom thinks she is sending out to her child.  She doesn’t know she is speaking to her child without the use of those words because she naturally sends out a long paragraph of thought while only using words that unclearly summarize all those feelings.  The child is only hearing what mom said and therefore they may mentally process that mom must really think they are mad, but maybe she just didn’t hear them when they said they knew it was an accident and it was ok.  So they repeat themselves and they unknowingly keep the same facial expression of discomfort when they begin walking again, causing mom to think the child is purposely trying to cause her to feel badly for what she did.  By the time they reach the check-out line, mom may scoff at the child and say, “It’s ridiculous you are so angry about this, it was just an accident and you have no reason to be angry, stop being a baby!”

    Well, damn… that poor Aspie kid didn’t do a anything wrong and never “caused” his mom’s inevitably hurtful accusation.  Now the Aspie child is feeling angry… and they are absolutely justified in this!  Now the Aspie child WILL display a facial expression of anger or try to defend themselves, or get frustrated, feel hurt, and ultimately think they were treated unfairly (which is true).  What happens to Aspie children like this?  That’s when you see the good ol term, “temper tantrum” in full effect.  What happens to an adult like this? Well, that’s when you see a defensive and hostile response that makes the other person think the Aspie is an asshole.  It all makes perfect sense when you look at the big picture, but since no one grasps the cognitive empathy deficit, no one ever finds resolution in what actually caused the situation to unravel.

    In a scenario that innocent, the Aspie ends up receiving a very confused message that their mom is accusing them of feeling something that they are not feeling and they do not have a clue why.  The mother is not conscious of her use of cognitive empathy and therefore… she has no clue what kind of message she is sending her child by using words that are not in synch with the information she intended to send. The mom feels guilty for accidentally hurting her child and then becomes frustrated the child is angry, she begins to assume the child thinks she pushed the cart into them on purpose and feels hurt and eventually, irritated that the child would think that.  

    That is the speed and degree of emotional shifting a neurotypical does unknowingly when they are deciphering the nonverbal messages they receive. There is no direct articulation of words to ask questions or seek clarification for how the mom is receiving her child’s nonverbal message, so there will be no understanding of one another’s seemingly baffling behavior.  When the “baffling behavior” begins to pile up over time, both parties become further separated in their perception of one another and ability to understand the way the other thinks.

    Make sense?  Explaining a concept as abstract as cognitive empathy is incredibly difficult because it is not something that can be taught and most people are completely unaware of its existence.  They either use it, or they don’t; few are aware of who is using it, and who is not.  Aspie’s assume no one has this ability to read nonverbal messages (because they don’t) and neurotypicals assume everyone does (because they do).

    In the innocent grocery store example, you may now see HOW MANY different “feelings” can be in play for the neurotypical; guilt, frustration, confusion, irritation, etc. while the Aspie doesn’t really have any “emotional feelings” going on, they are just experiencing physical discomfort.  The aspie will eventually begin to emotionally feel anger though because they are being accused of feeling something that they are not.  

    CAUSE AND EFFECT

    The inevitable feelings of anger that the Aspie has after constant and unrelenting accusations about their inner thoughts and feelings (throughout their lifetime) become the recipe for an argumentative, withdrawn, and/or defensive adult.  They learn to associate social interaction with being accused of untrue things and they respond to this the same way any human would… they begin to assign “trigger” words that can alert them to respond appropriately before they are attacked.  Cause and effect.  If they are used to being called uncaring, naive, gullible, insensitive, malicious, cold, robotic, inappropriate, angry, sad, rude, condescending, thoughtless, stupid, selfish, or any other hurtful term hurled at them by an NT who inaccurately deciphered their innocent nonverbal messages as such… they are going to defend their own character the moment they think one of those labels is about to be launched at them.  Some become hostile and demonstratively defensive adults who argue before the words can even be said, others become withdrawn entirely to protect themselves from ever allowing those words to manifest by another person. Most adult Aspies end up doing both. 

    This is what happens to a ridiculously heightened degree with interpersonal relationships between Aspies and NTs. They are both speaking two different languages and one way or another, the NTs rapid shifting and attempts to identify the Aspies thoughts and/or feelings will turn to some form of accusatory verbal language directed at the poor Aspie who “Didn’t even do or say anything!”  They do not see the world through the same eyes when it comes to social interaction and interpersonal communication.  

    The only way to bridge this gap is for the NT to become aware of their use of cognitive empathy when communicating with the Aspie and make damn sure they are using plain language to send information and gather information in the future.  They cannot base any information off of the nonverbal messages they “think” they are receiving from their Aspie mate.  Even if some of those messages do end up accurately identifying the Aspie’s thoughts or feelings, they have to pull the plug on thinking they will the next time.  The person with Asperger’s syndrome will never respond the same way every time to a similar emotion or feeling because they do not have the neurological connections in place to repeat these things or become aware of them.  

    The only way to prevent such disastrous misunderstandings from happening is if the NT learns to never associate their partner’s nonverbal messages with the words they are speaking out loud.  They absolutely have to stop trusting their history of being skilled in identifying what others think and feel based off of nonverbal language.  They have to disassociate the link between nonverbal and verbal information and BELIEVE their Aspie loved ones words over their often contradicting nonverbal behavior.

    Neurotypical wives who want to find effective communication within their marriage to a man with Asperger’s syndrome will literally have to learn a new method of communication.  The Aspie cannot, I repeat, they CANNOT adapt to the neurotypicals way of sending and receiving messages.  They do not have this ability and they should not be expected to develop it, nor should they be held accountable for not using it.  The change MUST come from the neurotypical if they really want to have the intimate connection they claim to desperately want from their Aspie partner.  

    This is the #1 most important thing that must be done to turn a failing Aspie-NT union into a successful and happy one.  It isn’t easy and it is going to take a lot of awareness on the neurotypicals behalf to do this… but it is worth every bit of effort.  

    JUST TO BEAT A DEAD HORSE

    The neurotypical will never be able to accurately understand how their Aspie partner really feels about something if they are creating the information based off inaccurate nonverbal messages.  The Aspie is never going to accurately understand how the NT partner thinks if the verbal messages they receive are only a tiny fraction of the whole, which was sent predominantly through nonverbal communication that they cannot receive.  

    The cognitive empathy deficit disables the Aspie from ever responding appropriately to their NT loved one; in essence… it paralyzes their ability to utilize and show affective (emotional) empathy.  They have it… they have emotional empathy just the same as the neurotypical… but how can they show it when they have zero understanding of when, why, or how to use it at the right time?  The neurotypical is never going to utilize their emotional empathy appropriately toward their mate if they are trying to respond to feelings and thoughts that aren’t real.

    Tell an Aspie you are sad and why… in plain language, and if they love you, you will see emotional empathy.  Assume they know you are sad and why, and you are going to get an inappropriate response.  

    Now tell me, who’s fault is that really?

    BUT… THERE IS A GOOD SIDE TOO

    Not all cognitive empathy abilities for an NT are troublesome.  While neurotypicals obviously screw things up a whole lot with their Aspie loved ones, it is that use of cognitive empathy that enables amazing relationships with NT-NT individuals.  Having the instinctive ability to identify the thoughts and feelings of others without spoken words helps us offer our support, emotional empathy, love, assistance, and general regard for people rapidly without them ever having to ask for it.  Often times, adults do not want to directly ask people to fill the void of emotional needs.  For instance, if someone has just gone through a divorce, but is trying to put on a positive and optimistic face… an NT will usually become acutely aware of the facade based off of the other (unintentional) nonverbal messages being sent out.  They can respond with the emotional support the heartbroken person would benefit from without them having to ask.  The divorced individual does not have to feel weak, codependent, burdensome, or needy (which may further assault their fragile ego) because they did not have to reach out for help… help just arrived.

    It is pretty amazing to be able to respond to people’s emotional needs without delay and with the appropriate response; this develops trust and feelings of love.  This develops intimacy in romantic relationships.  This is what the neurotypical is expecting from their Aspie partner, who honestly… wants to provide all of the same rapid support to the NT they love.  The sad truth is that they can’t.  They can’t until the NT learns to use direct, unambiguous verbalization of what they need out loud.  They cannot expect it the way they would in an NT-NT dynamic.  That is not fair and it is counterproductive to obtaining the emotional empathy they claim to be deprived of.  

    NT’s keep thinking that if their Aspie partner cannot “identify” what it is they need, then they must be devoid of understanding human emotion… they must not have it themselves.  This is untrue and this is a thought-process that you are creating based off incorrect assumptions.  My husband used to say, “Your mind is your own worst enemy!” I despised him when he said this to me, as though he was calling me crazy, or telling me I was imagining all of the hurt feelings I had for feeling unloved by him.  The truth is… my mind WAS my own worst enemy.  I imagined things that weren’t true based off of my own understanding of neurologically processing emotions and correct behavior.  I knew I loved, I knew I felt empathy, and I knew I gave all of my effort in trying to provide those feelings to my husband.  I assumed he could do the exact same and when he did not, my mind created the reason for it.  He can do the exact same… love, feel empathy, and provide both of those things to me.  He just needs to get the right information from me in order to show me those things.  I allowed my lack of awareness to turn my husband into someone he was not and blame him for causing me harm that honestly… my own mind unknowingly created. Hard pill to swallow, but the survival of our marriage was dependent on it.

    IT’S ALL ABOUT AWARENESS   

    Just as a neurotypical has no idea how their communication abilities cause harm to their Aspie partner, the Aspie partner is equally blind to the damage they cause.

    Trying to put myself in my husband’s shoes and imagine a world where cognitive empathy does not exist was damn-near impossible at first (why no one wants to listen to the simplicity and innocence of it all). It is just as hard for us to grasp a world without this ability as it must be for an Aspie to grasp a world with it.

    Example: If you were holding up a red coffee mug and tried to convince me it was green, there is no way I would buy into your words… nor would I believe you were really seeing green. I would wonder why you were being snarky or screwing with my head and then over-analyze why you would want to do this.  You would also find yourself completely dumbfounded as to why I kept calling the mug red when it was clearly green; you might even think I was crazy and doubt my opinions in the future.  Neither of us would be wrong; it would just take a giant leap of faith for one to believe the other is TRULY seeing that color and not just messing with them.

    To bridge the gap of the Aspie/NT processing of cognitive empathy, both people have to take a giant leap of faith and trust that they see the world different. It is only in that leap of faith and trust in the other person’s reality that they can both utilize their amazing affective empathy skills to make a relationship work. 

    Let me try it this way…

    150226_SLATEST_TheDress-proof590.jpg.CROP.cq5dam_web_1280_1280_jpeg

    This dress is a big topic of discussion on the internet that makes people stop and think about the way they perceive the world in contrast to others.  When I look at this dress, I see white and gold.  In NO way am I capable of seeing blue and black (believe me, I tried).  Some people will look at it and say it is blue and black (it actually IS) and wonder how in the hell I am seeing white and gold.  My daughter (who I like to think is a mini-me) only sees blue and black and thought I was nuts for seeing white and gold. Since I wanted to believe my daughter and I looked at the world through similar eyes, I felt incredibly sad when I realized (based off of this image) that even she and I see the world different; even more disturbing was the concept that my own mind can perceive something ENTIRELY incorrect based off of the way the synapses that control color-processing function within my own brain.  Neither of us are “wrong” for what we see, as the dress is still pretty and exists, we just don’t see the same thing.  Yes, technically I am “wrong” but my perception is neither harmful nor purposefully argumentative in calling the dress color as I see it.

    Considering the dress IS actually blue and black, it appears my brain is the one that deviates from the norm in color-processing under certain lighting.  This is what it is like for an Aspie vs. an NT.  The NT is processing the information for cognitive empathy like the majority that have that brain function while the Aspie (who lacks cognitive empathy) gets a different take on the same human behaviors.  

    Now that I KNOW my eyes deceive me with the image above, I would be more inclined to trust my daughter’s perception if we had a debate on what color something was in the future.  No matter how hard I try, I am NOT going to see this dress as blue and black.  It cannot be done.  My brain is not capable of doing it.  If I had not been proven wrong by seeing an image of the dress on a storefront rack and having the owner of it validate that it is blue and black… I would have gone to my grave telling my child it is white and gold and she is WRONG.  As humans we are flawed, we want to convince others of our reality in lieu of accepting and appreciating the opposing viewpoint they have… we don’t want to be wrong and we don’t want to take these giant leaps of faith in what reality actually means.  

    It is incredibly hard to trust someone else’s take on the world when you cannot see what they do.  It is incredibly difficult for an Aspie to trust in this ability we have: to rapidly put a myriad of nonverbal communication behaviors together to identify someone else’s thoughts and feelings (cognitive empathy).  It is incredibly challenging for an NT to believe their Aspie loved one is truly incapable of doing the same and realize that their inability to see the same thing is not bad or wrong.  Nothing changes the fact that both NTs and Aspies comprehend human emotion equally and want to compassionately respond to it with the same level of concern and attention.  We both want the same thing and understand the complexity of human emotion… we just identify it in a very different way.

    Neurotypicals reluctance to accept this, or their ignorance about the Aspie’s perception is causing them to place unfair and impossible expectations on their Aspie partner.  We expect them to identify our feelings when we are using nonverbal means to communicate them.  They cannot behave empathetically toward us (affective empathy) if they cannot identify what we are thinking or feeling by using cognitive empathy.  They have the same desire to be empathetic toward our feelings as we do theirs, we are on the same page with this… we just drop the line of communication when we believe our perception of reality is the only one that exists.  

    Both people have to stop and accept the other person’s capabilities and limitations so they can appreciate the contrasting world they frequently exist in.  Both parties have to begin trusting the other’s take on the world, even if they cannot see it themselves, just as I now have to trust my daughter may be right more times than not when we perceive colors differently.  I have no choice but to trust in her insight now that I finally understand my brain may not always perceive reality accurately.  It sucks to have to admit I am not always right in my processing of information, I am human and I have an ego.  

    If the Aspie husband was willing to trust his wife and what she can see, he could have an incredible teacher and advocate in navigating social norms for the remainder of his days.  If the Aspie husband was willing to accept that something exists by which he cannot process and trusted his wife’s view… there is a damn good chance she would begin comprehending his take on life with greater ease and learn to use verbal language to directly communicate what she is thinking or feeling.  There is a high likelihood she will finally stop using her information-gathering cognitive empathy to guess her husband’s thoughts and begin to just ASK HIM instead.  If the Aspie husband could accept that his wife has an equally challenging time learning to communicate without her instinctive use of reading and delivering nonverbal messages, he would be more patient with her frustration when she vocalizes anger or sadness that he did not recognize or respond appropriately to her emotions.  

    Both Aspie and NT have to stop their current defiance.  They need to openly admit to one another that the other person is NOT WRONG.  It is time to drop the damaging assumption that their version of reality is the correct one.  It is time to humbly admit defeat in the history of ego-driven and forceful attempts to make the other person exist in their version of reality.  There can be no “agreeing to disagree” there must be a mutual understanding that it is time to “”agree to agree” with one another’s truth.  There is a whole lot of fascinating experiences out there if an Aspie-NT can stop being so stubborn and appreciate one another’s differences and utilize them to benefit their own awareness in such a mind boggling world.  

    It all begins with truly comprehending and accepting the difference in cognitive vs. affective empathy.

     

    Oh no, what was I saying?

    I forgot I was writing a reply to David when I originally began this post.  

    My apologies.  I do that.

    Ok, so getting back to the point; yes, it is unfortunate and unfair to say that someone with Asperger’s syndrome has zero empathy.  Like you, most people only associate empathy with the affective side (something that is not defective in either party).  

    If people could comprehend early on that cognitive empathy does not exist for everyone (more people than anyone could fathom) then they would be able to change the way children are raised and how misunderstandings in social interactions occur early on (setting Aspies up for a life of being unfairly judged and labeled).

    Just because someone is deemed a neurotypical does not mean they always utilize their cognitive empathy effectively.  There are TONS of people out there who have the ability to process cognitive empathy but are limited in its use due to the way they were raised or experiences in their past. Understanding this difference in early childhood would benefit more people than anyone realizes and help to prevent much of the childhood alienation and bullying we have seen in the past.  The only difference between a neurotypical and a person with Asperger’s syndrome is that a neurotypical CAN develop and strengthen their use of cognitive empathy.  An Aspie does not have the neurological tools to ever develop theirs (they are never going to change the colors identified in that damn dress).  Aspies will always need the neurotypicals in their life to minimize their nonverbal communication or at least assign words with it.  

    I believe the married Aspies out there CAN begin to connect the dots of their spouses feelings and emotions (without the use of words) eventually, provided the NT wife continues to verbally articulate them while she is also using her nonverbal communication.  I do believe the repetition of words with facial expressions or actions, or explanations of thoughts that were initially expressed with indirect words, can be linked up after a while to help that couple meet closer to the middle as time progresses.  The jury is still out on this though as my marriage is not that old and it currently seems that repetition would need to occur for many years (using both verbal and nonverbal at the same time) before my nonverbal messages could become readily identified by my husband. 

    I hope I did not confuse you further. If you have not read my novel-sized post about empathy, please do (See: WHAT ABOUT ASPERGER’S SYNDROME AND EMPATHY).  I give a lot more examples of what the cognitive vs. affective behaviors look like in action to show how they feed off one another negatively in Aspie-NT interpersonal relationships. 

    Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my thoughts. I hope that others will express their confusion as you have and give us more insight or opportunities to clear up misunderstandings.  

     


  • HOW TO TEACH EMPATHY TO SOMEONE WITH ASPERGER’S SYNDROME part 1

    Part 1: It can’t be done, can it?

              Ok, so I know you NT wives wish there was some easy method of getting your husband to think the way you do.  Hell, I think every couple out there wishes they could get their spouse to just “grasp” what they are thinking sometimes. 

                    We think we want this but honestly, it would probably suck royally if our spouse DID know everything we were thinking on any given day.  What we really want is for our husband to be able to empathize with us a little more; or in an Aspie-NT marriage… at all.

                    Why can’t our husband ever empathize with us?  We have tried everything we could think of over the years (and decades for some) and yet we still come up short.  They just don’t appear to comprehend or care how we are feeling. 

                    As I have said before, there are two types of empathy we are waiting for; cognitive and affective (emotional) empathy (if you have not read that post, stop here and read THIS first).  Nine out of ten times you need cognitive empathy to be able to feel the affective kind (Kara-Stat).  The good news is your husband already has emotional empathy.  So you don’t have to teach that one; sweet, we’re halfway there… unless the Kara-statistic is legit, then we’re only 10% of the way there.

                    Yeah, yeah, I know.  It doesn’t always “feel” like he has even 10% of his empathetic ability functioning.  I get it.  Remember, affective/emotional empathy is when you are aware that someone is hurting, it makes you feel hurt, and you want to alleviate that emotional anguish for the plagued person.  Since your husband is very rarely AWARE that you are hurting, he can’t exactly respond appropriately or give a crap about feelings he doesn’t know exist.  Your husband does not have cognitive empathy; the ability to pick up on facial cues, body language, and underlying meaning behind words that indicate what someone is thinking/feeling.  No matter how hard you try to get your feelings across to him, unless you verbalize them in a clear, non-threatening and non-accusatory way, he isn’t going to be able to ever give you the emotional empathy you need to feel better and move forward in a happy marriage.   

                    It is vitally important to comprehend the difference between the two types of empathy if you want your marriage to be happy.

                    Most professionals out there will dismiss my claim that those with Aspergers are entirely absent of cognitive empathy.  Actually, I think almost every professional would tell me that I am not correct in this blanket assumption at all and there are so many other factors involved.  I will also bet that these professionals are not neurotypicals married to an adult with Aspergers who went undiagnosed well-into adulthood.  It is easy to say “No way, it isn’t that simple” when you are not actually living with this dynamic.  These professionals can counsel, provide therapy for, or study hundreds of thousands of people with Aspergers, but until they are intimately involved and see what we NT wives do… they are just not in a position to discount something that really is so simple.  They are definitely not in a position to do so when there is about as much information out there to back my theory as there is to refute it. 

                    Neuroscience and genetics are still lacking in the study of empathy and those who have made it their life’s work to study empathy (Simon Baron-Cohen being one of the few) tend to lean more toward the idea that cognitive empathy IS entirely absent for aspies.  Baron-Cohen also seems to lean toward the idea that affective empathy is also so far removed that he struggles to commit to the fact that Aspies DO have this ability.  Again though, most professionals are studying those with Asperger’s syndrome and their interpersonal relationships from outside the box.  If they don’t know what it is we NT wives saw in our husbands that made us fall for them in the first place, it is easy to dismiss that we DID see emotional empathy in the beginning.  We knew the man we loved was different (and certainly not cunning enough to be a sociopath) but we felt loved by him once… and that kind of love cannot exist without emotional empathy.  Due to misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge about what Asperger’s syndrome actually meant for our communication abilities within the marriage, we watched the feelings of love and security that come from emotional empathy fade to the point we began to convince ourselves we imagined it in the beginning.  Even Baron-Cohen suggests that our husbands had a mimic-like behavior of “normal men” in the initial days of dating but did not actually possess empathy toward us.  I disagree with this and I will bet that a large part of your pain came from questioning those early days and wondering how you could have been duped into seeing something that did not exist.  You were not duped, you just behaved a little different back then as well, and your husband had not yet build up a defensive fortress to keep you out.

                    So here is it:

                    Your husband does not have cognitive empathy and you really cannot teach it to him in a useful way (perhaps someday).

                    IT IS THAT SIMPLE

                    It makes me sad that everything is so over-complicated and I will say for the millionth time that lumping Asperger’s syndrome into Autism did NOT help this.  Instead of focusing on therapy that could help make sense of everything that snowballed from this ONE cognitive deficit, we exist in a society that has no practical advice to give adult men with Asperger’s syndrome or the NT women who are married to them. 

    (Don’t hate me Aspie women or NT men… I know you exist just the same)

                    So why should you believe what I am telling you when I cannot scientifically prove my theory either? 

                    For starters, I have seen the changes I prayed for occur in my marriage when I am patient enough to turn off my own instinctive style of communicating (for a second) and utilize the language my husband can comprehend.  

    Humor this analogy for me:

     

    Imagine that English is your first language and you took a few semesters in French at school and enjoyed it enough that you decided to go on a study-abroad trip for a semester to solidify what you had learned.  While in France, you met an incredible man in the grocery store who took your breath away and gave you an instinctual feeling of comfort. To your complete joy, this French man was equally smitten by you and the two of you could not deny the magnetic connection you had made in such a chance encounter. You spend the entire semester with this man and by the time you are supposed to return to the U.S., you had both fallen passionately in love with one another. Even though you barely spoke his language, it had been enough to communicate the words required to solidify this magnificent bond… but neither of you realized HOW MUCH French you still had to learn if you were going to keep this magic from fading as fast as it appeared.

    Now imagine that you and this man cannot stand the thought of being apart and you make a bold move to take your love to a new level and get married so you can stay in France with him.  You know that this is risky, but you also know in your heart that you cannot walk away from this gut-feeling that you have to take this risk!

    At first, the transition to a new world is exciting and you embrace the new culture and your new love’s environment with incredible enthusiasm. Eventually though, you find it more and more challenging to acclimate to this foreign land and even more difficult to communicate to your husband how you are feeling.  Sure, your French has improved a bit, particularly when you were highly motivated to learn as much as possible in the initial days of romantic infatuation… but now you need to be fluent in the language if you want to express your needs and feelings to your new spouse in a way he can comprehend.  It is not until you try to talk about the complexity of your emotional feelings that you realize how very limited your communication ability actually is in his native tongue.

    Imagine if every time you tried to get your feelings across to him, he looked at you with indifference because you weren’t making any sense. The more frustrated this failure to express something so important (to someone so important) becomes, the worse you become at articulating your needs in French.  Imagine if everything you tried to convey came out as confused messages to your new husband and you become so overwhelmed you begin defaulting to English.  Regardless of how hard you try to explain your feelings articulately in English to him, he is unable to comprehend a word you are saying.  Your French husband does not know a SINGLE WORD in English and he has less comprehension of your communication attempts than when you were using poorly-constructed French.

    You want to step in here and say that if your new husband LOVED YOU, than HE would try to learn ENGLISH and the two of you could meet in the middle… right?!?!?

    Well, try to imagine that he has a neuro-deficit in the lobes of his brain that control language and he hasn’t the neurological ability to EVER understand English… despite how much he wishes he could (for your sake).

    What do you do?  There are really only three options to consider:

    1. Do you leave this man you fell in love with? A man that you “could” learn to communicate effectively with, but it requires your efforts to learn a second language as fluently as your know your first one?  

    2. Do you stay in the marriage and defiantly continue speaking English and praying he is going to magically comprehend your words someday? Do you staunchly refuse to learn French better because it “isn’t fair” that you have to be the one doing all the hard work?

    Or…

    3. Do you accept the things that you cannot change, remove blame and fault from your husband (who wishes more than anything that he could understand and speak English for your benefit, because he adores you)… and do you just try like hell to learn to speak French every single day until you can communicate with the same ease you do by utilizing English?  

    #3 is the option required of you to apply the cognitive empathy deficit your husband has to effectively bridging the gap of communication in your marriage.

    YES, IT IS THAT SIMPLE. 

     

                    Simple does not mean easy.  This is no simple task to ask of someone… not at all! Not by a long shot and HOLY CRAP do you have your work cut out for you if you want to take on such a challenging endeavor.

    Is it worth it?

    If you consider that analogy, what would you tell that woman?  Would you tell her to just suck it up and work hard to learn French because it is something that she “is capable” of doing, and he is not? Would you tell her that if that is ALL that truly stands between her and the love of her life’s potential for effective communication and a happy future, she would be a fool to not at least TRY?  

    The thing is, even in a dynamic like that (which makes more sense to people than this cognitive empathy deficit often does), no one is thinking about the incredibly justifiable resentment that woman is going to feel as she puts forth the majority of initial effort to bridge the communication gap in the marriage.

    If someone could promise that woman that at the end of her seemingly one-sided and exhaustive efforts; her husband would be on the other end ready to join her in a mutually beneficial marriage with equal effort for the remainder of the relationship… would it seem like an easier choice to make?  If there was proof that relationships like this can and do exist (there are), then wouldn’t the many examples of failed relationships of this nature seem like less of a threat?

    This analogy is very appropriate for an Aspie-NT marriage… the problem is, no one ever identified what the language barrier WAS and therefore, no one can provide examples of proven success for an NT reluctant to take on such a profound effort.  

    I understand that you all want “proof” before you will buy into such a daunting task, but this is something you have to learn to apply on an individual level because not everyone has the capacity to invest the type of commitment it would require (particularly after years of failure that make any further efforts on your behalf seem unworthy). All I ask is that you pick #1 or #3 on that list… you’ve been stuck in #2 for so damn long that you have to realize THAT option is never going to yield success.

    My husband and I are far from perfect and this is not smooth sailing by any means… but we are both genuinely happy, both trying, and both beginning to finally understand one another and fall in love again.  When we have misunderstandings now… they STILL turn into silly fights that are ridiculous and unnecessary (again, I am not claiming this is easy).  The difference is, my husband John and I are learning to put ourselves in check (on our own) and come back to the other person with a calm and effective use of words to clear up our communication breakdowns now, instead of letting them spiral out of control.  What would have been a stupid fight that led to a week of hostility, tears, and ignoring one another is now a stupid fight that leads to a few hours apart and one of us initiating the peace treaty.  In all honesty, my husband is the one reaching out to resolve conflict first these days, and I am beginning to realize what a stubborn jerk I can be and finally learning how to correct some of my own negative behavior patterns. 

                    No one made this light-bulb go on for me.  After years of searching for help in person, online, by reading and communicating with others in my shoes… there was never any magic moment that helped me finally discover what was broken in our marriage, and why.  What it took was years of reading everything I could find about Asperger’s syndrome, emotional abuse, toxic relationships, couples therapy, mental health diseases and disorders, personality disorders, brain development, successful couples and overall family dynamics.  I wrote down everything that seemed useful.  I read advice from religious counselors, psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, spiritual gurus, other neurotypicals, and those with Aspergers.  I wrote down anything that seemed beneficial.  I searched for people in terrible relationships and how and why they got out, and I wrote it down.  I looked up everything I could about people in happy marriages from those that were young to those that had been married for sixty years, and I wrote it down.  In the end I was left with endless notes, highlighted articles and books, and a ton of bookmarked web pages that got me no closer to saving my marriage than when I began. 

                    Useless on their own, these compilations of information served to isolate what was really going on in my marriage when I went back to them as a whole.  

                    The hardest thing for me to ever accept was that my husband did not have empathy… toward me or anyone else.  Equally hard was that he did have empathy, just not for me.  This concept caused me more agony than anything else along my journey for answers.  No one could ever really pinpoint what empathy meant to them though.  I decided that if John could not have emotional empathy… if he had no capacity for it… than I would not stay with him because that would mean he was akin to a psychopath. I saw no world in which a human was completely devoid of emotional empathy and could be considered a good person, so there was no way I could stay with someone that was inherently evil.  When I tried to apply this concept, I knew it did not fit.  Outside of not being calculating or smooth enough to manipulate anyone (like psychopaths can) he did not appear to derive any pleasure at all from my negative emotions, quite the opposite of the only other identified humans without emotional empathy.  When this rationale for ending my marriage failed, I tried to apply the opposite to it.  If John did have emotional empathy, that meant he was just an asshole who didn’t love me or care how I was feeling.  This didn’t fit either since I knew that I was the only person (besides his parents) that ever meant anything to him or that he ever really invested any interest or attention in.  I wasn’t entirely smart enough to go full steam into the field of neuroscience, but I put enough effort into trying to decipher what was going on biologically with my husband to realize that avenue was just as hopeless as the rest (at this time). 

                    I wanted to leave my failing marriage because I had no understanding of why we were so miserable and no direction to turn to for a brighter future.  I just didn’t want to leave until I had some tangible answers in my hand to tell me there stood no potential for happiness.  As much as the statistics on failed and/or miserable Aspie-NT marriages confirmed we were screwed, I still wanted something that would alleviate my future feelings of guilt for “giving up” on us.  Call me selfish, but that was one of the major things that kept me in a miserable marriage for so long; I did not want to walk until I knew for certain it wasn’t my fault and I tried everything I could.

                    It was only going back through personal accounts from those with an Asperger diagnosis that I began to really focus on their childhood and recognize a pattern in all of my years of searching.  I really honed in on this pattern and turned back to the writings of parents who have Aspie children and realized they were confirming what I thought, day after day, writing after writing.  I opened up all of the books I had read (with NT and Aspie authors) and saw the same thing within the subtext.  I went back to the “beginning” accounts of NT-Aspie marriages and how they came to be… same thing.  I looked at the psychological profiles and diagnostic criteria… check.  Neurological imaging that had been done and compared it to what is known about empathy to date… yup.  Then I began to apply this to my husband, and to all of the Aspies I interact with professionally and it all seemed to finally make sense. 

                    Despite all of the behaviors, deficits, comorbidities, and other “connections” made about those with Aspergers, the only constant that accounts for all of it is that there is no cognitive empathy.  They all had affective empathy in their youth, every single one (but seemed absent of it in adult relationships).  The only common link in every example I have ever seen regarding Asperger’s syndrome that can be applied across the board is this lack of cognitive empathy.  When you really start picking apart an Aspie’s social experiences from the beginning, the lack of cognitive empathy can be attributed to damn-near every manifestation of negative adult behavior.  Obviously we are all unique individuals and everyone’s life experience shapes who they are.  I’m sure that some adult Aspies really are just assholes, as are their neurotypical counterparts.  In giving the benefit of the doubt to those out there with enough heart to be searching for answers, I would have to say most of the people I have gleamed this insight from really are good people at their core.  Honestly, I am a little inclined to say that the adult Aspies I have met and learned from tend to be a little more decent than your average NT.   

                    With all of the things I had tried in my marriage to “get through” to my husband, nothing worked until I applied the knowledge that he did not have cognitive empathy.  When I told him this, he got defensive as though I was telling him once again why everything was his fault and why he was broken and I was not.  Having never heard this very simple explanation about his processing abilities, it was completely understandable that he denied it.  I didn’t have a shred of evidence to back what I was saying to him and there was no way he would entertain my stack of literature and highlighted connections.  After so many years of being told different things by “professionals” who had it all figured out (including the pills he could swallow to be normal) he just didn’t have the openness left to humor one more theory about his life of social injustices.  I don’t blame him.  By that point I had tried to apply a million other theories and methods to improve him and our life (never realizing the change was predominantly mine to make). 

                    I spent a few weeks trying to get John to listen to what I was saying to him about cognitive empathy and getting angry and frustrated that he would not.  I still had not fully realized the personal changes I had to make in order to alter the path we were on so I was doggedly focused instead on making him understand what cognitive empathy was (not sure how I expected HIM to fix anything if he had listened to me).  The more I tried to strike up conversation about this, the harder the door slammed in my face (because I was trying to explain it all to him in a foreign language, rather than one he could comprehend!).  John was hell-bent on avoiding any communication that might evoke emotion from me so despite this enlightened epiphany I had, it held zero practical value in salvaging our dying marriage.  

    Going back to that foreign language analogy: despite grasping the difference between cognitive and emotional empathy, I had very little skill in applying it to my marriage.  The problem was… I couldn’t see that.  Each and every time I attempted to speak to John about “what was wrong” in our relationship, I began speaking to him in French and he was willing to listen for a moment.  Without ever realizing I was doing it, I rapidly defaulted to English (my natural language of communication) within minutes of his initial willingness to hear me out. The INSTANT John heard a single English word come out of my mouth, he was DONE TALKING! Since I had no idea I was still failing to accomplish something I thought I had a firm grasp on, I continued to think it was John who was failing me.  

    We had gotten to a point where he was fearful in discussing anything with me other than trivial small talk.

                    After some time, I resolved to give up.  I really believed I understood what went wrong in John’s life and in our marriage.  I tried very hard to disprove my new theory, but the more I tried (by way of continued reading) the more I solidified my belief that it was at the heart of everything.  Of course, none of it mattered because John wasn’t open to the idea that there was anything wrong or different between he and I and laughed off the suggestion that he was missing “nonverbal” messages everyone else could readily see, as though he was not aware of “another language” even existing (he wasn’t). If we could not move forward with this new understanding, then we could no longer stay in the same place, we had to move apart.  I got John a flight back to his home state and prepped for the end.  At least I finally had the answer I was looking for, and I would know that it wasn’t my fault our marriage ultimately failed because I could blame John for refusing to communicate with me.

                    One evening, with bags packed and a flight the following morning, John broke down.  This time it was for real.  He sat on the floor between our bed and his closet and just sobbed.  He cried in a way I needed to see… the way I had sat on the floor and cried so many times before.  I wasn’t kind or empathetic toward him at all.  Instead, I spoke firmly without any degree of emotion and I gave him one alternative to staying, one option that would make me believe we had a shot at fixing our marriage.  To my surprise, he agreed to do anything I asked.

                    The next morning, we went to the store and purchased a GoPro HERO Session(which was the smallest camera I could find) to begin my plan of attack.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week I would wear a camera on my head and document our life as I saw it.  John agreed to willingly allow this to happen.

                    If I could get my husband to literally walk in my shoes by seeing life through my eyes (or through the lens of a camera) I could get him to finally understand where I was coming from.  I thought I had discovered a way to teach empathy to my husband.  I ended up teaching myself a whole lot more…

     


  • WHAT ABOUT ASPERGER’S SYNDROME AND EMPATHY: Aspie vs. Antisocial Personality Disorder

    MY ASPIE HUSBAND IS NOT A PSYCHOPATH & NEITHER IS YOURS

    There is a lot of information out there alluding to the fact that aspies are psychopaths or sociopaths, or at a minimum, behave the same way as someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  One of my favorite posts on this controversial comparison was written by a woman who took a lot of flak for her opinion (http://psychopathsandlove.com/psychopathy-or-aspergers-syndrome/)

    This author predominantly writes about psychopaths, but I must say, her article specific to men with Asperger’s syndrome struck a chord with me.  It struck a chord because it was so disturbingly accurate to what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a relationship with an Aspie partner that I wanted to commend her for bringing it to light in a harsh but unnervingly truthful way.  The only thing I would have to disagree with in her article, is that she alludes to there being no hope for the Aspies she is referring to; I submit that the reason behind their behavior is a little more innocent and heartbreaking than she is willing to consider (although I haven’t any blame for that).

    There is a reason that the women in relationships with adult Aspies have so much negativity to put out to the world (or anyone who will listen).  It begins with the very simple fact that the men in their lives either lack a formal diagnosis for Asperger’s syndrome, or, they have opted to do nothing constructive with the diagnosis to improve their relationship (like acknowledge it at all).  The wife or girlfriend, in contrast, doggedly searches for help, advice, and knowledge.  She has no idea she is receiving useless information along the way.  All she knows is that she is investing all of herself in making the relationship better, and her partner is completely disinterested in joining her efforts.

    The resulting effect on the devastated and desperate woman, who continues to try to make things “better” is the so-dubbed Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (OTRS) or Cassandra Phenomenon (http://www.faaas.org/otrscp.html), or any other name by which these ill-effects have been titled.  If you don’t care to check out what those “non” diagnoses are, I can sum them up by telling you they are the negative physical and emotional distress experienced when the person you love fails to regard you in a compassionate and empathetic way… day after day.  

    If you are an Aspie husband reading this, you either have to consider your wife’s crying and constant demands for attention and love (combined with the complaints she is not getting it from you) means she is truly an emotional wreck (through no fault of yours) who imagines things… or there is something else going on that it may be time for you to consider.  

    While this may initially sound like another bashing of those men out there with Asperger’s syndrome, please read through the post before deeming it as such and closing the page (this is different).  

     

    So I believe in this diagnosis (OTRS), speaking from the experience of living in it, and I believe it should be acknowledged by the medical community.  On a side note I find it disturbing that the mental health community embraces PTSD but chooses to turn a blind eye to those still in the midst of what will inevitably become that diagnosis!  I also believe I fully comprehend how and why OTRS has come to exist.  I also believe I know how to make it go away… and it is as simple as grasping exactly what empathy is and how it has managed to adversely affect the lives of almost all (ok ALL) Asperger adults and their neurotypical loved ones.

    Ok, here it goes… try to keep up with me if you can because this is going to be a doozy….

     

    If you are a highly empathetic neurotypical, then you grasp empathy fully and completely, right?  You may or may not have read my rants about how the only thing lacking in an Aspie from birth is empathy… not another damn thing other than the completely absent and all-encompassing necessary life force that is empathy.  I have said that everything else that exists (sensory issues, absent ToM, preoccupation with special interests, ADHD, OCD, ODD, Tourette’s, etc.) are all secondary manifestations of this lack of empathy. 

    I hold strong to this.

    I have to rescind my previous statements though that male aspies have ZERO empathy.  I was not really clear in what I meant by this so I am going to clarify it once and for all.

     

    Male Aspies have ZERO cognitive empathy

     

    What the hell does that mean?

    Cognitive empathy is the ability to read facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and other nonverbal messages, as well as inferences that aren’t directly stated.  All of these (alone or combined) enable a person to decipher what someone is thinking or feeling.  I realize this concept may be incredibly challenging to grasp for a person with Aspergers because they can look at someone and identify that they are smiling or frowning, happy or sad (for the most part).  They can also make many inferences within verbal communication by the time they are adults and learn to “read between the lines” to some extent.  Aspies are not “dumb” as my husband John always wants to point out when I tell him, “you can’t see what I do.”

    What they do not realize (and nor do their loved ones) is that there are about a thousand other messages that come in the form of nonverbal communication that someone with Asperger’s syndrome will never be able to pick up on and even though they can learn to identify some of these with a great deal of assistance, this ability will never come naturally.  They will never be able to develop their cognitive empathy to that of a neurotypical individual, or even come close.

     

    Cognitive Empathy Development

    I am not going to tell you I know the cause for the disconnect with cognitive empathy, but I lean toward it actually being a complete absence of synaptic neural pathways to the lobes of the brain that control it from the time this person is developing in utero.  Not that they have synapses connected but lack enough neurotransmitters to send the messages across them… I think the synapses simply do not exist, at all.  In fact, I think the absence of these neural pathways that connect cognitive empathy are utilized elsewhere in the brain (same overall numbers, connected in different regions).  For instance, the Aspie without the neural pathways for cognitive empathy got a few more connections elsewhere… maybe in the lobes that control mathematics, or art?  This certainly accounts for why so many Aspies have gifts in one special area (talent) at a higher rate than their neurotypical counterparts though, doesn’t it?  I strongly suspect that this also accounts for all of the other deficits, heightened sensory or tactile issues, and behavior manifestations that people lump together as “characteristics” of someone with Asperger’s syndrome. 

    After exhaustive research, I have concluded that a child born with Asperger’s syndrome lacks connectivity in those parts of the brain that control cognitive empathy.  

    They simply are NOT talking to each other… AT ALL.  

    These are all just *Kara-Facts* and cannot be proven or disproven with what currently exists in neuroscience.

    Since the brain develops at a rapid rate in our early childhood years through interactions that enable environmental and social awareness, it would make sense that certain areas of an adult Aspie brain also become less developed than their neurotypical counterpart who did not encounter the same horrific social alienation an Aspie child does.  

      Outside of the absent neural pathways for cognitive empathy, I do believe that the underdeveloped neural pathways for all of the other social awareness abilities (to include emotional empathy and Theory of Mind) can be improved upon at any age.  I am not entirely convinced that cognitive empathy could not be created for an Aspie at a VERY early age either, since the study of neuroplasticity suggests it might be possible to rewire synaptic pathways that don’t exist if it is caught before those lost connections are cemented as permanent.  Even with a remote chance that this were possible, without the studies confirming my personal belief existing, there is no hope of accomplishing such a profound thing.

    Let’s consider that cognitive empathy cannot be had in a child born without the connections in their brain to ever have it.  This would not mean that all of the other synaptic connections that are incredibly weak (areas like Theory of Mind) cannot be strengthened, regardless of the individual’s age.  In regard to neuroplasticity, the science suggests that as long as there are neural synapses in existence, call them thready or weak, they can be strengthened at any time.

    The brain is an incredible machine.

    I get that I am oversimplifying something that is incredibly complicated.  I get that there is a whole lot that goes into empathy in regard to neurology and that science is still unclear of what’s connected to what, etc.  At this time, I am just going to simplify it and say:

    Adults with Asperger’s syndrome = ZERO cognitive empathy

     

    So what can those with cognitive empathy do that Aspies can’t again?

    We Neurotypicals can and do communicate with one another nonverbally to the point that we can generally tell what another is thinking without any words being spoken.  I am not suggesting we are psychic or telepathic, and holy shit do Aspies (especially the female-type) want to bash anyone who suggests they can “mind-read” as being the claims of egotistical narcissists with delusional ideas they can defy human possibility.  Some Aspie bloggers take it a step further and suggest that an NT’s claim they can read minds shows just how un-empathetic neurotypicals actually are (snidely giggling to myself as I recall these posts).

    By now I will bet a ton of the NT women reading this post have stumbled on the news that “Studies have found those with Asperger’s don’t lack empathy, in fact, THEY HAVE TOO MUCH OF IT!”

    Yeah, if you are like me the second you read any suggestion of this you wanted to vomit, or perhaps you did a little?  I don’t think any article about Asperger’s syndrome ever made my stomach turn and a bitter vile anger burn inside of me more than when I first saw that load of garbage.  Here I was, crying my eyes out for the millionth time over my husband’s cold and cruel behavior and some asshole out there thought it would be great to tell me I am obviously just as insane as my husband says I am because he has a ton of empathy… just not for me?

    Oh please add some more salt in that wound and twist the knife in a little deeper if you would

    Those with Aspergers were all over this one as well, so much so that countless bloggers out there have highlighted this brilliance as their #1 defense to the evil neurotypicals who are ruining their lives.  One blogger I follow regularly (and gain a lot of insight from) blogged on the subject:(https://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/new-study-finds-that-individuals-with-aspergers-syndrome-dont-lack-empathy-in-fact-if-anything-they-empathize-too-much/). It is not so much what her post said, but the many, many responses that made me realize how clueless everyone seems to be about what empathy is.  Most of the comments go on and on explaining sympathy in the mistaken belief they are describing empathy. 

    This is common. 

    The reason it is so confusing is because the majority of the information out there is often so incorrect about what empathy actually is that people are regurgitating false definitions every time one opens another article.  I can promise you that any search on Autism and/or Aspergers in relation to empathy will yield you a whole lot of misinformation and angry people fighting a word that they hardly comprehend.  

    I have described cognitive empathy for you.  It is as simple as I described it:  Cognitive empathy is the ability to read facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and other nonverbal messages, as well as inferences that aren’t directly stated.  

     

    What I have not really clarified is that people with Asperger’s syndrome do have empathy.  

    THEY HAVE AFFECTIVE EMPATHY!

     

    Ok, so what does THAT mean?

    Affective empathy (or emotional empathy) is the automatic desire to respond appropriately to another human being’s emotions.  This is the contagious part of empathy; when you know someone is sad and it makes you feel sad inside (you FEEL what they must be feeling) so you want to alleviate their sadness.  

    Some people break apart empathy into one more term, “Compassionate Empathy.” They describe the affective side as “feeling that person’s emotion” and the compassionate side as being “spontaneously moved to help them.”  I do not see a difference in the two, as I have yet to uncover an incidence where a person has emotional empathy and does not want to then act out compassionately.  They are co-existing as far as I am concerned, therefore I only differentiate between affective and cognitive empathy in my writings.

     Affective empathy is what it is all about when we are talking about humans and love, and this is the part of empathy NT wives want the most from their husband’s but don’t seem to get (leaving them feeling unloved and unacknowledged).  This is the empathy that Aspies know damned well they possess and find themselves enraged or heartbroken over when someone suggests otherwise.

    So if Aspies have affective empathy, why don’t they utilize it?

    Don’t worry, I will get to that…

    For now, let’s get back to the cognitive empathy that is absent and this idea that a neurotypical person can look at someone and read their mind enough to know what they are thinking and/or feeling.

    Saying that a neurotypical has the ability to read someone’s mind… is a tad delusional (I’ll give that one to ya). Guess what though?  We can get pretty damn close, and the more developed a person’s cognitive empathy, the closer we are to accurately “guessing” what that person is thinking or feeling at any given time.  Give us some background information or a close relationship with a person and that accuracy gets a little more on target each time. 

    Having highly in-tune cognitive empathy within a relationship enables a strong intimacy between partners.  When you can look at your partner and get a general sense of how they are feeling about something, you can respond accordingly without them having to ask.  This becomes an unspoken language between the two and enables a deeper comprehension of how the other person thinks… leading to a heightened sense of trust and security in one another and a bond that they do not share with anyone else.

    Unfortunately, no level of “closeness” develops this intimacy with an Aspie-NT union because the disconnect and defensive walls built by the Aspie make it impossible for the NT wife to implore her cognitive empathy toward her husband. Actually, she RARELY has a clue what her husband is thinking because there has lacked validation for it from day one.  The most bizarre part of an Aspie-NT relationship is that the longer it goes (without knowledge and/or therapy to improve communication) the more the NT and Aspie share similar deficits in cognitive empathy toward one another.  

    The NT does not lose cognitive empathy abilities for anyone else, but becomes devoid of it for her husband (but she doesn’t know this so she keeps incorrectly “guessing” what he is thinking or feeling each day).  This inconsistency in the application of cognitive empathy on behalf of the NT wife leads to a whole lot of assumptions that are harmful/hurtful to her husband.  He is not able to articulate this to her so he responds to her incorrect assumptions with hostility.  It is important to realize that despite responding to her assumptions with hostility, she is never proven wrong (by way of him expressing calmly what he WAS thinking) and so she continues on thinking that her cognitive empathy is correctly identifying her husband’s thoughts and feelings.  BIG PROBLEM.

     

    I know this is difficult to keep up with, but bear with me as I try to make it easier to comprehend…

     

    While the whole concept of cognitive empathy is still going to seem foreign to an Aspie reading it, the neurotypical reading would have to agree that this is not really a conscious or difficult thing to do, as we do it every single day with family, friends, and even strangers.  While it still sounds hokey, one only needs to consider the fact that there is scientific data to back it up.  The data is so prevalent that it is now common knowledge across the globe that most humans communicate with nonverbal means more than verbal… a LOT MORE.

    We (NT’s) learn how to utilize our cognitive empathy from such a young age (because it is intuitive and natural) that most grasp enough to do it effectively and without any effort by the time they are in kindergarten.  It is not a big secret that by the time someone is in grade school they comprehend that the mass majority of information they receive from others and in social settings comes from nonverbal communication.  75% – 93% are the best scientific guesstimates out there, but since Aspies (like my husband) love to disprove things (much the same way I do) here is the best link to go to from a group of people who have dedicated their life to the subject: http://www.nonverbalgroup.com/2011/08/how-much-of-communication-is-really-nonverbal

    If you are willing to just trust my summation of the data from that link, here is their opinion: “The fact of the matter is that the exact number is irrelevant. Knowing that communication is specifically 75% nonverbal or 90% nonverbal holds no practical applications. The important part is that most communication is nonverbal. In fact, nonverbal behavior is the most crucial aspect of communication.

     In other words, lacking cognitive empathy meant that while everyone else was communicating with one another from early on in their development, without ever using verbal words, the young Aspies were missing the majority of the communication taking place.

    If everyone is now on board (or at least humoring me) that cognitive empathy is non-existent (and the defining characteristic) for those with Asperger’s syndrome… then let’s look at how it snowballs from youth to adulthood into everything that goes so seemingly wrong.

     

    A VERY LONG LETTER TO MY HUSBAND TO EXPLAIN THE COGNITIVE EMPATHY DOMINO EFFECT:

    Being unable to understand what people were thinking, meaning, intending, etc. without directly saying it; a billion misunderstandings occurred at an age so young you could not have possibly known what the hell was happening (nor did anyone else).  You missed all of the nonverbal messages being sent to you because you were neurologically incapable of receiving them.  Let me give you a few examples:

    Example #1:  Try to take yourself back to when you were young.  Let’s say you are in kindergarten and there is a little boy named Peter sitting in a corner playing by himself.  You want to play with him, but he seems content playing on his own and he did not ask you to play, so you continue to play by yourself.  A few minutes later Peter is playing with other kids and you feel all alone now because everyone else is playing together.  You go to join in and Peter is not very nice to you and says he doesn’t want to play with you and nor does anyone else in the group, so you go back to your corner and play alone. 

    You have no idea why the kids don’t like you and it hurts your feelings a lot.

    What you missed was that when you were looking at Peter thinking about asking him to play, Peter gave you a nonverbal message that he was sad and wanted you to come talk to him.  You missed that message, and you kept playing alone. 

    Peter felt like you did not like him and ignored how sad he was and decided you MUST be a mean kid.

    When you weren’t looking, another little girl picked up on Peter’s nonverbal expressions and welcomed him to join the play group.  Now Peter (being an innocent little kid) decided that this little girl is kind and a good kid (someone to be friends with) and you are a big jerk (someone to avoid).  Peter tells the other kids in the group that you are mean.  Before you know it, the whole group thinks you are mean and you end up isolated the rest of the year.  

    Not a good or fair start for a kind young boy who just wanted the same thing every other child does… to have friends.

     

    Example #2:  You are two years old and you go to touch a hot burner on the stovetop and your mom snatches your hand away, makes a really odd face and says, “John! NO! NO! HOT!”  You heard her words and you now know not to touch the burner again because it might be hot… makes sense, ok, got it!

    You are now four years old and you go to touch an expensive vase on a shelf and your mom makes another odd face at you and says, “John!”  Only this time she doesn’t say, “Don’t touch that or it will break!”  She doesn’t say it because by the age of four parents naturally stop using words the way they did when you were little and they express nonverbal communication with their facial/body language and tone of voice to send the SAME messages they did with words when you were younger.

    Parents (and NT’s in general) do not even realize they naturally begin deleting clear dialog when conveying their thoughts as children grow up.  

    When you hear your mother say your name, you turn in her direction assuming she wants your attention for something.  She assumes you received the message not to touch the vase again despite only calling out your name and making a stern face at you. Uncertain why your mother said your name and then turned away to talk to guests in the adjoining room, you go back to touching the vase… which falls and breaks.

    Your mom is pissed and spanks your butt and sends you to your room.  All you can think is, “It was an accident, I didn’t mean to break it.” Your mom, and the guests are now all wondering to themselves why you were being purposely defiant.  The thing is… you were not defying anything, you were never told NOT to touch the vase.  You missed the nonverbal message and now those guests are all thinking you are a brat.

    These scenarios go on and on and on from your youth (although obviously I made up those specific stories) and it was all of those missed nonverbal messages (clearly no fault of your own) that made people misunderstand your personality and intentions.  They thought you were a trouble maker, defiant, a brat, didn’t listen, rude, uncaring, etc.  You had no idea what the hell you ever did to upset anyone and you felt very isolated and singled out and treated unfairly (and you were).  If anyone knew you couldn’t read nonverbal messages like the other kids, you would never have suffered all of the snowball effects that came from it the rest of your life.  If you had known that, perhaps you would not have developed all of these defensive behaviors that served to protect you from pain (isolating yourself, being ready to defend yourself at the drop of a dime, being verbally aggressive to make people leave you alone, etc.).

    YOU DO HAVE EMOTIONAL EMPATHY

    You have the ability to care deeply about how someone feels and want to help and make them feel better when they are upset… you just could never do that unless someone told you how they were feeling. 

    Back to Example #1.  If Peter or the teacher told you, “Hey John, Peter is sad and thinks no one wants to be his friend and play with him, you should ask him to play.” You would have instantly felt badly for Peter and gone over to ask him to play (affective empathy).  If they had used words toward you in such scenarios, then the resulting response from you would have been to utilize affective empathy and you would have been treated differently (like the other kids) and your affective empathy would have gotten better and better and compensated a lot for the cognitive empathy that was lacking.

    The problem is that you never had the chance to develop your affective empathy the way others do because 75-93% of the messages being sent by everyone around you were nonverbal. 

    Having this cognitive empathy deficit also made you unable to readily know how your own facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal communication was being depicted to the outside world.

    Without realizing it, you may have had problems regulating your tone and pitch when you spoke (that made you seem meek or overwhelming), you may have made facial expressions that gave the opinion you were feeling a certain emotion that you were not (or at least didn’t want people to know), and your body language may have been extremely telling of how you really felt about something (like being annoyed when someone was talking, or bored, or disinterested). 

    Since you unknowingly gave these inner feelings away through expressions to those in your presence, the ability to develop the social etiquette behaviors (like pretending to be interested when you are not so that you do not upset someone and can develop friendships) were impossible for you to achieve (even if you thought you were doing it right).

    This is part of the reason that aspies have difficulties with eye contact and physical manifestations of stress or discomfort… they wouldn’t have these if not for the lacking cognitive empathy.  This is also why aspies make terrible liars. 

    Most male aspies learn at a young age to never lie because #1. They suck at it and always get caught and #2. They do not pick up on the nonverbal communication that someone is offended or upset when the truth is spoken to them, so they never learn how to rephrase their opinions in a way that is not offensive.  An example of this would be the child Aspie who tells another child, “Your eyeglasses make you look like a bug.”  A neurotypical child may say the same thing, but immediately identifies the other child’s nonverbal expressions of being offended or hurt and therefore learns to not verbalize observations like this in the future. The Aspie child (lacking cognitive empathy to identify the reaction to being compared to a bug) does not see the negative response to his honesty, and also never connects the dots to why the “bug-eyed kid” never wants to talk to them again, or is mean to them in the future.  They do not learn to “lie” or withhold their immediate thoughts to protect the ego and feelings of other people, and therefore, they become “brutally honest” adults.

    A simple search of aspie characteristics will yield you, “Honest, sometimes to a fault” 99% of the time.

    For some reason (that I am beginning to understand) a select few aspies (who likely encompass the majority of those lending to the psychopath stereotype) took the whole, “Sometimes it is ok to lie or not be honest all the time” a little too far.  Rather than always being honest, these aspie adults always seem deceptive (even when they are only withholding something silly). 

    I believe for these particular Aspies, they likely had a neurotypical adult that was close to them and frequently scolded them when they DID vocalize honest observations and opinions that might offend someone.  In the example of the “bug-eyed kid” the Aspie with an acutely aware neurotypical parent (perhaps an NT-e) would have been rapidly admonished for their words and told, “That was NOT nice! You don’t say mean things like that to other children! Go apologize!”  Since this scenario is still going to include an NT parent or adult who is unaware of why the Aspie child made such an overt remark, they missed the opportunity to explain to the child that they were able to observe facial expressions of being sad in little “bug-eyes” that the Aspie missed, and how that did hurt the “bug-eyes'” feelings unintentionally.  They also missed the opportunity to then teach the young Aspie the appropriate way to apologize or make light of their unintentional and innocent error; something that would have enhanced the use of emotional empathy and also taught invaluable lessons about social etiquette that may have prevented a lifetime of alienation from their peers. 

    For the Aspie children that had an NT stepping in to always criticize their words, yet ZERO knowledge about “what” words were ok to say out loud, and what words were not… they developed an unusually high frequency of intentional and focused internalizing of their thoughts so they would not accidentally get spoken aloud.  

    If they did not say what they were thinking or feeling, then no one could get angry at them for saying the wrong thing, right?  

    These are the Aspie children that grow into Aspie adults who withhold their thoughts and feelings and, more frequent than not, appear deceptive.  

    The NT spouse (who has keen cognitive empathy skills), is able to pick up on the fact that their Aspie mate is withholding their thoughts and incorrectly assumes that the thoughts MUST be negative ones.  They incorrectly assume that there is a purposeful withholding of information that must be “self-preserving” in nature.  

    In other words, us butthead and often paranoid NT’s tend to associate this misunderstood silence with lying.

    In general, male aspies are incapable of lying without giving it away to the NT’s in their life through their facial expressions and body language (although only someone who knows them closely can pick up on this once they reach adulthood).  This sets the stage for “little white lies” during the courtship days in a relationship (when there existed no reason for the NT to question her Aspie beau’s honesty).  Once the day to day existence together sets in, many of what the Aspie may have said (due to insecurities or trying to say the “right thing”) begin to raise questions for the NT partner.  Once a few white lies are uncovered, everything from the initial dating stage begins to become questionable and the perfect beginning turns to shit rapidly.  

    Lacking the ability to modulate your own nonverbal communication or interpret other people’s is also why Aspies are considered gullible or they misunderstand that something is a joke, or a person is being sarcastic.  When all you really have to interpret messages are the literal words spoken to you, those missed facial expressions and “hidden messages” that say “I am totally being sarcastic” or “this is a metaphor and didn’t really happen” get taken at face value instead.  

    When a five year old NT proclaims to a lunch table full of kids, “I am so hungry I am going to eat this whole table!” The five year old Aspie may respond, “You can’t eat a table!”  The other kids may also be acutely aware by this age that no human is going to ingest a lunchroom table, nor do they really intend to, but the Aspie child is likely to believe that this NT is not very smart and thinks they could really achieve this.  By five, it wouldn’t be uncommon for that Aspie child to also launch into an informative dialog (ad nauseum) about why it is physically impossible for a human to eat a table. 

    It is this very use of figurative speech that neurotypical children learn how to decipher early on through the utilization of cognitive empathy.  They read body language and facial expressions to decipher that while someone is speaking literally, they are contradicting their belief in the literal meaning with their nonverbal expressions. Since the Aspie child does not learn how to do this, they find themselves in a position to correct the naive words of their classmates very frequently.  This makes them appear gullible or stupid, all the while, they are thinking the same of their NT classmates who keep saying ludicrous things.  The Aspie child almost always learns by young adulthood that neurotypicals say stupid things they know are impossible or ridiculous a lot.  While they may still have no clue why they insist on doing this, they learn not to always “point out the obvious” when it happens.  

    Unfortunately, this does not translate to an adult Aspie married to an NT-e.

    For instance, when their wife is crying or angry and says, “I hate you, you never listen to me and don’t love me!”  All they are hearing is that they are being blamed for “never” doing something (listening), which they know is not true because they obviously DO listen. The Aspie husband hears that they are “hated” by the person who is supposed to love them the most and that erodes their sense of security.  They are being told they also don’t “love” their wife, which they know damned-well is NOT true, so they feel an intense urge to vocally combat something so hurtful.  They are completely inundated with a sentence that attacks them, threatens them, and calls them a liar and they have NO IDEA why.  The Aspie husband LOVES his wife so it emotionally harms them to hear such things.  They cannot always just blow off the insanity of their wife’s words the way they learned to with other stupid NT comments throughout their life. Something so cruel, hurtful, and untrue warrants an equally cruel response, or an incredible amount of passion to disprove, right?

    What is missed is that while their wife said, “I hate you, you never listen to me and you don’t love me!” what she actually meant was, “I feel like you are not understanding me and because you are not acknowledging what I am saying and I love you so much, it is causing me a lot of pain and anger… this anger feels like hatred sometimes because I can’t believe the man who is supposed to love and respect me the most, does not seem interested or concerned with how upset I am right now.”  

    If you do not have cognitive empathy, there is ZERO chance you are going to decipher that woman’s non-threatening plea for attention and the words she used to articulate them as one in the same!  You are not going to ever understand her “hidden meanings” and she doesn’t even know they come across as hidden.  She has learned to communicate her whole life with predominant NON-VERBAL means and verbal words that convey thoughts in a very obscure way to someone who does not share her language.  

    Unfortunately, the majority of society DOES easily (and without any effort) process this ambiguous dialog.  Your wife is unconsciously processing and delivering information that you cannot make sense of setting you up for failure in almost all communication attempts to resolve conflict.  All you have to work with are the literal words she is speaking (she “hates” you), while she blindly assumes you are getting the message that she loves you and is just upset.  

     

    THIS IS NOT FAIR

    THIS IS ALSO NOT HER FAULT

     

    Neither of you understands how debilitating an absence of cognitive empathy is in one partner, when the other one has it.

     

    Going back to your childhood…

    As a child, all of these cognitive empathy misunderstandings made you seem difficult, mean, uncaring, aloof, naive, etc. to those around you at a very young age.  Quite often they made you seem like you just did not care what someone was saying, or feeling…which was NEVER TRUE.

    The ONLY deficit you have, the ONLY thing that makes your brain different from the average person is that you do not have connectivity in the lobes that process cognitive empathy.  THAT IS IT.  You were always just as kind, compassionate, and wonderful as everyone else; you were never broken.

    Unfortunately, with the way you were treated and the desperation of your parents to figure out what was “wrong” and make your life better, they unintentionally (and by NO fault of theirs) made you feel like you were broken each time you were scolded or taken to another specialist or doctor for therapy or medication, etc.

    So what happens to a kid who grows up like this?

    They become isolated, depressed, self-conscious, anxious.  They do not trust people because they are constantly being told they did something wrong or they are a bad person when they know they are not.  Kids like this act out or they hide (or do both).  Kids like this want nothing more than to develop close interpersonal relationships and be loved, and to love (like everyone else) but they just can’t seem to get it right.

    As these kids get older, they have solidified all of these defenses that are so extreme they further hinder their growth and ability to function the way other teenagers and young adults do.  Being so used to personal attacks on their character for no reason (and never knowing when they are going to come) they become ready to defend themselves at all times.  The slightest clue that someone is about to blame them for something or say something bad about them and the defensive guns are out (over-the-top nastiness) or the wall goes up (isolating and tuning out).

    These are the common responses for most male Aspies out there (defensive guns or wall) well into adulthood if they never received a diagnosis as a child; and they had every right and reason to respond that way.  It must have been hell to always have to defend yourself or avoid communication so you don’t have to.  It had to be awful to rarely have a clue why someone was upset (you didn’t listen to me, you don’t care about me, you’re being an asshole, etc.) because 75-93% of what the person said, wanted, asked for, questioned, directed, etc. came in the form of nonverbal communication and the message was missed.

    It is important to bear in mind that in all of those miscommunications along the way, the person (NT) who was angry or frustrated or upset was NOT wrong for feeling that way.  If they did not know about Asperger’s syndrome (and they didn’t), then they could only assume that the behavior was purposeful and therefore their accusations, valid. 

    But they were never valid because they just didn’t understand, and neither did you.

     

     

    The Catastrophic Consequences

    I cannot begin to imagine the pain a child (like my husband) must have endured feeling like the whole world was out to get him or prove he was a bad person.  I am only beginning to really comprehend the pain I inflicted on him despite years of feeling like he was the torturer.  I am sorry for what he had to go through.  When I separate myself from our relationship and reflect on why he is the way he is today… my heart breaks for him beyond any words I could articulate.  

     

    Into the teen and young adult years….

    Fast forward now to being an Aspie teenager who has notoriously been hurt when he attempted to make social connections as a child.  Remember that as a child, he did not recognize the person who was making facial expressions that said, “Stop talking please” or “I am sad can you please make me feel better” or “Stop playing like this I am getting mad” or “Can you please share your snack with me?” or “You are interrupting me and I don’t want to talk to you anymore” or “Seriously, lower your voice it is so loud” or “Your shirt is on backwards and you look ridiculous” or “Stop talking about what you like, it’s my turn” or ANY OTHER facial expression that went without words that led to embarrassment, harsh admonishment, being teased, being isolated, etc.

    This teenager now has little to NO self-confidence in their own social intelligence and is probably pretty depressed or angry that he is always treated so poorly even though he tried so hard his whole life to be good.  This teenager is going to enter adult life soon and is going to be afraid, because they have no idea what anyone is thinking… ever… and they have gotten it wrong so many times it is easier for them to just stop trying in general.

    By young adulthood this same Aspie is living in a world where their peers are utilizing non-verbal communication at a 90/10 ratio over verbal communication and they are now completely and royally screwed. 

    They feel like a disappointment to their family (and rightfully so at times), they feel disliked and compared against their siblings (who are the “perfect” ones and usually take the brunt of the Aspie’s frustration and anger growing up). All of the feelings of safety and security that an NT child and young adult gleems from a loving family… they just don’t exist the same for an Aspie teenager.  Even if they know their family loves them and will not abandon them… they still feel like a failure and disappointment more often than not.

    When you do something good as you age, a child in a healthy environment receives positive reinforcement.  When you do something bad, you receive negative.  Both of these responses determine how you proceed in your daily actions as an adult.  The aging Aspie receives negative reinforcement (for being insensitive, uncaring, disruptive, rude, etc.) each and every day.  They are absolutely unable to ever connect the dots that it is because they are failing to acknowledge a nonverbal cue to behave a certain way (something they CANNOT SEE) so even innocent and/or non-actions receive negative reinforcement.

    There is no learning from this level of relentless negative reinforcement to better tailor their behavior to meet the demands expected of them in society or their family.

    There exists only a world where they are damned if they do… and damned if they don’t

    Affective/emotional empathy is disintegrating as each day passes because the feelings of living in a just and fair world are non-existent for the Aspie teenager.  They are so prepped for everyone to perceive them wrong or they’ve learned to assume someone is sad, unhappy, or angry because of something they unknowingly did, that they lose the ability to separate themselves from why someone is feeling a particular emotion even when it is directly stated.

    Conditioned to believe they will be blamed for every negative emotion those close to them display, they truly begin to lose their ability to feel empathetic for other’s feelings (and this is where the Aspie vs. NT internet arguing begins).  

    Imagine always being fearful that a person’s emotions or feelings will inevitably be blamed on you.  Wouldn’t you stop trying to alleviate their hurt as well?  Wouldn’t you respond to most emotional displays with defensive hostility or choose to run away instead?  

    This is not actually what the adult Aspie is doing despite the NT’s seeing it as such…

     

    On to adulthood…

    After a terribly cruel and unfair childhood filled with unacknowledged efforts, the Aspie teen gets further beat down by the harshness of their peers.  Now there exists a young adult who still has no clue about having Asperger’s syndrome who is just worn down by people and has established his own way of handling situations to protect himself (that work for him). 

    This adult frequently avoids getting jobs, pursuing school, looking into a career… because they are afraid of how people will treat them and they do not want to fail.  They are so convinced everyone will call them a failure no matter what they do (even if they do not realize this feeling is the underlying reason for stagnation and being unable to initiate things) that they don’t even try.  In fact, most Aspie adults are unemployed and will do almost anything to avoid initiating or taking chances where social communication is involved.  For those who have found their niche in a solid career, there is a good chance they aren’t budging from the spot they have comfortably cemented themselves in (this includes daily activities and ritualistic behaviors that rarely venture out into the unknown).

    Most misunderstandings from youth were in regard to nonverbal communication.  Because of this, the Aspie has (consciously or not) identified keywords and trigger points in interpersonal communication with people that signal danger to them and an internal dialog to defend or run; fight or flight takes hold. 

    While someone with Aspergers still possess every single emotion and desire for communication that everyone else does… it does not appear that way to those who love them because the moment someone verbalizes anything that sounds like feelings or emotions, subconscious alarm bells begin to sound in their brain that tell them to start aggressively fighting or hauling ass immediately or else they are going to be attacked.  

    Once this defense is triggered, all constructive communication is effectively shut down.

     

    On to marriage…

    Despite all of his best sense telling him that the world he lived in was not going to get any better… some men with Asperger’s syndrome put themselves on the line for ultimate rejection when they fall in love with a neurotypical woman. They take a chance that someone is going to truly love them for who they are and see what no one else seemed to their entire life.  

    What a feeling that must have been.

     

    Despite a love that began with such pure intention…

    Without the knowledge and comprehension of how cognitive empathy existed (or did not) in their marriage…

    They were doomed to beat one another and themselves down physically and emotionally.  

    Why there was NO WAY around this…

    When someone has perfectly functioning emotional empathy, but lacks cognitive empathy, their emotional empathy can sometimes become heightened in a way they cannot make sense of.  This is one of the reasons that parents of Aspies and Aspies themselves scream about the fact that they do not “lack” empathy, they have TOO MUCH OF IT!  

    Without the ability to use emotional empathy in a functioning manner (because the cognitive deficit disables the ability to accurately identify someone’s feelings without being told of them), a person with Asperger’s syndrome develops misplaced emotional empathy or they are forced to internalize all of the incredible feelings that it carries.

    Someone else with the same functioning level of emotional empathy who also has cognitive empathy (neurotypical) has the gift of an outlet for their intense emotions.  They can verbalize them or act out their compassion with others appropriately AND receive it from others in return.  

    Since the Aspie notoriously fails at this throughout their youth, all of those emotions become bottled up.  While they find their way out via manifestations of “meltdowns” or other misplaced emotions of anger and frustration in childhood, the young adult Aspie usually learns that these manifestations only bring more alienation or negative responses from their peers and family members.  

    In order to prevent the psychological exhaustion that causes inevitable burnout from all of these emotions brewing within, the majority of adult Aspies learn to purposely detach themselves from other people’s emotions in general.  This is not merely a defensive mechanism, it is a survival skill.

    When the Aspie-NT union that began so beautifully begins to derail and emotions pile up… the married Aspie begins to utilize the same survival skill that protected him before his marriage.  

    HE DETACHES

    This detachment becomes the indifference that destroys an Aspie-NT marriage.  

    I have long believed that the opposite of love is not hate; you need to first love to be emotionally invested enough to develop hate.  

    The opposite of love is INDIFFERENCE.

    Since one of the only protective mechanisms an adult with Asperger’s syndrome instinctively has to protect themselves from their overwhelming emotions is to become indifferent to other people’s… the NT wife becomes grief-stricken when this happens to her.  She may know that her husband does not “hate” her, but placing what he is doing to make her cry out, “You don’t love me!” does not come easily.  

    She is sensing his indifference to her emotions and that feels like THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE to her.    

    The husband DOES love his wife, but since he lacks the cognitive empathy to identify her feelings without her speaking them… and she is NOT doing this in a way that makes ANY SENSE AT ALL TO HIM… he has no other option but to become indifferent to her chronic display of emotional turmoil.  

    If he continued to absorb all of the feelings she is hurling at him day after day, he will inevitably be faced with emotional collapse himself.  

    She has no clue that the horrific agony of his indifference is actually the only way he knows how to not lose her.  

    If only both of them could see how they were agonizing over the same thing.  Love.

    Tracking?

     

    IS ANY OF THIS SOUNDING FAMILIAR?

     

    Asperger’s syndrome vs. Antisocial Personality Disorder

    I originally began this post by discussing the misinformation out there that those with Asperger’s syndrome were akin to sociopaths (or psychopaths). 

    Now that you have a better understanding of cognitive empathy (Good GOD I hope you do, I wrote a frickin book about it!) let’s talk about why the two are entirely different.

     

    Asperger’s Syndrome

    Someone with Asperger’s syndrome may behave in an abusive manner toward their spouse.  They have no intention at all of doing this (if they do, get out because they are almost certainly NOT an Aspie).  

    They appear apathetic to your pain because they do not comprehend it in any way.

    They are unapologetic and lack accountability because the last thing they would ever do is knowingly or purposely inflict harm on you.

    The more you cry over something, the more they may think you are looney.  

    I always wondered if this was comforting in a way to my husband… like, if I am bat-shit-crazy, then maybe I will not leave him for someone more “normal?”

    Your husband CANNOT change his ability to cognitively empathize with you, but HE CAN CHANGE the negative defensive mechanisms he built along the way once he understands fully why he built them. 

    Your husband CAN CHANGE the level of affective empathy he has for you and treat you with more compassion once he lets his defenses down and you learn to effectively communicate using words that actually convey what you are thinking or feeling.  

     

    Antisocial Personality Disorder

    For someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder, i.e., psychopaths, narcissists, and sociopaths (which it bears mention that in diagnostic testing APD is usually the differential diagnosis for Asperger’s syndrome), they are as opposite from your aspie husband as could be (neurologically speaking).

    Someone with APD has behaviors that can never be corrected and will never get better.

    They have very good cognitive empathy skills, but they possess ZERO affective empathy, the EXACT opposite of your husband.  

    THEY ARE BAD PEOPLE  

    I know that no Aspie out there wants to hear this, but it is true and something that needs to be understood:  The reason loved ones have strongly considered that they are living with a psychopath or sociopath is because they outwardly manifest the same way.

     

    The Aspie husband is avoiding his crying wife because he truly does not understand why she is crying or what he should or could do to make it stop.  The psychopath husband is avoiding his crying wife because he just doesn’t give a shit about her.  

    HUGE DIFFERENCE  

    Understand that the NT wife… she is STILL being abandoned/ignored by her husband when she is crying and in emotional pain.  Since neither the Aspie nor the psychopath husband is going to ever address why she was crying once she stops, or stop it from happening again… SHE CANNOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE.

    Tracking?

     

    People with Asperger’s syndrome are GOOD PEOPLE, it is the defensive behaviors they develop that present themselves the same way as those with APD (as well as the resulting impact on behalf of those close to them) that make living with an Aspie in defense mode and a sociopath disturbingly similar.  

    Sadly, the majority of people out there have this misunderstanding about Aspies & sociopaths. They lack the knowledge that the two could not have more different brain deficits that profoundly oppose one another; despite having similar initial appearances because they both deal with a form of empathy.  

    Sociopaths have the empathy to interpret nonverbal messages (in fact, they are so good at it they are disturbingly skilled manipulators) … but they absolutely DO NOT give one damn about what any of the messages mean for the people in their lives (because they do not have the empathy that controls that).  

    Aspies do not have the empathy that enables them to receive the nonverbal messages, but in no way does that inhibit their ability to experience the empathy that gives them a profound compassion for people.  

    This misunderstanding causes unfathomable torture to Aspies every single day and causes NT women who love their husbands to consider leaving them.  If there is ONE THING I can beg of you to do from this day forward it is this:

    Every time you come across a blog post, article, or other media source where someone is proclaiming there is NO DIFFERENCE between those with Asperger’s syndrome and psychopaths… 

    BE THE ONE WILLING TO EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE!

     

    So what’s my immediate advice?

    So where do you go from here now that you have a better understanding of what empathy actually means and how this word has impacted your life?  

    Well first, know that demanding your husband read more online (which doesn’t work, TRUST ME) may have an adverse outcome to what you want. Unfortunately, the horrific misunderstanding that Aspies are all sociopaths or psychopaths that plagues the internet will likely (if it has not already) turn your husband off to independent research into his diagnosis the moment he attempts to read his first few articles.

    YOU have to keep reading… mostly about cognitive empathy.  

    Keep searching with the knowledge you now have so you can begin to recognize the misunderstandings taking place in your marriage.  You have to learn to communicate in a whole new way if you want to help him break down some of those defenses (SEE: HOW TO TEACH EMPATHY TO SOMEONE WITH ASPERGER’S SYNDROME).

    Work on yourself.  Love your husband.  Forgive your husband.  Ask him to forgive you.  See if you can agree to place the pain on the sideline in an attempt to begin again with the knowledge you now have.  

    None of this is going to be easy… but it hasn’t been thus far and you have chosen to stick it out, right?  Compared to the hellacious journey you were struggling to navigate before (alone); this will be a walk in the park… maybe with some exhausting hills to climb… but at least you will be climbing them together.  

     

    You deserve an award for making it through this post!!!!

     

     

     

    MY ASPIE HUSBAND IS NOT A PSYCHOPATH & NEITHER IS YOURS