This is going to be a several-part series, because there’s so much to say about this topic. And I don’t have a lot of time, right now, to do it all justice.
One of the things that gets me about these tests is that they talk about things being easy or difficult, about being able to do them or not, as a sign that you do/do not have an issue.
The problem with that is, as an autistic grown-up with 50+ years of practice at figuring this stuff out and learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to adjust, I’ve developed a ton of compensations that cover up the underlying issues. Yes, I can do them. Yes, some of them I can actually do with fluidity. But is any of it easy? Oh, hell, no. It’s still difficult. It still leaves me feeling stupid and deficient. But I can do it, so supposedly I have no problems.
Except… I do.
So, when I fill out these questionnaires, and I answer about my ability level (rather than my innate inclination), I don’t even show up on the radar. And it doesn’t reflect what I’m really experiencing. I now answer with both the facts and the truth – like so:
Question 1: When asked which emotion I’m feeling, I frequently don’t know the answer.
Fact: When asked, I can give an answer that sounds credible.
Truth: When asked, I often truly do not know which emotion I’m feeling. I come up with something that seems plausible, and I go with that. I’ve trained myself to respond in a convincing manner that sounds good. Whether or not that’s really what I’m feeling, is beside the point. It’s really about the delivery (the projected “sense” of my response), not the actual content of what I’m saying. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to much care about what I’m truly saying and mean, rather how I’m saying it. What I want more than anything, is for the conversation to move along, without drawing attention to how oblivious and out-of-sorts I am. If I draw attention to my emotional blindness, it makes the interaction So Much More Difficult. And I don’t want that.
Question 2: I’m unsure of which words to use when describing my feelings.
Fact: I can come up with plausible descriptions of what I’m feeling, on a regular basis.
Truth: I really am at a loss, when it comes to describing emotions. Over the years, through trial-and-error, I’ve figured out how to describe what I’m feeling to others. But it’s more for their benefit, than mine. It’s really to move the conversation along (as I mentioned above), or to avert a freak-out by the other person who can’t imagine why I’m so “disconnected” from my feelings. Oh . My . God . women are the worst to be around, when I’m uber-alexitymic — they treat me like I’m emotionally stunted… all those psychtherapist friends of mine, over the years, convinced that I was a heavy-duty trauma survivor, because I was so “disconnected” from my feelings. Ugh. The ways they interacted with me… how incredibly annoying. It’s so much easier to just fake my way through it, and leave it at that, without delving deeper.
Question 3: I prefer to find out the emotional intricacies of my problems rather than just describe them in terms of practical facts.
Fact: Oh, God, no. No, thank you!
Truth: Thankfully, I can tell the truth about this one. It’s very simple. I do NOT want to sort out the emotional intricacies of my problems. I just want to fix sh*t that’s broken. Full stop. Thank you very much.
Question 4: When other people are hurt or upset, I have difficulty imagining what they are feeling.
Fact: I can often figure out what the deal is with them… if I put some energy into it.
Truth: This is a learned skill. But it’s not easy, I’m telling you. When I’m tired and out of sorts, it gets harder. When I’m rested and I am dealing with someone I know, I can recognize their emotional patterns, based on a whole lot of prior experience (science!). But if it’s a stranger, or someone I haven’t figured out, yet… yeah, good luck with that.
Question 5: People tell me to describe my feelings more, as if I haven’t elaborated enough.
Fact: I used to have problems with this, now I don’t so much.
Truth: This happens less now than it used to, for a numberof reasons.
First, I’ve learned how to describe my feelings in terms that others understand, but which don’t really reflect how I really feel. I don’t want to dwell on gray areas, so I come out with a definitive statement, to avoid having to elaborate. God, I hate it when people ask me to go into more detail about my feelings.
Second, I don’t spend a lot of time around people in situations that call for a lot of emotional processing. Most of my social interactions are at work, where it’s all about getting the job done, not emoting, not sharing (cringe). I eschew scenarios where I’ll be sitting around with people processing their emotional ups and downs — and where they’ll expect me to process mine with them. I have no interest in doing so. Even with my partner of 26 years. She’s learned, by now, to not keep asking me about my emotional state. And I’ve learned how to give her the kind of information she’s looking for.
The last reason I have less trouble with this, is that I’ve gotten more familiar with the vocabulary of emotions. So, I can figure out more easily what I’m feeling. Still, it does not come easy. Not in the least.
Question 6: Sex as a recreational activity seems kind of pointless.
Fact: Sort of. I mean, I kind of get it. I’ve had some great sex in my life, I have to say. But doing it for fun? For recreation? It doesn’t seem like a good use of time.
Truth: I’m hot/cold when it comes to sex. I will be either celibate and asexual, or sexually intense. I’ve gotten myself into trouble a bunch of times with women who got really turned on when I was hyper-sexual, and they wanted more than was possible (since I was married, and I have rules about not fooling around). Even though I understand the draw of hot sex, still, treating it as recreation just doesn’t seem like a good use of time. Not when there’s so much to do in the world. We’ve got too many problems that need solving, to spend a ton of time exchanging bodily fluids.
Question 7: I can describe my emotions with ease.
Truth: This hasn’t come easily. I can do it, but it’s not easy. Just because I can do something really well, doesn’t mean it’s second-nature to me. Plus, when I describe my emotions, I’m just barely scratching the surface. I’m nowhere near the full and detailed description of what’s going on with me — especially because there are no words for much of what I sense.
Question 8: You cannot functionally live your life without being aware of your deepest emotions.
Fact: Given the logical facts of how unexpressed and unresolved emotions mess with people’s heads and make life miserable for everyone, it’s simply common sense to me that you cannot be fully functional unless you have a working awareness of your deepest emotions.
Truth: I’m not sure I could ever be fully aware of my deepest emotions. They run through me like a lava field far beneath the surface of my bedrock life. They seethe and boil and rise and fall and far exceed any capability of language, indeed, awareness. They’re too fluid, too variable, and they can come and go at a moment’s notice, so no sooner do I become aware of them, than they disappear from view, replaced by something completely different. You can totally live your life without being fully aware of your deepest emotions – especially when those emotions are as intense and as mutable as mine.
Question 9: People sometimes get upset with me, and I can’t imagine why.
Fact: Not so much anymore.
Truth: Because I avoid people. That solves a ton of problems. ’nuff said.
Question 10: People tell me I don’t listen to their feelings properly, when in fact I’m doing my utmost to understand what they’re saying!
Fact: People don’t tell me that much.
Truth: Because I don’t spend much time with people, outside of my day job. I used to get this all the time from my partner, and at one point, she was going to leave me, because she felt I was so emotionally distant. She didn’t feel cared for, which wasn’t true at all. I loved her with all my heart, but she didn’t “get” that from my behavior.
When she threatened to leave me, I started to work harder at listening and parsing out the data she was communicating. It’s been successful — partly because I’ve gotten better at the whole thing (I needed to be told I wasn’t doing it very well), partly because I now know what she wants to hear, and when I’m at a loss and don’t understand her at all, I can at least tell her something that will make her feel better. Mission accomplished. 🙂
Note: This is part of a 4-part series about Alexithymia criteria, as well as related thoughts about the “subcondition” in general. You can find additional content at the links below:
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
- Other posts related to Alexithymia