Question 21: I can’t identify feelings that I vaguely sense are going on inside of me.
Fact: Yes, I can.
Truth: ‘Cause I’ve had a buttload of practice at it. Seriously, growing up as a woman, you’re constantly trained to vocalize about your emotions. It’s one of the most annoying aspects of being female to me. But what can you do? You’re stuck. You’re surrounded. For the most part, anyway. Women and girls are constantly talking in emotional terms, and if you can’t keep up, you get censured in any number of ways — looked at like you’re weird, told that you’re wrong, laughed at, shunned, etc. Also, if the women and girls around you are your friend(s), they’ll actually prompt you for what you might be feeling. So, you can get plenty of practice in life as a woman.
I got most of my practice as an adult, actually. Girls can be mean, but women — especially older women — can be much more conciliatory and instructive. I’ve had the good fortunate of having crossed paths with many, many really kind-hearted women in my life, many of whom were more than happy to model emotional talk to me. So, even though I don’t always have a clue what’s going on with me, I can still put some words to it. And I can do a decent job of fitting in and passing as emotionally intelligent — even if I’m not. It works for me. I don’t need to vocalize and verbalize every single thing I’m feeling, in order to understand it, so if I say the wrong thing about what I’m really feeling, it’s no biggie. The main thing is, it gets me by in social situations. That’s all I really care about, to be honest.
Question 22: I often ask other people what they would feel if in my personal situation (any situation), as this better helps me understand what to do.
Fact: Um… maybe? I’m not sure I actually care what other people would feel, compared to me.
Truth: If I do ask, it’s more about learning how other people think and react. I’m not going to base my actions and understanding on emotions, for heavensake. They’re much too fleeting and volatile to provide a solid basis for any reliable understanding of the world around me.
Question 23: I find it useful to ponder on my feelings as much as the practical issues when setting my priorities.
Fact: Not at all. Feelings? Those are secondary. Not even in the running, in terms of factors that help me make up my mind about things.
Truth: This is probably a shortcoming of mine, that I don’t do that. Because I tend to get drawn into activities and goals that don’t have any kind of “emotional payoff” for me, so I’m not always able to sustain my motivation and interest. This applies to friendships, employment, volunteer activities, etc. Maybe if I cared more about my feelings about things — if I even knew what my feelings were about things — I’d make better choices about long-term arrangements. As it is, I end up “roped into” things that I don’t actually care much about, but which seem intellectually appealing. And then when the intellectual appeal wears off, I lose interest. And move on.
Question 24: I use my imagination mainly for practical means, e.g., like how to work out a problem or construct a useful idea or object.
Fact: Why yes. Yes, I do.
Truth: What else would I use it for? Seems to me, if you have an imagination, you should use it to do something useful with yourself. Give back to the world. Make it a better place.
Question 25: I often feel incompetent, awkward, uncomfortable, or occasionally physically sick in sexual situations.
Fact: Yes, I do. Nowadays, but not always.
Truth: It’s funny – my whole “deal” with sex has run “hot and cold” over the years. When I was younger, I was highly sexual, intensely attracted to other women (and vice versa), even though I was very happily married. I couldn’t help that I was a major babe 😉 and I have to say, I didn’t always do a good job of being responsible with it. I never out-and-out cheated on my partner, but there was a lot of … energy… with other women that was definitely edgy. Nowadays, I’m pretty much asexual (except when I get these wild surges of sex drive), and I feel really uncomfortable watching anything sexual on t.v. I also sometimes feel awkward with my partner, even though we’ve been together 26+ years.
Question 26: When involved in difficult or turbulent relationships, I sometimes develop confusing physical symptoms.
Fact: I’m not sure about this one. Except that all my physical symptoms tend to be confusing. So, maybe I do this.
Truth: Asking me about my symptoms is asking for trouble. I have a hell of a time figuring out what I’m feeling, with some things feeling extreme, other things not feeling at all. I never thought about this in terms of being connected to my emotional cluelessness, but apparently it is. How ’bout that…
Question 27: I tend to rely on other people for interpreting the emotional details of personal/social events.
Fact: Oh, Lord, yes.
Truth: I am usually a few seconds behind everyone else, as it is — slower processing speed is not my friend in social situations. So, I cue off other people and how they’re reacting — regardless of how I feel, myself. I’m an expert at quick mirroring of how others are reacting, and I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve laughed hilariously over something that I didn’t understand at all. But everybody was cracking up, so it seemed like the thing to do.
Question 28: I don’t like conversations in which more time is spent discussing emotional matters than daily activities because it detracts from my enjoyment.
Fact: Yes. It detracts. No, I don’t like to discuss those things.
Truth: Oh, my poor partner. She’s stuck with someone who couldn’t care less about the emotional impact of what someone said or did. I can’t even begin to tell you how many discussions ended up as fights, because she wanted to hash — and rehash — and rehash — through all the emotional drama of certain relationships. I’ll never get those hundreds of hours back. I’ve probably wasted days, if not weeks, of my life on those kinds of discussions. Big waste of time. Nothing came of it. And it was so miserable for me, in so many ways. Forget “poor partner”. How ’bout “poor me“!
Question 29: I often get confused about what the other person wants from a sexual relationship.
Truth: OMG, I’ve almost gotten in trouble a bunch of times, because I didn’t realize someone was coming on to me. Getting invited to hockey games and other activities… receiving gifts… having people spend time with me… apparently that means they’re interested in me sexually? Huh? Really? It’s been a comedy of errors, actually. Although the people who thought I was “leading them on” were not amused. Oh, well. They should have been more clear and explicit about what the wanted from me. Then I could have just told them, “No. Thank you, but no.”
Question 30: People I’ve been in close relationships with have complained that I neglect them emotionally.
Fact: Sheesh. Yes.
Truth: Complain, complain, complain… always with the complaining about me being emotionally distant, neglectful, unsympathetic, inattentive… Please. It’s not my strong suit. I never said it was. And don’t assume that because I’m female, I’m going to magically be privy to the vagaries of your deepest emotions. My partner says she almost left me, about 7 years ago, because I was so emotionally distant. Really? I hadn’t noticed. Yes, it’s that bad with me. But she was also being too needy, as far as I was concerned. Still is. But she sees things differently.
I’ve learned, in the past 5 years, how to simulate emotional attentiveness. Maybe it’s genuine, maybe it’s not. Doesn’t matter to me. Emotional stuff baffles me and it doesn’t have the major significance for me that it does for others, so I’m not going to sink a lot of time and energy into it, other than attempting to meet at least some of my partner’s needs. I love her. That’s what you do, if you love someone. You make the effort. Even if it’s awkward to the point of being painful. Even if it seems like a total waste of time. She doesn’t think it’s a waste of time, so for the sake of my marriage, I make the effort. And it pays off.
She hasn’t left me… yet. 😉
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