guys stop saying autistic ppl dont experience empathy
even if your point is that its “ok not to experience empathy”
youre…not helping a lot of ppl, and youre contributing to a frequently hurtful misconception
yep. this is a recent trend in tumblr autistic discourse that i find really disturbing.
most of the people saying ‘some of us don’t experience empathy, and that’s ok’ seem to be working off a very narrow (and neurotypical) definition of ‘empathy’. they often describe themselves as experiencing something, which they posit as an alternative to empathy, but which i would define as empathy.
empathy doesn’t have to be a feeling and it doesn’t have to be fully understanding what someone else goes through and it doesn’t have to be always remembering that other people are different from you. everyone has trouble with that.
empathy also isn’t, like, some mysterious nebulous magic trick. it’s a skill you can work on, and it is worth working on.
‘Empathy is the capacity to share or recognize emotions experienced by another sentient or fictional being.’ that’s the first line of wikipedia.
you don’t have to interpret emotions from facial expression or tone or NT body language! you don’t have to react as an NT person would! you don’t have to look empathetic, your recognition of another person’s feelings doesn’t have to be innate or simple or perfect
lots of people have trouble empathizing, but a lot of them are NT people who clearly can’t empathize with us. and as it shakes down, i’d say there is no correlation between difficulty empathizing and autism.
if you think there is, you’re buying into the stereotypes. please rethink how you are defining empathy; please try to express this sentiment in another way; please consider how the things you already experience do constitute empathy.
So saying that autistic people as a group don’t experience empathy is obviously very harmful and factually not true and it is extremely important to correct that misconception. But, honestly, I object to a lot of this.
Mostly the idea that all autistic people experience empathy, and anyone who says otherwise is using the word wrong. I do experience empathy, or the thing that everyone told me was empathy. I know this because I have experienced empathy about twice in the past year. It is not something I do consistently or even hardly ever, but I know what it feels like. What I feel the rest of the time is - not that. Or anything else. You say that empathy doesn’t have to be a feeling, which I guess makes sense, but sharing and recognizing emotions is something that I fundamentally find extremely difficult. Not that I don’t work on it, constantly, but it’s hard.
I think the main issue here is that the way the word empathy is used by neurotypical people to stigmatize us (not that this use exists primarily for that purpose) doesn’t go away just because there’s a better definition. I don’t feel emotions about other people’s emotional states. I have huge problems trying to create mental models for those states and honestly I don’t even feel my own emotions as anything recognizable most of the time. This is not about facial expressions, it’s about literally not having the commensurate emotional experience. I have been told that this means I lack empathy. I have been told that not having empathy makes me less of a person.
And the first time I saw someone say “not all autistic people experience empathy, and that’s okay” was also the first time I felt like the way I experienced emotions didn’t make me inherently evil or something. I still care about people. I still perform caring actions towards people. I still make a deliberate conscious effort to understand other people and their perspectives. But that is not empathy by any definition of empathy I’ve ever heard. There is no internal experience of any kind involved. Recognizing and sharing emotions, I still suck at it. It is not helpful for me to pretend I don’t. And I don’t think that this makes me a bad or uncaring person, being able to accept that has made me a lot happier even more generous and caring, since I was able to localize where my problems were coming from.
And I know that the definition of empathy being used here is ableist, or is used in an ableist way. I just feel strongly that trying to change the definition or reclaim it or w/e is not the best way to go about combatting this stigma. Being able to feel/understand other people’s emotions is a legitimate concept, and there’s nothing wrong with having a word for it.
The real problem here is that there is an extremely strong cultural bias that says “empathy” = “being a good person”. Or being a nice person or an understanding person or a caring person. Or even being a person. It doesn’t mean any of those things. I think it is more helpful to decouple empathy from personhood than it is to create a new definition of empathy that automatically includes everyone. No matter how much you pick at the definition, there is an actual thing being described here, and it is not something that everyone has.
(All of that with the caveat that lots of autistic people do experience empathy and lots of non-autistic people don’t experience empathy, the way it’s commonly defined and do face stigma or self-loathing or etc. because of it.)
i see what you’re saying, and i don’t have a simple response. i get how even the word ‘empathy’ can be a hair-trigger, and maybe we should stop using it so heavily because it is a vague and nebulous concept. in many ways this seems like a semantic argument, about which kinds of words hurt different people’s heads.
i’m going to bring in these tags from portmanteaurian: #to me empathy is just understanding that other people have interiority#and valuing their understanding of their experiences#not necessarily comprehending their experiences or feelings#not ”feeling their pain”#just accepting that it exists and is valid#and that is something i feel everyone is capable of doing
and you say ‘I still make a deliberate conscious effort to understand other people and their perspectives.’ which is… important.
i don’t think any one characteristic should be inherently coupled with personhood; i don’t think any people should be thought of as nonpersons. but i do think that it’s important that we have a way to accurately refer to people who don’t care about other people’s experiences/feelings/inner lives, and who don’t feel compunction about harming people. actually i think this is more about actions than it is about people. there are mindsets that are dangerous. i guess it’s important to me to be able to say, for example, that when i’m upset and my mother tries to ‘comfort’ me, but what she does is making me more upset, but she doesn’t notice or care because she’s so attached to the idea that she’s ‘comforting’, she is being unempathetic. she is not paying attention to my reactions or considering them important.
idk. like i said, i don’t have an easy answer. and i — i would say i empathize with your perspective, but maybe that bothers you? i understand your perspective.
what’s always really confused me about this discussion is that I don’t really understand what people are saying on either side.
like. what IS empathy? popular media tends to equate a lack of it with sociopathy, which I am 110% sure is a not true and hurtful ableist thing, but
argh I don’t even have the words to ask the questions I want to, so I’m really sorry if this doesn’t make sense or is derailing or hurtful.
my personal understanding of what empathy is has always been that you understand that other people have emotions just like you do and can go okay, you’re in pain. when i’m in pain, that sucks, so you being in pain must suck for you.
like clearly there are levels of empathy - I can empathize more with someone who’s facing a situation like one I’ve personally experienced, for example - but that’s not saying I can’t have empathy for someone in a completely unfamiliar situation, just that it would be a more abstract or intellectual kind of empathy.
and I don’t really understand what the relationship between empathy and compassion is? like. people seem to differentiate between the ability to empathize and the ability to care about people and that may well be totally legit but I just don’t get it???