Empathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that allows a person to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant their own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person. You don’t confuse their pain or thoughts with your own.Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call “Radiant Empathy,” or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity. It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience.
Asperger’s Syndrome is an empathy disorder, the result of the person not having a Theory of Mind. Basically, they don’t easily recognize that another person has beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and perspectives that differ from their own (unless it is specifically pointed out). Empathy is a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy.
Neurotypical persons in relationships with those with Asperger’s Syndrome expect and need empathy, but they don’t receive it. This makes them feel so alone, depressed, and socially isolated. They suffer from numerous stress-related chronic illnesses, because no one really understands what they’re going through.
Once you understand the quality of empathy that is part of every breath you take… and is totally absent in your Aspie, you can better navigate this life. Furthermore, this understanding also helps you redirect your energy to take better care of yourself and to embrace a more loving reality. This doesn’t mean everything works out; it just means that you’re more in charge. That can feel good.
If you’re a member of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us for the next teleconference, Empathy 101 on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 3:00 PM.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to read a free chapter of “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you the emotional support that you need.
10 Replies to “Empathy 101: Understanding the Neurotypical – Asperger Relationship”
I have Aspergers and am highly sensitive and empathetic to the right people. It’s just that I know neurotypicals are generally jostling for social position or running on an impenetrable and often very obvious and boring program. Why should I be empathetic to that? They are not empathetic to my need for autonomy and to live in a healthy world.
You make a good point Anna. Empathy is a two way street and it is pretty obvious that many NTs have no empathy for autistics. My goal is to encourage people to recognize accept the neurodiversity.
On another note I’d like to clarify what I mean by empathy being a two way street. Empathy is neutral emotionally. It’s not really a choice to be empathic (or empathetic). Empathy is the ability to understand the mind of the other, with compassion for their feelings, even if you don’t agree. If you speak to the other person with this compassion and yet objectively, the other person can hear that you don’t agree, but that you value them as a unique human being. This is important to understand in a neurodiverse world.
I am 63 years old and my partner is 65. I have just recently come to the understanding that my partner has Aspergers. He is very high functioning but seems to have no empathy. He CANNOT say “I love you” EVER. Is that common to n Aspies? I am trying to deal with this new diagnosis but I am really struggling. It does however explain so many, many things in the past that I never understood.
Ie. His inability to go to parties and events with me (or isolating himself if he does), not talking to others, not introducing me to any of his friends or family, obsession with health, not getting close to my daughter or family, going on vacations alone, not calling for days or weeks, never initiating sex, following routines, never taking charge of ANYTHING etc., etc. He had a difficult childhood (parents died tragically at age 9, dad killed mom and later himself). Jack was adopted by his dad’s brother and his wife and kids. I always thought his problems were related to that. Although I studied Psychology in school, Autism was unknown then. After I found out that Jack’s grandson and people I knew
through others were in the spectrum, I looked into it and found that Jack’s behaviors put him on the high end of the spectrum. Any help in how I can deal with this would be appreciated. I am one who needs and craves empathy and emotional support and intimacy and I am not getting it.
My heart goes out to you.
I was married for 10 years to someone with Aspergers. Didn’t realize it until year 8. Left when it became clear that it cannot be remedied.
Aspergers is an empathy disorder.
If you need true empathy, you must find it elsewhere.
Remember that you are worthy of love and empathy 🙂
I am sick of hearing autistic people say they have empathy when most clearly do not.
I have many in my husband’s family and my husband is probably autistic too. Tbh they drain the soul out of me. It’s exhausting being with them. They suck all the energy from me and they have no clue. They just barge on doing what they feel comfortable with and don’t care. Their conversations are dull dull dull and they have no spark.
It’s tough to explain what empathy is to those who have none. And for those who love you, but have no empathy, it is tough to explain that love is not enough. For NTs love is a conversation, a reciprocal, dynamic, interaction. With EmD the best that Autists can do is care “inside” and work to provide polite words.
And that’s the quandary I find myself in. My ND husband does love me (to the best of his ability) but his love is limited and littered with unempathetic comments every day (like death by 1000 paper cuts) without both cognitive and emotional empathy. Absence of showing empathy when it’s needed, is one issue but his constant speaking and acting in a way that causes pain is also a huge factor.. Even knowing, without a doubt, that he is completely oblivious about his hurtful behavior doesn’t take me to the point of “radiant empathy”. My husband has suffered little, if any, from his behavior because his family members are also in the spectrum and appear kind and considerate to outsiders and amazingly get along well with each other. Only the NT family members “deal with” their offensive and hurtful comments. So, I can’t find any “radiant empathy” in my soul about his being bullied or mistreated for his behaviors as a child. Actually, his family culture likely reinforced his rude and blunt comments. So, I am searching for this “radiant empathy” and praying I can find it in my heart.
I knew a woman once who had an upsetting neighbor. Apparently the neighbor, a man, was quite disagreeable and unkind. This woman kept trying to be empathic but it never worked for her. She got angrier and angrier. One day, she gave up and asked God for help. In her prayer she asked for forgiveness that she couldn’t like this man, but asked God to love him for her. Oddly this gave her peace of mind, and she never again was frustrated by his unkind behavior. Radiant Empathy is mostly about forgiving yourself and letting your light shine. Don’t let anyone hold you back, even your partner. We can always hope that he will be attractive to your beautiful Soul expression, but it is his choice.