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Autism and Empathy

This is something I’ve always struggled with. Also feeling happy for someone when they were happy about something I could not relate to. I always felt like I was unkind when I want able to mean it when I said I understood or that I was happy for someone. Not because I don’t want others to have something, to do something, to be happy about something. But because for some reason, I could not understand why they were excited or happy or… Whatever they were experiencing. I never talk about this much, as it’s something that gives me a rather large feeling of shame. 😔

I feel like I’m a fake person. I have felt stupid so many times because I just could not understand someone’s feelings about something. Especially if I had never been in such a position, that made it even harder. If people have emotional feelings about things I’ve been through myself, both positive and negative, I am able to really mean my reply to them. I’ve learned that I should care about other’s feelings. But it’s a great struggle and as I mentioned, I often feel like a fake person, a very bad friend! And it hurts me a whole lot. 😔

I have since then learned that it’s a part of my autism, that it’s something my brain isn’t wired to do and how much I keep trying, I am not hopeful that I’ll ever be truly able to experience this. I mean, to experience true feelings and emotions to things I struggle to understand. Will this make be a very bad person? My depression says YES wholeheartedly… But I feel that, if I am finally honest about this, that it may make it easier for others to understand why my reactions may be so different than to what they might have been expecting. I would never want to hurt anyone by being a fake person, but I do feel this way at times, and for that, I’m terribly sorry 😔.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Sympathy and empathy are closely related words, bound by shared origins and the similar circumstances in which each is applicable, yet they are not synonymous. For one thing, sympathy is considerably older than empathy, having existed in our language for several hundred years before its cousin was introduced, and its greater age is reflected in a wider breadth of meaning. Sympathy may refer to “feelings of loyalty” or “unity or harmony in action or effect,” meanings not shared by empathy. In the contexts where the two words do overlap, sympathy implies sharing (or having the capacity to share) the feelings of another, while empathy tends to be used to mean imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that one does not actually have.

I found this very interesting. As I struggle with both. Though sympathy I can feel for real more easily, especially when I’ve been in their position myself. But if someone tells me more about their situation, so that I may understand better, then I could be both sympathetic and empathic. Though still, I find it easier to be the first one. 😊

People with autism spectrum disorder (autistic people)  are sometimes described as lacking empathy (the ability to feel along with others) and/or sympathy (the ability to feel for others). While this is a persistent stereotype of all people with autism, these challenges are not experienced by everyone on the spectrum.

I found that the article I linked above this paragraph is very informative! I won’t copy and paste the post, but if you’re interested in reading a little more in-depth information on “Autism and a lack of empathy”, click the link under the paragraph above this one 😉.

There is one bit of the article that I will share because I think it’s important to this post. So sorry for the confusion about not sharing and then sharing some 😂.

A lack of expressed sympathy or empathy may not be the result of a lack of emotion in someone who has autism, but rather due to underdeveloped skills. There are several elements involved in showing empathy to others.

To connect with another person in these ways, one must:

  • Recognize the other person’s feelings
  • Understand the other person’s hopes, dreams, and/or expectations
  • Have the emotional experience to relate personally to another’s feelings
  • Have the tools to physically and verbally express empathic feelings
  • Share a cultural understanding that displays of empathy are expected and desired

People with autism who struggle to show empathy and sympathy may have difficulty with one or more of these.

All of the above came from: Very Well Health.

The skill of “mind-reading”—understanding another’s thoughts through careful observation of body language, vocal tone, facial expression, etc.—is key to empathy and sympathy. People with autism often have a very difficult time with this aspect of emotional responsiveness.

Very Well Health

When I learned I am autistic, then I slowly, very slowly though, started to understand myself better. I wasn’t as stupid as I always had believed. I wasn’t just being difficult because I didn’t understand what others did. I wasn’t having tantrums because I didn’t get things my way… My eyes were opened up by my diagnosis. It may not have lead to all the answers and getting help may be a tricky thing, especially when you’re a “level 1 adult”. Back then, I was a “high functioning person with Asperger’s Syndrome”, these days I’m ASD level 1.

Image found through Google.

As you can see, level 1 still shows “needs support”, but as an autistic adult on level 1,its virtually impossible to get it! Or you have to pay a hefry price for it, which I’m definitely not able to, I’m barely able to afford a decent dinner every evening 😔.

So to all friends who may have read this, whom I may have disappointed with my response in the past, I finally am coming out to let you know “I’m terribly bad at empathy and sympathy”. And I’m sorry I have not been upfront about it, I always tried to mask it, to hide it and in honesty, I did it because I was very ashamed of not having true feelings that I could reflect upon yours.

I’m always trying to “out myself in other’s shoes before making a judgment”, because that’s what I’ve been always told to do. But when there were two sides of a story, if there was one I was more familiar with, I always struggled to really see the other side of that story because I lacked skills… So I may have said the wrong things, I may have hurt you with my response, and for that I’m sorry! And ashamed… I know it’s not all my fault but I can’t help but feel like it is. I really don’t want to use me being autistic as a reason for being a shitty friend/person!!! But I do feel that it may help explain why I was, why I struggled to be a better friend/person.

©SpoonySisterShop image found on Etsy

Thank you for reading. Thank you for (trying to) understanding. Thank you for accepting me. I am really grateful for it. 🌈

Thank you for your interest in my blog. I really appreciate your visit. If you like my posts and you want to share them on your social media, please, feel free to do so! I’d be honored. If you don’t want to miss a thing, press the follow button (you’ll need to be a signed in WP user) or scroll down and leave your email below this post. If you are a WP user and you would like me to know you liked my post, press the star/like button please. Thanks ever so much! Of course comments are welcome as well, but spam won’t get shared, so don’t bother…

Please be wise and stay safe! Follow the safety precautions, keep distance, wash hands and wear a mask when needed! I would not want you to get ill… I hope to see you back real soon again, feel free to drop in anytime! Wishing you all the best. With love, Cynni 🌹

Some selfies in Greifenstein

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13 thoughts on “Autism and Empathy

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    1. I sure hope so! It’s not that I don’t try, or don’t want to feel what they do, but sometimes I just block in a way and I can’t 😔. It’s very frustrating for sure, so it would be nice if people would see that I’m not just being an asshat 😂…
      Ow it would be nice to see more appreciation towards the different things I/we have to offer. I sometimes feel so useless because I don’t fit well in the neurotypical world 😔.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The neurotypical world can be alienating and disabling at times. I think online spaces like this offer a good opportunity to connect and also make neurotypical folk more aware of how the world and relationships are experienced by neurodiverse people. Thank you for sharing your experience 🌻

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you! And yes, I totally agree. I enjoy sharing my experiences and I do hope they may help at least one person to understand neurodivergent people better. We’re all different, but so are neurotypical people and that, they seem to accept… Wish our social struggles would be better understood, but that’s something I aim for with ny posts about my autism. 😊 Thank you for reading and commenting dear, it means a lot to me. 🌈

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m not very good with podcast, my mind starts to wonder quickly (also why audio books are hard for me). But I saved the link and will give it a try soon! Thank you for sharing this. 😊


  1. The VeryWellHealth article fits with other articles I’ve read and what I’ve heard from some other autistic people. I’m planning on doing research for a blog post at some point to find out how cognitive and emotional empathy happen differently in the brain, and hopefully get some idea of how that relates to autism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Owwww that sounds very interesting! And yes, I mostly really enjoy the Very Well Health articles, they are very well written and researched. 😊 Looking forward to your post, I’m very interested!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There is so, so much I want to say to this, but I’m in burnout and for sure cannot find the right words. So I’ll say: I have huge affective empathy with very, very limited cognitive empathy.

    I didn’t even know there was a difference until I started becoming clear I was neurodivergent. Part of why I thought I could not be autistic specifically was that I do have huge amounts of empathy; when I read about this distinction and how it can show up in autism, my whooooooole world made a lot more sense.

    Sadly, I also got clear how many times I have inadvertently hurt people due to my near-toral inability to cognitively empath. I have missed many, many important opportunities to show support. Fortunately, I have a handful of dear friends who assure me I express my love and care in ways that are, if a bit different, clear and delightful to them.

    So I guess I miss some marks but hit other important ones? Maybe it’s like that for you, too? Worth throwing out there, in this longer than intended comment! Oops …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this comment and sharing a bit of your experience! It’s lovely to read and yes, I had not heard about the distinction between affective and cognitive empathy until I started researching it a while ago.

      People always expect you to understand what they feel, what they mean and I always just wondered why they would expect others so te able to stand in their shoes… For me, it was clear everyone had their own feelings, experiences and all that and you may be able to compare on some level, they’ll never be equal. 🤔

      I’ve hurt many people as well and I often feel like a bad friend. Fortunately, like you, I have some friends who accept me as I am and who know that I mean all the best for them, that I may just be very clumsy (in their eyes) in expressing it. But they know I care and wish them the best there is.

      Just wish there could be a little more understanding from others that it may be entirely impossible to “stand in someone’s shoes and understand it perfectly”. I wish I could as I still believe having that kind of empathy *could* make me an even better friend. If that makes any sense….

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing, it truly means a lot to me! 🤗 Happy Easter dear 🐰🐣🐇


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