I went to my therapist today.
But first, let’s rewind a bit.
Last night we had our new traditional Friday Night dinner over at our friend’s house. The topic came up about the whole “Hey, so what’s this about you having Asperger’s thing?” and I told them that I didn’t meet the prerequisites, but I did have a low Empathy Quotient and that’s why I was now working on becoming more empathic (cue the odd looks from everyone in the room). So, we talked about the tests I took, and then I started talking about that I had the hypothesis that I don’t think it’s my empathy that’s the issue but the way I handle emotions. I gave them the examples from my post about the “non-Starsucks coffeeshop” and they all agreed that I do posses the skills I listed; however when I mentioned the girl and her cellphone, I was astounded!
“Well, I wouldn’t do that; she’s a stranger!”
“I wouldn’t approach her, it’s not my problem.”
“Uhh…I don’t know her.”
I asked if they would at least feel for her, would they at least for a brief moment “step into her shoes” and the answers were pretty much:
“Yeah, it sucks to be you (sips coffee).”
I looked around the room and thought for a moment: “Am I just making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I actually sound minded on this?” And then one of my friends piped up:
“Jeff, you just a low tolerance for bullshit.”
When she went into detail, she basically explained that when I do hear a problem and try to empathize I categorize the issue. I basically judge it as if the issue is worth my time and effort to
waste spend emotional energy on.
I think she may have been right.
So, this morning I went to see my therapist. I went in there with book and notes in hand and the breakthrough that I had last night at dinner still fresh in my mind. We talked about a few other matters first and then I dug into this entire subject. I read from my notes and highlighted sections of the book, and then I told him about what all was said last night. I also read him the bit on the above linked post about the stuff that my Mom would do to me. We basically came to the conclusion that I do not process emotions well and that I take some time when it comes to emotions. One because of my upbringing and the other because of my personality. Basically, because I was taught to suppress emotions (emotionally abused) and because I think more than feel (emotionally detached intellectualizer) I can come off as apathetic. I also think because I do categorize everything that I do judge and perceive some issues as “not worth my time” and don’t try to empathize with that person. As far as approaching strangers (or even loved ones) that look like they are having a rough time; that’s a personal decision and no one is allowed to force me to do that.
So, I skipped game night tonight to take all of this in and to also read my book. It was by chance that the next part of the book started discussing the way that we, as a culture, raise the empathy out of our male children. We have this socially constructed gender role that boys, and later men, cannot have emotions or empathy. In “The Art of Empathy (Ch: 2, Page 3) it talks about this:
Certainly in popular culture there’s a deeply sexist notion that empathy is a female skill and that males are constitutionally less empathic or less emotive than than females are. This terrible idea has created untold suffering for boys and men, who are often not taught much about emotions and are not treated as fully emotive and sensitive beings.
…little boys are are urged to stop crying at a certain age, even when they have been hurt deeply. Boys are given guns and trucks and told to man up, stop crying, there’s nothing to be afraid of, stop being girly, stop talking about feelings and basically stop being fully alive.
I can’t count how many times I was told to “stop crying or I would be given something to cry about” or to “dry up”. or that I was being “a big ol’ titty baby” or some other good ol’ southern saying that you tell your kids. </sarcasm> This is one of the factors that has lead me to the place that I am at today.
One thing that I can say that I have learned is that enforced socially created gender stereotypes can reduce the intelligence, emotional capacity, empathic skill, and very humanity of children and later the adults that they become, especially boys. Simply because I am a 39 year old man, in therapy, reading a book on empathy, and blogging about my emotions because I have an issue processing them in my head.
At least I have gone paperless, right?