Hi Wendi –
I would be interested in your views on the following subject: In a time in society where diversity is embraced and being true to your own individual self is considered a triumph, there appears to be one subtle area where differences aren’t wholehearted accepted. People seem happy to try to understand mental illness but a brain that is perfectly functional but just wired a little bit differently seems to create discomfort in others.
For as long as I can remember I have been aware that I don’t “feel” the range of emotions that the most other humans appear to. This results in difficult situations when interacting with others. However, I quickly learned to analyze the reactions others have to various stimuli and adapted by understanding the drivers behind their actions. I learned to blend in. As time has gone on I have developed an exceptionally strong emotional intelligence and am able to utilize this to help others. (I am very careful not to abuse this as I know it would be very easy to manipulate others).
So on the surface, I look and behave like a normal person who just so happens to have a great deal of empathy, (which is ironic as I don’t experience the depth of sensations associated with the emotions I am credited with.)
I have told a few people close to me the truth and I have been met with a variety of responses ranging from outright disbelief e.g “you must feel it, everyone does” to chagrin “I think you need to see someone and fix that, it’s just not normal”. (My husband’s nickname for me is “the robot”.)
I am a content individual who happens not to experience the rainbow of emotions it appears that others do. To me it is no different than being left-handed or female, it’s just how I turned out. But I still feel the need to hide this as it makes people uncomfortable. They want me to see a specialist and basically become more like them. Should or do I need to do this? Or is this one of the few things that currently society does not comprehend yet?
To me nothing is wrong, it is the rest of humanity that is crazy ?
Thanks — H
Hi H –
Thank you for your question. It’s a good one and it is connected to something that everyone can relate to. All of us are different from one another. Every single one of us, whether we like to admit it or not, feel “odd” or on the outside of things at times. No one is immune because literally no two of us are identical. That uniqueness is the spice of life and fortunately so. However, there is a deep and very ancient part of us that needs “others” to survive, thrive, feel safe etc.. Belonging is a survival instinct that will not go away anytime soon. We are always tuning into this (consciously or not) when we talk with someone or meet someone new. We are looking to find common ground; how are we similar, how do you agree with me, or what stuff/activities do we both like. These are social signifiers that let us know that we are 1) not alone 2) not too weird 3) safe and connected. It’s why social media has highjacked all of our brains so much. It’s a very strong and believable illusion that these very ancient needs are being met. We have found our tribes and are feeling safe.
It’s why you were motivated to “figure people out” as a young person and it’s how folks feel close to you and find you empathetic – you are helping them feel connected, not alone and safe.
At the same time, we can be attracted to our opposites. We find friends and/or partners whose strengths and weaknesses are balanced out by our own strengths or weaknesses. For example, someone who is really shy might be attracted to the life of the party type person. You know, we sometimes seek out the yin to our yang. (How that plays out in a long-term relationship is a blog post for another day.) So think of those around you, those who are drawn to you. Do they need your calm, non-dramatic approach to life to balance out their high-intensity emotional world? And vice versa?
So my question back to you is, where is your tribe? Who makes you feel safe and sane and “normal”? It’s okay that lots of people are different from you and that you see that difference and use your emotional intelligence for good. It’s not okay that you feel too disconnected from others for too long. That’s the very lovely and good side of the internet or gaming or any other online community. It’s a way to find your tribe, get connected and feel safe. Make sure you get your social and connection needs met and then you can feel free to enjoy shocking your friends with the truth about your ironically empathic lack of empathy.
Also note that the folks who are the loudest complainers about people being different from them often have a strong need for people to BE similar to them, in order to feel safe and make sense of the world. Because you don’t require the social matching to occur, it might just mean that you are more capable of handling differences.
Own that cool superpower of yours, while being mindful of finding some safe connection of your own if you are feeling “too outside” of things.