Just finished listening to a podcast by Dr. Rick Hanson https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-empathy/ about empathy and it’s relation to intimacy. In the beginning he states that one must have empathy in order to be considered “fully human”. This statement is incorrect when it comes to autistic folks. We are clearly fully human, even if our level of empathy varies widely. Additionally, there is some evidence that autistics may actually have a heightened sense of empathy, to the point that it is painful to express empathy and that some autistic folks feel overwhelmed by empathetic emotions. Thus, showing strong empathy for animals is “safer” than showing empathy with humans. Also, there is strong evidence that autistics have difficulty with visual facial cues such as micro muscular movements and changes in eye expressions. This is labeled as “weak theory of mind”, or an inability to sense what is going on in another person’s mind. Dr. Hanson does not mean to insult autistics. His research on autism might need some updating, given the rise of neurodiversity theory, which counters the concept of only one type of “normal” human brain structure.
One interesting part of the broadcast was that with development of a stronger sense of self can lead to developing more intimacy, which in turn, can help with the development of more empathy. The ability to feel empathy for another person is more likely to occur if one has a strong sense of self. As an autistic, I have always struggled with my sense of self. Only after the events of the past two years have I matured and developed a strong sense of self so now I am better at understanding how others react to me emotionally. I still cannot read what other folks “think” by looking at their faces, unless it’s really intense, such as anger. Well, it’s a work in progress 😆