Monday, March 31, 2014

Labeling Emotions

Found on my computer from many years ago. I don't even know if I wrote this or I was copying it from someone else who did, but it sounds like me and I would have likely  attributed it in my notes if I hadn't written it. All I  can say is wow.

On labeling emotions to help Aspies relate better to  others

I had a wife message me about her concerns with her husband, who is on the spectrum, misinterpreting her emotions. Her concern was:

“I have a husband, who is on the spectrum (somewhere). Everyday, he misreads or misjudges how I am feeling in response to a particular event or situation. For example, he will think I am *ill* (mad, not sick), when in truth and reality I fell nothing of the sort. He makes assumptions that are incorrect ALL THE TIME.
So, here are my questions:
Does this particular symptom of autism indicate only Asperger's or is this common with all forms of autism? And two, does anyone have an effective way of dealing with these misperceptions or dealing with his inability to accurately read my feelings? (I have tried to talk to him, but there is an obvious lack of language and social skills interfering with this. He walks out of the room while I am trying to talk to him; he won't look at me in the eyes; and he won't answer when I pose a simple question like: What made you think I was mad? And if he does answer, after my persistence for him to do so, he says "I don't know.

Thanks for your help,

My response:

Yes, people on the spectrum have great difficulty interpreting nonverbal communication and emotional cues. Probably the reason why he walks away and doesn't want to talk about it, is because he doesn't know what to say, and doesn't know why (especially if he is unaware of the deficit), and feels incompetent when you bring it up. When you ask "what makes you think that", it puts him on the spot and he probably does not know exactly what there was about you that lead him to think that way, or he is embarrassed to tell you. Direct statements about "why" often intimidate people on the spectrum.

In recognizing the spouse, on the spectrum, has difficulty reading emotional cues, you have to be very literal in communicating your emotions. I would recommend doing the following:

1. Your husband needs you to label your feelings frequently throughout the day, so he can associate what he sees (your facial expressions) with what you are feeling (emotion). So, as often as possible, try and label your emotions and connect them to the event that is causing them, "Wow, that really makes me happy (sad, angry, etc.). Do a lot of "feeling out loud." This way he doesn't have to guess, he can see what you look like when feeling that way, and he gets an understanding of your emotional reactions to things/events around you. People on the spectrum have to be literally taught, what comes intuitively to us.

2. Next, find ways to discuss how you perceive others around you are feeling (I bet that made that person feel ___ ), and when watching tv (Oh...he looks upset about that!"). This also shows him how you perceive emotions in others, and how you connect the emotion to the event that causes it.

3. Try and label how you see him feeling. Sometimes people on the spectrum have trouble labeling their own feelings. Especially if you think something makes him anxious, scared, or embarrassed; "wow...I bet that made you does me!" Also, they think that everyone feels and thinks the same as them. They have difficulty realizing that the other person may be perceiving the situation differently.

4. When he misjudges your emotional reactions, try not confront the issue directly, "What makes you think that?" I would try simply telling him how you do feel, by first validating his interpretation first "Honey, I could understand how you might think that I am mad, but actually I am feeling confused." This way you are not asking him anything where you are putting him on the spot; simply reflecting how you do feel.

The above works on making "feeling" more vivid and concrete in your interactions. We tend to take intuitive understanding of feelings for granted. For your relationship with your husband you need to be very literal in "talking your emotions", so he can understand what others would intuitively interpret. People on the spectrum need to cognitively figure out what we interpret intuitively.

For a marriage where only one of the spouses is on the spectrum, the barrier in "emotion sharing" is one of the hardest difficulties. The neurotypical spouse needs to be more explicit in expressing their emotions, frequently labeling them, and connecting them to what makes you feel that way. Verbally discribing what you feel, is a good technique to get good at doing.

The same goes for the spouse who is on the spectrum. Often their outward expression of emotion, or lack of emotion, does not match what they are actually feelings. The NT spouse can actually perceive the person as “indifferent”, “angry”, “uncaring”, etc. when they actually are not feeling that way at all. So, it is important in a marriage like these that both parties clarify and verify literally for each other, and not “assume” the other is reading it right.

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