Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More on Regulating Emotions

Thoughts after two therapy like appointments today 

To assume that others can see my emotions, read my emotions, and be affected by my emotions... is what I need to do. Maybe most people have this assumption, but I never had. I think that the term "mind-blindness," often used to describe autism while drawing some ire from some in the autism community, is very apt for this situation. To describe me personally. 

I had no conception of others growing up other than my own emotions about them, and usually my only emotion about others was fear. This is not something I try to spend too much time dwelling on but it is fact and true. So, my emotional growth has not caught up with my verbal, intellectual growth and with the drive for social and emotional connection that I have.

This feeling of mindblindness comes from not being able to see
others' emotions - probably because the feeling of your own is too great. If we go off the intense world theory of autism, the wiring in our brain is so intense and there are so many more brain cells, with limited ability to process the increased intake of information, that we are very overwhelmed by emotions and feelings, some more than others. So how to pay attention to others' feelings in this state?

We assume that our experience of the world is like others', though, to an extent. Since I have trouble feeling others' emotions - I knew they existed intellectually from reading books but couldn't feel them - I assumed people couldn't feel mine. The clearest autism symptom that I can remember having displayed all my life is a very limited ability to perceive others' perceptions of me. When I was a kid in elementary school and we were asked to share a secret about ourselves, I said that I liked cats. Everyone laughed, because to them this was obvious. I didn't know it was obvious. I didn't know they knew. Unfortunately, my ability to perceive what others know about me has not really grown very much at all, even despite most of my other social and emotional areas growing.

Since I don't know what others know about me, I have a very hard time experiencing empathy from others. The concept of imagining that other people can imagine my own internal experience is VERY foreign to me. People have to be expressing a really extreme, volatile, obvious emotional expression in response to my inner state for me to have any idea it's happening, and even then it tends to be time-limited to the experience. This is insanely frustrating for many reasons.

Difficulty feeling or perceiving others' emotions leads to extreme emotional isolation. Empathy is only one problem that results from this.

If you can't perceive how other people perceive you, you are not motivated to change yourself to fit any type of pattern or social norm to fit in better. You are not even aware the social norms exist, and once you are, the thought that you don't fit into them feels you with so much shame and pain that you can't bring yourself to try to change even if you could, which most of the time you can't. You think you just need to be okay being yourself, and you do that for a while, and have some limited success at it, but the fact of the matter is that if you don't conform to the social norms to some extent, you'll never be able to access the emotional connection you so desperately want. If you don't play by their rules, they just won't play with you. 

So how then, to regulate the emotions of a body and mind gone mad, a body and mind used to having the freedom to express its emotions, and really having the need to express its emotions, to fit into a society? Without emotional connection to rest on and bolster you, there is nothing to focus on but your emotions and body. But somehow you have to get it regulated so that you can play by their rules and get connection. I don't yet know how but I know I have to do it.

I have been thinking, just today, that I am responsible for the emotional environment I create for other people. Until today ,I am not sure I was entirely aware that I DID create an emotional environment for other people. It is so frustrating beyond belief to realize that people are getting so much information from your body language and emotions and feelings, and you just feel enclosed in this glass prison, this internal prison, with no sense whatsoever that they knew your feelings existed - much less had the reaction they are having to it. You don't realize people have reactions to your behavior and emotions until they're so overwhelmed by it that they explode on you. THEN you feel it, then you understand what they want you to do , but by then it's too late! They're sick of you! How to understand what people think and feel and want and are before you push them over the edge? This is a question I keep trying to ask.  I spent my life trying to make people laugh because laughter was about the only emotional response I understood, but life can't consist of only that . 

So , I am  responsible for the emotional environment I create, but how do I regulate my emotions to create a safe environment for people?
In February when I first started coming to the museum I was aware of this fact to a limited degree. I would take the time and effort to calm myself before I entered the museum so I could have calm energy and feel good to those inside it, and so I would be more likely to get a good response from them. I might not have quite realized I was doing that and why, but I was. I was doing it right until summer started and the humidity came and with the humidity my ability to self-regulate was completely gone. Because it was the cold , crisp , beautiful air that made me feel calm, and without that, and with the humid air that makes me feel so suffocated, I can't access any feeling but panic, any feeling but the feeling of constantly trying to run away and constantly trying to be safe. And I am bringing that with me everywhere I go. No wonder I have had such trouble having connections lately. It is frustrating beyond belief. I on the one hand know I need to still be responsible for my emotions, but what do I hang on to regulate myself, to calm myself, when the survival instinct inside me is so triggered and overwhelmed all the time? It is a real problem. 

I know I need to fill my own emotional needs, to validate myself, and not to expect other people to fill my emotional needs. I need to access my inner strength and inner whatever and make myself be okay. I need to b okay before interacting with others if I don't want to overwhelm them. But I just don't know how to do that and I hope I can learn eventually. 

I was told today to tap into my love for others, to think of what they might need, and to give it to them, as an expression of love , and to be filled up by that love.  Well, that advice was in regards to one person in particular.

I was told, I'm genuine, and being genuine makes other people feel heard. So I do help people and engage them just by being me when I am calm. I can rest in this and not try so hard to be meaningful and relevant, but just instead to be. I am beginning to think I expect too much. I want to be all these lofty things, relevant and meaningful and so on and like someone said to me today, most people just go to work, watch tv,when they get home, go to bed and repeat it. They often drink to dull the sense of dissonance  between what they want - to feel relevant - and what their life is. To have true connection occasionally is a great thing. To expect it every single day is bordering on ridiculous and insane, because you'll drive yourself insane by trying to get it every day. Somehow I have to be okay with less of it.

I don't have rest of my notes.

I want to increase my distress tolerance and validate and soothe myself without a lot of external things. Then I can be calmer in life and have more emotional connections. Somehow.


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