Empathy and Dealing with Disaster

TW: disaster, death, hatred, Nazis

I wasn’t planning this post… but it all came to me about ten minutes ago, and I felt like it was worth sharing.

While it’s often said by bad professionals and those who don’t know any better that Autistics don’t feel empathy, this is actually not true at all. It’s not that we don’t have empathy, it’s that we don’t always recognize situations that require it. In truth, we often have too much empathy. And it kind of hurts.

When I watch the news and read about yet more hatred and more death, it destroys me inside. I can’t comprehend how someone can hate another person just for existing. I can’t see why they don’t see other people as people the way I do. People who just want to live, laugh, and love just like everyone else, regardless or orientation, race, gender, etc. I can’t comprehend what possesses someone to, for instance, ram their car into a crowd and kill an innocent woman while injuring many others. Can’t they comprehend how painful that would be? Can’t they see that they wouldn’t want that done to them? Can’t they understand that hurting people is wrong?

I’ve always struggled to comprehend evil. In fantasy (my favorite genre/special interest), it’s more often than not very easy: some dark force corrupted an otherwise good person, someone thinks they’re doing what’s good without understanding they’re actually hurting people, or there’s simply an impartial force of nature with no emotions destroying things like a volcano or zombies. I can understand those things. I can’t understand Nazis and Confederacy lovers. There isn’t a magical dark power, they know they’re hurting people (in fact, that’s their goal), and they are not a mindless force of nature.

What does this have to do with autism? Well, as overly empathetic people, we can see something like what happened in Charlottesville on the news and feel completely devastated and overwhelmed by it. The volume of bile and hatred expressed by many can become unbearable, and all I can think of are the victims, and how much it must hurt physically and emotionally to be them. How much it hurts me (so many others) to know that there are so many people out there who want me dead because I’m not the right religion, orientation, culture, or whatever other poor excuse they have to hate. How much I wish I could wave a magic wand and banish evil from the world. How helpless and weak I feel with nothing but my keyboard, and how I can’t comprehend how so many people can be so terrible.

Like with most things I can’t understand, I can become obsessive. I read lots of news, feel as if it’s my duty to keep up to date and stand against racism, sexism, and all the other –isms whenever I see them. I’ve cut people out of my life for claiming disgusting things about races and religions, even tried my hand at protesting before (it’s exhausting and draining). And then I end up having anxiety and crying when it gets to be too much. Honestly, if I didn’t go on facebook so often, I probably wouldn’t have as much ‘random’ anxiety. While I think it’s important to call out hatred and bigotry in all forms when you see it and to be aware of the world around you, I’d like to say this to other autistics who might be feeling just as overwhelmed as me: we can’t help anyone if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. There is no benefit to constantly bombarding yourself with images, words, and videos of horrible things you already know exist. If you can’t handle it, it’s okay to turn off the computer and the tv and do something for yourself. You have permission to look after yourself and turn off all the extra input. Focus on your special interests (assuming it’s not politics, in which case ignore me) and use them to self-heal by doing something you enjoy. We can’t ignore the world forever, since we are a part of the world, but breaks are completely acceptable. Maybe I’m saying this for myself more than anyone who’ll read this, but if you can’t handle something and it’s causing you so much stress that it’s painful, you can’t sleep at night, and hyperventilate when faced with the ugliness that exists in humanity, then take a few deep breaths, stim in a way that helps, and let yourself relax for a little while.

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