Concerning the Processing of Emotions…

I haven’t written here in a long time, and it’s because I’ve been buried under a mountain of emotional pain. Recent events have allowed me to recover somewhat, but have also led me to believe that this is an important topic for me to discuss. I don’t really see a way to ease into this, so let’s all jump in the deep end together…

It takes me a long time to process emotions. I think the best description is that it is like handling an unstable explosive, such as pure nitroglycerin. Mishandling such a thing can make a big mess and cause great injury. It also goes more smoothly with help. I’d like to point out here something that needs to be very clear: I did not specify negative emotions. Handling positive emotions can be just as dangerous. That said, from this point forward, let’s assume I’m taking about negative emotions unless I specify positive, since there are some differences.

So how do we handle such a dangerous thing? Very carefully. Nitroglycerin tends to explode if you drop it, shake it, or bump it too hard. This means it needs to be moved around slowly. Cooling it tends to make it more stable, and thus easier to handle. We can apply the same concepts to emotional processing. Cooling improves stability, which can be accomplished by separating me from the emotional situation. I can generally do this myself. I’m a big guy, and few people would attempt to stop me from taking my leave. Kids like me, on the other hand, often don’t get this luxury, so keep this in mind. Also, even though I can do this myself, help is beneficial. Sitting with me quietly is very helpful. The biggest issue I have is that it seems people generally seem to want to move to a resolution quickly, which means I have to move the explosives around quickly and risk detonation in the form of a meltdown, or I have to deal with being left behind without any help. Either way, I end up with a new source of emotional pain to add to the original. The best help you can give me is to slooooooooooooow down and work at my pace, which actually ends up being a lot faster with the right help.

What does the process look like? Well, I need to start by defining the issue. This applies to both positive and negative emotions. I am very detail oriented, so I will want to talk about specific incidents and things related to those incidents. In the case of positive emotions, sharing in my joy and excitement over the situation is generally enough to file it away under “happy things” and move on. Positive experiences go bad when I share them and people respond negatively to my excitement. My dad used to always say he wasn’t interested and didn’t want to hear it. Boom! Happy things become sad things just like that. Telling me that I shouldn’t be so excited is equally damaging. From that point, positives are handled the same as negatives, so I’ll move on with negative emotions. As with positives, I will want to get into the details and define the problem. Acknowledging my frustration as understandable, given my perception, is what I’ll need to move forward. It’s really that easy. If you are just helping me process, that’s pretty much the end of it. We can hug or something after, but there you go.

What next? How do we move from acknowledgement to resolution? Notice I just said that I need acknowledgement that my frustration is understandable with a specific condition, which is that we are assuming my perception is complete. From here, I need one of two things. We need to either develop a solution to the problem that makes sense to me (this is very important) or we need to figure out where my perception was incomplete. An example of this might be something that was said that hurt my feelings. I know what was said, but perhaps not what was meant. If we work together until I understand what was meant, then we will have fixed my incomplete perception.

I think I’m going to stop at this point and see what discussion comes up. I’d like this to be a conversation so that we can achieve true understanding.



Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome

8 responses to “Concerning the Processing of Emotions…

  1. This is so helpful to me—to know how to be of help and how to respond in a way that doesn’t make things worse! Thanks for your articulate words that help me to understand you (and other people) better!

    • Even though we rarely communicate directly, Sharon, I often think of you fondly precisely because of the great care with which you handle the feelings of others. One of these days, I will hug you. 🙂

  2. Nadene

    Carlyle- I really believe that what you have described here is what we all would like. We just don’t take the time to think about how our words and actions affect others. If we would all take the time to think about what we say and how we act/react we would avoid some of those negative emotions. I just had a similar conversation today with someone and realized that I need to spend more time thinking about how my words and actions affect others. Thanks for your perspective. It is very helpful in my recognizing differences in others. By differences I mean different (as in not the same), not lesser than I am.

    • I believe we are all much the same in processing. After all, what I’ve written here is in the Bible: “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
      I think, though, because we on the spectrum can get overloaded by our emotions, it is particularly important that we take it slow.

  3. DeAnna

    I really appreciate this, and I’ve missed your writing.
    I agree with all the comments made here and will add something I’ve learned to say to myself and my kiddos. I am responsible for my response. Sometimes the correct response is silence. I think we all try too hard to fill the silence. Somehow along the way it’s become uncomfortable to allow silence. Everyone processes or needs to process in the way you explained so well, however, it occurs at varying rates.

  4. Terri

    I really like the literal explosive analogy! It makes the anxiety and the care required tangible.
    Then there’s this quote, “Acknowledging my frustration as understandable, given my perception, is what I’ll need to move forward.” This nails empathy. It also gives due credit to perception, the filter that defines one’s reality, and powerfully alter the course of reality as one relates to others. My question lies within the dual function of perception I see in your quote, but it’s kind of dancing along the perimeter of my thoughts. (Stop the music PLEASE! I’m trying to form a question here! … How about CHANGE the music… Breathe. Calm. Focus…)… “Acknowledging” …TO you or simply within? Are we dealing with your perception of whether we are acknowledging your experience as satisfactory or not? How connected do we need to be to your experience to have an impact on you ? Are we in a conversation about the topic of your emotions or am I simply in your presence ? (Dag nab it! Music change ineffective! I cannot keep up with this question !!). Perhaps YOU can somehow catch what I’m trying to ask…? Hmmmm I think I’m talking about self consciousness. Self image. Social image. Needing friendly smiles vs. glares or even neutral expressions. (I think I’m dancing now… even if stepping on my own feet!). Does the acknowledgment need to be clearly stated? (There. That’s simple)

    • Terri, I like the way you write. I feel like I just spent a moment in your head. 🙂
      To answer your question: It is important to me to know that you understand and acknowledge my experience, so I do need communication that gives me that knowledge. I would suggest, however, that the communication need not always be verbal. It depends on the situation, I guess. For example, if my wife touches me in a way that bothers me, it is enough for her to respond to my communication about that by no longer doing it. We are close enough that I don’t need much else from her. On the other hand, for a more distant relationship, I’ll need more verbalization.

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