How many emotions can you recognize in yourself?
How do you troubleshoot your emotions? Or can you automatically distinguish your emotions from your bodily feelings and sensations, with no troubleshooting required?
Do those seem like odd questions to you? The few people I’ve tried to ask offline have seemed a bit baffled, or like they had never had thought about it. I’ve never been good with recognizing my own emotions, but I’ve put it down to other factors always. For being an introvert, for having grown in a culture where emotions and feelings are kept inside and not typically shared, at least not to the degree of Americans, for being an aspie, an outsider in whatever country or culture I live in, for … just being me.
The not recognizing one’s own emotions has a fancy name (just like prosopagnosia or many other little things apparently). Alexithymia. It’s pretty common among aspies. I could resonate so well with this piece on alexitymia, and then I found also an online test for it. Oh, and I scored 157 on it, so there, a number value for my so called deficit.
I am not surprised by the result. My emotional scale has always been flat, and pretty linear. Bad, ok, good. On the side of “bad” are all the negative things. Those all feel the same, so translated it means to find what something is, troubleshoot it. Anger, hunger, physiological pain, nervousness, indigestion, fury, huge insomnia deficit, rage… those all feel the same. And troubleshooting is necessary, since the worst the bad is, the less my digestion for instance works. Meaning in aspie life, that can be weeks off balance. “Ok” on the scale is good, whatever, normal. “Good” is also pretty uniform. Is it really that different how feeling good, in love, happiness, joy etc feel like to others? I am happy because hanging out with this person translates most likely to love or close enough. This is all normal to me; it has always felt like that. It hasn’t really been a problem until people who insist on a fifteen minute speech and ruminating on feelings and emotions expressed with speech started to interrogate me for how I feel. This depends of course on culture and person, but generally females and those of more latin cultures, or those who are just more emotional, tend to insist on longer than three word descriptions for how you feel. (Then on the other hand, we have all those how are you feeling questions in USA, when the question is purely rhetorical, and no kind of honesty is expected in the answer).
Alexithymia or emotion blindness (I guess that could work for a better, less jargony word) also seems to get tied to empathy. I’ve been shamed for not being able to recognize so called emotions on some printed paper of smiley faces (worst, after learning braille), and of course since people’s faces are rather blurry, I can’t exactly look at someone and have my visual cortex translate the blur to a universal emotion. I get angry when people use lies like I know how you feel or even worse, I know how you must feel. No you don’t. Also no one has to feel any specific emotion, so cut the carp. I have learned to practice my emotional deciphering skills for people’s voices, since those are of course more accessible to me. But troubleshooting emotions from voice has a whole other set of issues. Mainly, some people always sound flat (I tend to be guilty of that, so I try to put on a tone of voice thing for making others understand me easier, and it always feels fake), some overly fake emotional (think of social workers, or to a lesser extent, waitresses or retail workers), or always angry (think of my previous housemate Pina).
So how my emotional cues deciphering from voice works is first establish a baseline. Listen to the person for several samples. When do they seem happy and relaxed (talking to friends for instance)? How about a sample of when they are lying (voice tends to change), upset or nervous or hiding something (also changes), or furious or angry? Before you have a baseline, it can be difficult to guess if the person typically sounds like that, or if they sound like that because they have some specific emotion now. Do you sound happy and friendly because you are chatting with friends? Or when talking to new people and want to sound friendly and non-threatening? Is that person trying to be sarcastic, or are they serious, a bit simple, an aspie, or someone who speaks another language as their primary? Until you know the best you can do is guess. I wonder how this compares to facial expressions and body language. Facial expressions apparently are supposed to be pretty universal, however the expressiveness of people by cultures and by personal preferences varies greatly.
As my emotion troubleshooting seems relevant only when finding out the cause for the bad emotions so I can then fix it, I don’t think alexithymia really matters much more. I don’t understand why being able to decipher 300 shades of joy and happy in words would matter. I like precision and visuals, so to me it is much more descriptive to describe the positives in life in more detail. “I just had a lovely long run outdoors, on a sunny weather, then a steamy shower, and am about to enjoy pizza for lunch” describes several reasons for happy. On the negative side, going in for more detail can help keep better the balance, far from the bad side. So if I recognize I might have slept badly on the past two nights, then maybe i’ll take it easier or exhaust myself more today so that can be restored with next night’s sleep. And describing that to those I care can be much more useful that general acting emotional or having emotional outbursts. I’ve always disliked when people act their negative emotions to others, especially if the others are not the cause or have not been warned about the outpour. Being in full control of, and not showing any nonpleasant emotions to others has always been something I’ve seen as a strength. Allowing your emotion to control your behavior or life doesn’t seem mature to me. My exploding emotional outbursts would probably look like the silent anger of Michael in Godfather movies. Just because I have a female body does not mean I would be good in detecting own or others’ emotions, and neither that I would like emotional acts.
Here the emotions represented graphically:
Bad* ————- ok** ————- good***
where * includes: angry, hungry, fear, physiological pain, fury, rage etc; ** generally good or ok and no reason to troubleshoot: *** happy, joy, delight, love etc
Now if someone can for a comparison point to a graphic or a map where the non-alexithymia or neurotypical emotions are presented that could be interesting.