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QOTD: Empathy and projection

February 9, 2012

Following some referral links, out of curiosity, I ran across this one from Lilenth. It is a quote from You don’t look very autistic – the case for autistic empathy, which I hadn’t run across (and is well worth a read):

Non-autistic humans generally imagine they have empathy. They are subjective and have enough fluent capacity to simultaneously process self and other that they would perhaps rarely see other people in their pure form, without bias, as perhaps only God might see themSome of these supposedly empathic non-autistic people tutt at me, they attack me, they study me, they quiz me, they wait for me to ‘trust’ them enough to ask for help before doing things, doing anything. They rush me, they watch me, they attribute my processing and perceptual disorders to character faults and then seek to help me learn to ‘get over them’, help me gain ‘insight’ into my lack of empathy. I look into their searching eyes, then look away, because I see only their selfishness and can see they can’t actually see me. Their minds are in the way.

Bolding from Lilenth’s post.

I have been thinking a lot about learned social anxiety from almost a lifetime of baffling and unpleasant encounters with people, as part of a wider pattern of PTSD.

(No, I did not do the “autistic” social avoidance until after I started into a super-toxic school system and started having a lot of bad social experiences. Which is kind of putting it mildly, as I have written some about before. I have been wanting to write more about how–though I definitely seem to have an autistic neurological setup–the behavioral “symptoms” that professionals focus on look very much like (C)PTSD* from shoddy and sometimes terrifying xenophobic reactions to the way I am made. And this seems to be a variation on a very, very common pattern.)

See also, in the sidebar here, “Some characteristics of adults shamed in childhood” (which I ran across looking for a good page on projection I apparently had not bookmarked). Ouch. And what could be more shaming than some of the common ideas about and treatment of kids known to be autistic–including the “you inherently have no empathy–now stop that senseless yelling and crying at nothing!” meme? “Adults shamed as children may suffer extreme shyness, embarrassment and feelings of being inferior to others. They don’t believe they make mistakes. Instead they believe they are mistakes.” Indeed.

Amanda has written some excellent things about projection**–from facial expressions and body language on “up”–before, but yeah. I get the horrible impression that too many people are not really dealing with the person in front of them, but with whatever the hell they are projecting onto that person. This may or may not resemble the actual person at all. It fits in too well with what Thich Nhat Hanh has said about you might as well be dealing with ghosts, if you are not mindfully interacting with the people around you.

Lack of empathy and the rather bizarre versions of Theory of Mind? More projection than anything else, from people who have trouble seeing where anyone who doesn’t fit their projected version of a True Human is coming from, AFAICT.


* ETA, for those who do not want to click through, part of the first post from a discussion thread:

I have read many many articles in regards to the behaviors, traits, feelings of those who suffer with CPTSD. All the articles may mention different behaviors exhibited by CPTSD sufferers. As I read each one I think, wow another trait that explains exactly some different behavior that my wife exhibited but I could not understand. But I have never found where anyone has tried to put together comprehensive list of these traits. I do understand that it could never be a truly comprehensive list as every individual reacts differently. But a few examples might be:

Restricted range of affect
Cognitive difficulties
Memory issues
Trust Issues
Hates crowds
Hides under blankets, even if 100 degrees in room
Withdraws under stress
Seeks high risk activities
Cavalier attitude toward death
Does not “get” humor
Proud of ability to not show emotion
Proud of self reliance
Prefers to be alone when stressed
Stresses out in normal situations
Difficulties interpreting body language of others
Does not believe self body language means anything either
Feels need to please everyone
Can’t say no

Erm, yeah. How close to stereotypical “autistic” behaviors is this? Some more discussion in this thread at Wrong Planet: Difference between AS and C-PTSD?, where the first post goes into more detail on the overlap. (And, yeah, I have also been diagnosed with PTSD which more closely matches the complex trauma pattern. It really is hard to sort out, to me.) I really do need to try to write more about this.

** Excellent quote, moved here not to clunk things up too much (from
I’m the monster you met on the Internet.–hey, so am I sometimes! 😐 ):

I’m fairly convinced that most of what people see as my personality, good or bad, is imaginary. This is not to say, along with some of my previous doctors who made the opposite mistake, that my personality is non-existent. I’m just not shaped like people expect. There are things they are looking for, whole patterns they are looking for, that are simply not a part of me. Instead of noticing this, they imagine things into those blank areas, and their ideas of who I am can be stronger than even what I do or say to them. They then reinforce to others their views of what is inside these blank areas. I am sure to some extent this happens to everyone, but for me and many like me it’s a pretty pronounced and constant effect…

People see us upside-down. They see parts of us that are not even there, do not even exist, the standard mental hallucinations and then some. And those non-existent things often take on more reality to them than what is in front of them. People can be so busy looking for things that are not there that they miss what is there, whether what is there is good or bad. And believe me, if most of my friends and acquaintances are any example, they miss out on knowing a whole lot of really nice, really cool, really interesting people because of their own preconceptions of what signals a person must send out in order not to be the opposite of that.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2012 9:33 pm

    yes yes exactly.

  2. February 10, 2012 3:46 pm

    I found this a fascinating post, thank you.

  3. February 11, 2012 7:28 am

    I agree, Theory of Mind looks like Theory of Projection of Mind. it’s impossible to read someone’s mind but people project their beliefs in other people thinking they know others, that’s why they judge many things wrongly especially if the person comes from a different social group.
    That sidebar was very interesting too, I do relate to the characteristics on the it, I did wish I didn’t read a little of the text about BPD since I have BPD, but that’s expected, hard to find material about it that doesn’t show bias, I know many that have a personality disorder can cause trauma, my grandmother did that to me, but treating all like that is the same prejudice I see against autistic people as low empathy extremely rational people.

    • urocyon permalink*
      February 16, 2012 8:19 pm

      I agree, and have written some before about having problems with the way “personality disorders” are framed. (I know some people do not report having had any trauma, but both close family members I grew up with did seem to be showing a certain pattern of PTSD reactions.) There is some respectful material out there, but most of it really is not. I’ve been looking into it more lately, trying to understand more about my mother’s apparent borderline traits and how some experiences have affected my perceptions (with more compassion, yeah)–and there’s so much more angry, blaming stuff, sometimes with a lot of projection thrown in *sigh*, than straightforward descriptions.

      So, no, I really did not mean to apply the same brush.

      ETA: Also, the more I learn and think about my mom’s difficulties in particular, I suspect that the “low/no empathy” assumptions are coming from similar places. I get overwhelmed enough by sensory and emotional input not to always behave in the expected way (if I am even sure what the expectations are in a given situation), and she would get totally overwhelmed by emotional storms. The resulting behavior looked rather different, but not what was expected in either case. And neither one of us was/is meaning to do or say things that hurt other people’s feelings sometimes. Don’t know how far off I may be with this, but a lot of projection probably plays in, in both cases.

  4. September 6, 2014 8:13 am

    Or, try this:

    Many, perhaps most non-autistic persons see autists as ‘lesser beings’ – tools, toys, meals,
    and enemies.

    What most autists endure at the hands of Normies resembles a description of the behaviors of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    In other words, they KNOW exactly what they are doing – namely, predation; they know it hurts us; they know they enjoy hurting us; and because they ‘have the power’, they blame us for being their prey.

    More, they know they are lying when they deny it; and they glory in the instinctual pleasures of predation. Why? Simply because they can, and because they prefer the results.

    Note: whatever someone projects upon you, it is likely that they themselves have that exact ‘problem’; and projection (a favored tactic of many people) is a means of removing the taint of evil, while continuing to enjoy its manifold benefits.

    Hence, projection will always be prefered to repentance, barring a change of heart.

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