Are you feeling something right now? Or do you have no idea what you’re feeling? Autistics often find it challenging to recognize our emotions. Some might even be diagnosed with alexithymia, which is a broad term that addresses difficulties with emotional self-awareness, as well as struggles with communicating those emotions to others.
In times of intensity (be it personal, social, or societal), many auties may be falsely perceived as distant, uninsightful, or disengaged. In truth, autistics are feeling and empathizing. We might just struggle to bridge the gaps between knowledge -> emotion ‐> communication. Here are a few tips for recognizing how we feel:
1) Monitor your heart rate and hunger & pain levels. Practicing mindfulness around the speed of your pulse can help you to notice an immediate emotional response to a situation. If your pain levels are increasing or you are inexplicably hungry (or not hungry), your body may be keeping score of and physically manifesting unacknowledged emotions.
2) Write out the full situation. Before we can grasp how something has made us feel, we have to know what has happened in the first place. For example, we might take the following notes: “I am sitting alone. I am not comfortable. My body hurts. Even though it’s dinnertime, I’m not hungry. I’ve been on social media and newsites all day, but I haven’t talked to anyone on the phone or face-to-face.”
3) Use a “Feelings Wheel.” Start at the center. Simply recognizing these core emotions can be hard enough! By looking at your notes of the current situation, you can try to view yourself in the third person. Ask, “How might a character in book/movie/TV show feel in this situation?” In my aforementioned example, I would guess that anger, surprise, happiness, or disgust probably doesn’t fit. From there, I have pared my options down to bored, bad, sad, or fearful. This all depends on how I internalized the information on social media and newsites. If can pinpoint a singular emotion, then I might be able to branch out into the more complex emotions or research an emotion to see if it fits and what I can do to address it.