Empathy, Changing the Guy, Teaching the Child
But I have done some research on it and three things, three findings teach us something important about people who have Asperger’s and people who don’t have Asperger's.
Remember, “findings” are about group norms, not individuals.
1) Empathy is difficult for men and women with Asperger's.It's nice to find research that validates what is called "practice wisdom." Let’s just focus on the idea that the odds are that a woman will be more empathetic than her man.
2) More men have Asperger's Disorder than women.
3) Women with or without Asperger's have more empathy than men.
I only brought in the Asperger's research so you'd not think me a total slacker, because I really have done a little reading on autism, although I prefer “chick lit” to put me to sleep at night (have you read Jonathan Tropper?) and my hero is Jonathan Safron Foer (his second book is my favorite of all time, how does a person this young understand love so well, not to mention depression) but still get a kick from critical thinking. It’s the latter that keeps me up at night.
Practice wisdom, by the way, is the knowledge a therapy doc gets by osmosis, just by staying on the job, watching one couple after another get into the same type of awful argument. Different details (content), same process.
People do pick up dysfunctional fighting from their parents (as a group, not as individuals). Why would our parents teach us wrong, after all?
I just saw a new patient last week whose spouse hits her when she gets emotional. His father hit his mother. "Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do," he asks me, "to set her straight?"
He’s serious. I wish I were making this up.
Therapy docs see dysfunctional interactional sequences so often that we just want to scream, Can't you please get it together and stop doing this?! It's so disturbing, so not Zen.
But that screaming bit doesn't seem to work, as it probably doesn't in your relationships, either.
The definition I've used on this blog for empathy:
the ability to feel how another person is feeling, being in someone else's shoes,an affective process.But I’ve since learned that there's a second way to define empathy, which is
having the ability to put into words how another person is feeling, a cognitive process.Some people have one of these gifts, some both, some neither.
It's possible that there's a genetic marker for empathy. I know that it can be taught to most children. I think we learn it best when we're young because that’s when we learn language the easiest. Empathy is a communication process.
We wouldn’t want to stress a child with Asperger's, by the way, a person challenged in this area. Making a child feel deficient and bad, making ANYONE feel deficient and bad for not having empathy,is psychologically damaging. Not very empathetic, we could say.
Of course, I’m down on parents who shame their children for virtually anything, shame is so toxic. There are better ways to teach children. Not as efficient, but better. Teaching the child empathy is one of them.
But stressing a child without Asperger's to be empathetic can save that child's future relationships. The lesson's a good one at any age, but if we're talking adults, it's likely going to be a woman's job to do the teaching (unless you're in therapy, in which case perhaps the therapist might take over).
This is in sync with what my significant other tells me about me.
FD tells me that I feel it's a woman's job to find a man to change him.
Sorry for the heterosexist bias, here. It’s more efficient to write about my heterosexual relationship with FD than to find Jack and Jill, or Jack and Jack, or Jill and Jill. Please change genders if appropriate.
See, FD knows how I feel since he's an empathetic guy. He's right, of course.
But not every guy has an empathy deficit, remember? Statistics, as I’ve said before, do not mean that individuals don't deviate from the norm, only that a difference in the group's norm or other measure of central tendency is statistically significant.
My son-in-law, for example, is EXTREMELY empathetic. He's unnatural, I feel, but it's a good unnatural.
So, although men are less empathetic as a group, a particular man can be as empathetic as a woman.
Everyone, clearly, even those of us who feel we're empathetic can learn to listen better, be even more attentive, try even harder to understand everyone else, even if it's really much harder for some of us than others.
But since men, as a group, are less empathetic, then perhaps . . .
Perhaps rather than search forever to find one who scores high on the empathy tests? Perhaps it might be simpler, really, to change the one you've got.
Is that SUCH a terrible idea?
Copyright 2007, therapydoc