A friend called me the other day frustrated about a situation that happened at work. She was upset and angry, and as she told the story, she asked me, “Don’t you hate it when people sa…
Emotions are the first language we ever speak. Their expression is a pre-verbal language that is gradually replaced with words as we grow out of infancy. All emotions are really just energy moving through the body (though I think they originate in the soul). This movement is expressed through various physical reactions as the emotion moves out of us–laughter, crying, sighs, various non-verbal sounds, wiggling or jumping up and down with joy, trembling, and various expressions of anger (of course we need to be mindful of this one). This idea of emotions as a language isn’t my own; it’s been suggested by others, but I think I would have come to that conclusion on my own sooner or later.
Babies and animals (especially higher level mammals like dogs or monkeys) don’t have words, but they are very good at communicating their feelings and needs. In fact, they are better at this than adult humans, because there is no pretense and no words to mask or obliterate visceral emotion. With a baby or an animal, what you see is what you get.
We don’t begin to have problems with this until adolescence or sometimes later childhood, when spoken language has become fluent. You don’t see a toddler or a dog presenting a false self or hiding their real feelings. Unless abused early on, there is no shame in their emotional expression. An animal or an infant will not lie to you, manipulate you, or tell you they are happy when they’re anything but. That’s because they don’t have the language behind which it becomes possible to hide.
Babies cry to communicate. We may not like it when they do, but it’s the most important way they communicate. It’s really just a pre-verbal language that helps them get their needs met. Of course they could be crying because they’re uncomfortable or in pain, but they also cry when they need nurturing and just need to feel attached to Mom. Most of us are naturally drawn to comfort a crying baby, but really, they are just telling us about their physical and emotional needs that in a few years might be expressed by, “I’m hungry” or “I’m angry” or “I need a hug” or “I feel lonely.” It’s not always “bad” when a baby cries, although it seems so to us, and we want them to stop. Babies also use their whole bodies when they cry. As the emotion moves through them, their entire body responds. They kick their legs, punch the air, and howl. When an adult expresses strong emotion, such as crying (and sometimes laughing), they tend to hold themselves back to some extent, only letting part or none of their body respond to the emotion. Babies also wiggle when they’re happy. Do you know of any adult who wiggles or jumps up and down with joy? It’s something we outgrow as adult, but is that really necessary? What’s really wrong with wiggling or running around the room with happiness or sobbing with abandon?
When a dog sees its owner, it will bark excitedly and jump up and down with joy. If it has misbehaved, it will show its guilt (and I’m convinced that dogs DO feel guilt and shame). If it’s sad or afraid, it whimpers and its whole body trembles. It doesn’t need to say “I’m sad” or “I’m happy” or “I feel ashamed.” Its body and face says it better than any words ever could. That’s why I think people relate to dogs so well. Dogs represent our own emotional natures, that to a greater or lesser extent, almost all of us keep behind wraps most of the time.
I’ll never forget the time I was helping a friend pet-sit. The owners had a dog and a cat, and while we were there, the owners came home. When the dog heard the key in the lock, he began to bark excitedly and jump wildly at the door, intermittently spinning around in circles, wagging his tail crazily and practically tripping over his own oversized feet in his excitement. When the owners came in, he practically knocked them to the floor, licking both their faces happily. Even the cat went nuts with happiness, rolling around ecstatically on the floor in front of them. He also ran up to the owners, purring loudly and meowing. Do you know any people over the age of 6 or 7 who act like these animals did during a reunion?
Of course we don’t want to become babies or pet dogs and cats, but they have a lot to teach us about authenticity and the courage to be emotionally vulnerable.
I’m in no way trying to imply that language isn’t a good thing. We evolved it for a reason. Language makes it possible for us to use more of our minds and make new discoveries. It’s the reason we can write a symphony, a novel, or make new scientific discoveries. Good language skills are an indicator of high intellectual ability. Words can also be great tools for genuine emotional expression. But when we grow up and start to use language completely in place of bodily emotional reactions to communicate, we throw out the baby with the bathwater. I think schools are responsible for a lot of this. Schools–like work environments–discourage the honest expression of emotions. We begin to hide our true feelings.
Of course, bad parenting that fails to mirror a child’s true feelings does the same thing and is even more damaging because it happens when the child is still pre-verbal. A child whose emotional needs have not been met and who isn’t mirrored when very young becomes ashamed of their emotions and tries to hide their vulnerability. In some cases the damage is so great the person develops complex PTSD or a personality disorder. We need to find ways to be emotionally honest without reverting to a preverbal, infantile state. I think we’d also be not only more emotionally healthy, but also more physically healthy if there weren’t so much shame attached to emotional expression. Numerous studies have shown that chronic illness later in life is linked to repressed emotions. I think what happens is when they’re not allowed to move through the body naturally, they get trapped in the body and can make you sick.
To help us get there, I recommend watching anything by Brene Brown, an author and public speaker who thinks that vulnerability and authenticity are things we modern humans need a lot more of. Her most popular video is “The Power of Vulnerability.” Many people have said it has completely turned their lives around.
Was it really almost 16 years ago that we all feared Y2K would end life as we knew it? Well, life did change alright, although instead of being forced back into the dark ages of the pre-electronic era, we moved forward (if you can call it that) into Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, reality stars turned megacelebrities, Googling, and subjecting ourselves to frisking and possible questioning before boarding a plane. None of these things existed in the 1990s.
That’s not really moving forward to my way of thinking, but…maybe laterally?
Here’s an article listing the many ways our lives have changed since the dawn of the third millennium. Oh, and for what it’s worth, this article was written in December 2009, just 7 years ago minus 3 months. How many more things could we add that have changed since just 2009?
Things That Changed Our Lives Since 2000
By Associated Press, 12/22/2009
Many things have changed our lives since the start of the millennium. Was it only a decade ago that a blackberry was a mere summer fruit? That green was, well, a color, and reality TV was that one show sandwiched between music videos on MTV?
There were, of course, huge political and social upheavals that roiled our world in the past decade. But there were also the gradual lifestyle changes that you don’t always notice when they’re happening — kind of like watching a child grow older. Here’s an alphabetical look at 50 things that changed our lives since the beginning of the millennium:
AIRPORTS: Remember when you didn’t have to take your shoes off before getting on a plane? Remember when you could bring a bottled drink on board? Terrorism changed all that.
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: From acupuncture to herbal supplements to alternative ways of treating cancer, alternative medicine became more mainstream than ever.
APPS: There’s an app for that! The phrase comes from Apple iPhone advertising, but could apply to the entire decade’s gadget explosion, from laptops to GPS systems (want your car to give you directions to Mom’s house in Chinese, or by a Frenchwoman named Virginie? There was an app for that.)
AARP cards … for boomers! Some prominent Americans turned 50 this decade: Madonna. Prince. Ellen DeGeneres. The Smurfs. Michael Jackson — who also died at 50. And some prominent “”early boomers” turned 60: Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep, for example.
AGING: Nobody seemed to look their age anymore: Clothes for 50-year-old women started looking more like clothes for 18-year-olds, tweens looked more like teens, long hair was popular for all ages, and in many ways women’s fashion seemed to morph into one single age group.
BLOG: I blog, you blog, he blogs … How did we spend our time before blogging? There are more than 100 million of these Web logs out there in cyberspace.
BLACKBERRIES: Considered essential by corporate CEOs and moms planning playdates. Introduced in 2002, the smartphone version is now used by more than 28 million people, according to its maker, Research In Motion Ltd.
One thing that comes to mind for me is how much computing has changed. In 2000, the Internet was still pretty primitive, and there were no social networking sites as we know them. Lots of websites still had that mid-90s skeleton look to them. Forums and email were the most popular (and probably the only) way of connecting with others online. Usenet and DOS based MUDS and MOOs were still fairly popular, though beginning to disappear as more sophisticated topic-based forums, bulletin boards, and Instant Messaging (the forerunner to texting and Tweeting) began to replace them. Comments were still made via “Guestbooks” that appeared on the forerunners to today’s blogs–personal web sites hosted by Angelfire, Tripod, and Geocities. And you needed separately purchased boxed programs like Front Page to design them if you wanted anything fancy. Many of these early websites had horrible, loud, flashing designs on black backgrounds that made your dial-up Internet connection crash. You had to tell your family to get off the Internet so you could make a phone call. AOL was the Big New Thing and they sent us all those free trial CDs in the mail that most of us threw away. Viruses weren’t ubiquitous yet, and Internet security (along with airline security) was lax. The computer monitors were ugly and boxy, the screens were convex glass things, and everything took forever to load. Windows still looked barebones, and we did our searches on Netscape Navigator and Explorer. Yahoo was new and cutting edge.
Can you think of some of your own? How has life changed for you personally since the year 2000?
My fellow ACON blogger Fivehundredpoundpeep, posted this the other day.
From the girl with curly hair…
Aspies are knowledge junkies. We can become Internet addicts because the Internet is like crack for us. I study many things for the fun of it. You all see what I write on this blog but this week, I read about True Crimes in my state, Indian nations in America and Outsider Art.
There was never anything truer than this. In my many years of prowling and posting on the Internet, Aspies do seem more numerous than they do IRL. On a forum I used to be active on, Aspies seemed almost proud to say they were Aspie, as if it’s an advantage on the Internet instead of a liability. But guess what. It just may be!
We do tend to become obsessed with one or two topics at a time and focus intensely on them to the point others sometimes think we are weird (the extreme form of this is the idiot savant phenomenon seen in low functioning people with autism). That’s why I blog! Because if I just talked about the stuff I talk about here IRL as much as I do on my blog, people would be backing away slowly and locking their doors and windows against the crazy woman on the loose.
We read a lot and gain a very deep knowledge of what interests us. We read anything we can about our obsessions until we’re sated or the next obsession takes over. We have good memories and retain new information well. These traits can give us some credibility in whatever topic we focus on in our blogs. I think that’s a good thing. Our obsessing over topics and spending so much time researching and reading about the minutiae of that focused interest may seem strange to neurotypicals, but it’s hurting no one, so why is it a problem?
The Internet is the perfect modality for most people with Aspergers. It allows us to have a platform to talk about our obsessions instead of having to engage in shallow conversation or small talk (which I hate and am very bad at). It even allows us to start a conversation about our pet topic and the metaphysical, meaningful aspects of that topic. People can think we are weird or insane, but we don’t have to deal with those judgmental NT’s face to face. There are plenty more people online who actually like what we have to say and listen to us.
We also have time to think about and refine what we want to say. We’re not required to “think on our feet,” something which is very difficult for Aspies. We don’t have to have a witty comeback for a joke or know exactly the right or appropriate thing to say when confronted by something.
Because our problem isn’t really that we lack social skills. I think for most of us, the problem is that we need time to process an interaction, and you can’t do that in real life social situations. Writing is just as valid a form of social interaction as speaking, and it’s a modality most of us are much better at and even find we can excell at.
The Internet can make us feel more confident. It’s the one thing Aspies have going in their favor that we never had prior to the late 1990s. There’s also more general knowledge about Aspergers and it’s now acknowledged even adults can suffer from it. In the past, Aspergers wasn’t even recognized as a high functioning form of autism. We were just the geeks and dorks and socially awkward outcasts and obsessive crazies of the world. When people used to think of autism, they thought of people so impaired and disconnected from the world they had to live in institutions and have all their needs met by caregivers. They didn’t think of socially awkward geeks and obsessives like me.
Now they do, and it’s because the Internet has given us Aspies a place to talk, to meet others like ourselves, to make friends, to vent and rant, and to protest against the prejudices neurotypicals have against us. We are really more a minority group like LGBT than we are “mentally ill.” (Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness too–it was finally removed from the DSM in 1973).
The Aspie rights movement thinks of Aspieness as a variation rather than a disorder. We’re only “disabled” because our society isn’t set up to be adaptive to our needs. We are forced to adapt to theirs, and it ain’t easy! The Internet gives us a voice.