I’ve been reading a lot about Asperger’s syndrome recently as we teach it as part of the A level psychology syllabus and it fascinates me. Asperger’s is a neuro-developmental difference which can mean that people with it have limited theory of mind.
Theory of mind is our ability to ‘mind read’ ie to notice all the non-verbal and tonal cues about someone to know what they are feeling even if they don’t tell us. People with Asperger’s and autism can’t do that in the same was as neuro-typicals can which means they can find it hard to empathise as they can not put themselves in your shoes.
I first read about this in Simon Baron-Cohen’s book called The Essential Difference. In this book Baron-Cohen (Sasha’s cousin) says that there is a spectrum; on one end is the extreme empathizing brain (usually women have this) and on the other end is the extreme systematizing brain (more likely to be found in men). There is, he says, no such thing as ‘too much’ empathy. But too much systematizing is they way he explains Asperger’s and autism.
I have always considered myself to be a long way down the empathizing side of the at spectrum. Until last week. When I read that even extreme empaths can have ‘special interests’; ie things which they obsess about and single mindedly pursue and focus on. I smugly thought ‘not me’ and carried on reading….
..until..one of the sixth form said something along the lines of ‘Miss, you read loads about psychology don’t you?’.
And there it was..I think I might have a psychology ‘special interest’, which is weird as I have only been teaching it for 3 years, but when I look back, it started young.
I hereby declare myself as having an obsessive need to understand other people and when I can’t, I read, and do courses, and do therapy and ask questions until I have an intellectual as well as an emotional and relational experience of whatever it is I am faced with.
So when First Love died I went off to do an MA to understand what happened with him (and it worked..I understood it intellectually). I talked to another partner about our relationship by drawing on Transactional Analysis. My PhD was born out of a need to understand some of the kids I was teaching. When a coaching client tells me they feel anxious, I go away and read about anxiety (as well as obviously really listen to my client) so I can understand it more.
Before Asperger’s, it’s been the menopause; rather than just experiencing it and riding the waves; I have read sooo much about it, and I’m running coaching circles for women going through it, and I’m talking to any women who will stand still for long enough to engage!
I think it’s my strength, my fascination with people; I think it’s why I’m a good coach, teacher and trainer; I love finding out about people. I love to understand and to share what I understand with others to see if the world makes more sense to them.
But like all strengths, when overdone, it can be a weakness.
It was only when I was reading that book that I realised that I can be a bit obsessive. I can’t imagine many people who have a row with their partner and then go off and google or to buy books on Amazon to understand it (or do you??).
I’ve declared my obsession to my oldest friend who just laughed and said ‘yes you’ve always done that’ (I’ve even done it to her).
So there it is. I’m obsessive about understanding people, and myself ..you have been warned.