It seems like others can’t see you expressing emotions, so they assume you’re not affected by the situation. Your face might not show what’s going on inside, but that doesn’t mean you’re emotionless. Maybe you’re overwhelmed and in shutdown mode, which can be tough to handle.
Perhaps you have intense emotions about the situation but struggle to express them. Not recognizing and understanding your own emotions can lead to difficulties regulating them, problems with intimacy, and challenges in expressing your feelings and needs. It can also make you feel misunderstood and invalidated.
Emotional processing presents unique challenges for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. These challenges in emotional processing can take on various forms. For example, it’s quite common for individuals with autism to feel uncertain about their emotions, especially at the beginning of therapy. This uncertainty can stem from a variety of factors.
Alexithymia is a condition where one has difficulty recognizing and understanding their own emotions. It’s like having trouble identifying and expressing feelings accurately. For instance, people with alexithymia might feel “tension” but struggle to pinpoint if it’s fear or nervousness. They can describe a feeling but have difficulty connecting it to its source or context.
Experiencing Alexithymia can result in a disconnection between your mind and body. There is a lack of connection between your physical sensations and emotional experiences. This disconnection makes it challenging to comprehend and connect with both your emotional and physical states, leading to difficulties in understanding and interpreting the sensations you encounter.
Experiencing trauma or abuse can deeply affect your emotional processing. It may lead to the suppression or disconnection of emotions as a protective mechanism. Unfortunately, processing emotions in the future becomes more challenging, as the emotional response to those events remains unresolved and unaddressed.
The urge to “mask” or blend in arises when you try to adapt to societal expectations by suppressing your emotions or autistic traits. This can lead to responding in a way that is considered socially acceptable. However, it can also impede your emotional expression and create feelings of confusion, invalidation, and isolation.
Denying One’s Own Feelings and Needs
Suppressing one’s own emotions and needs can stem from various factors, like shame, invalidation, or the desire to avoid upsetting others. When others misunderstand or invalidate our experiences, it can magnify our feelings of confusion and isolation. Overwhelmed by negative emotions, we might even start doubting and denying our own feelings, unwilling to acknowledge their existence.
Impact of Not Recognizing Emotions
The inability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions can lead to emotion dysregulation. This refers to the overwhelming experience of uncontrollable emotions. These intense emotions can cause shutdowns or meltdowns, each with its own distinct manifestations.
Shutdowns involve internal withdrawal from external stimuli, while meltdowns are more outwardly expressed. Both are characterized by a loss of control. For example, one might not be able to think straight, feel overwhelmed by emotions, or suddenly burst into tears. Additionally, struggles with emotional processing can also impact intimacy and the ability to express feelings and needs, often resulting in self-criticism. This can make it difficult to establish or maintain meaningful relationships with others.
It is a Misconception That Autistic People Cannot Understand or Express Emotion
Understanding and expressing emotions can be just as challenging for individuals on the autism spectrum as it is for those who are not. Although you may not outwardly display emotions in the same way as your peers, it’s important to know that you still experience and feel emotions. It’s crucial to recognize that emotional expression varies for each person, including those with autism.
Sometimes, it can be difficult for others to understand how you’re feeling, and vice versa. Misunderstandings can happen when you internally experience intense emotions or enter a shutdown mode due to emotional overwhelm, even if it’s not apparent from the outside. This phenomenon, known as the “double empathy problem,” highlights the differences in emotional expression and understanding between neurotypical individuals and those on the autism spectrum.
However, Through Therapy, You Can Learn to Identify and Express Your Mixed Emotions
Recognizing the importance of understanding your emotional experience is the first step toward effective emotional processing. Therapy can equip you with the tools to identify and comprehend your emotions, gaining insight into their underlying causes. This newfound understanding empowers you to express your emotions in a healthy manner and navigate challenging situations more effectively. Moreover, it enables you to recognize instances where others may have caused you pain or violated your boundaries, allowing you to mend relationships and establish healthy limits. Even negative emotions serve a purpose, safeguarding our well-being and connecting us with what truly matters.
Therapy can help you navigate your complex emotions and learn to express them constructively. Normalizing the expression of all feelings can help make for healthier communication and relationships. It can also help in recognizing and managing difficult emotions, such as anxiety or depression, by providing the necessary tools to manage them. Through therapy, you can learn to identify and process your mixed emotions without fear or judgment. You gain invaluable skills that can ultimately lead to improved mental health and well-being.
Normalizing All Emotions is Key to Improved Mental Health
Processing emotions can be a challenging but rewarding experience. It’s important to recognize and normalize the range of emotions that you experience, both positive and negative. Child Psychologist, Jennifer Cruz at York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center said, “We can also teach children that even negative emotions have value. Fear can help protect us, anger helps us know we are being hurt, sadness can connect us to what is important.” Learning to normalize, accept, and express all emotions ultimately serves to nurture our emotional health, increasing self-compassion and resilience.
Creating an environment that encourages the expression and validation of emotions is crucial. It helps build healthier relationships, fosters empathy for diverse perspectives, and establishes boundaries that promote well-being. By consistently practicing this, you will embark on an introspective journey, gaining deep insight into your emotional landscape. Ultimately, this heightened understanding will nurture a profound sense of self-acceptance and confidence.
Begin Processing Your Emotions With an Autism Evaluator in the South Bay Area
Learning how to identify and process your emotions can be challenging, but you don’t have to do this alone. Working with an autism therapist in Palo Alto, CA can help make the experience less overwhelming and more empowering. Having someone who sees and understands you can be immensely helpful in deciphering the complexity of your emotions. At Open Doors Therapy, we offer a range of services that are tailored to the individual needs of neurodiverse individuals. If you’re interested in learning more about our team, our services, and which may be right for you, you can follow these steps to gain more information:
- Reach out to our autism therapy practice and schedule a free phone consultation.
- Learn more about our team
- Start exploring your emotions with the help of an experienced autism therapist in Palo Alto, CA!
Other Services Offered with Open Doors Therapy
Our team understands that not feeling seen or understood can be a difficult experience. That’s why we take the time to truly understand you and your emotions. We offer a variety of services to help you through the process of understanding and processing your emotions. This is why our California-based practice is happy to offer a variety of services in support of your mental health. We also offer individual therapy, parent counseling, and group therapy. In addition, we also offer social skills groups. These include college students with autistic traits, young adults with autism, women who identify as neurodiverse, a mother’s group, and an online parent support group. Please feel free to visit our Autism Resources page for info and helpful resources. Learn more about our services by reaching out or visiting our blog today!
About Tasha Oswald Ph.D. and Her Team
Meet Dr. Tasha Oswald, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist (#30423) and the Founder and Director of Open Doors Therapy and Neurodiversity School. With over 15 years of experience in developmental and clinical psychology, Dr. Oswald and her dedicated team specialize in providing compassionate therapy for neurodiverse individuals, including those on the autism spectrum who may be struggling with emotional processing. At Open Doors Therapy, they create a safe and nurturing environment to help individuals embrace their neurodiversity and thrive on their unique journey of self-discovery, offering the support and guidance needed to navigate life’s challenges and achieve personal growth.