Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

So, funny that on hacker news and lots of programming blogs when this topic comes up a lot of people chime in about being on the (autistic side) of the spectrum too.

Ironically, I feel left out. I am on the other end of the spectrum. Kind of like what this guy described after the treatment, although I've been dealing with it my whole life, so I don't get all worried.

I feel like the only programmer who is intensely aware of the emotional state of my colleagues. I can sometimes tell people what they are feeling (when they are opening up) and it shocks them because I know it better than they do.

Of course, I listen to trance-music at work so I can pretend to be autistic (please understand it's a bit of a joke) and ignore all the swirling emotions.

Anyway, I've found others like me, but they seem to be more rare than autistic people. It seems to me like it would be nice to not be aware of all the emotions all the time.

I sincerely envy the "insensitive" people quite often.

It seems like it would be a lot easier if I were able to be selfish to a normal level without caring that someone's emotions might be unsettled.

> I feel like the only programmer who is intensely aware of the emotional state of my colleagues. I can sometimes tell people what they are feeling (when they are opening up) and it shocks them because I know it better than they do.

You are not alone. I often feel the same way. I'm going to assume that you work primarily with male programmers, since that's the makeup of our industry. (In all of my jobs, most of the programmers I've worked with have been male).

I think guys generally are actually quite emotional, much much more than they let on. But our culture has very strange notions around masculinity and what it means to be male. Vulnerability, empathy, intuition, these things are not instilled in us as positive character traits for a man. Instead, rationality, self-reliance, self-confidence, and detachment from emotion are elevated as things to aspire to.

There is absolutely value in being rational, self-confident, and being able to not get taken out by your emotions in a crisis situation. But when you use those things all the time in your life to get by, they become a real handicap.

I can't tell you how many times I've worked with guys who I knew were going through a lot (parents with mental illness, divorce, troubled home life) but tried so hard not to let on and at the same time never talked about it when given an opening.

We have really screwed ourselves over as a culture and we owe it to our sons to redefine what masculinity is so that they don't have to endure the same emotional hangups as us.

Thanks. I agree strongly. Having both sides adds real depth to life.

Well, personally, I am a male comfortable talking about personal stuff with friends but I would never talk about it at work.

Right, but that isn't really the discussion we're having. My own experience has been that the folks Practicality and I are thinking of are walled off both at work and in their private lives from meaningful human contact. And, since we spend so much time at work, it'd be a shame not to have at least a few of our human needs met there.

I have this thing where I tend to match the body language, style of communication, etc, of the person I'm communicating with. I think this leads to a lot of these feelings, because as I match their body language, I start feeling the same emotions they're feeling. Catching yourself doing this and relaxing your body seems to help. Just wondering if you can relate.

Yes. Most people do this! Aligning your body language is a way of communicating general agreement, both intellectually and emotionally. It's usually subconscious, but you can do it on purpose.

http://psychologia.co/mirroring-body-language/ http://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/book_of_body_langu... http://www.theemotionmachine.com/the-unconscious-influence-o...

Yes, relaxing this is a good way to exercise independent thinking. You can make the choice whether you prefer to build rapport or assert independence each time you interact with a person by choosing to mirror or not.

How interesting. I'm learning about healthy emotional boundaries. In the past there have been times I've been so synced up with another person's emotional state I thought their emotions were my own! Practicing dialing down my sensitivity has been a big help.

A little trick: Physically removing yourself from the person's presence usually clears things up.

Of course, it's not something to do in the midst of a discussion, but very helpful at work to just take a quick walk when something is going on.

> normal level without caring

One of my personal quotes is "caring is the first step towards insanity".

Over-caring/empathy can also push one towards an unhealthy level of isolation as a coping mechanism. Granted that is a choice whereas someone on the spectrum faces isolation by default.

I have a friend who is an energy healer. I personally think that kind of thing is nonsense, but her origin story makes me pause.

Throughout her teens and twenties she really struggled emotionally because she had this unconscious ability to absorb other people's emotional states. Then she went to an energy healer herself, discovered she had a gift and finally developed the coping mechanism not to let other people's energy affect her so much. Now she uses her ability to help people instead of just flailing around.

> I have a friend that is an energy healer. ...

I find myself torn when friends say things like this to me. I feel that such religious beliefs are overall harmful to my friends and leaving them unchallenged allows believers to promulgate that horse shit to others. On the other hand true believers seem to be so invested in these beliefs that they would be psychologically harmed by any debate that would be strong enough to persuade them. I've never known what the responsible way to act regarding these strange but heartfelt beliefs. Usually, I just let them know that I don't see things that way and leave it at that.

What about transference and counter-transference? Perhaps I've had too much therapy, but they are tangible things. There is a heck of a lot humanity does not understand about human psychology, and it's not all BS. 'Energy' work isn't religious at all either - it could work for some people off the placebo effect.

And if you're an engineer, if something works, then use it. Whatever the 'patient' thinks is ... shamans have to play engineer sometimes, along with priest, psychologist, doctor, PR man, confidence trickster...

but yes, there are a lot of shallow thinking people out there, and not just in the New Age world, who can't grasp metaphors - e.g. the concept of the dead and dying god, who is reborn, as a metaphor for a psychological process.

What's so strange about it? It's some kind of yoga massage social relaxing procedure embedded in harmless ritual fluff with words like 'light' 'energy' 'love' and rainbows and even sometimes 'quantum-entanglement' - you should be excited. Energy healing also undoubtedly involves the wonder of energy. If it feels good to people, then it heals, so what is the horse shit problem here? Do they want you to sacrifice seven goats to their ruthless rainbow-god-of-light for a power-refill while still not appreciating the apollo spaceflight computer as incredible scientific achievment enough?

I just don't see it that way.

>I have a friend who is an energy healer. I personally think that kind of thing is nonsense, but her origin story makes me pause.

With a username like yours...? Or is it much more quantized drum machine and less anything else?

Many, many years ago I used to perform in a group that combines drumming and dance - http://www.popmatters.com/feature/jellyeye-030610/

Wow, looks like it would have been quite momentous at the time. I've personally been becoming less full on skeptic and more 'can't relate from my frame of reference' if that makes sense?

Yep. My wife is the same as me (a big reason why we're together) but she hides way too much (in my opinion). The best way to deal with it is to just be willing to feel the pain and move on. Go through instead of around.

There is a lot of pain in the world, but it doesn't really hurt you. You don't have to be afraid of pain.

I used the think the same about myself until I started talking to a therapist. While I share some symptoms of autism, I always felt that I was the opposite. Hypersensitive and empathic and whatnot.

But after a long diagnostic process combined with reading up on autism and in particular about the Intense World theory ([quick introduction][1], I became pretty convinced that 1) autism is hella complicated and still not well understood, and 2) it may well be that autism, or at least a subtype of autism we might one day discern, is the opposite of how we commonly think of it. It's not a blindness to emotions or inability to empathize that is autism, rather it's (too) high sensitivity expressed poorly, especially in men with autism. Like wearing night-vision goggles on a bright day.

And the thing is, not only is this much more fitting to how autists tend to self-report their experiences (which is thankfully something that is finally listened to), but there's existing and growing evidence too.

For example, a significant portion of autists score as high or higher on 'affective empathy'. It's the interpretation where they go wrong (cognitive empathy). Or when it comes to eye contact, it's not so much that autists lack the social skills or mirroring ability to understand that this is important, but rather that it's too intense. Mind, I'm not saying all autists are like this, but this is how I would describe it when it comes to my issues with eye contact, and almost every autist I know or have read about says the same (including some who are rather far on the spectrum).

Anyways, the important thing is that you function and are happy. If that's the case, I'd say the diagnosis of autism isn't necessarily beneficial. It can even be detrimental.

I'm reminded of the vulcans in Star Trek. I remember I wanted to be like them because my emotions were becoming too much for me. And only afterwards I watched the episode where their 'true' nature is revealed...


It's not selfish, you are supposedly in a room full of adults. Adults regulate their own emotional state. If you disagree consider this for a moment. Imagine when you were in high school there was a woman who you had feelings for. You would had prefered that she date you rather than the quarterback of the football team. Is she now required to do so? Is she selfish for not doing so? What of the quarterback, should we hurt his feelings to make you feel better? It's all so ridiculous from the start.

Perhaps self-focused might be a better term? Normal people aren't deciding to not feel others' emotions like I do—they just, don't.

Indeed, I am still able to make rational decisions, but it would be a lot easier if I didn't feel their pain wouldn't it?

See, being on the other end of the spectrum isn't a choice. I will feel everyone else's emotions, whether I want to or not. I might even think they're completely insane, or immature, but I still can't help but feel empathy. Doing so can be extremely exhausting.

Autistic people don't choose to not care, and I didn't particular choose to care (or more accurately, feel), it's just the way I am.

This gave me some insight. I've always wondered why people support charities that do things in the western world (ie research cures for cancer) when dollar for dollar you are better off feeding and educating children in developing countries if your goal is to prevent human suffering. At first I thought it was racism, then maybe nationalism, but neither explanation ever fit every case. Maybe these people can't handle the suffering of a mother in Africa making less than a dollar a day to feed her 8 children so they don't think about it at all in the first place.

While related, I think you're overestimating the capacity of the average human being to make such calculations.

Since they are incapable of determining the maximum effect of their dollar (at least, not without intense effort), they simply make the choice that feels the best, and that will usually be determined by the proximity of the suffering.

Secondly, many people invest in cancer research because everyone might get cancer. They aren't hoping to reduce suffering generally. They are thinking "I or my friends might get cancer and collectively this research might save my (or my friends) life."

Nobody cares about the suffering of people they've ever met. I mean, intellectually we all do, but emotionally, no, you have to see the person (or at least talk/text with them) to care.

As depressing as it is, your "average" human being is not making any decisions based on a rational estimation of the best way to achieve their goals. If they have goals at all. They pretty much just try to muddle through.

"Autistic people don't choose to not care"

I accidentally got in a condition that can be compared to the ones describing autism. I remember how it is to be emotional but I choose not to go back (even if theoretically it is in my power). Autism has its drawbacks but it also has its perks. There may be others like me who actually just choose not to care (emotionally) or not to become a(n emotionally) caring person.

What's funny is that the conditions included in the "autism spectrum" are close to the idea of how a man should be - pretty much emotionless, or at least with no emotional manifestation except laughter and anger. As men, in a more or less expressive manner, we are taught from childhood to cling to that. Could your emotiveness stem from a divergence from this education? (If you're a woman it'd just make sense to be more emotive than your peers.)

Obviously I can't say for sure, but it seems more genetic.

In my family my mother and one of my brothers is this way, and my daughter didn't have much chance of not being this way (since my wife is such as well).

Excluding the ladies for the sake of discussion, my brother and I would be the targets of your question.

Neither of us would have resisted such societal pressure as we don't have any reason to. Although we were both in the gifted program, so we had enough confidence to not really care what society thinks :)

Also, I don't know that we necessarily expressed emotions any more than our peers. The social sharing of emotions seems to be more a female role in society, but our social handling of emotions would be considered normal.

The difference between the men in the women who are like this is quite interesting. While I feel others' emotions strongly, it doesn't affect my thinking. Whereas with my wife we she feels someone else's emotions it clouds her thinking.

I don't have the citation off-hand, but this aligns with several studies of how men and women's brains are wired a little differently.

The nuance between feeling others' emotions strongly (or not) and having emotions affect your thinking (or not) is probably where the line between the autism spectrum and gender differences lies, although of course, there are exceptions.

I'm this way too. What was your childhood like? I attribute some of my sensitivities to growing up with a single mother and sister in a female-centric household, where I was free from one side of the gender norms you'd get from having a father around.

I would like to say pretty normal. I had two brothers so it was a little male-heavy. I admired my dad like most kids and my mom was a little protective, but nothing crazy.

However, the one brother was seriously sick all the time and all the drugs he had to take (prescription) turned him into quite the jerk. So to some degree it may be that I just wanted to make sure I was nothing like him.

I have two moms, and while I am not entirely insensitive to the emotions of other I am probably somewhat less sensitive than average. I don't think female-centric households have much to do with it.

Didn't mean to suggest that was the only ingredient. I'm sure there's an endless amount of other factors that interact with as much complexity, including biological predispositions, shared view of masculinity, emotional IQ and communication style of the mother, how much admiration for femininity you internalize...

I wonder if there is a Williams Syndrome spectrum?


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact