The Power of Empathy

I’m one of those people who uses humour to deflect. When someone compliments me, or says something kind, I usually have a witty quip to help me emotionally duck-under their emotional reaching-out.

But here’s the thing, “Many a true word is spoken in jest.” I’ve always thought that only applies to people being mean. I thought that saying applied to people who say “Only joking!” after hurling some vile insult at someone else; that it was about using humour to avoid taking responsibility for saying something hurtful. It would never apply to me.

The other day I was doing a poetry reading, afterwards someone came up to me and told me I had made them cry. I have a stock phrase for this one, it’s a stupid phrase and I use it to push away the emotion in the moment, but I’m now having to confront the fact that it is also the truth: I say, “Yes! I love to make strangers cry! It’s why I do what I do.” I laugh, they laugh, and I’ve dodged a compliment like Shane Williams at his peak (Welsh rugby player reference, Shane could turn on a dime).

The truth is that I do love it.

It sounds awful; I don’t love to cause people pain, but there are two emotional responses that mean people have connected with my words; one is tears, the other is laughter. Laughter is much easier, but tears are a demonstration of pure empathy, and that is a beautiful thing.

I have spent a lot of my life being misunderstood. I have received anger and confusion, when all I was trying to do was connect. I have felt lost and alone in my feelings.

I don’t always understand other people’s communication, but there’s no misunderstanding with tears.

When I speak and it connects, it is magical. When people like me feel I have shared something of ours, and when people who are not autistic feel they understand us better, it is incredibly powerful. It is connection and building bridges. There’s such a purity to it, through revealing my vulnerabilities people feel safe to reach back to me.

About ten years ago I saw a counsellor during a period of stress. She was a lovely woman and we started off with me simply telling her my story. She cried.

I was taken aback by the display of emotion from her – surely she had heard it all. I asked her why, and she said, “I’m sad that you went through all that. Of course that makes me sad.”

Her display of empathy validated my experience. I had spent a lot of time berating myself for being upset about nothing, or overreacting, her reaction told me my reaction was real.

I spend a lot of time rationalising things and trying to find patterns and ways to make things better in practical ways, but sometimes the most effective way is empathy. Sometimes what is needed is bravery in sharing, and bravery in response.

I love to make you laugh too. I love being in an audience of people who are all beside each other, making the same noise for the same reason.

If I have ever told you that I love to make strangers cry, then know that it is true. I love that you trusted me with your emotion. I love that you felt what I felt. I love that we are connected whether autistic or not.

I’m working on accepting compliments gracefully.

18 thoughts on “The Power of Empathy

  1. You made me cry the first time I met you. Well, your words did when I saw myself reflected in The Duck. Myself, I love when people relax and drop their masks in my company. I love when they smile and laugh, carefree. I hope this brings a smile to you 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Somehow I learned sarcasm as a defence mechanism, probably because of being bullied (something which tends to happen to those with autism). Those who bullied me can say sorry as much as they like, but I refuse to believe them. Apologies aren’t enough for what they did and said. I’ve also been told I’m too “serious” and need to “lighten up”. Yes, well, I’d rather think too much than too little or not at all. These experts who claim to know about autism (but know SFA)
    say we lack empathy. So not
    true. If that is the case, why do I feel too much? Anyone else out there in the same boat? Thinking too much, feeling too much? Stressed out and depressed due to lack of understanding?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarcasm was my favoured humour when I was younger. I’ve met many autistic people who love it. I think you’ll find most of us are in a similar boat of thinking and feeling too much. You are definitely not alone 💐


      1. Good to know. After feeling alone for so long. At least I will never be at the all-time low I was in 2004. My cat died and I got a new pet- a black dog. That black dog. Which stayed until I decided I didn’t want it anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I do love you Rhi. Wonderful post. I wish I could comment properly but I’m in a bad place ATM. It was lovely to spend time with you all on that table the other day (in case you’re wondering who this is). Hope to see you again soon, CD xx

    Liked by 2 people

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