Empathy and Perceived Empathy

by Gavin Bollard

Today, I just want to say a few words about the perception of empathy.

Right now, my mother is in hospital. Her hospitalisation was sudden and unexpected, but she is okay. I’ve checked. I’ve received an email from my father, and my wife rang him later during the day. I’m happily convinced that everything is fine and that, for the immediate future, her main priority should be rest.

She lives too far away for a “quick visit,” and I haven’t contacted her directly yet. Unless I hear of changes in her condition, I’m best off giving her time to heal.

No doubt, once she comes out, she’ll rouse on me for not having gone to panic stations and talked to her directly. The thing is that I can’t do anything, and chances are that I’ll end up calling during her nap time.

Does that make me less empathetic?

Some would say yes, but I think that sometimes, I put more thought into the physical well-being of people than I do towards self-serving information-gathering exercises.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not worried or that I don’t care.

The perception of this empathy by others, however, is different altogether. Other people think that unless I’m waking her up and asking her how she is, then I don’t care. She has doctors and nurses doing that already, and I’ve spoken to them. They’re better qualified to give me a rundown on her condition.

Addendum: I wrote this post a few days ago but have been too busy to post it. I’ve since spoken to my mother a couple of times, and she’s home and getting better.

About the Author: Gavin Bollard is an adult with Asperger’s and the father of two Aspie sons. This piece originally appeared on his blog, Life with Asperger’s, and is reprinted here by permission.



3 thoughts on “Empathy and Perceived Empathy

  1. Claire says:

    I have Asperger’s and I reason like this as well.

    However, I am learning to see that I tend paint myself into a corner with my reasoning. If the goal is not to disturb your mother while she is sleeping (I know we’re past that now, but please hang in and consider applying this to other situations), allow her to rest, and also let her know you care, then there could be other solutions. For example, you can call the nurses station to see if she is awake and tell them you don’t want her to be woken up for your call.

    Because I know I get locked into my head (have empathy running rampant in my head), I am finally beginning to ask: Is there another way to demonstrate that I care?

    • Jayn says:

      Or maybe send her flowers or something. Something that shows you’re thinking of her but isn’t dependent on catching her at the right time.

  2. Tracy says:

    I don’t have Aspergers and think like and I’m a very empathetic person who just has to watch another suffering to get tears in my eyes. I have 4 children and after each one I’ve become more sooky so I don’t think there is anything wrong with how you are thinking-seems normal to me!

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