This is What Having Hyper-Empathy is Like.

Is it possible to have too much empathy?

Yes.

You’re probably familiar with the fact that a lot of autistic individuals lack empathy. You’re probably less aware of the fact that a lot of others actually have an excess of empathy. Hyper-empathy. And this is something that has become both a blessing and a curse for me.

I always feel deeply over everything. If I see, hear, or read about someone with a severe physical injury or other bodily horrors, my body starts to ache. I’m constantly worried about making others upset or disapproving. When someone gets sad or cries near me, sometimes I start to cry too. I get emotional very easily. I worry constantly for the wellbeing of others around me. I can’t stand it when children and animals get needlessly hurt or killed. I feel grief over the deaths of people I’ve never met. Even when I fight back against someone who bullies me, I feel horrible about it later. And if someone describes, graphically, their ideas of self harm or suicide, I get into legit anxiety attacks.

But there was a little incident recently when my hyper-empathy went through the roof.

A few weeks ago I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, hearing good things about it. At first I was enjoying myself, but as the movie progressed I was taken aback at how…unpleasant it was. Crude humor, Drax and Rocket being bigger jerks than they were in the previous movie, scenes of poor baby Groot getting tortured and tormented, seeing people getting thrown into space to die….it came across as weirdly cruel. I was not expecting any of this. I remember thinking to myself at several spots in the movie “I don’t like this”. But hey, maybe I was just being sensitive.

But then, came the scene that shocked me to a deeply personal core. Major spoilers from this point on.

It is eventually revealed that Peter’s father, Ego the Living Planet, has ulterior motives for having children. He needs to sire a child who has the same powers as him to terraform other planets into extended versions of himself, and Peter happens to be another Celestial. Things take an even darker turn when it’s revealed that Ego gave Peter’s mother cancer because he actually did love her…and she was a distraction. Peter becomes enraged, and tries to fight back, but is overpowered. And what did the movie decided to do to show us just how uncaring Ego was to his own child

He took Peter’s beloved Walkman, headphones, and mixtape, and crushed them in front of him.

It was at that precise moment when I walked out of the theater and didn’t look back. Trying to think about or discuss this scene would result in me feeling heavy, trembling, and crying.

Why did that scene upset me so much? Two reasons.

One, is because that was the last thing Peter had of his mother. Like, again, it just felt so fucking cruel. The whole movie had so many unnecessary cruelty that this was the final nail on the coffin.

And secondly (and this is extremely personal), is that a lot of autistic people see themselves in Peter Quill, and how attached he is to his Walkman (and when he dances around with it, it can be seen as him stimming). I use my iPod to help me stim. So to see his comfort object/stim tool be crushed right in front of him hit a really personal core.

I’m still shaken up over this damn scene. I know a lot of people are like “but it’s not framed to be cruel, we’re not reminded that it’s his mother’s” but keep in mind, I see films differently than other people. Movies aren’t JUST movies to me. Characters aren’t JUST characters to me. And for this movie, to see the characters that I had loved so much before get thrust into these situations was too much for me.

I’m not sure if I can really say if this was a bad movie or not, just that I didn’t like it. That’s not really my point. My point was to show how my autism affects how I view (and enjoy) movies, for better or for worst.

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Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm an autistic college student currently enrolled at the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on my blog. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.

4 thoughts on “This is What Having Hyper-Empathy is Like.”

  1. A question out of curiosity: Are you like me where you sometimes get confused when trying to differentiate between your feelings and those of others?

    I also empathize with people a lot, in the sense that I usually feel what other people are feeling; I can walk into a room and feel someone is upset, even if I often don’t really know why they are. If I’m not sure why they’re feeling the way they do (which I guess is most of the time), I usually just ask—some people get upset when I do, I guess because either they think the reason they’re upset should be more or less obvious to me, or they’re just upset and don’t want to talk about it; but, at least in my experience, the majority of people it like when you validate them and their emotions. For me, empathizing is like I’m feeling other people’s emotions myself (for extreme ones, I usually also feel it in my stomach), and so I sometimes get confused as to whether I’m the one who’s upset or someone else is. In general, I’ve found the advice people sometimes give about looking at people’s facial expressions and body language to discern their emotions is actually less helpful than the vibes people give off; since people can fake a smile and lie about how they’re actually feeling, but people can’t really fake vibes.
    I’m not sure if I was born hyper-empathetic, or if it’s just something that developed to compensate for a general lack of understanding for social stuff. If you’ve met some people with little to no empathy, though, I think you might agree that hyper-empathy is a more desirable extreme.

    Fun fact: The word Compassion comes from a Latin word, “compati”, which means “to suffer with.”

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  2. I have a form of autism, and I think I have hyper-empathy too. Whenever I hear about terrible things happening on the news, I feel for the people effected and get really upset. I also think I get more emotional about fiction than most people do. I was wondering why I let the news and fiction affect me, so much, so I’m glad someone else could put it into words.

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