I have felt sympathy for objects since I was a very young child.
This has caused me a huge amount of sadness and anxiety over the years. I feel sad for the photograph that gets pushed to the back of the display cabinet, the guitar that doesn’t get played anymore, and the once-loved camera that has now been displaced by a newer one. As a young autistic child, I played alone with my little toy cars and soldiers. I would be overwhelmed with sadness for the toy that got left out, or didn’t work properly. This was a constant source of anxiety and something I did not know how to explain to anyone, till now.
As I write this, I can actually feel the sadness rising up. Why is this, surely the object in question does not have any feelings? Why do I project an imagined empathy onto an unconscious object? I do not hear the camera, picture or guitar, crying out to me for help. So it must be me that’s feeling the emotion. I admire people that can happily discard a possession when it no longer pleases them. How free that must feel. To be able to move on to the next thing, without even looking back.
So why do I get so deeply upset by this? I have scoured the internet for answers. There are other people, some with autism, who share this strange trait, and describe it in a similar way, how they also feel sorry for things. As autistic people, perhaps some of us have a tendency to invest our emotions in inanimate objects rather than people. Could it be this that leads to our things becoming our closest friends?
There is some evidence to suggest that OCD and synesthesia are possible causes. Put simply, synesthesia is a neurological condition where the senses are confused. So someone with it, may smell a taste, or see a particular colour when thinking of a specific number. Some people have a form of Synesthesia known as Personification. This is when a personality or emotion is attributed to an object. It would appear that there is a higher tendency for those on the autistic spectrum to have synesthesia in one form or another.
I’m not totally convinced that what I experience is synesthesia, and I have not heard a satisfactory explanation of why it happens to me. A clinical psychologist told me that it was something to do with OCD and autism but could not elaborate any further.
Even at 57 years of age, the sadness I feel from objects stops me from becoming a fully-functional adult. At times it disables me and keeps me as a child that wants to cry all the time.
Does anyone know if this is autism-related or OCD?
I’m leaving this post slightly open-ended. This is because I really want your feedback on this. Do you also feel sorry for things, and do you get upset if an object is being left out or discarded in some way?
Steve Slavin: Author of Looking For Normal – An autistic boy who beat the odds.