Sympathy for the object – an autistic perspective.

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, or 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, that 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 Synaesthesia are possible causes. Put simply, Synaesthesia 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 Synaesthesia 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 Synaesthesia in one form or another.

I’m not totally convinced that what I experience is Synaesthesia, and I have not heard a satisfactory explanation of why it happens to me. A clinical psychologist did tell me once, 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?

Please let me know.

Thanks for reading.


adults with autism

3 thoughts on “Sympathy for the object – an autistic perspective.

  1. I definitely feel all of those things for objects. I get really sad when I am at a second hand or thrift store and there is a frame for sale with a photograph that was obviously important to someone at one time. I feel sad for the photograph, like I want to find it a home and I wonder how it ended up there and who would throw it away.

    I am autistic and I have always felt that way, I remember being very upset when I was about 12 or 13 when my parents made me get rid of some toys that they thought I was too old for….but I was devastated to let them go because I did not want to abandon them. I still get sad thinking about it.

  2. Great post; I relate, totally.

    For me, things include the lost pea or sweetcorn that rolls off the counter top and goes missing on the floor: it seems that it had led a productive life until that moment, when it was about to fulfil its potential, get cooked, get eaten. I feel extraordinary guilt and sadness if it gets lost before it gets its chance to shine. (Oddly enough, though, I don’t feel the same if I’ve cooked food – peas, whatever – that doesn’t then get eaten. Don’t know why there’s a difference.)

    I feel sorry for the neglected toys I still have from childhood (like you, I’m age 57), and apologise to them if I drop of handle them inelegantly them when moving them (eg on the rare occasion I’m dusting). I apologise to everything – ranging from furniture to lamp posts – if it gets accidentally knocked, and feel sad for items that I haven’t stitched or mended or otherwise cared for enough so that they become shabby and neglected.

    Of course, I do this with living things, too, notably all manner of minibeast and plants (I rescue the former and try to make sure I give the latter my equal attention). Synaesthesia? Maybe. I am mildly synaesthetic, and less so than when I was younger. All I can contribute is that I believe it comes from a deeper than average capacity for feeling – so maybe I’m projecting my own feelings (of how I would like to be treated, or how I would feel if I were in pain) onto all objects.

    One other thought: such objects have little if any opportunity or reason to hurt or confuse us. I can and do care very much for humans, but am invariably alert to the likelihood of confusion, frustration and possible pain/rejection when relating to humans. For the record, I am diagnosed with ADHD and dyspraxia, have a daughter dx’d with Asperger’s and am awaiting an assessment for the latter for myself.

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