Sunday, June 4, 2017

Negative Emotions are Transferable - Avoid them and Protect Yourselves


One of the more interesting realisations I've reached in the last couple of years is that negative emotions, such as depression are actually transferable feelings.

If you spend a lot of time with very depressed people, watch a lot of depressing news stories, or read a lot of depressing attention-seeking posts on Facebook, you'll eventually start feeling depressed yourself.

It's subtle because the spread of negativity occurs slowly over time but it's there and the changes in you can be detected by neutral people around you -- especially if they’ve not had a lot of recent contact. Unfortunately for you, being on the “inside” means that you’re probably going to be the last person to realise.

This is really important for us, as carers and parents of children with differences and/or as people with differences ourselves. It's a great thing to be empathetic but we have to remember to protect ourselves too. You’re not going to be as much use to those under your care if you’re fighting depression yourself.

Online Attention Seeking Behaviour 

We all have at least one friend who seems to attract every problem imaginable.Chances are, you’ll know several.  You'll usually find yourself wondering what they could possibly have done to “get the universe mad at them” and bring such a run of bad luck down on themselves.


 Attention-seeking facebook friends never miss a post when a family member is in hospital or going to the see a doctor. The posts are nearly always far more urgent and emotional than the problem itself. They post emotional stories on the birthdays and death-days of everyone who has left their lives, including their pets and they somehow manage to make every news story about them; for example making a big deal out of a local fire that has destroyed a shop that they may have visited as a child.

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of behaviour and it’s not intended to be malicious. It’s just that some people feel things more strongly than others -- and some are able to radiate those emotions to touch everyone around them. 

It doesn’t help that the online attention seekers tend to react badly to poorly constructed comments, push the boundaries of friendship and may even allow feelings such as jealousy (over who has the "worst news") to interfere. These traits increase the likelihood of conflict and can cause the wrong reactions in others.

The main problem however is that reading frequent negative posts can have a very negative effect on empathetic people. Particularly people on the autism spectrum. 

News and Television

The other problem is the general media. Television and print and online media grow their audiences by covering emotional stories. This includes stories of people being harmed or starving in war-torn countries, animals in danger from extinction or negligence, people living in poor conditions and even historical stories of torture and pain.

Even the advertising of today often contains deeply emotional messages designed to provoke a response from you.

All of these stories seek to flash images, sounds and ideas at you that will create an emotional response. Sometimes they seek to shame you into buying a product or supporting a cause. Sometimes it’s a means of instilling fear to affect one’s political, economic or social choices. In the case of history television, quite often the aim is to reinforce guilt over the mistakes of the past to ensure that they aren’t repeated.



Even today’s light entertainment shows on cooking, dieting, holidaying and home renovations have turned into emotional contests where there is one clear winner and several “damaged” losers. Our media has become a place where ridicule and emotional abuse are commonplace.

Again, it isn’t all bad and the media still fulfils an important role but it’s important to note that the long term effects of constant exposure can be quite damaging. 

Autism and Empathy

Not long ago, it was believed that people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism were without empathy. The main reason for this was that these people often reacted differently to others in emotional circumstances. For example, they would laugh during traumatic or painful events or they would fail to smile during happy ones.

It’s only been fairly recently that we’ve reached a point where adults with autism were able to connect with each-other and the rest of the world in large groups online. In that short time, we’ve reached an understanding that people on the spectrum struggle with self-expression. They don’t always understand when and why others are sad and they have difficulty conveying their own feelings.

A person on the spectrum may smile during a funeral because they’ve already accepted that a person has passed or because their relationship with that person was not as strong as others. They may be remembering funny things that the person did and this will bring a smile, not a tear. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t love the person or that they won’t miss them terribly -- and it’s unfair to judge the reactions of others purely on face value.

The same person may become lost in a sea of tears during historical TV - or in fact, may be unable to watch at all. For them the pain and emotion of the event is very real and “new”. They may be confused as to why others can watch the same show without being affected. 

Protecting Yourself and Others

The most important thing to remember is that people with autism are very much affected by emotions and often these effects aren’t always visible. 

If you’re the parent or carer of a person with Isms, you need to keep a close eye on what is being watched and and what is being conveyed by friends to ensure that negative emotions such as depression are not being transferred.

If you have autism yourself, you need to frequently ask yourself; “How do I feel and Why do I feel this way?” If you think that outside influences are leading you into depression, you need to limit your interactions with them for your own protection.

This may mean that you need to change your viewing, reading, listening and talking habits. You may need to unfollow or hide friends who try to entice you into their negative worlds and you may need to avoid certain people altogether. 

"see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" - sometimes following the wise monkeys is a good choice.

I’m not sure if positive feelings are transferable but I guess they probably are. If all else fails, perhaps finding some positive people to follow or doing some “positive activities” might help too.