Being remote / mis-emoting

“What’s the matter?”
“No, tell me.”
“Seriously, what’s wrong?”
“NOTHING’S wrong; I’m just working on this article.”
“Well you don’t have to be so rude.”
“I wasn’t — I’m just trying to work already.”

Apparently I don’t always “emote” (physically express my emotional state) the way people expect me to. Apparently my “thinking” face looks like a scowl.

“Are you annoyed with me?”
“No.  You’re fine.  I’m just thinking.”

(But if you keep bugging about why I am/not annoyed, I will probably become annoyed…)

Maybe I should research what a “thinking” face looks like.  I’ve seen enough silent films to already know the postural and gestural manners:  one hand on hip with another partly-curled over the mouth and looking down at something, or eyebrows up and scratching the top of the head with a forefinger.  Problem is, I don’t naturally DO either of those.

Instead, I scowl and rock in my seat, or stare blankly off into space.

“What they hell are YOU looking at?!”
“Well quit staring at me!”
“I’m not. I was just looking out the window, and you happen to be in my field of vision.”

Like that explanation goes over well.  But it’s true, honest!

(We won’t even go into the “thousand mile stare” in some random skyward direction while rapidly typing.  Dunno why some people find that unnerving, but apparently they do.)

This lack of facial expressivity, or perhaps, interpersonal disconnectivity, also resulted in my mother deciding that I was “moping about”, which she did not find entertaining (sometimes she stated it was all a plot to annoy her).

So yeah, I’m “off in my own little world” (but whom else’s world would I be in?).  Others around me might as well not be there, as far as social interaction goes.  But that’s only the way it appears if you don’t realise what’s really going on.

I do know others are there — it’s hard to miss all that breathing and clomping about the room.  In fact, I’m doing my darndest to ignore all that distracting noise and activity.

I’m not making faces at people. Shockingly, it has nothing to do with them.  I know, it’s hard to imagine that if someone is facing in your direction, that they are not thinking about you.

I’m not ignoring people in the rude sense.  I’m just thinking about something.  Interrupting me to ask what I’m thinking about can in fact startle me so much that the required shifts in attention and subsequent auditory re-wind and processing will likely make the whatever-it-was evaporate from my working memory.  That is annoying!  Ditto snapping fingers in my face and chanting “Earth to Andrea!” and other clichés.

Curiously, so too it sometimes is with my children and others:

“Are you upset with me about something?
“No, I was just studying.”

I suppose it could be a learned behavior, but I suspect that it’s just wired into our brains this way. I know that decades of being chided for emoting the “wrong” way has not enabled me to effect any major changes, aside from sometimes remembering to not stare towards the humans. At least my tarantula, Rosie, doesn’t mind — when you don’t have eyelids, staring is only natural.


  1. 6 April 2011 at 19:04

    Ha yes, this.

    When I tune my violin or viola in an orchestra, I used to inadvertently scowl straight at others because I was concentrating so hard, and they happened to be in my field of vision. Thankfully an Aspie friend let me know after I scowled at him a few times, so I make the conscious effort not to look in anybody’s direction before I start tuning.

    I also scowled at someone who was leading a singing workshop, attempting to process what he was trying to teach us (I totally failed; in the end just had to concentrate on the melody and ‘la’ it, rather than attempting the words) but he didn’t mind; I suspect he had an idea that my ears weren’t that great by then anyway.

    My other problem is attempting to make appropriate facial expressions. Genuine sympathy does not manifest itself on ym face, and if I attempt to give an expression it comes out more of a grimace – or a smile, which is even worse. Sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll express emotion appropriately without really thinking; but usually I either look blank or [insert inappropriate expression here]. In the past I blamed it on not knowing what my face was doing, but I suspect even if I knew what it was doing, I couldn’t make it do anything appropriately different.

    That said, coming from the other side of it, I’m acutely self-conscious so if somebody is looking in my direction my immediate thought is that they’re directing whatever expression (goodness knows how that translates in terms of emotion) at me, even though logic dictates that they’re not.

  2. Kimberley said,

    21 February 2009 at 7:22

    When you said: “Apparently my “thinking” face looks like a scowl.” I almost laughed! I can’t count the number of times I’ve been thinking about something or doing something when my boyfriend starts asking me if I’m mad at him or what’s wrong!

    He keeps saying”smile” you look so unhappy. That’s when I start to get annoyed! When I’m deep in thought trying to figure something out the last thing on my mind is if I have a huge smile on my face just in case someone happens to look at me and care!

  3. 7 February 2009 at 12:34

    That must be hard Andrea. I am a good reader of NT faces but my Dad has Aspergers and it took me a long time to figure out what his ‘expressions’ meant. I learned from a young age to quit looking at his face and just listened to his words and things were easier for me then. I think it has been a great advantage now that I am a Special Education teacher, being able to interpret from both sides of the fence. I scowl when I am writing too :)

  4. Lindsay said,

    4 February 2009 at 23:39

    My family refrained from commenting on my facial expressions — we’re a pretty reserved bunch, so my affective style wasn’t that unusual. I did get hassled about staring a lot when I was a kid, though, mostly by other kids at school. This is why I do not make eye contact: the only way I found not to stare at anyone was to direct my gaze at the floor.

  5. Annette said,

    4 February 2009 at 19:56

    I freaking despise the “what’s wrong” question, closely followed by “are you annoyed?”

    (Well, since you asked….NOW I am.)

    Glad I’m not the only one, though.

  6. Fleecy said,

    2 February 2009 at 14:46

    Oh my god, this. “Why are you mad?” stuff. “Why are you mad?” “I’m not mad.” “You look mad!” “I’m not.” “You sound mad too.” Well sure, now I am. Thanks to the wonder of self-fulfilling proclaimations.

    Being that insistent, like from someone’s face you can possibly know their emotional state better than the person experiencing it.
    It’s like good intentions (asking “what’s wrong”) and then it derails into being rude because their expectation wasn’t met.

  7. Catana said,

    2 February 2009 at 14:32

    I’ve gotten that all my life and could never understand why. Is there a proper way to look when you’re thinking, aside from the steretypical stance you mentioned? How do NTs look when they’re thinking? What I wonder now is whether it isn’t an aspie/NT thing at all, but a thinking thing. After all, how many people do you know who spend any time in deep thought about anything?

  8. 2 February 2009 at 13:35

    I don’t usually seem to “scowl” when I’m in the middle of thinking. In fact, for some reason I seem to smile, at least some of the time, in a way that is not necessarily related to what I’m thinking about (sometimes it might be, but not always). I have no idea why. And then sometimes I have to deal with people who are curious to know what I’m so cheerful about, when either I honestly don’t know! (Nothing specific, really), or I was thinking about something private and don’t really want to share.

    However: Been there, done that, with the “staring” thing. When I was younger, people frequently accused me of “staring” at them when I honestly didn’t even see them, I just happened to be facing in their direction. Other times, people wanted to know what I found so fascinating about the ceiling, wall, outside the window, etc., when I honestly didn’t notice these things either.

    Yeah, the “Earth to Andrea” thing, and variations thereof, is annoying. It’s also annoying to be told that “Sometimes you’re in your own world” or variations thereof. Yes, fine, I day dream a lot, or otherwise get intensely involved with thinking. Sometimes it’s entertainment, sometimes it’s productive thinking, but one way or another it’s thinking that I seem to do automatically. But although the content of my thinking varies, I can’t just “turn it off” altogether the way some people seem to be able to. I can’t even modulate it to make it less intense, even though I can see where it would be convenient to have that ability–because I just don’t HAVE that ability. (Part of having ADHD I guess.) So it’s really irksome to be teased about something I just can’t help. Sometimes I wish I could take all these people and give them ADD for a week or so and see how THEY like hearing all the same comments back from people.

    I don’t seem to get the “staring” accusations quite as often now as when I was younger, which I hope means that I have subconsciously learned not to face people when I’m thinking. I also don’t seem to get the, “What’s fascinating with the ceiling?” thing as often either, not sure why.

  9. Blueben said,

    2 February 2009 at 6:41

    Even my wife, bless her heart, just doesn’t get it. I’m not mad. I’m not annoyed. I’m not interested in a discussion right now. I’m busy concentrating or thinking, and it’s rare that I get these moments of serenity. Please don’t break them. :(

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