I read this article about dogs and expressions of empathy, and my thoughts immediately linked to the empathy overload that many autistics report experiencing – feeling so much of the other person’s pain that one is frozen or implodes and unable to react in a way that displays gestures of comforting or soothing to the other person in distress. This gives rise to the misunderstanding by normative brains as the autistic person lacking empathy. (No outward display of huggy-kissy-aw-you-poor-baby stuff that non-autistics seem to expect and perceive as having empathy.)
This passage jumped out at me:
“During the task, the researchers measured the dogs’ stress levels. Sanford said dogs who were able to push through the door to “rescue” their owners showed less stress, meaning they were upset by the crying, but not too upset to take action. As for the dogs who didn’t push open the door, it wasn’t because they didn’t care — it seemed they cared too much. Those dogs showed the most stress and were too troubled by the crying to do anything, Sanford said.”
‘Taking on the mantle of pain’ so to speak. Lucy seems to do this when I have had meltdowns – she freezes and just stares at me – and somehow, because of this, I manage to self-soothe enough to get out of my meltdown state. I am brought back into the moment by her presence and driven by my empathy for her empathy to resolve my pain reaction, simply because I do not want to see her suffer from my suffering. Does that make sense? Dogs can teach us so much about our humanity.