I discovered I had aphantasia about 1 year ago. It hit pretty hard. I am bilingual and and English is my second language. When people told me to picture something, I assumed it was a figure of speech. I started talking to my wife about our children being born. She mentioned the emotion she felt when she pictured holding them for the 1st time. I couldn’t picture it and therefore no emotion follows. I know that it happened, but I can’t relive it via mental imagery. It made me realize how beautiful that must be to be able to do this. Does anyone else have trouble feeling emotionally connected due to lack of ability to relive in a mental image?
Lack of emotional connection
I’ve been married for 36 years and have two adult children, and yes, it has always been a challenge. I didn’t know I had aphantasia until about six years ago, but it explained why I have relied so heavily on photos my entire life. I have had to accept that my emoitional connection with my is probably different than the one they have with me, but the connection is still real. Just different.
I share your feelings on this, and yet of course your post is full of emotion and longing, it just isn’t expressed visually.
I work as a psychotherapist, and for many years I wondered if I was as empathic as my colleagues, who would often "fall over" after hearing about their client’s traumatic experiences and traumas. The was despite exhibiting an almost telepathic ability to name their feelings and describe the movement of their thoughts. I only realised today, at age 69!, that it’s the aphantasia that has protected me all these years from burnout and vicarious traumatisation.
So for me, nowadays, it’s a real benefit.
Yeah, I absolutely have the same issue as this. My boyfriend often recalls moments of our first dates and key points in our relationship and for the most part, I know those things happened but because I have no mental image, it doesn’t feel as special. However, on the plus side, I am also able to feel fairly detached when it comes to negative and even traumatic memories. While some people may get images "stuck" in their heads when someone describes something nasty, this is not an issue for me so sometimes that can be a blessing in disguise.
Thank you for your comment, I never thought of the repercussions of aphantasia in the emotional realm. I completely understand your feeling. In french we have a saying that says "Loin des yeux, loin du coeur" (directly translated to: "far from the eyes, far from the heart" ), meaning that when you distance yourself from someone (like breaking up with a lover for example), you lose a part of emotional attachment. In my case this saying is applied pretty litterally. For me, maintaining emotional bonds has always been a struggle. It’s hard for me to feed a friendship if i’m not in direct and frequent contact with them. I often neglect my friendships, not by lack of empathy, but I simply forget about it. It’s as if any emotional attachment fades or vanishes if i’m not in their presence.
That’s an interesting question. I suspect that people who can retrieve memories using their senses would have more vivid memories and the emotions associated with those memories would be easier to tap into. This would go both ways of course. An Aphantasic is probably less likely to suffer from PTSD because of the inability to visually relive the traumatic experience.
I don’t believe that Aphantasics are cold. The memories are still there along with the related emotion. You may just need a way to trigger that memory such as a picture.
For example, I have a memory from my childhood of being up late at night, it being real quiet, as my family packed the trailer on the driveway to go on vacation. I can trigger that memory simply by going outside my house, late at night while it is real quiet. The original memory is from southern California but I could trigger it in Alaska in the winter. There’s no visual component to the memory, I am not back in a different place or time. But the (very pleasant) feelings are there. That’s the emotion.
Hello Edward and thanks so much for posting this. I have just discovered this forum today and for the first time I am reading things that make me say “THAT is me” …as in quite literally I tell my experience about discovering I had aphantasia (years before I had the word for it) as “I assumed it was a figure of speech” when people asked me to picture things. (On a side note, I often see words …do others?). But also other responses to your post such as feelings being there without the visual component, and feeling slightly blessed that some images cannot get stuck in my head.
There is one kind of image that has an immediate and very profound effect on me …although luckily it does not stay. Any kind of medical or hospital video/image and I am likely to feel intensely queasy and dizzy.