I never really thought of hyperempathy as being better at sensing feelings, OR as projecting more onto other people. I mostly just thought of it as taking others’ emotions more seriously, or maybe as being less able to distance ourselves from what I think others are feeling. Just because it’s more vivid doesn’t mean it’s either more or less true.

That said, I also have all this baggage about dirtiness and cleanliness specifically, not only about places but about anything that can be dirty or clean. There’s this entrenched conceptual metaphor in our culture that Clean Is Virtuous and Dirty Is Sinful, and there’s actually been studies that have looked into this kind of thing- the Macbeth effect is where people made to feel guilty supposedly have a stronger desire to literally clean themselves, and where washing your hands actually alleviates that guilt somewhat. Granted, I think that finding has failed to replicate, but in my own life, observing myself and the people I know, I observe something similar to that effect. It’s not I see very clean people are morally better in any way; actually the three most self-righteous, morally-judgmental people I’ve ever known have also been the most cleanliness-obsessed and germaphobic. And on the other hand, I’m pretty messy- I used to be much worse when I was very depressed- and I see this as tied to the way I often put up with too much BS from both the people in my life and myself. Essentially, I see this kind of physical-world-to-identity link that’s maybe similar to yours, but I’m specifically aware that mine is about how the amount of mess I’m willing to tolerate in my room, or the stains on my clothing, or the disorganization in my school binder, is directly related to the extent to which I’m willing to just accept it when others disappoint or frustrate me, or I disappoint/frustrate myself. I don’t LIKE mess, but when I see something that’s too messy it’s easier to feel depressed and de-energized by it, rather than fired up and motivated to change it. Again, this is changing in the past few years, but it’s still a part of me to some extent.

So it’s interesting to me that there are religions where garbage is holy. In other places, maybe they have very different relationships to these ideas of clean and dirty! And it’s also interesting to me that I took a wider cultural metaphor that says Clean is Virtuous and mentally reframed it to Clean is Morally Intolerant, because of the experiences I’ve had probably. Or maybe I always believed that and it shaped the experiences I had and the way I remember them?

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