Just about every person I come across in life notices that I find it very difficult to make and maintain eye contact. This can either be from people talking to me, as well as from them just seeing me in person out in public, in a picture or on camera. The views of this part of myself are varied. Most accept this as just being a quirk of my character, and even my autism. Yet there are a few negative comments I get about my lack of eye contact. These range from people saying that it’s “weird” to them incorrectly assuming that I’m intoxicated. Those comments offend me the most because I’ve never even dreamed of doing drugs, and the mere thought of getting drunk from alcohol and losing control of my body is terrifying
Mainly as a result of the negative assumptions I work hard on practicing more effective eye contact while I’m having conversations with other people in my life. Though the hardest thing for me is that it isn’t natural. Whenever I try to maintain eye contact it feels much like there being a magnetic field of which my eyes repel. My insecurities with looking people in the eye are deeply ingrained in my subconscious, and therefore my conscious control in this area is overpowered by that.
I am aware of exactly what makes my subconscious uncomfortable about the action. However much of it will sound quite strange at first glance.
Looking someone in the eye (in both the human and animal world) is an extremely personal, deep and entrusting action. All of the words used and constructed in the previous sentence are my exact feelings of that experience translated into text.
There was a time at the age of six when I had a fear that people could read my personal thoughts (which I admit was very strange) whenever both myself and they made eye contact. Once I asked a girl who I was having a conversation with if she could see what I was thinking, even though I couldn’t see her inner thoughts.
Despite knowing that verbal communication purely through eye contact is not possible, looking someone directly in the eye is still feels like a very entrusting and even dominating action. For that reason I feel very exposed whenever I have to make and maintain eye contact.
Interestingly I’m not the only one in my family at home who feels this uncomfortable with eye contact. Our cat and every dog that we’ve had have felt a very similar way. Whenever I’ve locked eyes with any of our dogs they have growled and abruptly jumped into my face, whereas our cat either hisses or quickly looks away when he notices someone gazing at him so intensely. Both my reactions to eye contact and those of my pets are just some examples which tell us a lot about how looking someone in the eye is a very serious action.
However, eye contact is an important part of society. This becomes apparent to me whenever I get comments (either positive or negative) about always looking away while talking. As a result, especially of the negative assumptions, I do everything possible to improve my skills in this area.
Unfortunately not many exercises, that I have discovered to date, help me effectively with my skills of eye contact. As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, my eyes naturally go astray during conversation, much like a magnet repelling a strong force. However I find it does help (even if it’s only a little bit) when I try to deceive myself that the person in front of me is a statue or a picture. I know this sounds very strange, but interestingly it does help me to keep my gaze at least a few seconds longer while talking.
In general I (and the vast majority of people I come across) accept my wandering gaze as simply being a small quirk that I have. Thus I now only feel it necessary to put effort into improving my skills whenever eye contact is particularly important.
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From my personal perspective, everybody has different genetic appearances. No two sets of eyes, mouths or any other physical features look 100% the same. This is even the case with siblings who are monozygotic. So, therefore, identifying facial expressions is just as difficult a task for me as choosing a grain of sand, and then trying to identify that after it has been randomly mixed amongst billions of others in a box is.