Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and experience of someone else. It moves people to show care and consideration during difficult times. It is how we understand each other on a personal level. Alfred Adler once quoted, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of others and feeling with the heart of another.”
In order to make valuable, human connections, this emotion is extremely important. In addition, when we go through difficult situations, we would like for others to empathize and show their concern as well. It is truly one of the building blocks of quality relationships.
Empathy and the Brain
Like many emotions, empathy is initially developed within the brain. A system apart of the cerebral cortex called the supra-marginal gyrus helps to put us in place when we begin to act selfishly. This region is responsible for all feelings of empathy and communicates with a special neurotransmitter called “mirror neurons.”
These tiny forces found within the brain can actually pick up on the emotions of others; thus, making you physically feel how they are feeling. In fact, there is an entire community of empathic individuals who claim to feel the vibrations, energy, and emotions of those around them. Because of their active mirror neurons, being around people for too long can be draining. The power of empathy is truly immense!
The Opposite of Empathy
Since it rests on understanding human emotions and displaying compassion, the opposite of empathy is quite intense. Researchers and doctors call this lack of empathy Psychopathy. Movies and books have sensationalized this personality disorder to fit the role of popular villains.
Although there are various levels of Psychopathy, the basis of it is lacking empathy so intensely that they actually imagine inflicting pain. Due to complex chemical interactions found within the brain, this lack of empathy can lead to manipulation, callousness, and even destructive behavior if not dealt with. The grueling impact of a person living without it can be dangerous if allowed to fester.
How Can I Develop Empathy?
If you don’t feel intensely connected to the experiences or feelings of others, you are probably not classified as a psychopath. In fact, the average person who has not experienced certain situations may have a hard time empathizing with someone else.
This lack of human connection can be rebuilt through a few personal exercises.
One is asking personal questions to get to know someone. If a person recently experienced a death in the family, ask them to express how that person impacted their lives.
Ask them how they are doing and really pay attention to what they are saying. Another great way to work on developing it is to put yourself in the shoes of another person.
For example, imagine a time when you were cold, hungry, or lacking money.
Do you remember those feelings? Now, multiply that times 20 and envision yourself being homeless. This devastating experience impacts a great number of individuals.
Perhaps previously you didn’t feel for their situation. However, when you place yourself in their shoes, you begin to feel compassion for them.
The Beauty of Empathy
Being empathetic is not a weakness. Although this emotion is aligned with sensitivity, there is great strength is acknowledging true feelings. There is great admiration and beauty in making human connections and expressing compassion.
When a person feels empathy for someone else, this moves them to act. It could be in the form of a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. Nevertheless, empathy is an important emotion to have if we want to keep, maintain, and nurture our relationships.
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