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Tune Into Others

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  • Julienne
    Tune Into Others On June 30, 2011, in Family | Social, Featured, Highly Accessed, Psychology, submitted by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. What Are They Feeling? The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2011
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      Tune Into Others

      On June 30, 2011, in Family | Social, Featured,
      Highly Accessed, Psychology, submitted by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

      What Are They Feeling?
      The Practice
      Tune into others.

      Imagine a world in which people interacted with
      each other like ants or fish. Imagine a day at
      work like this, or in your family, aware of the
      surface behavior of the people around you but
      oblivious to their inner life while they remain unmoved by your own.

      That’s a world without empathy. To me, it sounds like a horror film.

      Without empathy, there can be no real love,
      compassion, kindness, or friendship. Empathic
      breakdowns shake the foundation of a
      relationship; just recall a time you felt
      misunderstood – or even worse, a time when the
      other person could care less about understanding
      you. In particular, anyone who is vulnerable
      (e.g., children, the elderly) has a profound need
      for empathy, and when it’s a thin soup or missing
      altogether, that’s very disturbing. In my
      experience as a therapist, poor empathy is the
      core problem in most troubled couples or
      families; without it, nothing good is likely to
      happen; with it, even the toughest issues can be resolved.

      Empathy gives you a feeling for what it’s like to
      be another person. When you are empathic, even
      quietly and tacitly, that tells the other person
      that he or she exists for you as a being, as a
      Thou to your I. That’s usually what people most
      want to know; it’s more fundamental than whatever topic is on the table.

      Empathy is soothing, calming, bridge-building;
      when it’s present, it’s much easier to work
      through things. Empathy gives you lots of useful
      information, like what’s most important to others
      or what’s really bothering them.


      This week, repeatedly tune into the interior of
      the people around you; “empathy moments” often take just a few seconds.

      To help yourself, remember that empathy is not
      agreement or approval. You can tune into someone
      who hurt you or is irritating; you’re not waiving
      your rights! Nor do you have to solve the other person’s problem.

      Also know that empathy is completely natural. As
      we evolved, the brain developed three circuits
      (loosely defined) for empathy that simulate the
      actions, emotions, and thoughts of others. For
      example, when you experience an emotion, a part
      of your brain called the insula lights up;
      remarkably, when you see emotions in others, some
      of the same neurons in your insula activate as
      well. The result is you get a taste of what
      they’re feeling. You were born empathic.

      Start by centering yourself so you don’t feel
      overwhelmed; studies have found that,
      paradoxically, a little feeling of detachment
      actually promotes empathy; as Robert Frost wrote,
      fences make for good neighbors. Then open up to
      other people, letting their inner life flow
      through you like wind through the leaves of a deeply rooted tree.

      Tune into their breathing, posture, gestures,
      actions. Imagine what it would feel like to move
      your own body in the same ways.

      Tune into their emotions, particularly the softer
      ones underneath verbal positions or anger. Watch
      the eyes closely; human eyes are the most
      expressive of any species on our planet. Open up
      to your own gut feelings, which could be
      resonating with those of other people. Ask
      yourself what you would be feeling if you were them.

      Tune into their thoughts, memories, expectations,
      needs, and intentions. Form little hypotheses in
      your mind about what could be going on over
      there. Take into account what you know about
      their personal history – including with you – and
      their temperament, priorities, hot buttons. Be
      curious and look beneath the surface.

      As appropriate, check out your empathic
      intuitions. Ask simple questions, like: Were you
      feeling ____ ? Did you want ____ ? Did you feel
      pulled between ____ and ____ ? Be respectful, not
      persuasive or prosecutorial. Don’t muddle empathy
      with asserting your own views or needs; do that part later.

      Stay with it. Empathy is a kind of mindfulness
      practice, sustaining attention this time to someone else’s inner world.

      And when it’s your turn to receive empathy,
      you’ll know better what it is you are asking for.

      The best way to get empathy is to give it.

      * * *

      Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and
      founder of the Wellspring Institute for
      Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. His work
      has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer
      Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and
      Huffington Post, and he is the author of the
      best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical
      Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. He
      writes a weekly newsletter – Just One Thing –
      that suggests a simple practice each week that
      will bring you more joy, more fulfilling
      relationships, and more peace of mind and heart.
      If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

      Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
      Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.Marcus Aurelius
      Julienne's Blog:
      http://www.myspace.com/youandthecosmos, and
      Facebook. Radio: "You and the Cosmos"
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