I am absolutely fascinated by human psychology. Why we behave the way that we do. In fact, I am often wanting to pursue it on a professional level…
I love to quietly observe people, and I feel as though I have somewhat mastered the art of being a reasonably good judge of character.
Most of the time anyway.
For my entire life, I have been told that I am “too sensitive”. But it has always been said with a negative tone.
Ahhhh…negativity. It truly has the potential to destroy you…
Only now that I am older, am I coming to understand what it’s all about.
Yes, I feel too deeply. I overthink things. I can walk into a room and pick up on all of the energy around me. I absorb everything that is taking place before me, and I have a very long memory. I remember conversations, and outfits worn whilst having these conversations. Put-downs stick painfully in my mind. I can often “predict” what is going to happen, and my intuition is razor-sharp. I am easily overwhelmed, to the point where I almost find it traumatic to watch sad or violent movies because of the “dramatic” response that it creates within me.
Some might see that as a flaw. That I am weak-minded. That I need to “toughen up”.
I however, have a different take on it all.
I recognise that it is a gift to be so hyper-aware of the world that surrounds me. If I was to consult the spiritual side of attempting to explain “why I am the way I am”, I would have to label myself as an “empath”.
I was watching a “Ted Talk” today by Helen Riess, about empathy.
What is empathy?
“Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. The capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”
In the talk that I was watching, the speaker who is a psychiatrist, speaks about her own interest in what makes people connect with others, and what makes other people disconnect with others.
Empathy is a remarkable trait that I have personally observed in someone as young as a 6 year old child.
I recall going back almost 3 years now, where I was at my friends house. My marriage was breaking down, and I was having a very difficult time.
I sat on the steps at the front of her house, sobbing inconsolably.
Her son came and sat down next to me. He had a bag of lollies in his hand.
“Do you want one?” he innocently asked, his arm outstretched offering me one of the colourful candies in the bag he was clutching. “When I’m sad, lollies always make me feel better.” He said sincerely.
And I immediately felt better. I laughed, wiped away my tears, and took one of the lollies from the bag. Hey – whatever gets you there, right?
Back to the Ted Talk about what empathy is.
To quote this speaker, “Isn’t that what all of us want? To be seen, and heard, and to have our needs responded to? That’s the essence of empathy.”
She talks about a study that she conducted on discovering when there is empathy between people, whether their heart rates and other physiological tracers actually matched up. In other words, if it really is true that when people tell us “I feel your pain”, they actually DO feel it.
One of the patients involved in the study was a young college student who had come for help with weight loss.
Now this particular patient made progress in many other areas, except for this one.
Cut a long story short, after having monitored this patient they realised that this calm, confident, articulate woman turned out to have massive anxiety.
When they showed this patient the computer tracings of her being monitored where it essentially revealed that she was suffering from anxiety, she responded “I’m not surprised by this at all. I live with this every day. But no one has ever seen my pain.”
As this psychiatrist started to pay attention to the subtle signs that showed this level of anxiety within the patient, and she came to understand, her work went to a much deeper level. This woman “unburdened herself emotionally, and started to exercise for the first time in her life. And this woman who had only ever gained weight, and never lost weight before, went on to lose almost 50 pounds in the next year.”
This psychiatrist made it her mission to learn everything she could about the neuroscience of empathy.
She conducted a further study in a randomised control trial at a hospital where doctors where rated by their patients. These doctors were rated much higher if they were trained on “my doctor really listened to me, really showed care and compassion, treated me like a whole person, and understood my concerns”.
Which makes me want to drive home the importance of making a conscious effort to surround ourselves with those that truly see us for who we are. And not just aesthetically see us. Those who see into our souls.
All of us have a story. All of us.
We all have our trials and our secret sorrows. We all have a story. It’s what makes us unique, and it’s what helps us to connect with others. When we are unafraid of being vulnerable enough to be able to share our concerns, our thoughts, and our feelings with another, and for when it’s a safe place for us to be able to totally be ourselves.
The connection bit comes from someone possessing the gift of empathy. Not everyone has it. And know that you are not going to be able to connect with everyone who crosses your path. And that’s totally ok. Just love yourself enough to recognise that, and keep searching until you find those that you share stuff with. And that it’s totally in your best interests to be around people who “get it”. In fact, it can improve your own life immensely.
It doesn’t serve your emotional growth to be surrounded by people who negatively reinforce really fucked up belief systems within you. Because all you end up feeling like – is a total fuck-up.
To quote C.S. Lewis (the author of Alice in Wonderland):
“Friendship…is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…”
Find those that share your joy, your sorrow, your weirdness, and keep them close to you. Because that is what empathy, and friendship is all about. It’s about understanding one another. Never lower your standards out of desperation or loneliness. You will find your tribe. You will. And it will be better than you can dream.
I end todays post with a quote from the legendary Steve Jobs.
“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”