The surprising downsides of empathy
We naturally have more empathy for people closer to us. Our empathy and affinity for others decline the further people are from us.
But our natural empathy for those closer and more similar to us can be used to provoke antipathy towards those who are not like us. Politicians and activists often play to the idea of "us and them," deploying empathy and identifiable victims to make a political case.
SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:
Although many people tend to confuse the notions of empathy and sympathy, these two are quite different.
While sympathy implies only the fact of feeling concerned about someone, empathy goes way beyond that and it might result in harming the person who is displaying and feeling it.
Empathy is the ability to share another person's emotions after having reached a good understanding of their suffering. There are three main types of empathy:
While empathy can make both you and the ones around feel better at times, there are also important dangers worth taking into account:
We all see suffering around us, whether it is the inhumane treatment of migrants or minority groups, or any depressing news of diseases, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed.
As the number of people needing help reaches epic proportions, it becomes less likely for us to initiate any help. This paradox is known as the compassion collapse and is a feeling of jadedness mixed with helplessness to the enormity of the situation.
Tragic stories and imagery make us sympathetic and wanting to help.
But a recent study reveals that the feeling of sympathy is not proportional to the help given by the person. A desire to help, or to contribute is more valuable for any tangible or fruitful result.
Feelings of sympathy do not necessarily lead to any action to end the suffering - they may cause a feeling of helplessness.
When people have the first-hand experience of pain and suffering, the desire to help arises from deep within, as they know the intricate details, and are motivated to help others who are in peril. This is called the Altruism born of suffering.
People who haven't experienced similar hardships themselves will find it hard to relate to others suffering. However, the desire to help can be invoked by showing them the effectiveness of the method, as well as the larger picture.
In 2005, studies began to point out that meditation can change the structure of your brain by thickening the cortex. The cortex controls your attention and emotions.
You can reap the benefits if you practice meditation for half an hour a day over eight weeks.
It typically refers to a practice for training your attention. It is an awareness that comes through paying attention in the moment, but non-judgmentally.
It involves sitting down with closed eyes and focussing on feeling your breath go in and out. When your attention starts to wander, you take note and bring your attention back to your breath.
Meditation shows reduced activity in the amygdala, our brain’s threat detector. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it sets off the fight-flight-freeze response.
In a study, after practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes per day over just one week, participants showed reduced amygdala reactivity only while they were engaged in mindfulness, suggesting they need regular practice.