In the simplest way, empathy is basically understanding another persons perspective on something. Take is a bit further, and you should be able to feel a small part of what he or she feels. This depends on how deep your empathetic skills are.
Empathy is a powerful tool. At times the people we care about may be going through a tough time and might not have a solution for it. People with higher levels of empathy, sometimes can share their feeling and perhaps even offer a different solution. Since we human beings are social animal and we live within a social community, empathy is one of the most important qualities to have in order to understand your parents, spouse, children, friends, colleagues, boss, employees and even your pets.
So why is there Mirror Neurones in the Heading?
In the 1990s, a couple of Italian neuroscientists, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Leonardo Fogassi, and Vittorio Gallese were researching on the brain activities of monkeys. They were mapping the electrical activity of the monkey’s brain. In between, when one of the scientists reached out for a banana, something amazing happened. The monkey’s brain responded in such a way as if he was also going to pick up the banana although his hand hand did not move. He was playing out in his head what the scientist was doing. The researchers names these cells in the brain as, “Mirror Neurons”
A couple of years later, the same neurones were found in humans too. Not very surprising I suppose. It’s like when we yawn, our mirror neurons get to work and make the people near us yawn too.
Some studies have shown that children that suffer from autism have a challenge with their mirror neurone system. Healthy activity of the mirror neurons are important to understand the people around us and feel empathy.
Too much of empathy can make us too sensitive and we might end up breaking down and crying often hearing the challenging stories of our peers. But too little, might make us seem to be heartless in some situations. Balance is key as always.
So do I have a balance?
Well think about it! Do you often feel stressed at the pain of others on a very deep emotional level? Then chances are you might have an overactive set of mirror neurons. On the contrary, if you feel silly about peoples pain and don’t really get why some things are such a “big deal”, then maybe the mirror neurons could be a bit sleepy hehe.
For those of you that feel too sensitive, meditation and breathwork can be a game changer. You will find yourself having a lot of more calmness and control over your feelings.
For the latter, a few conscious exercises may help you improve you empathetic skills. One of the most important things is to ask yourself “how would I feel if I were in that position”. This should come from the heart and should be an honest answer to yourself. This could help you better understand what the people around you might be going through. The common of phrase of putting yourself in other peoples shoes is the classic example of this. Of course with practice, everything gets better.
|1. Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V. and Fogassi, L., 1996. Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Cognitive brain research, 3(2), pp.131-141|
2. Blakeslee, S., 2006. Cells that read minds. New York Times, 10(1).
3. Iacoboni, M., 2009. Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual review of psychology, 60, pp.653-670.
4. Kaplan, J.T. and Iacoboni, M., 2006. Getting a grip on other minds: Mirror neurons, intention understanding, and cognitive empathy. Social neuroscience, 1(3-4), pp.175-183.
What are your thoughts on empathy? Let us know in the comments below!