author Fritz Breithaupt. “Sometimes we commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of successful, even overly successful, empathy,” he writes in his forthcoming book The Dark Sides of Empathy.
Breithaupt, who directs the Experimental Humanities Lab at Indiana University, argues that empathy is a morally ambiguous capacity, one that can lead us astray if we don’t understand its many sides.
People assume that empathy is good because it is good for the recipient of empathy — I’m actually skeptical about this.
How is empathy good for the empathizer?
Vampiristic empathy is a form of empathy where people want to manipulate the people they empathize with so that they can, through them, experience the world in such a way that they really enjoy it.
An extreme case of this is helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents are constantly trying to steer their kids in the directions they think are the right directions. Of course they want the best for their children.
In a sense, extreme helicopter parents are robbing their kids of a selfhood so that they can basically project their own self into these kids.
empathy can actually make us more polarized instead of bringing us together.
Humans are very quick to take sides. And when you take one side, you take the perspective of that side. You can see the painful parts of that perspective and empathize with them, and that empathy can fuel seeing the other side as darker and darker or more dubious.
Are there other downsides to empathy?
[Empathizers] may overextend themselves. If you are a medical doctor who sees a lot of suffering and pain every day, it can very quickly become too much. Something like a third of medical doctors suffer from “empathy burnout” that is so severe that it affects their functioning as doctors and their personal life. They become the victim of feeling empathy. My note: and some therapists can suffer of “hollow” empathy – an empathy not as a human feeling but as a tool to extend their ability/control in the room.
Also, “MInnesota Nice” can acquire a rather different meaning seen through the lens of this research
My core argument here is that in many cases of altruistic help or humanitarian aid, people actually don’t really empathize as much with the person in need. They identify more with the helper, the hero, the person who intervenes even if it’s an imaginary helper.
If you want recognition and if that doesn’t come, it can turn into resentment.
we can learn to use empathy in a somewhat controlled way. We can learn when to block it, when to not allow empathy to be manipulated and when to fully turn it on.
Yes, we are born with empathy, but it needs constant practice [to know] when to use it and when not to use it. So the dark sides are so important to know because they teach us that in some cases you shouldn’t empathize.
It’s difficult to have a teenager’s mind. The brain develops rapidly during the adolescent years, which partially explains why teens experience anger, sadness and frustration so intensely.
A 2014 survey published by the American Psychological Association found that teens report feeling even more stressed than adults, and that this affects them in unhealthy ways.
Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, a psychologist in Denver, Colo., explains, “When teens are overwhelmed, parents may try to connect with their kids’ feelings by drawing on their own childhood experiences.
In a 2016 longitudinal study of 497 Dutch teens between the ages of 13 and 18, researchers found that cognitive empathy skills help teens regulate their emotions, improve their listening skills and strengthen their ability to tolerate conflict. They also found that these skills can help kids work through disagreements with their parents more constructively.
Research on teen stress by David Yeager, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, shows that cognitive empathy skills can also help adolescents to realize that people and situations can change, which allows them to face social challenges more easily.
At the Royal Trinity Hospice in London, a dying woman and her husband revisited Venice, where they had gotten engaged — the simulation was part of a larger study about VR’s effect on physical and psychological symptoms at the end of life. Another woman walked the beaches of the Maldives. A third returned to Jerusalem, the city where she grew up.
Virtual reality may also encourage people to plan for the end of life, says Marilyn Gugliucci, director of geriatric education and research at the College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Daniel J. Siegel is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, the founding co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. He is also the author of several books, including the New York Times bestsellers “Brainstorm” and, with Tina Payne Bryson, “The Whole-Brain Child” and “No-Drama Discipline.”
Tina Payne Bryson is a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist and the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Connection in Pasadena, California. She is also is the co-author, with Daniel J. Siegel, of the New York Times bestsellers “The Whole-Brain Child” and “No-Drama Discipline.”
How Empathy Is Important For Parents And Teens When Things Get Stressful
Juli Fraga Published on
The brain develops rapidly during the adolescent years, which partially explains why teens experience anger, sadness and frustration so intensely.
A 2014 survey published by the American Psychological Association found that teens report feeling even more stressed than adults, and that this affects them in unhealthy ways. Approximately 30 percent of the 1,018 teens surveyed reported feeling sad, overwhelmed or depressed, and 25 percent said that they had skipped meals because of their anxiety.
Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, a psychologist in Denver, Colo., explains, “When teens are overwhelmed, parents may try to connect with their kids’ feelings by drawing on their own childhood experiences. They may say things like, “When I was fourteen, I had a job, and I still did my homework and made time for my friends. I know that you can do this, too.'”
They mean well when they try to connect with their teens in this comparative way, but often it prompts a communication breakdown.
When I was your age, I had difficulty with my friends. I felt confused, and my heart was broken, too.”
She says that these disclosures remind kids that even if technology is different, human emotions are the same. Parents can bond with their kids by focusing on these similarities.
It’s particularly important to teach adolescents how to develop a specific type of empathy called cognitive empathy
If empathy helps us sympathize with how another person is feeling, cognitive empathy also allows us to try to understand someone else’s perspective and how they perceive the world, even when our feelings differ.
Because teenagers are so emotionally driven, they may be prone to react in exaggerated ways. Hence, a conflict with a teacher, a clash with a friend or an unanswered text can feel like the end of the world. By strengthening their cognitive empathy, teens can develop an emotional pause button, which reminds them that even when feelings take over, stressful circumstances are temporary.
Jessica Lahey explains the rhetoric gap in an Atlantic article
80 percent of the youths surveyed reported that their parents ‘are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.’ Approximately the same percentage reported that their teachers prioritize student achievement over caring.
Empathy Is Tough to Teach, But Is One Of the Most Important Life Lessons
Dr. Brené Brown has become famous for her speaking and writing about vulnerability, worthiness, shame and the other important emotions running underneath daily life all the time. One theme she returns to over and over is the importance of cultivating empathy, a very different reaction than sympathy.
Children have opportunities to learn empathy from their parents, but also from their teachers and peers.