Official blog for the book "Just Behind the Door"

Posts tagged ‘empathy’

Why Don’t They Stop?

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” This quote from Sigmund Freud says it all when we see people who seem to say or do things that are counter productive to their own growth and happiness. We may wonder why they can’t see that what they are doing is harmful and just stop doing it. We may even judge them to be ungrateful, selfish or weak. The operative word here is ‘judge.’
When we fall into the trap of judging others everyone looses. But when we really try to learn more to understand what is truly happening to someone we know and love an entirely different world opens up to us. Hopefully, it causes us to feel more deeply as our empathy begins to kick in. With knowledge we become more proactive rather than reactive.
Compassion causes us to ‘see the me in you.’ We may at first feel sympathy for someone when we see their suffering but we can only feel empathy when we try to understand and relate by putting ourselves in their shoes. You may be wondering how it’s possible to do this – good question!
By taking the time to observe, listen, read and involve ourselves – even from afar- to really understand what another person is going through it causes us to become more thoughtful, wise and caring human beings. Rather than dismiss a particular behavior as bad or unproductive we push ourselves to try to figure out the ‘why’ behind it.
Maia Szalavitz, author of the recently published book “Unbroken Brain” takes us on a journey that helps us understand the why in addiction and explains the brain changes that take place. We learn that primarily psychological needs rather than just physical desire truly drive addiction but can be changed with learning. She explains why the majority of rehab programs simply don’t work yet gently guides us with first hand knowledge to find those approaches that do work to heal and move forward. 
The topic of addiction is actually more common then we might first believe. Whether we are talking about drinking, using drugs (both legal and illegal) gambling, eating, shopping even cleaning the evidence of addiction is all around us. Some folks with addictions are able to harness their overactive brains and manage their lives. But for many others who have as Freud points out deep seated unexpressed emotions of early trauma they need more time, help and understanding. Approaches that help them see their value rather than their deficits are crucial to overcoming their need for an emotionally escape. It’s obvious from reading her book that Szalavitz has experienced the world of addiction and has devoted her life to helping us understand more deeply and therefore put our tendency of discounting or judging to rest.
When we run across someone who can explain, inspire an educate us so that we become more caring, thoughtful human beings it’s important to pass it on – pay it forward. One thing’s for sure, if you take the time to read this book you will never be the same again. You will never again think to yourself ‘why don’t they just…’ because you’ll be better than that.
Please pass this blog on to anyone you know that might benefit from it. Let’s commit to helping each other on our life journey as we remember ‘A friend walks in when everyone else walks out.’
Have a great few days!

Take 5 to Show You Care!

Empathy and self-reflection are two important human characteristics that we seem to spend a lifetime trying to develop. But what if there was something undermining this development without us even realizing it? Actually there is – and it’s partially due to the digital age of communication.

Let’s look at just one of the possibilities – our techie patterns of communication. Many of us seem wedded to the texting, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Twitter etc. craze in which we either send ‘words’ (I use the term loosely) in 1 or 2 phrases to communicate. The message is received but little else. In fact, I know of a lonely mother of 2 adult children who receives 95% of all communication from them this way!

Our voice is energy. Real conversation is an exchange that involves two parties with both an intended message and feelings involved. When we actually talk to someone it causes our brains to process their humanness and helps us develop greater empathy. Interestingly, a recent psychological study of students from the smartphone generation has found a steep decline in empathy. Not just a decline – but a steep decline. That’s big. Is it time to reevaluate our incessant 3-5 truncated ‘word’ response to someone and take an additional 5 minutes to actually talk to them – hear their voice – and listen as we check up on how they are doing? Don’t have a lot of time? No problem. Just start the conversation with, ‘ I only have 5 minutes but wanted to talk with you.’ You set the stage for them to give you their undivided attention.

The smart phones are an incredible tool for both efficiency and effectiveness. I am not discounting the importance of being able to send off a quick response to a colleague or friend in need of a response regarding a time or date. That just makes sense. But rather it is the other type of communication I am talking about which cannot replace the positive effect of a heart to heart talk regardless of how many emoji symbols such as 😏 ☕️ 💁 you use. Something is just left flat and feels a bit missing in this later type of communication.

Steve Jobs, the man who said he wanted to make a dent in the Universe (and did so) by creating the smart phone realized this as well. Even given the incredible way he was able to reshape communication in our world he still forbade tablets and smartphones at the dinner table and encouraged real conversation to take place instead. He recognized the value of human connection.

When we see people unable to function without checking their phones repeatedly we are really witnessing lonely people in search of connection. It is as if they are saying ‘I’m here…include me too,’ as they scroll the latest social media site in search of a bit of news from family or friends. Sad. Unfortunately, this type of connection does not help to develop empathy or self-esteem. In fact, it may even erode them further since there is no personal depth or meaningful exchange between people.

Maybe we can’t find the time to send a Hallmark greeting card (yes … they still exist and are beautiful things to send and receive) but when we choose to stop merely ‘thumbing’ our way through communication and occasionally pick up the phone and call we are saying ‘ I care enough about you to stop and touch base.’ Greater empathy and self-esteem will result on everyone’s part in the long run. That’s a beautiful thing.

Have a great few days!

Keeping Things in Perspective

How many times have you found yourself going from zero to 180 over a comment, perceived slight or challenging event only to discover later that the situation was not even close to what you had initially perceived? The truth is that most of us have done so. In retrospect our reaction is embarrassing – if only to ourselves. The real question is how often we allow ourselves to go to this no good, very bad place and do we want to do something about it?

In my last blog I talked about the research done by Dr. Martin Seligman regarding learned optimism. His findings are powerful and deserve greater elaboration. When we are faced with a perceived slight at work or home we may jump to the conclusion that the other person doesn’t like us or questions our viewpoint or skill. If we would just take a deep breath and consider the possibility that the other person 1) did not understand 2) is preoccupied with something in their own life 3) is tired or even ill 4) may simply be on a different wave length, it would go a long way in helping us be happier more optimistic people. When we jump to personalizing a perceived slight without giving the other person the benefit of the doubt everyone loses. Actually, when we really get down to it, rarely is it about us. Even if the slight was intended it says much more about the other person’s sense of inadequacy or frustration than about us. Taking the slight on as truth automatically starts a chain reaction of negative thinking and we are better than that!

If a slight actually does occur it’s important to keep it in perspective. Some people automatically go to the next level and begin to generalize the slight as yet another example of others (the world) continuing to dump on them. They crave sympathy and can go through all kinds of gyrations to get it. If this happens it’s important to remember that empathy is a good thing but sympathy is not – in fact it is downright debilitating. If we are the ones to jump to generalizing after a slight we can become so good at it that within seconds we create a signed, sealed and delivered opinion about ourselves that further erodes our own self worth.

How do we know if there really is an issue about our behavior or attitude that would benefit from a change? The answer is quite simple really. Do we experience repeated examples of comments and behaviors from others that appear the same? If so, is it something that is standing in the way of our own well being? If we discern such a pattern we could ask someone we trust for their honest opinion and then truly listen, without interruption or justification, to what they have to say. Self improvement is a wonderful thing. It says to the world that we are still growing and becoming all we can be.

We can choose one of two paths. The pessimist who reacts defensively to an isolated incident, depletes our energy and expects the world to make him happy or the optimistic who is full of energy and ideas, chooses to look for the pony in the pile, and sees any challenge before him as an opportunity for growth. The choice is ours. The good news is that optimism really can be learned.

Have a great few days!

What Truly Causes Happiness?

Over the years as I have volunteered for charity work which often necessitated asking for financial donations from wealthy individuals I have observed certain behaviors among them that have puzzled me. It seemed a predictable pattern emerge in their responses – they seemed primarily focused on their money rather than matters of the heart. Rather than being moved by the plight of others they often responded that ‘everyone has their problems.’ Was I simply being judgmental I wondered? Now the research is verifying my observations. So if you have always dreamed of being rich – thinking you would be happier – you may want to think again as you read this blog.

Many of us yearn for the day when life gets a bit easier financially – that’s understandable. Some, however, dream of being truly rich and think life would be so much easier, more fun and happier if they had all the money they could ever want. Well, the research proves the opposite. In fact, it verifies what many of us have heard or witnessed in the past – being rich is not the be all and end all as some may have thought. In fact, rich people are not happier individuals than those of us whose modest bank accounts require us to budget, plan ahead and save for a needed or special purchase be it a $50 or $500 dollar one.

Having a great deal of money changes people as demonstrated by Dacher Keltner at the University of California at Berkeley. For instance, the drivers of expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of others than drivers of cheap cars. These wealthy individuals also ignored pedestrians who had the right of way in a crosswalk 46.2 percent of the time! However, all the drivers of cheaper cars respected the rights of the pedestrians. Well, you might think to yourself, maybe it’s just a driving thing. Not so.

Wealthy people give less of their income – percentage wise – to charities, are more likely to shoplift, and are more inclined to cheat in games involving cash prizes. In another research study they even took candy from a bowl labeled ‘For Children’ more often than others of more modest means. What causes this type of hedonistic behavior?

To understand how money changes an individual a UCLA neuroscientist by the name of Keely Muscatell wrote a research paper that demonstrated how wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy. According to the research wealth “triggers a chemical reaction… it tilts the brain… and causes the individuals to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen…or even a happy one.”

Now the latest research findings from many other institutions are all indicating similar findings …money above a certain modest sum does not buy happiness – a fact that rich people are unable to wrap their heads around. When questioned, for example, millionaires felt that they would need 2 to 3 times more money to attain happiness! But all is not lost…rich people who are open to these findings can change regardless of the brain chemicals IF they choose to do so. Ahhh….that’s the question isn’t it.

When we look at the year ahead it would do us good to remember that practicing empathy for others is essential – for our own well being as well as others. That being grateful for whatever we have is vitally important and that ultimately being rich may open more financial doors, but often closes the windows to the soul. Something to think about.

Have a great few days!

Authentic Communication is a Gift

Sometimes we are so concerned about other people’s opinion of us that we carefully measure what we say, when we say it and even if we say something that is on our mind. Being aware of how we come across to others is a good thing. Like anything else in life it is a matter of timing and balance. When we are tired, not feeling well or overly stressed words sometimes tumble out and we wish we had a shovel to scoop them up quickly and pretend that they never happened. My British grandmother used to say, ‘The less said the sooner mended.’ She was a wise woman.

The truth is that good communication even among friends and family takes awareness and effort. It’s sort of like watering desert plants. Too much and the plants suffer or too little and they die. They are dependent on the natural order the give and take in their environment.

Similarly, there is a natural order to communication. Everyone takes a turn, we listen intently without interrupting and we ask clarifying questions to to be sure we understand their point. After all each of us from our past experiences have slightly different meanings for words spoken. Sometimes we may need to exhibit a bit more effort to remain mentally engaged but do so because we value not only the exchange but more importantly the person. We learn that a pause in the conversation is a good thing and doesn’t need to be quickly filled with a response. Pauses may just mean that the person is truly thinking about what was just said. As a result, our communication becomes deeper, richer and fuller.

How valued we feel when someone gives us undivided attention because they truly want to hear what we have to say. It is the ultimate compliment. Yet even with this compliment we are wise to remember that they also have a story to tell and may just be waiting for encouragement to do so. Another wise person once said, ‘You can learn amazing things when you truly listen.’ It’s true listening is at the heart of good communication. There is a reason why we have two ears and only one mouth.

It is, as if, everyone needs their place in the orchestra of life. Their instrument is their voice. Sometimes they need to be invited ‘up on stage’ by asking their opinion but that simple act shows them that they are valued. We all want to be noticed or applauded from time to time and authentic communication is a perfect way to do so.

When we take the time to listen and be heard we encourage, empathize and perform the ritual of living life to the fullest. We recognize that we are more alike than different and that the differences we do have are a good thing because they fit our individual life plan perfectly. Isn’t that just amazing?

Have a great few days!

Greater Happiness

Every day we live on this earth plane gives us the potential to achieve greater happiness. No matter what our conditions are at the moment our attitude determines our altitude. It really is an inside job! If you reflect on today, what did you see, do, or say that brought greater happiness into your life or the life of another person?

Sometimes, a short period of reflection gives us the opportunity to think about a ‘do over.’ Maybe we were a bit too abrupt when responding to someone or a tad judgmental regarding someone’s situation. In retrospect, we realize that since we don’t walk in their shoes we really can’t completely relate to or understand their issue. The best we can offer is empathy. A listening ear as they process through the latest challenge in their lives. Showing concern for others is an elixir for our own happiness as well.

Think about someone you know that just seems to be happy most of the time. What do they know that you don’t know? My guess is that they realize they are responsible for their own happiness and success and that it comes from being true to themselves. They let their heart rather than ego lead them. These folks take things in stride and accept the fact that challenges happen to everyone. Yet they choose to see past the current issue and have faith that it will be resolved over time. Their mental energy is spent doing, creating, and believing. Fear, anger or regret are not things they choose to accept in their lives.

What can you do tomorrow to empower yourself to achieve a happier, more successful life? Have you thought about a goal that you want to achieve? The Universe will deliver to you what is foremost in your thinking. There really is power in the practice of positive thinking. Your free will is just waiting to kick in to manifest your affirmations and desires. You just need to turn on your mental switch that says, ‘I can.’

Have a great few days!

Divine Virtues

This weekend I attended an amazing international conference and wanted to share some of the outstanding information and insights I was fortunate to experience. Robert Schwartz is a researcher and author. On Saturday afternoon he conducted a session on divine virtues and life challenges. There was standing room only for this break out session! I imagine that his next book will include these virtues with the accompanying exercise. He suggests we use this information to help us get to a deeper understanding of the lessons we have individually CHOSEN to work on in this life time. Analyzing your own life lessons just makes the learning easier. I will give you my interpretation of the definition of each of the virtues and what you can do with them. It will take two blog entries to synthesize this information. Since the exercise at the end will include doing your own individual ranking by life challenges, I would suggest you print off a copy of this blog and combine it with next Sunday’s blog so you will have a complete set. You may be as surprised as I was at what you discover about your life plan. I know you will experience some incredibly helpful insight about your life! Enjoy!

14 OF THE 27 LIFE VIRTUES

1. Faith (in a Loving Universe/God)

2. Trust (in self, others and the Universe)

3. Acceptance (being able to walk in another person’s shoes and allow them to be themselves; to accept your present/past life circumstances)

4. Compassion (for self and others)

5. Courage (to speak and live your truth; being your authentic self)

6. Kindness

7. Self Love (to accept that you are a unique individual who has the God/Universal energy within)

8. Unconditional Love (the nonphysical type of love that honors and celebrates the uniqueness of all living things)

9. Peace

10. Joy

11. Gratitude

12. Empathy

13. Patience

14. Self-referencing (realizing that your intuition/gut reaction is based on truth and following it; tapping into yourself for knowledge and wisdom)

Think about some of these virtues and how they may seem to REAPPEAR in your life – maybe as a challenge or lesson – until you have mastered them. On Sunday, I will complete the other 13 on the list and explain how you can use them to determine what you decided to work on in this particular journey. Until then – happy contemplating!