Monday, April 7, 2014

What is the opposite of Spiritual Meanness?

There are so many medical conditions out there. If you are suffering from something, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will find a name for it.

You could never suffer from “Empathy Deficit Disorder” right. Well, it is not a new disorder or even listed as one but Douglas LaBier, Ph.D coined the term recently. Whether or not it is an official disorder, in today’s society, it is acute and definitely real. In fact, it appears it is widespread and those who suffer from it do not even realize they have it.

There are stigmas attached to being diagnosed with a mental disorder or traumatic brain injury. That is fact, I ask, what if you suffer from something that significantly impacts you and others, creates adversarial attitudes, deterioration of personal relationships, and ultimately lack of communication?

Take for example, a woman experiencing a significant challenge in her life complaining her companion does not appear to be present when he is with her or make an effort to include her in his personal life . . . after a year of seeing each other. She also wished he complimented her more, providing relationship security that reassures her he is thinking of her throughout the day. On a more serious note, the medical community has determined anyone facing significant adversity benefits psychologically from strong support from family, friends, and that level of support necessary to one’s health.

Of course, his response is that she is being selfish, she just doesn't "get it" because he works long hours, he is tired, he has too much on his plate but makes clear he is not changing up his life for her. Now she's feeling rejected because she dwells on him only having her her over to dinner with his children one time in over a year and dined out possibly four times. He throws in that he has other friends that are good people and he is "present in the moment" with them when visiting or out. They don't complain. He explains there is a higher spiritual order or purpose to his activities that she refers to as “vanishing acts”. Because she doesn't feel included ambiguity sets in and so does the imagination. She begins to question where she ranks in this spiritual order, feels hurt, resentment sets in and tension grows in the relationship.  

So basically, the woman’s feelings of love toward the man are genuine but as Dr. LaBier describes, Empathy Deficit creates emotional isolation for both parties. The man simply does not see her world, through her eyes or heart because his own needs are his reality. He is totally emotionally disconnected from her appearing to even intentionally hurt her by applying her insignificance to his other friends and her lack of importance in this spiritual mission he claims to live. Of course, this could just be a clouded perception she has. However, let us examine empathy and the "bigger picture" of its importance in the world.

Dr. LaBier explains the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy allows a person to “understand another person’s circumstance” but only through their own eyes and experience. Even having sympathy can remain a self-centered attitude toward what another person is experiencing. “Even a Narcissist can be sympathetic in this way”, LaBier says.

Empathy is the feeling you experience by stepping out of yourself and stepping into another person’s heart and mind, enabling you to experience another person’s emotions, inner turmoil, his or her dreams and it does not take mind-reading to accomplish.

Empathy is necessary to build healthy relationships and LaBiers contends it is an essential part of good mental health.

The lack of empathy alienates the person from others and from their own emotions. People that lack empathy for others forget that others depend on feeling connected and in today’s world, it is necessary for people to survive. Without empathy extended to others, they feel abandoned. 

Putting the lack of empathy into perspective, professionals agree that the deficiency of empathy is created by a person’s focus on acquiring things, money, people, power, status, and vanity. Now, we all must admit we become self absorbed at times but it can become habit. One loses sight of  what creates healthy relationships because they are concerned only with their own needs.

Researchers say MRI’s indicate humans have “mirror neurons” that allow regions of the brain to feel not only emotions but physical sensations when truly empathizing with another human being’s distress.

Therefore, as Empathy Deficit can also be called self-absorption, it is not impossible to change one's perception of the differences of others and their reactions to situations. In a world where nations are warring due to cultural intolerance and spiritual beliefs, it takes expanding our consciousness and being conscience to truly walk a spiritual path (and in another's shoes) and refrain from passing judgment, telling someone how they should be thinking or acting to change their situation, or basically reducing their feelings to what we feel is nonsense.

In the aftermath of 9/11 it was pure empathy that motivated those fireman to wade through heated metal hours after they could have gone home. Those who suffered trauma witnessing people jump from the towers needed those around them, those who love them to have empathy because they will be forever impacted by the experience. It does not mean they cannot recover, but having a healthy, respectful, and loving support network means, they are not going it alone.

Empathy separates people from objects and deepens your understanding and respect for others . . . besides for those with spiritual beliefs, those who want to help the world, remember that nowhere in the Bible does it tell you to send someone blindly walking alone into the path of an oncoming train. If anything, it encourages us to make an effort to connect, feel, love and hold another’s hand while crossing the tracks.

Written by Kym L. Pasqualini

Kym L. Pasqualini