Empathy – practicing I.

Practicing empathy on weekdays

We can see practicing empathy like an opportunity which occurs if some special conditions are attained. Since we have limited time usually in social interactions and our focus can be easily disturbed, that’s why conditions are not attained in most of our social situations. To reach deep level of empathy like level 5-6 not just quiet environment is necessary but also it requires experience. These two conditions attains mainly when we have therapy with a professional. Improving our empathic ability has several ways, like looking for professional help. This way is trustworthy and the success is guaranteed. The other one takes time, possible to fail. The key is in both ways make an effort to overshadowing ourselves and psyching up with other people. Make an effort to pay more attention to another and try to feel him/her but also in the meantime observe our own emotions and impressions.

With practicing we can achieve that this ability is able to become an attitude, which makes us to live our life and acting with people more circumspectly.

How to start?

I collected some disturbing attitudes which prevent us to be an empath. Here they are:

  1. During my talks I’m starting to think about things which are nothing to do with the other person has to say;
  2. Instead of listening to another after few words I am already thinking what I am going to say;
  3. I start to label the other person on the basis of what she/he says;
  4. I filter information from the other person according to what I have known about him/her;
  5. I often interrupt the other person;
  6. I often interrupt the other person in his/her train of thoughts;
  7. I often sit like the other person can’t keep eye contact with me;
  8. I don’t give nonverbal signs of listening;
  9. I don’t pay attention his/her nonverbal communication or I easily can misinterpret it;
  10. I use labels like “after all she is a woman, isn’t she?”;
  11. I preach – I tell to the other person what he/she should do;
  12. I establish a “diagnose” very fast and persist in it;
  13. I push away the other person’s fear instead of understanding them. Like “Oh it’s so foolish” or “It is not relevant”;
  14. I use clichés like “Which done is done!”;
  15. I often undervalue topics and saying like “You should not be sad because of this!”
  16. I often give fake satisfaction saying like “Don’t worry it can’t happen.”;
  17. I often become inpatient when another tries to explain the situation detailed;
  18. I often doesn’t accept the other person’s feelings saying like “It’s stupid that you feel like this.”;
  19. I play and change the subject getting more attention;
  20. I often stay in silence and just listen without saying a word.

First step is to observe ourselves if we have one of those attitudes or some of them. After we could have identified try to avoid them, like if we feel like to interrupt the other person force ourselves not to do it, keep our focus on what she/he is saying. Some of these attitudes are about stereotypes what we have and some of them are connected to lack of communication skills. Like not giving eye contact or not saying “I see” or not summarizing what she/he said. Profound self-knowledge is essential to become an empath or improving our empathic ability.

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Do an experiment! Observe yourself which attitude you have from the list above. Trust me it is not that easy as its sounds. After recognition try to find the answer why you have this attitude, what its origin is. Or how often you do it and how it influences your social relationships. Test yourself!

Next week I give you exercises and characteristics of an empath.

Sources: Joseph P. Forgas: Interpersonal Behaviour. The psychology of Social Interaction (1985)

Daniel Goleman:  Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman: Social Intelligence

Self-justification II.

In my previous post you could have seen that how easy to cheat ourselves sometimes. We can say that self-justification is a kind of excuse or comfortable lie in a contradiction to uncomfortable truth. If people commit themselves to an attitude a communicator can cause dissonancy and to decrease this tense condition the best way is to distort proofs or refuse them. The more we are committed ourselves to an attitude all the more we are willing to refuse every counter-arguments. It can show that to decrease dissonancy also drives us to a distortion of objective world because generally people do not like to see or hear things which are contrast with their own core believes or wishes.

Dissonancy and rational behaviour

Very often dissonancy deduction behaviour is very irrational. Because often this means wrong adaptation and can prevent someone from cognizance of important facts or finding real solutions for a problem. In the other hand it has a rational function as well which is protection the self, the ego; through it we can maintain our positive self-image which is we are good, smart and man of merit. We can look at this self-defence mechanism as very useful but sometimes can cause fatal consequences. (Generally people especially nowadays are willing to choose a comfortable lie rather than the painful truth even if it is still a lie.) Several studies prove the illogicality of dissonancy deduction. (Jones, E. – Kohler, R. 1959). Well it is always comforting us if all of the wise people are on our side and all of the stupid are on the other (which is not real but that is how we want to see and believe it).  We do not process information on an objective and impartial way. Quite the contrary, we distort them onto a way they fit into our previous conceptions. (Lord, C. – Ross, L. – Lepper, M. 1979) We all can point out in our behaviour that we can behave rationally and irrationally as well. There are people who are able to handle dissonancy better than others depending on circumstances.

Dissonancy like a consequence of decision

After making a decision nearly always people experience dissonancy – especially after a decision which required a lot of time, money or effort. It is because the chosen alternative hardly completely positive and the rejected is never completely negative. After a difficult decision people like to get enough calming about the rightness of their decision so they are looking for information which can confirm it. After a decision making people highlight the positive side of the chosen option and decrease negative ones of the refused and the opposite.

External and internal justification

Several times happen that people say the opposite of what they think or they believe. For instance; Christina and Maria are not too close friends but they are shopping together. Maria is trying a dress on and asking Christina’s opinion. Christina’s first thought is this dress looks awful but since she doesn’t want to hurt Maria’s feeling she says that; “This dress fits you well, you look so pretty!” Theoretically, Christina’s content of consciousness about herself is like she is an honest person is not compatible what she just said. To release the dissonancy she needs a new content of consciousness which can be that it is important not to hurt people’s feeling. “I lied not to hurt someone!” It’s an effective way of dissonancy deduction  and it was determined by a situation. It’s called external justification. First we always look for external justifications and if we don’t find any we try to find internal ones which means changing our own attitudes which fit what we said. Like “That dress did not look as bad on her”.

Where from we get our core believes? Do we get them? Some part of it yes from our parents and from our closed environment and society by socialization and some part of it through our own experiences.

According to Charles Darwin, the key of survival depends on the ability of adaptation. What if someone is not open-minded and has strong core believes (incorrect or outmoded way of thinking) without flexibility? Well, there is only one thing constant in life which is the change. Our world is changing daily and we are forced to adapt those changes. If we are not opened for new information or ideologies and having lack of flexibility, we can experience cognitive dissonancy over and over again almost daily. So how we can avoid to face with frequent dissonancy? A common solution is isolation. Information and social isolation. Easier to put our head into sand as a denial than looking for dissonancy deduction solutions all the time. Inflexible people do it so often. They look for friends who are almost the same, same ideology same view, same culture, same classes of society, same education or religion and they avoid social interactions with other people which can create an opportunity for dissonancy to appear by talking about several topics with those who are different. Inflexible and closed-minded people are mainly who judge others, continuously defending themselves and their point of view and believe they are always right. Do you know a person like that? I am sure you do!

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These kind of people actually live in a bubble which is their own prison.

Continuously defending ourselves and refusing new things, facts or others’ point of view take so much energy, make us unhappy and living in a world which can be far from the reality. Living like surrounded by great walls made by us (fears, misbelieves) not just defends us also prevents to develop and experience good things as well. We all have a strong ego defence system but we must see, understand and experience there is nothing wrong with us, if we are or have been wrong or have been thinking on a not correct way. From time to time people learn from their mistakes and able to improve and develop. In ideal case we are able to say that “Yes, I was wrong.” “What kind of lesson can be drawn from it?”

How can we reach that?

  1. Recognize, acknowledge and understand our own defence and dissonancy deduction tendencies.
  2. Realize even if we did something silly or unmoral thing that still doesn’t mean we are silly and unmoral people for good.
  3. We develop enough self-strength to take our own mistakes.
  4. We evolve that capacity to perceive that comprehension of our mistakes are useful and fruitful in terms of growth and learning.

I know it is easier to write down than work on it. If you had found some misbelieves which hinder you from being confident, happy and harmonious with yourself and with others you always can look for help to achieve them. As a therapist I can assure you it is possible to become open-minded and peaceful with yourself and with others just by improving your self-knowledge. If you want to be delivered from your wrong misbelieves, set free from your own prison; contact me and I can show you it is possible.

  A very good friend of mine told me once: Living with refusal just you will be poor.

 

Source:

Aronson, E.: The Social Animal (1999)

Forgas, J.P.: Interpersonal Behaviour. The Psychology of Social Interactions (1985)

Self-justification I.

A last weekend event inspired me to pick up and write about this topic. It was a discussion about eating vegetarian-vegan. Meat-eating people started to explain how plant based eating is not that much healthy and how meat-eating is so beneficial. I was sitting there and recognized how their self-justifications were so strong necessary (it was not) and how their cognitive dissonancy with passive aggression created an argument.

What does exactly self-justification mean?

People generally are motivated to justify their own actions, thoughts, ideologies and emotions, trying to convince others about what he/she has done or did is logical and rational. Like in the example above. Even tough someone knows (proved by science) that eating too much meat and saturated fat (also not eating vegetables) is unhealthy he must justify his own behaviour of believes. It can be done by several ways. To have two incompatible contents of consciousness cause cognitive dissonancy.

Cognitive dissonancy

It is a kind of tense condition, which appears all the time when the person has two contents of consciousness (thought, attitude, view or opinion) but incompatible with each other psychologically. Differently if we consider each of them by itself then an opposite of one follows from another. Since cognitive dissonancy is an uncomfortable feeling people are motivated to decrease it. To keep on two conflicting views means is absurd so those two contents of consciousness or at least one of them must be changed like preferably compatible, consonance or like insert new contents of consciousness which will bridge over the gap between the original contents. Most of the people think that own believes and attitudes must be consistent with their behaviour so when they act contrary to their previous and existent attitudes, they feel motivated to explain and/or justify own behaviour.

How can cognitive dissonancy be released?

Using the example above, there is one person who eats a lot of meat, fried food without eating any vegetables. Once this person is reading a medical study about eating too much meat, fried food and not eating vegetables causes cardio and cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and obesity. This person will experience dissonancy. The knowledge that he eats on a very unhealthy way is not compatible with that knowledge this way of eating causes for instance cancer. The most radical way to release this dissonancy would be to change the way of eating (but we all know, to make a change in our life, especially major a change, is so difficult) because after that change those two knowledges become compatible with each other. Imagine that, this person will try to change his way of eating but does not succeed. So what else can he do to release the dissonancy? Certainly he is going to do something with the other knowledge which is eating too much meat causes cancer. Like he tries to doubt facts about the relationship between eating too much meat and cancer. He makes himself believe that the experimental proofs are not convincible or he can mention someone who eats on the same way but without any health problems therefore if that person has no any disease he will not have either. Eventually to decrease the absurd characteristic of his behaviour he can identify himself with new contents of consciousness which are more compatible with eating unhealthy. So he might attach more important meaning to eating unhealthy. Like eating so much meat without vegetable is healthy and important and part of his personality. Like “I might not live that long but I enjoy it.” These kind of behaviours decrease dissonancy because they decrease the absurd nature of it. This person justifies his behaviour cognitive thus decreased the danger or exaggerated the importance of his action. Ultimately he succeeded to interiorize an attitude or change an existing one.

What kind of self-justifications can you recognize in your life? How do they influence your life or your self-control? Are you an open-minded person or chained to own core believes?

To be continued….

Source: Aronson, E.: The Social Animal