Why are empaths misunderstood

Empathy makes us unwise to make decisions

And another misunderstanding creates confusion. It is said again and again that a deep understanding of others requires empathic empathy. The discovery of mirror neurons by brain researchers at the University of Parma (Italy) in the mid-1990s gave rise to a popular myth: Only that which activates the mirror cells in the head and triggers an internal simulation of other people's actions or intentions can be mentally penetrated. In general terms, however, this is wrong.

On the one hand, abstract, logical conclusions allow us to gain insight into foreign concepts and ways of acting. On the other hand, too much empathy can stand in the way of gaining knowledge.

For example, imagine a movie scene in which a gang is ambushed by a western hero. Precisely because our view, conveyed by the camera, is not limited to the view of the protagonist, we can assess where and how he is threatened and what needs to be done. The person concerned, on the other hand, gropes in the dark. If we were to look at the scene through his eyes, it would appear confused and eerie to us. (That's why filmmakers like to use tricks like this to increase the tension.) We feel with the hero to a certain extent, our hearts are pounding and we are excited, but we are not really in his shoes, do not feel that Same as him. Rather, we are one step ahead of them.

It is similar when we are completely consumed by the plight of others. Looking beyond the current situation and recognizing possible ways out is often surprisingly difficult. Looking at others or oneself from the outside, on the other hand, tends to help clear the thicket of feelings. How did the situation in question come about? How can it go on now?

It makes no sense to play off egoism and empathy against each other

Meaningful answers only emerge from the third-person perspective. So what does the current debate about the value of empathy teach us? First, the idea that more compassion is always better is apparently wrong. An excess of empathy and identification can be counterproductive - whether in partnership or in education, in therapy or in solving problems of all kinds. And secondly, we have to manage our empathy and pay attention to who we give it to - and above all who not.

When it comes to empathy, we should rather ask about when and what for, rather than good or bad. The ability to empathize with our neighbors has enormous power over how we think and act. Those emotional states that others trigger in us or into which we, conversely, put our fellow human beings, often serve quite intuitively as a yardstick for what seems right or wrong, morally necessary or absurd. The ability to empathy not only helps us to stand by, help and share in times of need, but also to assert our own interests in a skilful and socially acceptable manner.

Literature tip

Bloom, P .: Against Empathy. Bodley Head, London 2016.

The psychologist Paul Bloom turns against the idealization of empathy - and opposes it with the concept of "rational benevolence" (rational compassion).