For a long time science has tried to explain the extraordinary human capacity to understand what others feel or think, understand the intentions of others and how to react appropriately to others reactions. The discovery of a brain system called “mirror neurons” revolutionized this theory. These neurons are activated when we perceive emotions or actions of others, providing the brain with the same information which generates our own emotions or actions. We know what is feeling someone who laughs because, by seeing him, the same areas of the brain that are involved when we laugh are activated. In the same way, it is probable that observing a spider going up the arm of someone the situation does not make us indifferent.
But, what is empathy?
Empathy can be defined as that which helps us to exercise a good influence on the emotions of others, It allows us to feel others who we are in the same “tuning”. Arises as a conscious and unconscious signals, that can be very subtle or very obvious, causing that a person “like” other, whether known or not. It is certainly the key to create successful relationships, generating well-being in any area of our life.
Some people are emphatic naturally, but others are not. The last ones have a lower ability to activate their mirror neurons, they fail to connect with each other and therefore, the interaction is uncomfortable because they don’t know how to connect naturally with others. People who define themselves as little emphatic or not sociable, have not developed this skill and their own belief system has imposed them ideas such as: “I can not be sociable”, “it is hard to be empathetic“, “I do not like socializing”, etc.; when we repeat ourselves this, we are unconsciously training our brains to be exactly as we do not want to be.
How do influence mirror neurons to empathy?
There is an important link between mirror neurons and empathy. Thanks to our powerful ability of imagination, we can understand the mental states of others by simulating them in our brain and feeling the same thing, this is called imitation. Different regions of the brain that contain these particular neurons, are connected with emotions (limbic system), which in turn is correlated to empathy. Meaning that, the more active are these regions, the more emphatic we are. Therefore, we have a greater propensity to create friendly links with others.
How can we develop our empathy?
Now we know that our level of empathy can be increased and -by having full knowledge of our physiology- we can consciously exercise this capability to use it in a natural way.
- Imitation is one of the most effective techniques. To imitate a person than seems empathetic, we are exercising our mirror neurons and, at the same time, modeling our ability to empathize.
- Listen with an open mind and without prejudices: pay attention to verbal, body language, tone of voice and facial expressions; in the feelings and reactions of the other. This allows expressing freely to grasp their feelings.
- Develop the ability to identify what makes the other feeling rewarded in relation to its qualities or achievements, with this you capture his/her attention and, as a result, a better communication.
- Before giving your opinion on a subject, make sure to have enough information and that the other person has told you everything he wanted to and that you’ve heard and interpreted correctly, both conscious and unconscious as well as the verbal and non-verbal message.
- Keep a good predisposition to accept the differences you have with others, be tolerant and practice patience, in this sense, take care about your reaction in order to avoid transmitting a negative message. We don’t want the other person’s neurons to perceive this as unpleasant.
It is essential to educate our empathy and encourage the education of our children in this area. To put ourselves in the place of the others to understand what they need, should be a subject in any primary school. Knowing that we can apply this behavior in the personal field and also in the work environment throughout our entire life, surely, we will have the capacity to not only make healthy and fulfilling relationships, but also develop a path of success in all areas of our life.