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Kathy Marshack News

Post Traumatic Growth: Struggling to Find Meaning in Trauma

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


People can suffer through horrendous traumas, and then they find ways to turn the tragedy into a means for helping others. Learn how they’re experiencing post-traumatic growth and how you can develop greater resilience now.After being gang raped, a woman spends the rest of her life fighting for the rights of rape victims. After losing his legs in an armed conflict, a retired soldier dedicates his life to helping veterans. After surviving the vicious murder of her daughter by members of a different ethnic group, a mother advocates for racial equality. How do all of these people live through such horrendous experiences, find meaning in them, and become such selfless, giving people? While it wasn’t easy, they all experienced post-traumatic growth.

What is Post-traumatic growth (PTG)? It’s a theory that explains how positive transformation follows a trauma. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990’s. They hold that people who endure psychological struggle, following adversity, can often see positive growth afterward. Avoidance, on the other hand, perpetuates pain. You can’t fix the harshness of a trauma, if you can’t face it. Only then can you grow and live a better life.

According to Tedeschi, as many as 90 percent of survivors report an aspect of posttraumatic growth, such as a renewed appreciation for life. Some other aspects are:

  • Improved relationships with others.
  • New possibilities in life.
  • Personal strength.
  • Spiritual change.

Post-traumatic growth occurs when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs. Then they endure a psychological struggle, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After which, they ultimately find new understanding of themselves and the world they live in. They learn how to more closely relate to other people, and they come to a better understanding of how to live life.

Someone who has resilience when trauma occurs, won't be rocked to the core by the trauma and won't have to look for a new belief system. Less resilient people, on the other hand, will become distressed and confused as they question why such a terrible thing could happen to them.

There’s a lot you can do right now to prepare yourself, before a trauma occurs. Developing the highest level of empathy, EmD-5 or Radiant Empathy, allows you to hold onto your beliefs and values, no matter what happens to you. My new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS” reveals seven ways you can keep your resilience in the face of trauma. I invite you to download the first chapter for free. It will introduce you to the trauma I experienced, and how I thrived. Or you can purchase the book on Amazon to get the complete story, plus seven warrior lessons learned.

Mr. Rogers Was a Brilliant Example of Radiant Empathy

Wednesday, August 08, 2018


Mr. Rogers displayed Radiant Empathy - the highest form of empathy where a person holds dear the feelings of others, while keeping personal boundaries clear. For over 30 years, Mr. Rogers quietly and calmly entered our lives, as he put on his sweater and changed his shoes. He radiated kindness, goodness, acceptance and hope to every child he met. It wasn’t an act. His life was a reflection of his firmly held values and beliefs that we are all valuable just the way we are. Even in his last recorded message to his fans, he said,

“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”

His faith-based approach to viewing the world as a neighborhood helped him look for the positive in people and see their potential for healing of the world in their own small way. Making a difference doesn’t require big acts. His gentleness was the antithesis of the violence, abuse, and brutality that feeds the minds and hearts of children today.

He recognized the strength that comes from childlike humility, trust and vulnerability. He didn’t buy into the slogans of today - “Win at all costs;” “Do your own thing;” “Might makes right;” “I’ve got to look out for #1;” “The winner is the one who dies with the most toys;” “Weakness must be hidden;” “Winners are better than losers;” and “You’re nothing if you’re not rich”.

No matter what was happening in the news, he was able to hold dear the feelings of others, while at the same time keeping his personal boundaries clear. And that is the very definition of Radiant Empathy. It gave Mr. Rogers a gentle strength that is sorely missed today.

Radiant Empathy helps us let go of the negative and shift to the positive more quickly. I’m busily developing a new resource for you to learn more about Radiant Empathy. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter, then you’ll be one of the first to have access to it.

In the meantime, if you’d like to enlarge your empathic skills, read my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” which is a practical guidebook for enhancing self-awareness and making decisions that protect yourself, while contributing to the betterment of your neighborhood. This is what EmD-5 or Radiant Empathy is all about.

When Tragedy Strikes, Will You Be Able to Rise Above It?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


When Tragedy Strikes, Will You Be Able to Rise Above It?Why can some people rise above tragedy, while others are swallowed up by it? We’re all human, so what do these overcomers have that sees them through difficult times with such grace and dignity?

Psychologists have been grappling with this issue for years. While I don’t want to over simplify or minimize the suffering experienced, there’s a natural progression when tragedy strikes us personally - our emotions become highly engaged and then our dominant attitude takes over. Yes, attitude really is everything.

For example, if you’re prone to dwelling on the disappointment, you’ll sink into hopelessness and depression. If, on the other hand, you look for some meaning, you’ll bounce back more quickly. That forward-thinking, positive attitude is what fuels resilience.

Having a positive outlook in difficult circumstances is the most important predictor of how quickly you’ll recover from a tragedy. Resilience makes you better able to regulate your emotions, so you can maintain your optimism through anything.

I’ve found an interesting article in The Atlantic that collects together studies that show how a positive attitude, optimism and resilience are vital to coping with tragedy. This flies in the face of a popular strategy known as “venting.”

Ever since the time of Freud, psychologists have thought that people simply need to blow off steam to be happier. But venting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Dwelling on your suffering for even a short length of time or venting through punching something or yelling at someone tends to make people feel worse, not better. It’s only when you seek the silver lining that you make some sort of sense out of tragedy. The ultimate key to facing adversity with resilience is to find meaning in it. Probe into the causes and consequences of the tragedy and become wiser because of it.

Through my years of work, I’ve observed that the highest form of empathy on the EmD Scale, the complex trait of Radiant Empathy, contributes to greater resilience. It makes it easier to transform negative feelings into positive ones, because you develop greater emotional flexibility. You can let go of the negative and shift to the positive more quickly.

This summer, I’m working on pulling together a new resource for you to learn more about Radiant Empathy. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter, then you’ll be one of the first to know when it’s available.

In the meantime, if you’d like to enlarge your empathic skills, read my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” which is a practical guidebook for developing this quality. Or if you prefer 1:1 counseling, and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I offer online therapy if that works better for you.


Has Your Trust Been Betrayed? Learn How Your Brain Bias Tricks You

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


Find out where the decision–making process is breaking down when you trust someone you shouldn’t. Learn to recognize your own biases and use critical thinking to determine if there’s a solid basis for trusting someone.Have you ever put your trust in someone and then been disappointed? As evidenced by the number of divorces, failed business ventures, or broken friendships, it happens often. Which leads us to ask: Since the brain’s function is to protect us, why does it let us make bad decisions that harm us? Where is the decision–making process breaking down?

Because we’re bombarded with vast amounts of information every day, the brain uses shortcuts that allow the nonconscious brain to do things on autopilot, like tying your shoe or ducking when something is thrown at you.

But we get into trouble when these shortcuts are based on cultural biases that have been unwittingly encoded into our brains. They can lead us to draw wrong conclusions.

Oftentimes, these biases are based on similarity (“People like me are better than people who aren’t”); experience (“My perception of the world must be accurate”); and expedience (“It feels right, so it must be true”). As a result, we end up making major decisions based on criteria that doesn’t matter…the appearance, social position, mannerisms or talkativeness of a person. (Yes, in this culture, people who talk a lot are viewed as more trustworthy.)

It’s important to recognize your own biases and employ critical thinking to determine if there’s a solid basis for trusting and believing someone. Here are some tips:

  • Buy yourself some time between receiving information and making a decision.

  • Write out the precise steps that led to your decision and double check to see if you’re missing a vital piece of information or are misinterpreting something.

  • Talk it over with someone. As you hear yourself explain the situation, you’ll be more likely to identify your own faulty thinking. Their feedback can be invaluable, too.

  • Keep learning, because knowledge is power. The more you know, the less likely you’ll be duped or misled. 

  • In a business setting, have people write down their ideas, then review the ideas anonymously — that way you’re deciding based on the strength of the idea, not on the source.

Sometimes we make decisions that don’t feel right, because they go against our own notions of propriety and goodwill. To make healthier decisions, don’t always assume you must go with the flow for someone else’s sake. Develop the flexibility to be charitable to others, yet still have the common sense to take care of yourself.

Easier said than done, right? That’s why I wrote, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS.” Along with my personal story, it’s a guidebook for enhancing self-awareness and empathically making decisions that protect yourself, while allowing others the dignity to live life as they choose. This is what I call EmD-5 or Radiant Empathy.

Feeling Unsure of Yourself? Master Empathy and You’ll Master Competency

Monday, June 25, 2018


How often do you feel unsure of yourself – once in a while, all the time, or never? It’s not unusual for people to have trouble assessing their own skills and abilities. Read my latest blog post to find out how the quality of empathy is connected to your ability to achieve competency and discover the three steps to achieving Radiant Empathy.How often do you feel unsure of yourself – once in a while, all the time, or never? It’s not unusual for people to have trouble assessing their own skills and abilities. Some people tend to undervalue what they can do. On the other hand, some people overestimate themselves – a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in the world of psychology.

What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

To paraphrase what social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger discovered about the scale of cognitive bias:

  • Those with a little knowledge think they know everything, so they overestimate their abilities.
  • Those with average knowledge know they have much to learn, so they often underestimate their skills.
  • Those with a lot of knowledge think they’re nothing special, because they think everyone must surely know what they know.

Do you recognize yourself or someone you know, in any of those statements? It’s part of human nature to misjudge our own competency. That’s why it’s so important to understand who we are in relation to others. But this self-awareness only comes when we enhance our ability to be empathic.

How is empathy connected to accurately assessing your competency?

How would you know you do something well, if you don’t have something to compare your performance to? The kind of comparison I’m referring to is not about judging your self-worth, but it’s about judging your ability to perform. If someone does it better than you, then you know there’s room for improvement. Radiant Empathy helps you differentiate between self-awareness and self-worth.

There are three steps to achieving Radiant Empathy:

The first step to empathy is knowing, honoring, and caring for the feelings that matter to loved ones—similar to stepping into another person’s shoes.

The second step to empathy is being able to acknowledge what’s in the heart and mind of someone else, by reading the current context appropriately and responding with respect and love.

The third step to empathy requires you to know how you feel in relation to others. You can hold constant your feelings and thoughts, while you plumb the depths of another person.

For example, empathic people know that understanding the mind of another isn’t tantamount to agreeing with their beliefs or principles. EmD-0 people, however, believe that to voice their understanding means they’re indicating agreement. What a difference empathy makes!

Through practice and continued education, you can achieve Radiant Empathy. Stay tuned…I’m working on a website that will assist you in your development of this highest form of empathy. In the meantime, my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS” is a fantastic resource for starting your journey to Radiant Empathy.

Empowering Leaders Excel at This One Quality…So Can You!

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Throughout life, you’ll have opportunity to lead and empower others to achieve wonderful things…IF you fully tap into the power of one very specific quality – empathy. Do you think a childhood game is a good business model for today? Many companies seem to think so...As a child, you might have played Follow the Leader. The leader is out in front of the group and each member tries to copy the actions of the leader as closely as possible. Today many businesses are run by leaders who lead from the front, dictating the moves of each individual under their authority.

On the other hand, some exceptional organizations have learned that emphasizing the quality of empathy and leading from the sidelines is a highly effective style of leadership. Yes, there are still times when leaders must make command decisions to keep the business on course. But these leaders know they get the best performance from their team when they empower them to use their unique talents to achieve outstanding results.

How important is empathy to empowering leadership?

Without empathy, it’s impossible to empower others, because empathy is the quality that allows you to see others clearly. Here are seven reasons why displaying empathy is so important for people in leadership positions…

  1. It gets the focus off of self and onto others.
  2. It helps you prioritize the well-being of your team, so you look for ways to daily practice kindness and consideration.
  3. It makes you realize success hinges on your team, so you create a favorable work environment for them.
  4. It helps you work harder at explaining your vision and showing your team how they fit into it.
  5. It moves you to supply others with whatever they require to work at their best capacity.
  6. Problems are addressed with concern, not censure. Rather than leaping to punitive actions, the simple question, “Is everything okay?” helps a leader identify the source of a problem, so it can be fixed.
  7. It promotes team building.

I like how Simon Sinek explains empathic and empowering leadership in a recent Success article, “True leadership isn’t the bastion of a few who sit at the top. It’s the responsibility of anyone who belongs to a group, and that means all of us. We all need to step up, take the risk and put our interests second—not always—but when it counts.”

Learning to empathically lead others is a skill you can use in business, in your community and even within your family life. If you’d like to master this skill, I’d love to work with you in person at my office in Portland, OR. Please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online education if that works best for your busy schedule.

The Prison of Loneliness – It’s Time to Stage a Jailbreak!

Monday, May 21, 2018


The Prison of Loneliness – It’s Time to Stage a JailbreakDo you know someone who is wrongfully imprisoned? From personal experience, I can tell you it’s a frighteningly traumatic experience to be held in a literal jail without cause; to have no one who listens or supports you; to feel totally abandoned. (You can read about the three times I was falsely arrested in my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS.”) But the prisoner to whom I’m referring could be your next door neighbor who is a work-at-home entrepreneur, your widowed and elderly aunt, your sister married to an Aspie, your coworker living with an abusive partner, the clerk at the grocery store from another country…many people today are wrongfully in a prison of loneliness.

Your first reaction might be, “well, they just need to get out more and try harder.” But it’s not as easy as getting over a little bit of “cabin fever.” The bars of their prison may come from a lifetime of rejection, ostracism or abuse. Not only are there deep psychological wounds, but their plight also leads to physical pain and illnesses that further add to their social isolation. They become too weak to fight anymore. They give up.

Dr. Cacioppo, one of the founding fathers of social neuroscience, likened loneliness to hunger. A New York Times, in remembrance of him at his recent death, highlighted some of the profound things he’s taught us:

  • “About one in four Americans are lonely, without any confidants, and that social isolation results in negative emotional and physical consequences.”
  • “Chronic loneliness increases the odds of an early death by 20 percent, which is about the same effect as obesity, though obesity does not make you as miserable as loneliness.”
  • “Being with others doesn’t mean you’re going to feel connected, and being alone doesn’t mean you’re going to feel lonely.
  • “If the only acceptance you can get of yourself is a fake representation on the web, that’s not going to make you feel connected.”
  • “Being lonely is not the same as being alone.”

Loneliness causes people to turn their attention inward. They start second guessing themselves. Their minds race to the darkest possible conclusions.

What can we do? It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference. Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Really notice everyone you encounter.
  • Smile and say “hello” to each one.
  • Even if something about their situation makes you uncomfortable, acknowledge them as a fellow human deserving of dignity.
  • Listen with your whole being, when they speak.
  • Make a phone call, send a text or card to remind someone you value them.
  • Rather than having a critical attitude, look for the best in others and give praise when possible.

Being empathic, you “see” the plight and it moves you to do what you can. Are you the sort of person who fears getting involved, because it feels too draining? This indicates you still have room to improve your empathy skills; for the highest form of empathy, radiant empathy, lets you feel for others without confusing their pain or thoughts with your own.

I’m delighted to announce that developing Radiant Empathy will be the focus of my upcoming membership site. If this excites you as much as it does me, please sign up for my newsletter to receive notification of when it’s available.

Confused? Learn the Differences between Sensitivity and Empathy

Monday, March 26, 2018


. If you confuse sensitivity for empathy, you’re not alone. I’ve discovered that both neurotypicals and Aspies have trouble understanding the differences between sensitivity and empathy“He’s a really sensitive guy.” “She’s such an empathetic person.” You may think these statements describe the same characteristic. If you confuse sensitivity for empathy, you’re not alone. In my practice, I’ve discovered that both neurotypicals and Aspies have trouble understanding the differences. For example, how would you answer these questions?

  • Is it sensitivity or empathy to cry at the sight of an injured pet?
  • Is it sensitivity or empathy to feel comforted by an embrace?

Would you be surprised to learn that neither instance is empathy? To produce empathy a person needs an integrated symphony of neurology, traits and skills. Here’s how I define empathy in my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you”:

"Empathy is a dynamic, evolving process—not a human trait. From empathy comes the ability to hold dear the feelings and thoughts of others.
Those with highly-evolved empathy skills do not confuse the psychological boundaries between themselves and others. They can care, feel compassion and sympathize without taking on the responsibility for another person’s intentions or feelings. This distinction is critical. Empathy is respectfully allowing the other person to take responsibility for their life. (In AA and other 12-step programs, the ability to do this is called detachment.)
A symphony may best represent the dynamics of humans empathizing. A great composer creates a musical score that allows for the best use and sound of each instrument, while staying faithful to the melody and the meaning of the piece. Sometimes we hear a solo. Other times we embrace the resonance of the horn section or the rumble of the tympani. Often the room is filled with what sounds like a thousand string instruments. We may feel thrilled, calmed, or seduced by the music.

A symphony is not complete without the audience, which provides energy to the musicians. Have you noticed how much more alive a performance is when the audience emotionally joins with the orchestra? Empathy is like this, too. It is far more than the sum of its parts. It is the sense that everyone in the room is breathing the music. So, too, empathy creates a powerful oneness that lets us know we are not alone.”

Would you like to improve your ability to tell the difference between empathy and sensitivity? If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, I invite you to attend the one of the upcoming Video Conferences entitled “Sensitivity is Not Empathy.” They will be held on three different days: Thursday, April 5th, Wednesday, April 11th, and Wednesday, April 25th. Spaces are very limited, so grab your spot early.

If you haven’t heard yet, I’m pleased to tell you that my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” can now be purchased on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. I urge you to get a copy today. Its down-to-earth advice will teach you to protect yourself from those with Empathy Dysfunction. After you read it, please add your review on Amazon. I’d love to know what you think about it.

My Book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you” is Available!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying youWhat do these all have in common…narcissists, sociopaths, addicts, brain injured, autistics, a vengeful ex, corrupt city officials and greedy neighbors, bullies, stalkers, fake news mongers? Some people are upset that I include autistics and the brain injured in the same list as sociopaths and narcissists. But I do so only because they all lack some level of empathy. I ought to know. I’ve endured a 12-year perfect storm of a high conflict divorce, lawsuits, assaults, cyberstalking, false arrests, predatory prosecution, and the loss of my daughters to parental alienation. Throughout all these experiences I’ve noticed a common theme, namely people with Empathy Dysfunction (EmD).

The increasing prevalence of Empathy Dysfunction helps explain societal and family decay today. On the other hand, empathic acts are the stitches that hold the fabric of all relationships together. As neuroscientists map the human brain, we see the numerous connections that must be made to activate empathy. It’s a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy, and multiple transitions between the two. If one part of this amazingly intricate and complicated connection of circuits doesn’t work correctly, the system malfunctions. When the brain is damaged, whether through a war or sports injury, substance abuse, or congenital brain disorder, Empathy Dysfunction occurs. Empathy Dysfunction is so prevalent it's no longer if you meet someone with EmD, but when...

Have you ever...

  • Been victimized, swindled or lied to by your best friend?
  • Loaned money to loved ones who squandered the gift and never paid you back?
  • Had to fight unscrupulous prosecutors for your freedom?
  • Been forced to defend yourself from your vengeful ex or your ungrateful children?
  • Bumped into a beguiling, but shifty, stranger?
  • Felt someone following you?

If so, you've crossed paths with someone operating with Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). My new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” helps you not only understand why this is happening, but how to protect yourself from those hell-bent on destroying you. 

What will you find inside “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS”?

  • Hard-learned lessons on how to stand up for yourself when dealing with people who literally couldn’t care less about you.
  • A way to identify those with a dysfunctional lack of empathy using the new Empathy Dysfunction Scale (EmD Scale), so you can shield yourself from the destruction they leave in their wake.
  • Clues you should never ignore for your own safety - like a rotten neighbor, friends who start believing the nasty gossip spread by your ex-partner, or a nagging feeling you're being watched. Pay attention, it may be because "they" really are out to get you.
  • Warrior training to protect yourself from dangerous people. If you've been hurt just once, or maybe too many times to count by a person with EmD, apply the warrior training in this book, increase your own empathy to a higher level, and reclaim the beautiful life you are meant to live.
  • Seven life-preserving tips that will protect you and enhance your own level of empathy.

The truth is, sometimes, people are out to get you: Be prepared. Use “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS” to help you navigate the unruly world of Empathy Dysfunction. If you haven’t done so already, please download a free sample chapter. I’m pleased to announce that you can now order the entire book on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. And after reading it, please be sure to go back to Amazon and leave a review. I’d appreciate it!

Choose Your Empathy Perspective Wisely – It’s the Difference Between Mental Health and Anguish

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Empathy is what binds all humans. It’s in the act of relating and connecting to others that we become more human and develop our identity within the human family.

On the other hand, Empathy Dysfunction can divide us from that human family. Attempting to engage with someone with Empathy Dysfunction can leave us feeling unheard and unimportant. This disconnect brings us down emotionally and creates chaos in our lives in no time flat!

Empathy is multidimensional – it’s a dynamic, evolving process, not a human trait. From empathy comes the ability to hold dear the feelings and thoughts of others. And if your empathy skills are highly-evolved you won’t confuse the psychological boundaries. You won’t be taking responsibility for another person’s intentions or feelings. This distinction is critical. Empathy is respectfully allowing the other person to take responsibility for his or her own life. (In AA or other 12-step programs, the ability to do this is called detachment.)

Because most people register EmD-4 on the scale, (more about the Empathy Dysfunction Scale in an upcoming blog post) they can often confuse these boundaries and take on too much for themselves. They energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others — and often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from our own.

A new study shows that how we arrive at the empathy – our perspective – is as important as being empathetic. Researchers found that there are two routes we take to achieving empathy.

One approach observes and infers how someone feels – the imagine-other perspective-taking (IOPT).
The second approach is putting yourself in someone’s shoes – the imagine-self perspective-taking (ISPT).

How do these empathy perspectives differ?

You can acknowledge another person’s feelings without it affecting you deeply. That’s the IOPT perspective.

The ISPT ups the ante by actually taking on the emotions you see in the other person. They’re sad and you feel sad. The researchers in this study found that:

“When we are feeling threatened or anxious, some peripheral blood vessels constrict, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body, and people who engaged in ISPT had greater levels of this threat response compared to people who engaged in IOPT.”

It’s important to learn how to continue to be empathetic without that empathy creating a burden. If you don’t, you’ll burn out or at the least shy away from helping others, because it’s just too painful.

Dr. Poulin, one of the co-authors of the above study, suggests, “Rather than saying to a child, ‘How would you feel if that were done to you?’ maybe we should be saying, ‘Think about how that person is feeling,’”

My new book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you sheds a great deal of light on how you can protect yourself and still be a highly empathetic person. My readers get a sneak preview…download a free chapter even before it’s available for sale. After reading it, I’d love to hear feedback over on my Facebook page.



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