Monday, March 12, 2012

A Day in the Life

Happy Monday to you all!

Being an introvert, I often analyze myself to a great degree. I want to take this post to show you how to improve yourself, become more aware of your body and mind, as well as a general improvement of your level of empathy.

Empathy is a very interesting feeling, nearly indescribable, but it is the feeling of "seeing" and being someone else, or something else. Animal rights activists usually would state that have a great deal of empathy, even for another species. The idea of empathy is somewhat difficult to decipher - are we placing ourselves in their shoes, or are we literally experiencing their place in existance? (I don't mean some kind of spiritual-mind-swapping, simply the difference of our interpretation of their feelings, or are we literally taking up their feelings?) I believe it makes the most sense to assume the prior, but at any rate, it is an important attribue, and some psychologists and neurologists believe to be the newest evolution of the brain (while others say it is inherent in primates).

The first oncoming of empathy is at a very young age, and as my girlfriend was nice enough to explain, psychologists believe it happens right around the point when children no longer want their parents to see them taking a bath or going potty. It is the realization that one's parents are people and have their own view-points that brings about this privacy issue (as well as society's clothing standard!). We gain empathy at a young age and most definitely it grows and learns as much as we do. It is a very profound feeling when you realize that all the people in the world are singular, carry their own consciousness, and live their lives based on that.

Enhancing your ability to use empathy for the benefit of yourself and others is a crucial development to becoming happy as well as secure about yourself and your life. Without empathy, your ability to judge social situations may suffer, and you may find yourself seeing some interesting consequences - including the diminishing of friends.

I had always had a great deal of empathy. I remember at one point in my life a man had been stabbed at school. His injuries were severe, but he was going to live. The empathetical view of the knife-wielder struck me, however. The man with the knife had never met the victim, and had no reason to knife him other than pure anger (at what? - who knows). Upon learning of the even I sat in class unable to concentrate ont he subject matter, but rather staring blankly, trying to understand the stabber's frame of mind. When I arrived at home I sat in the dark, somewhat distrubed by the event, but more so by the empathetical view of a violent man's perspective.

It was this great deal of empathy towards analyzing other's mind-sets that got me wondering what exactly I am like. I can see myself in the mirror, and I can see myself on camera, but this view of me is biased - I am always in my own mind's perspective. I came up with an idea - what I will call "Reverse empathy", which is the ability to see yourself through someone else's eyes. The idea is simple, but depends on your ability to "read" and empathize with other people - you basically must see your friends and social interactions as mirrors, that react in various ways to your actions. A constant empathizing with someone while staying within the social situation.

When I was about seventeen years old I "saw" myself for the first time. I was able to view myself unbiased from my own perspective, but what is best described as omnipotently. It is a very harsh and confronting realization to see exactly what you are! Most of all, my realization of how I act brought about a a rapid change in me. I was able to identify what other's saw as annoying, or perhaps even awkward behavior (I have been called "weird" all my life - with other versions of the word - "liquid" being my favorite.) As a quiet person, with a strong hint of sarcasm, the amount of behaviors I portrayed that were perhaps socially unacceptable were fairly common. At first this ability to view myself unbiased was a curse - I felt like I had been an idiot all my life, saying and doing things I now regretted, being a jerk, or most commonly, saying things that just didn't make sense.

As time went on, and the introspection didn't leave, I began to do it in nearly every social situation, with hefty confrontations! The disgust of my behavior soon gave way to rapid improvement and the ability to speak with more confidence and brilliance! Although I still do not enjoy public speaking, I was able to handle being President of a University club, tutor, and volunteer in social situations with great results - had I done this without new found reverse-empathy, it would be quite funny to watch.

SO! On to the important stuff - how do you do it, why do you want to do it, and how can you do it better?

The most important attribute is empathy, plain and simple. It is not something you can learn from reading an instruction manual but rather something that must be honed and discovered yourself! A certain study showed that a great deal of Americans do not have a good ability to empathize one's facial expressions, but confuse anger with depression, and sadness with confusion, etc. My advice to gain empathy is to simply watch a movie, and imagine the actors on set. Imagine what they are thinking while they act, rather than what they actually say (this is easy for bad actors, heh) - this will increase your awareness of another's consciousness beyond what is simply displayed. The next time you watch any TV show do the same, imagine you are on the set, being the actor, or the director, this is a great way to increase empathy. Pretty soon you will be able to distinguish actors from real emotions!

Once you have become comfortable with this, see if you can do it in social settings. Bars are great for trying to read people (sorry if I seem creepy at this point, I am a fly on the wall everywhere I go). The drunker a person is, the harder it is for them to hide true intentions. Picking up on pitch changes in voice, and word selection is a bit more difficult to learn and I'll leave that up to you - but it will ultimately increase your empathy even more.

Finally, the reverse empathy - the ability to see your "reflection" in another person. Once you have gained a good grasp on empathy, see if you can see how others perceive you. It is easier to do on new acquantainces (because you haven't formed intimate bonds and understandings - these will cloud true empathy amongst other emotions). You must first empathize with the person, understanding their outlook on things, followed by their reactions to your actions and words.

A small sample of things to look out for (for both empathy and reverse empathy):

Pitch and tone - The sound of a voice, and the pitch of certain phrases give away a lot.
•Overly happy/nice often means the person is more concerned with their appearance than having any interest in you, you won't get much out of them unless you dig (say something really off the wall) - this will get them to show a truer side of them.

Head space - How attentive are they? Do they make eye-contact? Is there any hand or head motions when they speak?
•Someone who seems distracted - looking at their phone or remaining silent and looking everywhere but you is an obvious sign of uninterest.
•Talking without hand motions usually shows lowered interest.

Word choice - This will be very hard to quantify, it will depend on the person and is up to you to identify!
•While in conversation, (these depend on the person, of course), long or weak "yeahs" will show the person actually does not agree or does not care. "Yeah" is the universal for "I want to be nice but you are boring me".
•A reply with "Yeah, I don't know" often means the person wants to say something, but is too uncomfortable to really say it, for a number of possible reasons.
•Using strong language (like cursing) when speaking about something will show the person is not thinking about you - but rather the subject matter. Good for empathy, bad for reverse empathy.

Facial cues - The final and most telling of all. I cannot explain them, as I myself can't seperate them out, but they are easily learned and picked up on. The better you become at picking up facial cues, the easier both empathy and reverse empathy will be.

And to keep this radically psychonautical - taking psychedelics after having learned new empathy will catapult your understanding of reading body language and facial expressions!

Good luck! Have fun!

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