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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Wired for Empathy and Connection

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 23rd 2010

neuronMother Theresa said “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.” Why might this be the biggest disease today? One reason may be that we’re wired to belong and when this need is not getting met we suffer.

Bestselling author, political adviser and founder of the Foundation for Economic Trends, Jeremy Rifkin says that “we are actually softwired, not for aggression, but for sociability, attachment, affection, companionship and that the first drive is the drive to actually belong.”

He lays out a wonderful commentary on this explaining how the finding of “mirror neurons” in the brain in the 1990’s suggests that a primal drive is empathy and we are set up to experience another’s feeling to stay connected.  So If I’m observing you and you are experiencing, anger, frustration, joy, or any other feeling, I can feel what you’re doing, the same neurons light up.

He lays out an informative and entertaining commentary of this in the video below:

Humans are absolutely a social species and are interconnected. In the past social isolation in a community meant certain death and social rejection was the path to a “broken heart.” Well, Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman at UCLA did a study published in 2003 that found that the same areas of the brain light up when experiencing social rejection as when experiencing physical pain.

The next time you walk into a store or see someone on the street and your mind passes them by as an object, keep in mind that the person is a human being “just like me,” as senior engineer Chade Meng-Teng at Google says. Allow the empathic neurons to light up saying “hello” and perhaps reaching out with a smile. That one act may not only shift that person’s day, but may be a contagion that spreads out to others.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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