Ich fühle, was du fühlst

Empathy: I Feel What you Feel

Empathy is the foundation of trust. Justine, the first wife of Elon Musk, describes in a biography by Walter Isaacson how she tried to explain the principle of true empathy to her husband during a car ride. She needed him to feel similarly to how she felt. Elon argued that he had trained himself to have a certain psychological acumen that helped him in corporate management. Justine explained that it was not about reading and analyzing the other person's thoughts.


Justine and Elon Musk had to endure the painful loss of their first son. They wanted more children right away, and soon twins and triplets followed. Despite both of their efforts in the partnership, they divorced, and shortly after, Elon got engaged again after a two-week acquaintance.


People cannot live alone; they need social relationships—without them, they die. Because this is significant for our survival, nature has arranged it so that it feels good to understand others. We also have physical organs for this: the mirror neurons in the brain, which spontaneously allow us to experience the same things internally as the people or animals we observe. Observed or consciously imagined events activate the same electrical and chemical impulses in our brain that occur when we actually experience these events ourselves, though weaker. However, we can precisely distinguish whether we experienced it ourselves, observed it, or just imagined it. These mirror neurons are just one organ that allows us to instinctively understand others. To truly feel with others, you need more.


For example, one must be vigilant. For vigilance, attention, and concentration, we need the cholinergic system in the brain. This system keeps the signals ready that send alertness messengers to the body so that everything in our body is set to "attention." In this state, we can perceive others in their entirety and truly see them. We have 43 facial muscles and only 26 letters in our language. Can you imagine how precisely we speak with our face?


The Arduous Path to Love…

The journey begins with seeing the other person and being intuitively curious about them. Then we want to perceive the other with all our senses. This allows us to GET TO KNOW the other person. This includes touches through which we get to know the entire body of the other person. It starts with the touches of the newborn, continues in friendships, and culminates in sexuality, where we again bring newborns into the world of social skills.


Touches serve the function of emotionalizing. We have them to develop trust. However, not everyone can equally well touch others with love and recognize their emotions. To do this, we must know our own needs; otherwise, we cannot sense the needs and feelings of others.


In the corresponding phases of our own development, we must have had people around us who could adequately recognize our needs. It essentially depends on our parents whether we can feel our own needs or are capable of empathizing with others or trusting in relationships. However, it is always possible to learn these skills later. The unfortunate part is that those affected usually do not want to, as we saw with Elon Musk. For example, he was afraid of losing his ability to lead his company if he empathized with his wife.


Why I Feel What You Feel…

The ability to care for one’s own needs and empathize with others begins in pregnancy and the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. At birth, one-third of the genetically predisposed abilities we bring into this world are already activated. The unused genetic abilities have withdrawn into the DNA. The principle "use it or lose it" applies here too. The recipes for the abilities are no longer readable there. Later, if we want to read them again, we must first find the way to this archive in the DNA.


Already in the womb, through the mother's blood hormones, our sense of well-being or stress activation is formed. If the mother feels well, we start this world relatively calmly. If the mother experiences deep sadness and despair during pregnancy, the stress system is already very active when we are born. We are then much more easily stressed than children who had a cozy time in the womb.


With the mother's emotional life, we already get to know the whole family in the womb. We hear the caregivers in the womb, though 40 decibels quieter, but we hear them. We experience how the mother reacts to others. This also gives us an idea of the father. How does the expectant mother experience him? Does she release feel-good hormones when he comes, or is she afraid of him? We already know him quite well when we enter this world. It’s the same with the further environment, with siblings and pets.


Everything is Fine Again…

At some point, the nourishment in the womb is no longer sufficient, and the uterus gets the signal for birth. This is a challenge and a stress! Mother and child have many challenges to overcome during birth. Outside, it is 40 decibels louder, the world breaks into countless parts, gravity acts, it is cold, and countless foreign touches occur. This is a terrible stress, reflected in the amount of cortisol in the saliva. The mother experiences a significant cortisol increase after birth as well. Once the shock of the foreign is overcome, they can calm down together and manage the first stress. Mother and child smell and feel each other, skin to skin, and are reunited differently but together again. Slowly, the feeling develops: Everything is fine again!


We Are Well Taken Care of in This World

We can boldly discover new things if we start from a familiar situation. If we feel: "We are well taken care of in this world," everything is more relaxed. Calmness makes us braver, and we have a great chance to master life successfully. This principle remains throughout life. We can only explore and discover new things from a secure environment. We learn best when we explore new things from familiar situations.

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