This article will look at the different aspects of the heart, including empathy, emotions and feelings. I will also explain my current understanding of what leads to an absence of empathy and an ability to feel.
I was inspired to write this after seeing the Alfa Romeo advert. In the advert, the actress Uma Thurman says the following line:
Without heart we would be mere machines.
So, let’s start this with an explanation of what empathy is.
In the dictionary, the word “empathy” is described as
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
There is, of course, a lot more to empathy than this description reveals.
What is empathy?
The description above, as I have mentioned, is taken from the dictionary definition. So, now we have a basic understanding of what it is. The question I ask is: What is going on for the individual that has it? And what is going on for the individual that doesn’t have it (or who shows very little empathy)?
Being able to truly recognise the feelings of another first requires the ability to recognise our own feelings. And if we can’t recognise our own feelings or we deny our own feelings, it is going to be close to impossible to recognise or to be aware of how others feel.
This is where the heart comes into the equation. In today’s society, it is largely seen as just a part of the body that pumps blood around the rest of the body. The idea that it could be something much greater and far more significant is not even considered by many.
And just like the quote from the advert above shows, it is having a heart and being able to feel that makes us human. So, now let’s look at what the possible causes could be that stop one from developing a healthy and functional ability to empathise and to feel.
To one degree or another, we all have moments and experiences in our younger years and throughout our lives that are traumatic.
And it could be said that pain is part of the human experience – something that can’t be removed and has to be accepted.
An example of the pain I am referring to is experienced, for instance, when a relationship ends or in the passing of a loved one.
Some people that have experienced these things are still able to empathise, while others begin to close their heart and their ability to feel altogether.
Why is this?
As to what it is that makes the difference here, I am not completely sure. There are numerous factors and influences involved. These could go right back to inherited trauma and experiences in the womb, to the conditioning received during one’s younger years
Having a parent or caregiver who was emotionally unavailable or abusive, or experiencing nurturing that was overwhelming and suffocating, can lead one to shutting down emotionally and closing his or her heart.
What I do know is that the more we deny and repress our own feelings, the harder it is to not only feel our own feelings but to also recognise another person’s feelings.
To me, this comes down to the very nature of feelings – in that they can be extremely painful to face and to feel them again could mean triggering and reliving the trauma(s) that created them.
With our minds’ tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain, the natural response is to escape pain at all costs.
As we continue to live our lives from the position of denying our own painful feelings, with the intention of only experiencing pleasurable feelings, we start to gradually lose our ability to feel altogether.
When the ability to feel is inhibited, there is then the need to experience extreme pleasure in order to feel anything at all. This then brings to our attention the substances present in our society that are being consumed in such high amounts.
Whether it be drugs, alcohol, or food, for example, these all help one to feel good and alive. And if our natural state is one of numbness and emptiness, the usage of these will seem vital for being able to not only feel good but also to deal with the pain.
The other side of the desire to experience extreme pleasure is the urge to feel extreme pain. This is not the same as acknowledging our pain; it is something completely different. It is a way for the mind that resists feeling to experience an emotional release. This is often called masochistic behaviour. This is a way for our ego mind to feel a sense of control again.
The Current Paradigm
Although there are other ways of dealing with our pain (due to our society being generally ignorant and unaware of how the mind works and the effect our emotions and feelings have not only on our lives but also on our bodies) these other ways are largely unheard of or are not possible to comprehend with the current paradigm.
Not only are there substances in our society that help one to escape these painful feelings but there is also the role society plays in creating an environment that causes people to use these substances to such extremes.
It’s the question of: Is it the society or is it the individual? The perspective I have is that it’s a bit of both.
The Ego Mind
Although the heart has its own intelligence, the mind is projecting and interpreting everything it sees. This means that in order to embrace our own heart, we have to challenge and process the mind’s conditioning so that we can allow our heart’s intelligence and knowing to flourish.
Whether it is in processing our childhood or day-to-day life, processing our pain is not only important for being a conscious human being, it is also imperative for functioning as a whole human being.