Did you know that you have lots of little tiny mirrors in your brain? In 1992, scientists discovered the mirror neuron. Basically, it is thought that these neurons are activated both when we act and when we observe an action hence the mirror reference. What it means is that we experience the same emotion when we see something happen, as we do when we experience the same event for ourselves. For example, we recoil when we see someone fall over; or if we see someone eating a meal, we start to feel hungry and want that meal too (thanks to all the cooking shows on TV, that is now a daily recurrence!)
Whilst evidence in not conclusive, some neuroscientists believe there is a link between our mirror neurons and empathy. That seems logical to me. If seeing a friend in pain due to the breakdown of a relationship brings to mind the feelings when the same thing has happened to me, I am, of course, going to feel empathy because the feelings all come rushing back and I can relate. Make sense?
So, maybe, we are all actually wired to be empathetic. The question begs to be asked, then….if we all have a neurological tendency towards empathy, why aren’t we? Some of us are, of course, but there are a lot who aren’t!
Possibly some people’s mirror neurons need a bit of a clean. Left up in the attic for too long, they are covered in dust and completely unable to reflect anything at all. Time to get out the windex and paper towel and give them a good ole going over!
Identifying with another’s experience is beneficial, not only to the other person, but to us, too. When we are empathetic, various things happen: the person we are talking to feels heard and really understood; we start thinking of practical ways we could help; and we gain a greater appreciation for our life and circumstances.
Let’s dust off our mirror neurons and tap into the emotions and feelings of those around us – Lord knows, the world could do with more empathetic people!