The Healing Power of Empathy

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo courtesy of grandpymes.com.ar

We often say that violent criminals lack the ability for empathy. We come to this conclusion when we cannot explain their propensity for committing horrendous crimes against humanity with no apparent compunction.

Persons who are perpetrators of violent and assaultive crimes often manifest an inability to “feel for” someone else’s pain and suffering. They lack moral sense or reasoning that guides most people in weighing “right” from “wrong” in a given situation. Due to the inability to consider the welfare and well-being of others, we view the criminal as lacking in social conscience. Developing empathy could be a possible intervening factor to correct this deficit.

“Empathy allows us to connect with another human being, to accurately perceive and understand another’s plight not only intellectually but more importantly emotionally: to share the joy of someone or suffer the hurt of another.””

Empathy allows us to connect with another human being, to accurately perceive and understand another’s plight not only intellectually but more importantly emotionally: to share the joy of someone or suffer the hurt of another. Because humans are social beings by nature – designed to live and commune with one another – empathy facilitates our social interactions on a deep level. One of the most difficult feelings that we often struggle with is “being misunderstood.”

We feel alienated and alone when nobody seems to understand how we feel. Whereas when someone could empathize with us, share our deepest feeling, it gives us hope. The cold bloodedness by which criminals perpetrate certain crimes betrays their lack of empathy. However, if the aggressor is able to experience empathic distress as a result of witnessing another’s emotional distress, it is thought to be a precursor to the development of feelings of guilt.

To counter criminal mentality among criminals, training them to develop empathy is the first step towards helping them relate with other people’s feelings. In doing so, it is hoped that they increase their social awareness and benefit from social learning experiences with people. To advance in their development in learning to exercise moral judgment within a social context, they must have empathy. Our ability to empathize with another soul does not only facilitate effective communication between people but also influence our perspective or view of people and events.

“To counter criminal mentality among criminals, training them to develop empathy is the first step towards helping them relate with other people’s feelings. In doing so, it is hoped that they increase their social awareness and benefit from social learning experiences with people.”

The same mechanism might be involved in trying to shift the perspective of criminals from one of egocentricity to that of common humanity. Shifting their feeling from indifference to empathy towards their victim might provoke a sympathetic response that could inhibit aggression and violence.

Hence, empathy is a humanizing feeling grounded on the recognition of our universality. No therapist could possibly be effective in his craft without mastering the art of emphatic listening and reflection. Empathy is the looking glass through which we perceive and recognize the intangible world of human emotions.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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