Emotional Disconnection: Listening Without Empathy

Listening without empathy is a painful practice for those who put it into practice and for those who perceive it but do nothing to change things.
Emotional disconnection: listening without empathy

Emotional disconnection – listening without empathy – is like looking without seeing.  It is saying yes with your face, but having your mind absent, disconnected and emotionally distant from the person in front of you. Few skills are essential for building strong and meaningful relationships such as communication and active listening, the one for which connections are made with eyes, feelings and will.

Only a few months ago the

cognitive science expert

and Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom has rocked the world of psychology by voicing some questionable comments about emotional disconnection and empathy. According to him, this dimension has very little positive. To better understand what he meant, however, it is necessary to deepen his message.

According to Professor Bloom, sometimes an act of cryptic falsity hides behind empathy. A person may be empathetic towards what their partner is saying to them, but actually feel utter indifference. In other words, we are all capable of putting ourselves in the shoes of others, but then act in total indifference.

It is therefore absolutely fair to say that empathy is useless if it is not accompanied by a proactive attitude and an authentic awareness of the person in front of us. But as Professor Bloom points out, there’s more: some people act empathically not to help others, but just to feel good about themselves.

All this can help us to refine a little the idea we have of this feature. It is not enough to be present, to show ourselves open and understanding towards the reality of the other person.  It is essential to actively manifest that bond, that feeling.

Read on to find out why emotional disconnection is painful.

Sad child

Emotional disconnection, a sadly common practice

Listening without empathy is a more common practice than we would expect. Sometimes we are so used to “automating” our daily interactions that we do not even perceive the absence of emotional connection that, without realizing it, we direct to whoever is in front of us.

A characteristic example of this phenomenon are parents who respond almost automatically to their children. When they pick them up from school and they tell them what they did, their answers are almost always the same: “Yes, your drawing is very nice” or “Really? How interesting ”.

These dynamics does not mean that you do not love your children. They simply reveal that sometimes we don’t have time to be present and we just listen without being empathetic,  because life is rushing and our days occupy our minds.

Non-empathic responses that hinder emotional connection

We have all experienced the sensation of speaking to a person who seems absent, who nods yes but who is actually miles away from us. Well, another common scenario is one in which we receive answers, comments or reflections that instead of being useful to us, act as walls. Like emotional connections made of barbed wire.

They are the following:

  • Consulting response: what you should do is …
  • Emphatic personal answer: you are an exaggeration, it is nothing!
  • Corrective answer: what you say is not true.
  • Interrogative answer: why do you say / think / do this?
  • Sorry: I know this worries you but I can’t help you right now because …

With these answers we realize how sometimes it is better not to receive any opinion. In addition to emotional disconnection, another problem therefore becomes that of who emits responses that break the empathic connection.

Couple arguing

Cultivate authentic empathy with an active attitude

We can all be (and certainly are) empathetic people. Studies such as the one carried out by Dr Anthony David at King’s College Institute of Psychiatry, London, show us that it is possible to measure empathy and extrapolate the empathic coefficient of each person.

If we did, we would realize that we all have this gift. The problem is that many of us lack the key feature to be able to implement it: social skills. In other words, we are empathic but we don’t use this ability efficiently. This sometimes leads us to listen without empathy, to understand the other but to respond in an inadequate or inauthentic way. For this, it becomes essential to keep the following tips in mind.

How to use empathy effectively

  • To show empathy you need to be present, without haste and without excuses.
  • The empathic attitude is activated first of all with the gaze. We must learn to look at the other without judging, with closeness and affection.
  • We must learn to respond. Criticisms, judgments or “I in your place would have done so” are not helpful in these cases.
  • Empathy must first and foremost be proactive. Whoever shows understanding but does nothing to prove it, turns out to be a deception and a disappointment. Because making the other believe that you are with him, but then walking away can hurt and leave scars.

There is always something to learn and improve in the daily practice of empathy. We begin to work on ourselves to be able to give the best of ourselves to others and thus take care of our relationships. Remember: they are real treasures.

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