Empathy, Understanding and Attunement
(Workbook Page 43,44)
Review pages 43 and 44 of the Neuroplastic Transformation workbook. The circuits responsible for our sense of empathy, understanding and attunement are described. It is our mirror neurons in the insula connecting with the neurons in the orbital frontal cortex that process this input. This circuit allows us to make connections with other people. People with persistent pain often become withdrawn. Their suffering demoralizes and terrorizes them. Their entire sense of self becomes determined by their pain experience. Relating to others becomes more difficult. It is hard enough to understand why this pain does not go away. Trying to explain it to others is frustrating and fraught with reminders of the suffering. Struggling to complete the necessities of living doesn’t leave a lot of time for the richness of life. Mirror neurons turn inward and reflect a person’s own loss, sorrow, resentment and loneliness.
It is just as important to counter-stimulate this experience as it is the pain itself. The mirror neurons are designed to reflect to us what others are going through. Life is enriched by relating to other people and trying to understand what they are experiencing. We are drawn out of ourselves and extend beyond our own limitations. Reaching out to help others stimulates the insula to perform its other functions of reducing the emotional impact of pain, quieting fear, encouraging self-soothing and restoring pleasure.
The Orbital Frontal Cortex (OFC), the part of the brain that sits in the skull right above the eyes, and the Insula are closely related to one another anatomically. They are also highly connected to each other in brain electrical circuits and activities. The OFC is often referred to as the part of the brain that makes us human, but it is it's connection with the insula that allows us to connect our emotions and body awareness, leading to empathy, understanding and attainment with others. Living a good life involves giving to and helping others. This pleasure, known as eudaimonia, is generated by the link between OFC and Insula. The persistent pleasure of a life well lived is an outstanding counter-stimulant to persistent pain.