What the World Needs Now

world and heart

Love is what the world needs now.  But can we love someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and looks different?  There is a way to do this and it is called “empathy”. 

To have empathy for another person means setting aside our evaluations of that person.  Then we actively listen to the other person’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge we heard them.1  That doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, just that we understand where that person is coming from and tell that person that we do.

When we are viewing another person with empathy, we have momentarily let go of our defenses.  And when we acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings it disarms him/her.  Defenses are not needed by either party, so better communication and cooperation can emerge.

A loving empathy has been used even to defuse conflict between groups of people.2 The surprising fact is that both parties do not have to show empathy initially.  It only takes one person or group to start the process of empathic communication.  And then empathy begets empathy.3

Through empathy, then, we have the power to connect with others at a level that is deeper than attitudes.  We connect through acknowledging our common human needs and fears. 

The empathic approach to relationships is backed by evidence that it works—it works to neutralize power differences and tensions.4 Empathy is a viable alternative to our present way of seizing and using power.  It is a quiet revolution.5

References

  1. Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, 95-103.
  2. Rogers, C., and Sanford, R. (1987). Reflections on our South African experience. Counseling and Values (Special issue on Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach to peace) 32, 17-20.
  3. Feshbach, N.D. & Feshbach, S. (1982). Empathy training and the regulation of aggression: Potentialities and limitations. Academic Psychology Bulletin, 4, 399-413.
  1. Rogers, C. R., and Sanford, R. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 27, 277-304.
  2. Rogers, C. (1977). On personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.

What Do You Do When a Powerful Person is an Insecure Liar?

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“I am the most important person, not you, and I am always right” is the mantra of the compulsive liar.  Of course, he is not the most important person (lie number one) and he is not always right (lie number two).  Yet, you can be drawn to his seemingly self-confidence and power.  Then, as long as you agree with him (even if what you are agreeing with is a lie), you will be part of his inner-circle. 

But, how do you deal with a compulsive liar if you don’t agree with him?  And why does he impulsively and compulsively lie?

Psychologists have described one type of person who lies so as to boost his ego.  He needs constant admiration from others and will even lie to get it.  If he is confronted with the lie instead of being admired, his worst fear of being criticized and rejected will appear, causing him to attack or try to silence the messenger.  He can easily attack without fearing the consequences because he lacks empathy and compassion for others.  His view is the right view and all other views are false views.  After all, for him it is just a comparison of views, not facts.

The compulsive liar has a grandiose sense of self-worth which is shown by boasting and being contemptuous towards “lesser beings”. Others are seen as being able to be conned by lies that will lead to his personal profit.  Because he does not feel a human connection with most people, he has no compunction about crushing them in order to achieve his goals. His impulsivity is shown in his speech and sexual promiscuity.  Yes, this could get him into trouble but he then deflects and denies responsibility.  Because he is such a great showman, he can fool many people many times.

The brain of the individual who impulsively and compulsively tells lies may be different from others’ brains.  Psychologists Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine have found that pathological liars have a significant increase in white matter and a decrease in the grey/white ratio in the prefrontal cortex compared to normal controls.1 The relative reduction in grey matter is linked with disinhibition, resulting in impulsivity and compulsivity.  The increase in white matter provides the capacity to size up a social situation enough to construct a really good lie.

So, if there are actually neurobiological differences in the brains of pathological liars, how can you deal with them?  You can’t change them and you can’t confront them.  The best you can do is contain them.  Reduce their sphere of influence so that their lies affect as few people as possible.  If you work with a self-aggrandizing liar, divide up parts of a project so you can be totally responsible for one part.  If you live with this person, stop trying to please him/her.  Look to other people and to yourself to satisfy your needs instead of depending on him/her.  If this person is one of the most powerful in the world, join with others to create a group that is more powerful than he is.

  1. Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., Lacasse, L & Colletti, P. (2005). Prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. British Journal of Psychiatry. 187,320-325.

Raine, A., Lencz, T. et. al. (2000). Reduced prefrontal gray matter volume and reduced autonomic activity in antisocial personality disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57,119-127.