Workshop Part 4:
Pain and Empathy
WORKSHOP VIDEO PART 4: Pain and Empathy
In Video Part 4 we hear from Bassam and Itamar of their childhood experiences of pain and of how their families related to it. We see the connection between that response and their recognition of others’ pain today.
- The association between recognition and empathy and the desire to comfort others’ pain, and peace building.
- If one's own pain has been recognised and comforted we are likely to recognise and comfort another’s pain.
- When pain is not recognised or comforted it might lead to dissociation or denial, lack of recognition and empathy, loss of agency or violence.
Issues to Explore:
- What is the nature of Bassam’s and Itamar’s respective experience and response to pain?
- How might we understand the development of resilience in this context?
- What is the process that Bassam undergoes when someone else is suffering for him?
- What might be the role of pain and other’s response to it in peace building?
Facilitating the Workshop:
- Refer to the Ethical Mindset diagram and the role of pain.
- Think of ways (both constructive and destructive) that people use to try to comfort themselves when in pain
Examples include eating chocolate, smoking, substance misuse, dissociation, denial, causing others pain, etc. but think of some of your own.
- Reflect both on your own pain and on the comfort you have had, and how they might affect your response to the pain of others.
Develop ways to raise awareness of the other’s pain if the group is in conflict.
KEYWORDS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general) to act in a world. The capacity to act does not at first imply a specific moral dimension to the ability to make the choice to act, and moral agency is therefore a distinct concept.
To perceive an individual or a human group as devoid of human characteristics and qualities perceiving them instead with animalistic or mechanistic characteristics. Baron-Cohen suggests dehumanization is the result of low or no empathy so that the pain of others is not felt; moral and ethical thought and behavior is likewise suspended. (Baron-Cohen S: Zero Degrees of Empathy. Allen Lane Publishing. 2011). However, Baron-Cohen’s critique does not include cultural, hierarchical, or personal interest or survival as components in dehumanization.
Dissociation involves a vertical splitting of the ego that results in two or more self states that are more or less organised and independently functioning. they alternate in consciousness ..and emerge separately to think, behave, remember and feel. Such dissociated states are unavailable to the rest of the personality….., creating what are known familiarly as “Jekyll and Hyde” alternations in states of mind, behaviour, and consciousness which cannot be brought together (at that time). Or a person may have less dramatic and hard to identify separations between parts of themselves that were acceptable and unacceptable to their early caregivers. The dissociated self state’s presence is felt through inexplicable or recurrent intrusive images, symptoms and actions, psychosomatic conditions or recurrent nightmares, anxiety reactions, or triggered memories. This also happens in what we call post-traumatic stress disorder.
Its severe form is induced by trauma involving pain, terror or danger and helplessness. When a person’s system of self protection is overwhelmed and disorganized, the traumatic experience is dissociated and encapsulated within the person as a separate self state, disconnected from a person’s ordinary self experience. While dissociation may provide a temporarily effective defense mechanism, this kind of fragmentation produces the severance of normally integrated mind and body functions. Its consequences can be seen in debilitating symptoms produced by post traumatic stress disorder.
Baron-Cohen describes the first stage of empathy as recognition: “empathy occurs when we switch from a single-minded focus of attention to a double-minded focus of attention”. He says we are not only thinking about our own mind, thoughts and perception, but we are keeping in mind someone else’s mind at the very same time. The second stage is to respond to the other’s thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion. Baron-Cohen continues:” Empathy makes the other person feel valued, they feel that their thoughts and feelings have been heard, acknowledged and respected” .Baron Cohen explains dehumanisation and evil as the result of ‘zero degrees of empathy’
(Baron -Cohen S: Zero Degrees of Empathy).
A term describing interventions that are designed to prevent the start or resumption of violent conflict by creating a sustainable peace. Peacebuilding activities address the root causes or potential causes of violence, create a societal expectation for peaceful conflict resolution and stabilize society politically and socioeconomically. The exact definition varies depending on the actor, with some definitions specifying what activities fall within the scope of peacebuilding or restricting peacebuilding to post-conflict interventions.
Shame is at the core of all emotional wounds. Emotional pain is a gateway into an energy wound. So-called “negative” emotions are flags to let us know when something needs to be healed and/or released from within. Our feelings give us our most direct access into the centre of an energy constriction. Zeroing in on our feelings help we consciously get right to the core, the root cause of all pains/wounds – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or psychic.
Recognition that response (from or to) the other which makes one’s own or the other’s feelings, intentions and actions meaningful. It shows that we have had an impact on the other. . It allows the self to realise its agency and authorship in a tangible way. But such recognition can only come from an other whom we, in turn, recognise as person in his or her own right. Recognition is integral to…”differentiation” – the individual’s development as a self that is aware of its distinctness from others. Lack of recognition is associated with victimhood and loss of agency; or dependency on recognition, as Benjamin has discussed, may lead to people engaging in power struggles; ie when people feel their suffering, their point of view, their needs, their value and dignity, or their actions are being denied recognition. Social traumas require social recognition so that people feel their suffering is known, has meaning, and their need for dignity and value is respected. ( Benjamin J.The Bonds of Love: (1988) Pantheon Books. NY.)
The capacity to live and develop in a positive way despite the stress and adversity created by risk factors such as poverty, trauma, abuse and catastrophic life events which ‘stack the odds’ against individuals. Vulnerability to these risk factors is primarily a factor of the social and physical environment. Childhood experience and the social context fundamentally influences the capacity for resilience both because our sense of security or insecurity is formed by it and because insecurity in childhood is likely to lead to emotional difficulties in later life. Thus relationships which provide love, trust and encouragement are primary in modifying the effects of adverse life conditions.
Cyrulnik Boris. Resilience (2009) Penguin Books. London. p.
Goldberg S, Muir R and Kerr J (eds) Attachment Theory: Social, Developmental and Clinical Perspectives.(1995) The Analytic Press. London.
Victimhood refers to the identity process or state of mind developed in violent and long conflicts, in which at least one party (sometimes both) reconstructs its identity around its victimization by the other side; it describes and defines the situation of conflict the parties live with. Victimhood becomes an integral part of personal and collective identity.... The sense of helplessness can be overcome by impact on the other and the other's recognition of you. (Wikipedia)