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Why Empathy Is The Solution To Loneliness & Narcissism, According To These Neurologists

Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.
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The cure to the loneliness epidemic may be simpler than we thought! On a recent mindbodygreen podcast, our founder and co-CEO Jason Wachob spoke with father and son duo David Perlmutter, M.D., and Austin Perlmutter, M.D., about how lifestyle choices affect our health, specifically when it comes to emotions. 

They talked about a "disconnection syndrome" and how our society seems to be plagued by narcissism and self-centeredness, especially in the age of social media. "It's certainly something that I'm not blaming people for," says Austin, "because it's kind of how society has set itself up to be now."

Isolation has a specific impact on our brains as well, they say. According to the doctors, the amygdala plays a strong role in this self-centeredness, distancing us from others and making us only interested in ourselves. This type of narcissism is what drives loneliness, which has become a health issue itself. As Austin says, "Even here in New York, there are millions of people around you, and yet people still experience this crippling loneliness."

Their solution to bridge this gap? Empathy. Both Perlmutters say that it's the best intervention for bringing people together and ending the epidemic of loneliness that affects all of us.

While empathy is typically defined as a trait that helps others by having the ability to see the world through someone else's eyes, David says that practicing empathy is actually selfish. The reason, however, is because the rewards are so beneficial for both mental and physical well-being, that by helping others, you're also helping yourself. "And there's nothing wrong with that," he says. 

The neurologists say that practicing empathy in your daily life can be simple. While it may be easier to communicate with someone over social media instead of talking face-to-face, taking those steps to be empathetic can start by "just saying hello and thanking somebody else in the course of a day."

Another tip the Perlmutters offer is to have a conversation with someone that has a different viewpoint. Simply engaging in that dialogue will help to alter your perspective and let you see the world through someone else's eyes, even if it's just for a brief conversation. With these steps, people will be able to see others' perspectives and create a closer bond with those around them. According to Austin, the core feature of cognitive empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. "It's something that we've lost, but it's easy to start cultivating again."

For more ways to invite empathy into your life, check out these 10 easy tips to cultivate compassion.

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