The human being is a social being, and this condition implies giving importance to recognize, understand and respond to the mental states of others in the most appropriate way possible.
This is where empathy comes in, that is, the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of others based on the recognition of the other as similar. The concept of empathy helps us understand why a child often imitates various actions performed by humans in their environment, but not the movements of objects, because they only understand people as similar.
How do we experience empathy?
Aron Cohen postulates the existence of 3 types of brains: the empathic (called feminine), the systematizing (or masculine) and the balanced. 6 out of 10 women only have one empathic brain while 6 out of 10 men only have the systemizer. This fact can help to understand the differences that exist between men and women regarding the level of emotional intelligence.
Empathy could be considered a stereotypical feminine trait related to emotional intelligence. The contrast would be the instrumentality linked to stereotypical masculine traits such as independence, ambition and assertiveness.
The relationship between empathy and addictions
When it comes to addictions, both men and women are likely to use any psychoactive substance, but there are differences and similarities in addiction compared to both genders. A study conducted using the TECA test on 28 patients dependent on psychoactive substances concluded that women have less empathy than men, although the level of empathy can be improved by rehabilitation treatments for drug addictsbecause of the importance of empathy in these processes.
In a state of normalcy, women have higher empathy traits than men. However, under the influence of drugs, your level of empathy may drop to zero. This could be explained by the deterioration or hypofunction of certain areas related to executive functions and decision-making that do not reach the inputs of emotions.
It is very common that when using drugs, men and women, thinking about the suffering that their loved ones may be going through does not affect or hinder their behavior, moreover, the fact of using drugs compulsively often leads to distance themselves from the closest people and, as a result, the addict is left without the ability to maintain successful intimate relationships.
On the other hand, stigma and discrimination they contribute to the marginalization of the consumer of psychoactive substances and to the remoteness of social and health services. For this reason, it is very important that addiction treatments include in their programs psychoeducational workshops on anger and aggression control strategies, assertiveness training and social skills training to improve these skills and the quality of relationships, because by not having adequate intrapersonal skills, drug addicts lack the ability to control their emotional state without resorting to substance use.
Compared to the male sex, in a research where a dysfunction of empathy can be observed in alcoholic men without age discrimination. The neurotoxic effects of alcohol damage the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in processing understanding of emotional states. In this way, ironic phrases are shown to alcoholic men and they are recognized as positive emotions.
This results in high rates of alexithymia, which is a deficit in the recognition and verbalization of emotions that makes it difficult to distinguish and understand the emotional states of those around them. Thus, the dependent person has difficulty recognizing the emotions of the other, although he is able to recognize his own emotion of “anger, pain or sadness”; however, they are not able to deal with these sensations without using substances or expressing them. This difficulty in expressing emotions, in turn, inhibits empathy.
To finish, being emotionally attached to others or innately affected by the emotions of others is a value attached to group living, and this has a number of evolutionary advantages. First, these ties form the basis that unites any society. Second, they optimize group safety, because through emotional bonding, an individual’s alarm is an alarm to others. In this way, we could consider the empathy generated in the group therapies practiced with dependent people as a positive element for their recovery.
Author: Silvia Subirana, psychologist from ALTER PSYCHOLOGY & HEALTH.