Amazing Adventures in Empathy: Dr. Bonnie's Guide to Creating and Sustaining a Long-Term Relationship

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Empathy may not be an intrinsic characteristic for many, but it's never the less something that can be learned. A study from Emory University reveals that meditation can help in building empathy ( and therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil says developing the ability to feel what someone else feels is possible.

Meditation may help people learn empathy, even it they're not naturally sensitive to other people's emotions. A study from Emory University shows that there is no longer an excuse for people to not show empathy toward others ( Relationship therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil says this - along with a recent article in the New York Times Magazine (week of 10/8, pg 53) - is helpful news, especially for people who might be struggling with narcissism, or in a relationship with a narcissist.

"Feeling empathy can take the place of other negative feelings, like evil, so in that sense learning this emotion kills two bird with one stone," points out Dr. Bonnie. Empathy gives a person the ability to understand what someone else is going through, and to try to identify with them. In this sense, empathy can help prevent couples from breaking up, as they learn how to understand each other better.

She acknowledges that it can be challenging to work through narcissism in a relationship and she suggests asking these questions to determine if the person may have narcissistic tendencies:

Do they turn the activities or conversations back to themselves?

Do they feel entitled?

Are they looking to receive great gifts but don't put as much thought into what to give other people?

Do they shut down and ignore other people?

Dr. Bonnie cautions against giving a narcissist a free pass, but also encourages people that this trait can be overcome. "Like we see in this study, there are ways to teach empathy and before we judge too harshly it's best to remember most people struggle with some sort of narcissism!" To help alleviate these concerns, Dr. Bonnie agrees that meditation can be a powerful tool for steeping outside oneself and learning to identify with others.

Additionally, she typically prescribes what she calls the Brush with Death for patients who are dealing with a narcissist who needs to learn empathy. She talks more about it in her book Make Up Don't Break Up, but says it's ideal for people who need to be snapped out of taking the other person for granted. "It's the only thing that will bring a narcissist to their knees - they will start missing the other person and stop taking them for granted. It alerts the narcissist if it's a viable relationship; don't feel sorry for them, stay the course - it often takes a person like this four to six weeks to snap out of it! Unless there is movement or change - remember, it's important not to waver when the person pleads their case. Don't listen to words, look at the movement" cautions Dr. Bonnie.

It can be a slow process to move beyond this behavior and Dr. Bonnie cautions against "talking the relationship to death." She says, "Just don't give them too much attention and don't expect too much."

For more tips from on how to handle a narcissist, click here: or check out her book Make Up Don't Break Up.

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