Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Jester Empath: Humor & Empathy

When one thinks of an Empath, one probably doesn't imagine a Jester. In fact, that's probably the furthest thing from one's mind when one thinks of Empathy, which is defined as understanding and entering into another's feelings.

But humor, even the teasing randomness of the Jester, can become a tool of Empathy, much like reading a person's body language and way of speaking and copying it to set a person at ease. Generally, the latter is done unconsciously without realizing it because this instinctive action allows one to more easily associate with another person. And this type of instant empathic mimicry is based off of something called mirror neurons. (I will offer more information on Mirror Neurons at the end of this discussion.)

Humor has been proven to reduce stress in others, because smiling and laughing releases pent up tension and allows one to relax. Let me show you some of the benefits of laughter on people:

Stress Management Benefits of Laughter:

  • Hormones: Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), dopamine and growth hormone. It also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins, and neurotransmitters. Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T cells. All this means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects of stress.
  • Physical Release: Have you ever felt like you "have to laugh or I'll cry"? Have you experienced the cleansed feeling after a good laugh? Laughter provides a physical and emotional release.
  • Internal Workout: A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward. It even provides a good workout for the heart.
  • Distraction: Laughter brings the focus away from anger, guilt, stress and negative emotions in a more beneficial way than other mere distractions.
  • Perspective: Studies show that our response to stressful events can be altered by whether we view something as a 'threat' or a 'challenge'. Humor can give us a more lighthearted perspective and help us view events as 'challenges', thereby making them less threatening and more positive.
  • Social Benefits of Laughter: Laughter connects us with others. Also, laughter is contagious, so if you bring more laughter into your life, you can most likely help others around you to laugh more, and realize these benefits as well. By elevating the mood of those around you, you can reduce their stress levels, and perhaps improve the quality of social interaction you experience with them, reducing your stress level even more!
In other words, in helping someone to smile and laugh, you are offering them Empathy, because you are helping them relieve their stressful emotions (pain, anger, and so on). And this is just as beneficial to the person, as offering them a loving shoulder on which to lean and a willing ear so that they can pour their hearts out.

Now, this is not appropriate for all situations, obviously. And it is always advisable to use your best judgment on a case by case basis, depending on circumstances. But never be afraid to introject a little bit of humor into a discussion to lighten the mood or to make someone stop and smile suddenly at the randomness of it or the stupidity of it. Because that, like listening with an open and loving heart, is just as healing as the Empathy you are sharing with them in that one single moment together, where there is only you and that person focused on their wounds.

There are many ways to help begin to mend a wound, not just compassion and Empathy. So, think about it and utilize it. And then remember the Jester Empath, because it is always a useful skill to be able to utilize.

More On The Benefits Of Laughter:
Places To Find Jokes:
More About Mirror Neurons:

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