Archives for April 2009

Genetic and Neuro-Physiological Basis For Hyper-Empathy

I heard a universal go out around the world when women read the title to this article. Don’t you feel better knowing there really is some science to the whole issue of too-darn-much-empathy? When we began writing about ‘women who love psychopaths, anti socials, sociopaths and narcissists’ we already ‘assumed’ that maybe you did have too much empathy (as well as other elevated temperament traits). We just didn’t know how much or why.

When we began the actual testing for the research on the book ‘Women Who Love Psychopaths’ we learned just ‘how much’ empathy you had. Do I need to tell you? WAY TOO MUCH! But by now you have probably already suspected that your super high empathy is what got you in trouble in this pathological relationships (and maybe others as well). But did you know there is hard science behind what we suspected (and you too) about what is going on in your relationships with your super-trait of high empathy? It really IS all in your head (and your genes).

In fact, these genes influence the production of various brain chemicals which can influence just ‘how much’ empathy you have. These brain chemicals include those that influence orgasm and it’s effect on how bonded you feel while also influencing some aspects of mental health (no, no! That’s NOT a good mix!). Other brain chemicals influence how much innate and learned fear you have. However, females don’t seem to assess threats well and in females, these chemicals increase her social interactions at the same time she is not assessing fear and threats well (This is not a good thing!!). One of the final chemicals effects delaying reflexes (like getting out of the relationship) and impacts short and long term memory (remember when I talked about how you store good and bad memory–here’s the culprit!).

And since it is genetic, these kinds of genes can run in entire families that produce ‘gullible’ and ‘trusting’ individuals who seem to just keep getting hurt.

Of course, the reverse is also true. Genes can influence the absence of various brain chemicals which influence ‘how little’ empathy a person has. We already know in great detail how this affects those with personality disorders. Personality disordered people (especially Cluster B disorders) struggle with not enough (or not any!) empathy.

Over the past few months, the magazine has been writing about various aspects of personality disorders and the brain. This has included the issue of brain imaging and what we are finding out about how the brain structure and also how it’s chemicals can affect personality, empathy, and consequently behavior and the behavior in relationships. As advances are made in the field of neuro-biology we are learning more and more what The Institute has always believed, which is there is a lot of biology behind the issues of personality development and the lack of personality development such as personality disorders. Genetics and neuro-biology is proving that the behavior associated with narcissism, borderline, anti-social personality disorders and psychopathy has as much to do with brain wiring and brain chemistry as it does with behavioral intent.

The Institute has long said to the survivors that personality disorders are not merely willful behavior but brain deficits that control how much empathy, compassion, conscience, guilt, insight and change a person is capable of. Autism and personality disorders share a common thread as ’empathy spectrum disorders’ now being studied extensively within the field of Neuro-science. But in some opposite ways, so the women also share a common thread of an empathy disorder—Hyper-Empathy which we are coming to understand has just as much to do with innate temperament (you come into the world wired with the personality you have), genetic predispositions to high or low empathy, and brain chemistry configurations that contribute to high/low empathy as it does with the old assumptions that the women with high empathy were merely ‘door mats.’

Neuro-science with all it’s rocking information has the dynamic power to blow us all out of the murky waters of assuming that our behavior is merely a reflection of our will. As Neuro-science graces our minds with new understanding of how our brains work, it brings with it incredible freedom to understand our own traits and the pathological traits of others.

For a mind blowing book on the genetic and neuro biology of not only personality disorders, but ‘evil’ as well, read Barbara Oakley’s book ‘Evil Genes’. You’ll find a whole new approach to understanding the biology of the pathological!