Guest Posts


Sympathy, Empathy, and Caring (Part Three of Three): False Empathy and Authentic Caring

Guest Post by Nina LaLumia

In relation to ‘sympathy,’ the word ‘empathy’ is fairly new. It was introduced into English in the late 1800s and has recently grown in popularity, it seems to me, for two reasons. First, ‘sympathy’ lost the richness it had in Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1738) and has come to be equated with ‘pity.’ Indeed, today the word is most commonly used in “sympathy cards” that people send to comfort those who have lost a loved one. So another word is needed to play the broader role that ‘sympathy’ used to play.

Second, ‘empathy’ was used to introduce a concept and therapeutic technique in psychology. As such, it was a translation of the German word Einfühlung, which means “feeling oneself into something.” Here’s a quotation from The Journal of Clinical Psychology (1946): a person-to-person “regard for the client is characterised (ideally) by the understanding of empathy without the erratic quality of identification or the supportiveness of sympathy.”

The important thing to notice here is how ‘empathy’ is compared with ‘identification’ on the one hand and with ‘sympathy’ on the other. A therapist should not identify with the client or patient, since this would mean going along for the rollercoaster ride of the client’s emotions. If a person seeking therapy shares an experience of suffering, it won’t help if the therapist bursts into tears.

On the other hand, a therapist should NOT show “the supportiveness of sympathy.” A therapist should not express pity for the client or say things like, “Oh, you poor dear, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Also, a therapist should NOT show support for every goal the client aims for. Most obviously, if a client expresses the desire to kill someone, the therapist should not help the client work out a plan to commit murder.

So the idea behind ‘empathy’ as a term in clinical psychology is that the therapist should listen attentively and show that he or she has some understanding of what the client is going through. This is often done by echoing or by offering summaries, such as: “I can see that you were deeply hurt by that.” The goal is for the patient to feel: “Another human being has heard and is trying to understand what I’m feeling, what I’m going through, in a non-judgemental way; so I’m no longer alone in this.” This opens the door for trust, for further communication and eventually the working-out of a plan for coping with the situation as effectively as possible.

To some extent, Brené Brown successfully explains this therapeutic technique in her video on empathy. But her video is also misleading: it suggests that the best thing we can do is “feel ourselves into” the suffering of others. And this is false. Empathy as Brené Brown explains it might move us to react emotionally and, without any rational assessment, do whatever first comes to mind in order to alleviate the person’s suffering in the short term. To give an obvious example: If an alcoholic is suffering withdrawal symptoms, the best response is NOT to give them a bottle of vodka.

More generally, if we enable people to become dependent (or more dependent) on some drug or some other external source of support, we are not really helping them. Here’s another example: We are not really helping people who can work if we enable them to remain unemployed.

So empathy is not a reliable guide for authentic caring. We care for someone authentically when we lend what support we can to empower that person. As the great philosopher Maimonides said: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The general point is: Care authentically by helping people acquire the skills and resources they need in order to take of themselves and eventually contribute to the community in which they live. People who are successful at fishing catch enough fish to feed themselves and their families by selling fish for other people to eat. Authentic caring is good for the individual and good for the community. Authentic caring is also limited: we stop giving if giving any more will decrease our own power.

By contrast, reacting thoughtlessly out of false empathy may be bad in two ways. First, it is bad for people if we enable them to become dependent. It’s bad for them because we reduce their chances of experiencing the joy of living out of their own power and making a contribution. Second, enabling people to become dependent is bad for our society. If one more person becomes dependent, we lose the opportunity to benefit from that person’s contributions. Also, if one more person becomes dependent, we have to spend resources to support them—resources of wealth, time, energy and intelligence that could be better spent elsewhere.

Finally, a society that encourages its members to become more and more dependent is a sick society. It keeps losing potential contributors, and it keeps wasting its resources. Such a community grows more and more vulnerable to internal collapse and to external attack—to being overrun by healthier societies. A healthier society is made up of members who are better contributors because they live more fully out of their own power and because their lively sense of sympathy motivates them to care authentically.

Sympathy, Empathy, and Caring (Part Two of Three): Understanding Emotions from an Evolutionary Perspective

Guest Post by Nina LaLumia


“Justice is that which benefits your friends and harms your enemies.”

Polemarchus in Plato’s Republic


Chimpanzees and bonobos are human beings’ closest living relatives, since we all share a common ancestor—some kind of ape that lived five or six million years ago. By looking at how chimpanzees live, we can recognise some of our own most basic characteristics. For one thing, like chimpanzees, we are passionately social animals.

We are social, like bees and ants, in the sense that the behaviour of an individual is one piece that fits together with the behaviour of others to form a larger picture—the life of the group. Think for example of all the puzzle-pieces that have to fit together to form a school where children can receive a good education. Similarly, individual bees have to co-operate in highly complex ways to keep a colony of bees up and running.

But the social life of bees does not appear to be a very passionate affair. They co-operate by giving and receiving signals in an instinctive, fairly mechanical way. By contrast, much of human (and chimpanzee) social life works through the sending and receiving of emotional messages. For example, we can generally tell when someone is angry. The message conveyed by anger might be: “I have something we both want (a sexual partner or a piece of meat), and I intend to keep it for myself. Stay away! If you try to take what’s mine, there’s going to be a fight.”

If it matters enough, and we’re willing to take the risk, we can decide to respond to anger with anger and join the battle. Or we can decide to respond to anger by backing down—by submitting and by showing our humility. Humility in this sense is a social emotion. To the individual experiencing it, having to submit to someone more powerful feels humiliating. At the same time, showing humility sends a message to the angry person (or chimp). It says: “I’m not a threat to your power or your possessions. I don’t want to fight, so there’s no reason for you to hurt me. Let me enjoy my crumbs in peace.”

Passionate affairs of this kind go into the formation and maintenance of social pyramids—systems in which an individual (or group of individuals) dominates and/or is dominated by others. From a conventional moral standpoint, many of us tend to view anger, threats and acts of violence as negative, “bad” things. But they are necessary to the survival of the kind of social groups to which we (chimps and human beings) all belong. To put it simply: However much we might wish we didn’t, we need armies and we need police forces. And there always will be some people who have more and other people who have less—that is, some kind of class system.

In contrast to anger, sympathy (as defined in Part One of this series) might seem to be positive, “nice” or “good.” But beware! How do you feel when someone verbally or physically attacks a friend or family member, or the member of some larger group to which you belong: your neighbourhood, city, or country? Sympathy enables us to feel attacked when someone attacks our friends; and generally it motivates us to come to our friend’s defence. That in turn means verbally or physically attacking the person or group that attacked our friend or our group.

If you are not willing to join the battle, generally other members of your group will consider you a coward and will do their best to make you feel ashamed. If you are willing to join the battle, generally you will be celebrated as a hero and other members of your group will do their best to make you feel proud. This is just one example of how we influence the behaviour of others by rewarding or punishing them emotionally—by making them feel good or bad. In more accurate terms: when we praise someone or do something else to make them feel good about what they have done, we are offering them positive reinforcement and making it more likely that they will perform similar actions in future. (This is known as “operant conditioning.”)

Of course, sympathy can be nice. If your friend is hungry or sick, sympathy may motivate you to share some food with them or in some other way attend to their needs. But if you want to understand the world we live in, it’s important to ask yourself why you consider that person your friend in the first place. Isn’t it because that person pleases you in some way—because they have done something good for you in the past, or because you hope they will in future?

Go on, admit it! There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Good for you! If you’ve got friends who hurt you, or who fail to help you when you are in need, as they saying goes: “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

If a person has what I call “lively sympathy,” it’s a good thing, because they will be an active, well functioning member of the group to which they belong. And to say that a member of a group functions well (to say that they are “a good person”) is simply to say that they help to make and keep the group healthy and strong…healthier and stronger than other groups!

Suggested reading: Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are, by Frans de Waal (2006).


Sympathy, Empathy, and Caring (Part 1 of 3): A Proper Understanding of Sympathy

Guest Post by Nina LaLumia


A family of words and their history

The word ‘sympathy’ has its roots in Ancient Greek. The prefix sym- means “with” or “together,” as in sym-phony: a collection that makes sounds together, producing harmony or music. Pathy refers to suffering or undergoing something and being affected emotionally. Think of pathology: the study of things that people suffer: diseases. So at root, sympathy is being affected by the condition of another living being with an emotion that corresponds to that being’s condition—or at least to our perception of it. Use of this word with this meaning in English goes back as far as the 1600s. In 1757, Edmund Burke wrote: “Sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in a good measure as he is affected.”

Everyone is familiar with the difference between being active and being passive: it’s the difference between your doing something and having something done to you. The nouns are ‘agent’ (a person who does something) and ‘patient’ (a person to whom something happens). There are also the abstract nouns ‘action’ and ‘passion’ (making something happen and having something happen to you). Similarly, we can affect things or be affected by them.

To fall in love is a passionate affair: something happens to you—something that can be wonderful and also painful. To feel affection for someone is also to be affected—to open the door and allow things to come in. If I open the door and allow myself to feel affection for Laura, Laura now matters to me in a new way. I’m now open (and vulnerable as well) to being affected emotionally by what Laura says and does, and to being affected by what happens to her. If something good happens in Laura’s life, I feel good about it; if something bad happens, I feel bad about it—it’s painful for me.

The philosophical theory of David Hume (1711-76)

In A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume defines sympathy as the capacity to be affected emotionally by what happens to a person for whom we feel affection—both the good and the bad. Hume was studying the mind (doing psychology) from the modern scientific point of view. So for him, sympathy is not some magical affinity or “energy.” It happens through the subconscious observation of facial expressions, tone of voice, gesture and posture. In other words, sympathy happens through the medium of non-verbal communication. (I use the word ‘subconscious’ to suggest that these observations are below the surface of conscious awareness. We can notice them if we make the effort, but usually we don’t. Usually, we simply feel their effect.)

Sympathy of this kind is mainly interpersonal and face-to-face, and it requires that the two people involved already have a personal connection. But we can also feel sympathy through other media. (‘Media’ is the plural of ‘medium.’ We use the expression ‘the media’ to talk about the various ways or means by which we send messages.) Hume talks about the theatre; we could also talk about movies, works of fiction or poetry.

When you watch a scary movie, the normal thing to happen is that you yourself feel scared. Something is off (either with you or the movie) if you sit there unaffected, thinking something like, “Oh, if I were in that situation, I too would be scared,” or “I can understand why a person in that situation would feel fear.” There’s also something off if you don’t feel happy when Julia Roberts smiles. (If you don’t like Julia Roberts, think of someone whose smile you do find appealing.)

Whether it’s a good feeling or a bad one, happy or sad, we catch on to what someone else is feeling (or what they represent themselves as feeling) much more easily if we already have some sense of connection with him or her. And usually we develop a sense of connection with another person if they are appealing: if they appeal to us either because of their visible beauty or some beautiful character trait—their sense of humour, their courage, their loyalty as a friend, or something like that. So also, an artist has to create that sense of connection if we are to be moved by what happens to a fictional character in a movie or novel.

The last thing to be said here, so that we have a fair sketch of the whole picture, is that in general sympathy is not merely an emotional experience; it also moves us to do something. For example, adverts for charities that show children with dirty, tear-stained faces appeal to our sympathy and are designed so that we will be moved to donate some of our money. This kind of emotional response to the suffering of another living being is sometimes called “pity.”

This is usually what people nowadays think about when they hear the word ‘sympathy.’ But in the fuller picture that Hume offers, we can also be moved by good feelings. For example, if we feel affection for someone, we are usually moved to do good things for them: for example, to help them achieve their goals or to give them things they find pleasant.

The next two posts will discuss two aspects of sympathy in more detail. First, it is social and can be studied from a biological perspective—that is, it serves a function in relationships between people and in relationships between other social animals. Second, it is meant to move us—not only “move” us emotionally, but also literally move us to do something. What it should move us to do is to care authentically.

Guest Post by Ian Luebbers – learn how to build a powerful presence so that when you speak, people listen.

Introverts sometimes get called out for being quiet and still. We speak only when necessary. We focus only on what’s really important. We despise fluff.

Guest who else shares these qualities?

Kings. CEO’s. Leaders. All powerful people possess these qualities in abundance.

So why don’t all introverts appear to posses a deep stillness? It turns out, it takes practice and conscious effort to cultivate powerful qualities. But all introverts have the potential to unleash their inner leader. All that’s necessary is a little practice.

How to Unleash Your Inner Leader When Speaking

The quickest way to unleash your inner power is to perform a quick power pose. Here’s how it works:

Power Pose

Set at timer for three minutes. Then spread your legs into a wide stance, puff up your chest, and try to make yourself as huge as possible. You are the big gorilla defending your territory. You are Godzilla. Stretch your arms out wide. Stand in a superman pose. Pose like a general surveying a battlefield. Take up space and feel confidence shoot through your veins.

Studies have shown that the above exercise can dramatically improve confidence and reduce stress in a matter of minutes. Another easy exercise that will dramatically boost your confidence is a quick visualization:

Victory Visualization

Find somewhere quiet and close your eyes. Then recall a time in your life when you felt absolutely victorious – like you were on top of the world. Maybe it was the time you scored a game-winning point as a child. Maybe it was when you finally earned that long-awaited promotion. Recall the event in vivid detail – how it felt, what it smelled like, who was there – and let yourself enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

This exercise will make you feel like you are on top of the world. By the time you finish, you will feel incredibly confident and powerful, and whenever you open your mouth you’ll notice a marked difference in the way you speak.

There’s one more exercise that works like magic when it comes to boosting your power and confidence. It’s a little bit more involved, but it’s well worth the effort. Here’s how it works:

Full Day of Stillness

Pick a day that you want to feel powerful. On that day, do everything as slowly and deliberately as possible. It may feel strange at first, but after a few minutes, you notice that moving slowly instills you with a deep feeling of empowerment. Eat food slowly and savor each bite. Talk a little more slowly than usual. Instead of checking your phone while waiting, just stand or sit in silence. Be still. Be deliberate. Before long, you’ll reconnect with a powerful side of yourself that you may not even have known you possessed.

The above activity has huge effects, so don’t take it lightly. It can have a tremendous effect on the way you carry yourself and the way you speak.

Next time you have a party, or a presentation, or a date, try out one of these exercises. You might just be surprised at how quickly you get in touch with your inner executive. After all, you’re not developing any new skills. You’re just taking your natural affinity for stillness and transforming it into power. Now get out there and be a leader.

Guest post by Nina Lalumia

This is a celebration of the rich language of EastEnders, the long-running BBC drama that takes places in the fictional working-class neighbourhood of Walford in London. Before starting out, I do want to say a little bit about the other reasons I love the show. It presents a diverse range of characters: white and black, Christian and Muslim, gay and straight. But none of them are placed artificially to serve a PC or liberal ideology. For example, Shabnam is not “the Muslim character,” and Tracy is not “the lesbian character.” They are presented as human beings, first of all, who have these characteristics among other complications. Also, the differences are presented as real problems that are not easy to live with. But everyone has equal footing in the economic and social marketplace to struggle to achieve their goals, and to negotiate or battle through their differences.


Words of wisdom from Aunt Dot:

Speaking to Carol, who is worried about her cancer coming back, Dot says, “You don’t want to be scared of dyin’. It’s the livin’s what’s difficult: leadin’ a life you can be proud of.” The sentence presents a use of ‘what’ to mean that. Also, ‘want’ does not mean desire; it means: “There’s no need to be scared of dying,” or “dying is not the real thing to fear.”

‘What’ can also mean who: “You was the one what spoke t’er, uhz far as I can recall.”

And here’s another use of ‘want’: “They want to wind their necks in!” (They ought to mind their own business and not be stickin’ their beaks in other people’s.)


Non-standard past participles:

Note: I will never say ‘incorrect.’ There ain’t no such thing as incorrect speech, so long as the person you’re talkin’ to can understan-djya.

“You shouldn’t’ve spoke tuh ‘er like vat.” (The hard th sound is often pronounced as v.)

“You were out wiv yer mates while I was sat at home cryin’ me eyes out.”

“Of course you’re feelin’ het up.” (‘Het’ for heated; ‘you’re’ rhymes with ‘door.’)

“Seein’ as you was stood behind the amoebas when the brains were bein’ handed out…” (That’s Shabnam showin’ some cheek the first time she meets her future husband.)


Non-standard verb conjugations

“You ‘eard ‘im, ‘e don’t wanna go. End of!”

“He was proper ‘appy a-bou—tit, weren’t ‘e?”

As these examples show, most often the h at the beginning of a word is dropped. Sometimes it’s set up by a long-e ‘the,’ which is otherwise pronounced thuh. “There’s nobody in thee ‘ouse!” “Ya don’t know thee ‘alf of it!” “Don’t fink this means I’m lettin’ you off thee ‘ook!” (The soft th sound is often pronounced f.)


Cockney rhyming

“Look at the boat on that one!” ‘Boat race’ rhymes with ‘face,’ so ‘boat’ is used to mean face.

“Lend us yer percy: I need to make a call.” A phone is sometimes called a ‘blower,’ perhaps because of the old speaking tubes that enabled communication between rooms. Percy Thrower was a famous radio personality who talked about gardening. ‘Thrower’ rhymes with ‘blower.’

Linda: What was that all in aid of? (What was that all about?)
Mick: Ain’t got a scooby…yet. (‘Scooby Doo’ rhymes with ‘clue.’)

“We’ll have a nice bit of bunny, like we shoulda done last week.” (‘Bunny’ is a cute name for a rabbit. ‘Rabbit and pork’ rhymes with ‘talk.’ Really, it does. If it don’t, ya ain’t sayin’ ‘talk’ the way ya ough*uh). I’m using the asterisk to stand for a glottal stop, the sound with which ‘out’ and ‘ask’ begin, but in such cases is used where a t or two would be written (wri**en).


Words used for emphasis, like ‘very’

“You’re well cute when ya frown!”

“She can turn into a right shrew when she’s ‘ad a few!” ( A few drinks.)

Mick when he gets into bed with Linda after she’s been away for several weeks: “I’ve proper missed this!”

“I’m really, really sorry. I was bang out of order.”

“Those trainers are dead expensive!”

“That’s a top welcome, ain’t it?!”


‘Yous’ for plural ‘you’

Mick: There’s nofin goin on between yous two, is there?

Nancy: No. ‘Course there ain’t!

Mick: All right! Keep yer hair on!


‘Not half’ means completely

“For a smart girl, she can’t half be shtupid sometimes!”

A: Ya don’t ‘ave tuh put bu**er on yer toast!
B: But it don’t half taste be**er if ya do!


Innit,’ ‘yeah,’ and ‘eh’

‘Innit?’ is used for ‘Isn’t it?’ ‘Yeah?’ is often used to emphasize an imperative (like ‘will you?’), but is sometimes used like ‘eh.’ ‘Eh?’ is used to emphasize a question and to seek confirmation or agreement from the listener.

“Any prob-lums, just call me, yeah?”

“Just give us a few minutes, yeah?”

“Well, this is a joke, yeah?”

“Don’t she look pre**y, eh?”

“What would ya do wivout me, eh?”

“It’s a pre**y day, yeah, innit eh?”


‘Oi’ means ‘Hey!’ or ‘Watch out!’

A: I like the way you’re wearin’ yer hair.
B: Hides more of my face, dunnit?
A: Yeah, exactly.
B: Oi!



“ ’Oo took the jam out of yer doughnut?” (What’s got you in such a bad mood?)

“You cause nofin’ but agg, an’ then wonder why everyone get’s the zig!” (‘Agg’ and ‘aggro’ are short for ‘aggravation.’)


Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars

Words of wisdom from Roxy, trying to explain how things are to a man:

“Look, us ladies, right? It’s as much about what we don’t say, as what we do say. So it’s up to you numpties to figure out what it is we really are sayin’. Life would be a lot easier if you got what we were tryin’ to tell you, or not tell you.”

If ya can’* figyuh ou* wha* a numpty is, ven ya are one!


For anyone who doesn’t know what EastEnders is, check out the video below:

EastEnders Compilation of Dramatic Moments 😉

Introducing you to Dan from Improve Your Social Skills. Dan is a social skills coach for people overcoming social awkwardness.


Jade: You describe yourself as being the ‘most socially awkward kid’ you could meet when you were growing up. Is this the same thing as being shy? If not, how are shyness and social anxiety different in your opinion?

I think there’s a difference between shyness and awkwardness. In my opinion, shyness means that being social makes you nervous, or you find it unpleasant in some way. Social awkwardness means that you’re not very good at social interaction. Of course, the two often overlap, but it’s possible for someone to have one but not the other. For instance, you might find social interaction anxiety-producing, but you can interact just fine — in that case, you would be shy but not awkward. Or you might love talking to other people, but you constantly do and say the wrong thing — in that case, you would be awkward but not shy.

That being said, I don’t think these words are all that helpful to describe people. If you say “I’m shy” or “I’m awkward”, it can be a negative label that you’re putting on yourself. It’s better to say things like “I’m feeling shy right now” or “That was an awkward conversation.” Don’t label yourself with these words — use them to label your experiences.

(Of course, it’s okay to use these words if they don’t feel negative to you — I sometimes describe my past self as “awkward”, but that doesn’t make my current self feel bad in any way.)


Jade: If you could go back in time to speak to your younger, socially awkward self, what would you say?

Dan: It gets better. It’s not your fault. You will find friends who accept you just as you are. Don’t give up.


Jade: On your blog you state that the reason for your extreme social awkwardness when you were younger was because you have Asperger’s Syndrome. You said that getting diagnosed with Asperger’s was a positive, life-changing moment for you. Why did getting a diagnosis help you so much along your journey?

Dan: Asperger’s helped me understand why I was struggling socially. Before my Asperger’s diagnosis, I just thought there was something wrong with me. Like I thought I was just a really unlikable person, and that’s why nobody seemed to enjoy spending time with me.

But after I received my diagnosis, I realized that there was nothing inherently wrong with me. It’s just that I had never learned social skills, because Asperger’s had prevented me from picking them up naturally. In other words, I had the power to fix my social problems — I just needed to learn the skills I was lacking.

And that was a huge turning point for me, because now I had a plan. I could deliberately study social skills. I could spend time practicing the things I had learned.

The psychologist Carol Dweck talks about this idea of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their ability is fixed, and there’s no way to get better at something. People with a growth mindset believe that they can get better, and even if they’re bad at something today, they can get really good at it if they keep practicing.

And my Asperger’s diagnosis was the thing that switched me over to a growth mindset. I used to think “I’m just really bad socially, and I’m doomed to always be that way.” But when I received my diagnosis, I started to think “I’m bad socially, but if I study these skills, I’ll get better.” This was a huge shift.


Jade: Of everything you have learnt about social skills over the last 10 years, what skill do you think is the most important thing for socially anxious people to learn?

Dan: You are probably much more critical of yourself than other people are of you. It’s very common for anxious people to make a small mistake and then beat themselves up about it for a long time. The fact is, everyone makes social mistakes. The main difference is that non-anxious people shrug off the mistakes and get right back into the conversation, whereas anxious people let the mistake derail them.

Of course, it’s one thing to say “Just don’t worry about it” — it’s quite another to actually do that. So if you are socially anxious, I recommend that you consider seeing a professional therapist. Therapists are usually quite good at helping you combat your anxiety and learn to not blow your social mistakes out of proportion.

You can also try to fight the anxiety by doing just a tiny bit more than you normally would. So if you would normally leave a conversation right after you make your first mistake, try leaving the conversation after the second mistake, instead. If you would normally say no to a party invitation, try going to the party and leaving after 30 minutes. You don’t have to go all-in. Just do a bit more than you would normally, and your anxiety will start to lose its power.


Jade: You have written a guide called ‘Improve Your Social Skills‘ – who should read it and why?

Dan: I start my book with my manifesto. And I realize that sounds kind of weird — like normally we associate manifestos with Karl Marx, or with crazy guys that live in the woods. But that’s not my kind of manifesto. My manifesto is the core of why I wrote the book. It’s the things that I fervently believe. It’s the things I wrote the book to share. And so I guess if you read my manifesto and it moves you, if something in you says “Yes!” to the manifesto, then my book is for you. You can read my manifesto here.

Of course, if my manifesto doesn’t move you, you can still buy my book, and you’ll probably benefit from the skills you learn there 🙂 But the person I had in mind as I wrote it is someone who really needs to hear the words of my manifesto.

Thanks for the interview Dan 🙂 Check out Dan’s website to view his articles and videos about social skills topics. CLICK HERE.

Guest post by Nina Lalumia

A friend of mine recently said that the perfect example of an introspective introvert is the hermit who withdraws from society into solitude. I want to explain here why I think this is mistaken…

What’s a Hermit?

When I think of hermits, I think of religious or spiritual hermits: for example, a nun or a monk, or a dervish or a certain type of rabbi. In particular, I think of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who in his mature years was sometimes drawn to spend several days in a cave. It was here, when he was forty years old, that he reported that the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him to recite. What he recited at various times during the remainder of his life became the Qur’an—literally, the recitation. In Christianity, there is imagery similar to the Prophet’s cave, for example, the interior castle of St Teresa of Avila. Also, in monasteries, each person has their own private room or cell.

The personality type of a hermit

It’s safe to say that most, if not all, religious or spiritual hermits are introverts, simply because they have a strong preference for spending time alone and in silence or even darkness. They withdraw regularly, and sometimes completely, from the bustling, noisy, talkative world of society. Even if they live together in a monastery or convent, they typically limit speaking to each other only to necessary communication; they refrain from chatting, and sometimes for extended periods they take a vow of complete silence.

But I think it is mistaken to think that they are introspective—that they tend to give their attention to their own personal experience. This is symbolised by the fact that they typically have few if any personal belongings, and by the fact that they wear uniforms or habits. They divest themselves of Personality and become more or less anonymous; often they take on new names, and they typically limit, or even eliminate, contact with their family members. So to a large extent they have no personal experience to reflect on.

So what do religious or spiritual hermits reflect on?

Anyone who has tried to practise meditation knows that when you begin, perhaps by focusing on your breathing, that personal thoughts appear: typically about recent events or things that you have to do in the near future. We are naturally drawn to reflect on our past (either with regret or pleasure) and to speculate about our future (either with fear or hope). But the teachers of meditation tell us, when such personal thoughts come up, to witness them as if from a distance, and then gently re-direct our attention to our breathing or to some other fairly blank object of focus. If we are “successful,” eventually these personal thoughts settle down and perhaps disappear completely. So what is left? In a word, nothing. This is the deeper level of meditation or prayer that many hermits or mystics seek to reach. At this level, there is nothing personal left to reflect on. In this darkness one does not belong to a family, and one has no ethnicity or language or nationality. Some controversial mystics would even say that at this level they have no particular religion or set of beliefs.

What does one think about when one thinks about nothing?

The Muslim philosopher Al-Ghazali explained it as follows. A person has two aspects: first, their body, which is a public object that others can examine with their five senses; and the body itself examines the rest of the world with its own five senses. But then a person also has an inner reality, the capacity to understand and reason; and this activity is not observable to any of the five senses. So also Al-Ghazali suggested that the world as a whole has two aspects: one that we can examine with our five senses—its exterior, superficial aspect, and one that we can only reach by the understanding or intellect—its inner, deep aspect.

So many mystics would agree that what they think about when they think about nothing is the inner, deep aspect of reality—the hidden basis of reality, or perhaps even the Reality itself that some call God or the Higher Power. So the religious or spiritual hermit, the mystic or person who meditates, is an outward-looking introvert—not an introspective introvert. They look outward toward the deeper reality of the world, or perhaps toward Reality itself.

The social contribution of spiritual introverts

Often, spiritual introverts spend time in solitude and then return to society with a contribution: either a spoken or written message, or their own personal example of integrity in the way that they live. Both aspects are present in the way that Susan Cain talks about her grandfather, a rabbi who loved both to study in solitude and to communicate lovingly with others; she is the author of Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. In either way, in their message or in their personal example, one of the contributions that spiritual introverts can make is to show us how to see beneath and beyond our external differences and to see the common core of humanity in us all. For example, this is something that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi did and that, in the Buddhist tradition, Thich Nhat Hanh does. This contribution seems especially important today, when the emphasis on external differences seems to be on the rise—often with violent consequences.

It is a painful paradox that many of the people who emphasise these differences the most call themselves “religious.” This makes me wish that they would return to the traditions of meditation, prayer or mysticism that the different religions share—each in their own way, but with a common core at the heart…in the human heart, at its introverted best.

(1) Introverts may experience overwhelm

Some introverts are highly sensitive persons. They may be sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, or large crowds. They may also be empathetic and sensitive to the feelings of other people around them. Their sensitivity may lead introverts to experience overwhelm, and then it may lead them to isolate themselves or seek solitude in some way. In other words, it may lead them to seek the comfort of The Cave—a dark, quiet place for rest and restoration…or for escape.


(2) Introduction to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy

It may be useful for introverts of this kind to learn something about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. This therapy was developed by the psychologist Marsha Linehan in the early 1990s. It aims to help people manage overwhelming emotions.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) aims to teach radical acceptance of what has happened, what is…AND give us insight into the things we can change. That’s what the fancy word ‘dialectical’ means, like the word ‘dialogue’ that suggests a back-and-forth exchange between two people. ‘Dialectical’ in this context means a back-and-forth exchange, a balance and a tension, between acceptance AND change in our lives.

One point is important to add. If you have been mistreated in some way, acceptance does NOT mean that the behaviour of an abusive person is acceptable. Abusive behaviour is never acceptable. Nonetheless, it may be part of your reality, and you unfortunately have to learn how to cope with it. Acceptance here means that you cannot erase it from your past, no matter how much you might want to—no matter how much we wish you could. But what you can do, hopefully, is learn more effective ways of coping with it.

 (3) The Serenity Prayer and a Radical Acceptance poem

The basic message of Dialectical Behavior Therapy is much the same as the well-known Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

With a slightly different twist, here is my Radical Acceptance poem:

This is The World.

Let it be, because it IS.

Inspect it.

Learn to respect it.

I am a small but important part of the world.

What can I do NOW?

It’s important to think about the phrase, “I am part of The World.” If I am part of The World, both my body and personality are realities that to a large extent I have to accept, although I can also work to change them in certain respects. After all, we are living organisms that are constantly in the process of change, and we can do some things to direct this process.

(4) The courage to come out of isolation and back into the world

If we as introverts suffer from overwhelm, we may for a while escape into the comfort of The Cave. The Serenity Prayer, or my Radical Acceptance poem, may help you to calm down and return to The World…BOTH with the serenity to accept the things beyond your control AND with some new insights into the things you can change. You may for example have an insight into how you can better manage the things that overwhelm you. You are a small part of The World. But you are also important! Retreat when you have to, but then return to us with your gifts.

Guest Post by Nina Lalumia

The Etymology of ‘Introvert’ and ‘Introspective’

Based on its Latin roots, ‘introverted’ means turned to the inside. Lots of words have the same roots in different combinations. ‘INTRO-duce’ means to lead in; and ‘re-VERT’ means to turn back. Similarly, based on its roots, ‘introspective’ means looking inward (compare to ‘retro-SPECTIVE,’ which means looking backward). So, based on their roots, ‘introverted’ and ‘introspective’ seem to mean pretty much the same thing; therefore it’s not surprising that many people are unclear about the important differences in meaning between them, as we shall explore below…

The Meaning of ‘Introvert’ in Psychology

The psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) developed a theory of psychological types, characterized by the tendency of a person to prefer one of two basic attitudes: Introverted or Extraverted (that’s how the word is still spelt in some contexts). On his theory, people employ these attitudes in the way that they gather information (Intuitive or Sensory) and in the way they make decisions (based on Feeling or Thinking). Jung’s theory was developed and modified by Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Myers. They published an assessment tool in 1944, in order to help women entering the workforce find what kind of work would be “most comfortable and effective” for them. This later became the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which also assesses a person’s general approach to the world: Perceiving or Judging.

The questions in the MBTI test that are used to assess whether a person is introverted, and to what degree, ask people to examine how they behave. Introverts tend to choose the first option in the questions listed below:

  • Do you reflect first and then act after? Do you listen first and then speak—or the opposite? (As an extroverted friend of mine was once described: She shoots first and asks questions later!)
  • Do you pursue in-depth knowledge and understanding of the topics that interest you, or do you gather a wide breadth of knowledge, on a more superficial level?
  • Do you prefer one-to-one conversation on substantial topics, or do you like frequent interaction with many people or in larger groups—again, on a more superficial level?
  • Are you cautious about letting people into your small circle of intimacy, or do you readily accept many people as your “friends”?
  • Do you re-energize yourself by spending time alone, or by spending time with other people?

What it means to be introspective

As its etymology suggests, an introspective person is one who tends to look inward. Of course this doesn’t literally mean that they turn their eyes into their head, like in some horror movie! It means that they tend to give their attention to their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. To give attention to your own experience means to examine how an event affects you directly and personally, rather than looking at it objectively. News reporters are meant to examine what happens objectively, without expressing how it affects them personally. By contrast, an introspective person may be understood as one who is regularly writing their autobiography–either by keeping a journal, or by narrating it to themselves or to others. This is not a bad quality in itself. It does NOT mean that introspective people are necessarily narcissistic or self-centred. But since our attention is limited, it does suggest that introspective people tend to give more attention to their own experience rather than to the world “out there” that we all share.

Introvert and Introspective: Not The Same Thing

A major source of confusion between the words is the conflict that is often found between the questions used in the MBTI test, on the one hand, and common descriptions of what it means to be introverted, on the other–even on the official MBTI site itself! None of the assessment questions above suggests that introverts (the people who prefer the first option in each case) are more introspective than extroverts. We know from the questions that an introverted person has a pattern or behaviour of spending more time alone, but for what reason we cannot know. Is the time spent alone used to look inwards (introspectively)? The test questions do not look at this but yet our general, unclarified understanding of the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘introspective’ lumps the two meanings together. In truth, introverts, as identified by the questions in the MBTI test, may be just as interested in the world and other people as extroverts—but importantly, their interest in the world is expressed through a different mode or style.

The key to understanding this may be found in the use of the word ‘reflect.’ It is often said that introverts like to reflect. But what do they typically reflect on? Importantly, they reflect or look in the “mirror” not necessarily to look at or understand themselves, but to inspect and understand more deeply The World (of which each of us is a small but important part). So don’t get confused by descriptions that suggest that introverts are more introspective than other people: that they direct their energy toward their own inner world, or that they have a strong internal focus, inward toward their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. They may do; or they may not. We don’t know because the questions in the MBTI test themselves do not give us this information.

Introverts who are not Introspective:

One characteristic of introverts is that they generally prefer to spend their free time, and to re-energise themselves, by doing things alone, not with other people. One of the things that an introvert might do in his or her alone-time is read a book. But when a person reads a book, they are not being introspective: they are not looking inward at themselves. They are learning about the world. This is true even if they are reading fiction. The best fiction represents in a concentrated way issues that real people face in the real world. 

Introverts who are Introspective

An example of an introspective introvert is someone who looks inward gathering information from life experiences in order to learn or grow through them. By taking time to quietly contemplate life, an introspective introvert increases their understanding of the world through the lens of their own experience. So if such a person does in fact write an autobiography, or publish their journals, by reading such works we can learn a lot about the world…as it appeared to them.

You may be introverted but not recognise it

Due to a blurry understanding of the meaning of ‘introvert,’ which often sees it as the same thing as being introspective, introverted people don’t always recognise or accept their introverted natures. So just because you are not introspective, DO NOT rule out the possibility that you may be introverted. As an introvert, you may be just as interested in other people and in understanding the world as extroverts are—only in a different mode or style. Actually, true introspection is something that most of us have to work hard to learn: to become aware of the relationships between our thought-processes, our emotions, and our behaviour. We have to learn this skill if we want to identify unhealthy patterns, make changes and get over the obstacles that are holding us back.

What to do in that awkward moment when your mind goes blank and you can’t think of anything to say…

Not knowing what to say in conversation means that many people hold back from beginning conversations with new people because they are afraid creating awkward silence in conversation.

Benjamin the conversation coach teaches us a simple conversation skills technique for beginning a conversation anywhere and with any person. All you need to do to avoid awkward silences in conversation is to simply notice what is happening around you and then make observations based on what you see.

As Benjamin advises, when applying this technique it’s important not to judge or assess your observations before you speak. You should just say what you observe, even if you think that it is not interesting enough to share. You may think that the dusty table is not an appropriate topic to observe in conversation, but actually saying such an observation can serve to take the conversation in an unpredictable and energising direction – you just won’t know until you speak up and share your observation!

To keep the conversation interesting it is necessary to make new observations whenever you feel the energy of the conversation is falling or when you don’t have anything new to say about the topic.

By talking about what is happening around us and paying attention to our surroundings we can avoid asking question after question in conversation. It means that the conversation is more organic and unpredictable than it would be if you were to simple ask typical ‘getting to know you questions’. You will also find that although you are mainly talking about impersonal topics of conversation (for example talking about a chair or painting in the room), you get to know quite a bit about the person to whom you are talking.

Next time you are having a conversation with a relative stranger try out Benjamin’s conversation skills technique. You don’t need to prepare anything in advance; simply observe what you see around you.

Accents of the UK

Perdita Lawton voice over artist gives us some tips, tricks and phrases to speak in a variety of British accents from the UK…

Yorkshire accent – the lyrical sound of the Yorkshire accent requires a tight mouth.

Welsh accent from The Valleys – make sure that when you try the Welsh accent you have a ‘sing-song’ tone of voice.

Sommerset accent – say ‘combine harvester’ while keeping your pronunciation soft.

Essex accent – the Essex accent is lyrical, fast and funny. The sounds of the accent require a wide mouth and a nasal quality.

Manchester accent – think of Oasis and sing ‘what’s the story morning glory’.

Check out Perdita Lawton’s website for information about her work as a voice over artist.


Accents of the USA

Perdita Lawton voice over artist gives us some tips, tricks and phrases to speak as characters with American accents…

New York Bronx Accent – to sound like you’re from the Bronx say ‘coffee’ as many times as possible while eating a bagel.

Standard American Accent (East Coast) – try saying, ‘I’ll get a cheeseburger and fries’ or ‘I love cheeseburger and fries’. **Calm down we’re only joking. 😉

Jade’s Lisping American Nerd Accent- don’t speak clearly and be as nasal as possible.

Perdita’s Annoying Valley Girl Accent – speak in a high pitched, excitable tone of voice while saying ‘loves it’.

Mountain Hillbilly Accent – slow down your speech and say, ‘Brendon come in off of that porch,’ or, ‘don’t you be giving me none of that horse shit!’

Check out Perdita Lawton’s website for information about her work as a voice over artist.


Conversation Skills Technique

When you don’t remember a person’s name it gives that person the impression that you are not important to them. In order to develop our network of friends and acquaintances, it is necessary to learn the names of the people we meet or else we cannot deepen relationships.


When meeting a new person shake their hand and make sure to repeat their name two times as you introduce yourself to them. Saying the name just two times is barely noticeable to the other person, whereas saying the name more times than this will stand out and may seem excessive or as if you are trying too hard..

In the first moment of meeting a new person, often we are overly concerned about thinking about what to say to the extent that we give little thought to the person’s name when we hear them say it. When this happens we will quickly forget the name of the new person. A good thing to do is to keep conversation very simple at this first moment of meeting them so that you can focus some of your attention on remembering their name.

The next step is to give the person an adjective/describing word that is the same letter of the person’s name. For example, ‘brilliant Benjamin’ or ‘jumpy Jade.’ If possible, create an image of the person in your mind’s eye that reflects their adjective (Benjamin wears bright blue sunglasses so I am able to imagine him as a brilliant superhero flying through the sky).

One final trick to use in order to remember a name is to associate the person with a famous person who shares their name. Making as many associations as possible will serve to embed your memory of the person’s names deeper and deeper, making it easy to recall whenever you need it in the future.

Conversation Skills Advice

How to start a conversation wherever you are in the world with conversation skills coach Benjamin.

Not knowing what to say in conversation means that many people hold back from beginning conversations with new people because they are afraid creating awkward silence in conversation.

Benjamin the conversation coach teaches us a simple conversation skills technique for beginning a conversation anywhere and with any person. All you need to do to avoid awkward silences in conversation is to simply notice what is happening around you and then make observations based on what you see.

As Benjamin advises, when applying this technique it’s important not to judge or assess your observations before you speak. You should just say what you observe, even if you think that it is not interesting enough to share. You may think that the dusty table is not an appropriate topic to observe in conversation, but actually saying such an observation can serve to take the conversation in an unpredictable and energising direction – you just won’t know until you speak up and share your observation!

To keep the conversation interesting it is necessary to make new observations whenever you feel the energy of the conversation is falling or when you don’t have anything new to say about the topic.
By talking about what is happening around us and paying attention to our surroundings we can avoid asking question after question in conversation. It means that the conversation is more organic and unpredictable than it would be if you were to simple ask typical ‘getting to know you questions’. You will also find that although you are mainly talking about impersonal topics of conversation (for example talking about a chair or painting in the room), you get to know quite a bit about the person to whom you are talking.

Next time you are having a conversation with a relative stranger try out Benjamin’s conversation skills technique. You don’t need to prepare anything in advance; simply observe what you see around you.

3 Tips to Project Confidence

According to conversation skills expert Benjamin, confidence is a state of being. For us to be able to access a confident state, we need to make sure that we have all the basics in place. This means that we should make an effort with our appearance and wear clothes in which we feel confident.

To be confident in conversation we should also seek to hold a positive mindset in our interactions. This means making an effort to focus on what is good in our lives and sharing that with others as part of conversation. When a person has a negative mindset and looks for the worst in everything all the time, it is draining for other people who may not know what to say to the negative person.

To hold a positive mindset in conversation, it’s good to talk about the activities you have been doing recently. By talking about the things you have been doing and not your feelings, you may be able to maintain a more positive mindset.

To speak with confidence, it’s also essential to pay attention to your tone of voice. Seek to bring as much energy as possible to your voice as it will make what you are saying much more interesting and engaging to the people to whom you are speaking.