Bootstrapping Empathy: From Robot to Reasonable Human Being

I’m no saint, but I think it’s fair to say that I have reached the level of reasonable human being. This is progress. Not too long ago, I had a difficult time feeling the emotions of others. Except in narrow circumstances, empathy eluded me. I thought something was wrong with me (and perhaps something was). Nevertheless, I have since managed to activate the empathetic realm of my consciousness, and in this article I’ll tell you how.

The Problem

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point my brain decided that it was easier to close itself off from difficult emotions then to try to deal with uncomfortable realities. Maybe it was genetic. Maybe it was a defense mechanism to deal with bullying when I was growing up. Who knows. Whatever the cause, by the time I arrived at UCLA for my undergraduate education, I had decided to no longer give a fuck. It seemed much easier. Much safer. If you don’t care, you can’t get hurt.

I put up armor to insulate myself from the feelings of others.
Humans need community and connection in order to experience a truly fulfilling life.

The Solution

How can I cause myself to feel? That was the question. It seemed a difficult endeavor. Realizing I was no expert on the matter, I went to therapy starting in summer of 2018.

Don’t be ashamed of therapy. It’s a wonderful tool than can benefit anyone.

Change the internal narrative.

So much of mental health involves the story we tell ourselves about who we are. I am this. I am that. Many times, we focus on the negative. Moreover, words of others can burrow their way into our consciousness for years. There were occasions in which I was told I lacked empathy. A couple individuals even ventured to assign various disorders to my personality. Granted, such amateur psychologists were in places of emotional pain themselves, and perhaps I should have taken their diagnoses with a grain of salt. But the soul isn’t rational, it’s emotional. The words stung. The effects lasted.

We often fall prey to negative narratives that confine us to our past.

Act your way into thinking.

Have you ever heard of the phrase fake it ‘till you make it? Usually this pops up in the realm of gaining confidence. If you are afraid of public speaking, get up there and start talking until you conquer your fear. Speak until you become a speaker. I decided to apply this same technique to my quest for empathy.

When making decisions, I ask myself: “How would a compassionate person act?”
Create positive habits to make desired behavior automatic.

The Result

After deciding to care about the emotions of others, I can unequivocally say that my quality of life has increased. I am happier, more fulfilled, and more closely connected to my fellow human beings. It turns out that being generous makes everyone involved feel better (including myself). The 7 has been replaced with a 10. My experiences are more diverse. My relationships are stronger. I am far from perfect, but I’m making progress.

Practicing compassion has made a significant positive impact on my life satisfaction.

The Takeaway

The takeaways are twofold. First, if you have found yourself cloistered off in your own emotional world, I would suggest that you get out there and connect with other people. It may seem scary to put yourself out there emotionally, but it will benefit you in the long run. The risk will pay off. Second, I wholeheartedly believe — I know — that people can change. If you want to change something about yourself follow the two steps I outlined above. Change your internal narrative and act your way into thinking. It will take time, but eventually you can become who you’re meant to be.

Michael is a freelance writer for hire, specializing in health, wellness, and travel. Visit for more!

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