Can You Teach Your Children To Have More Empathy? with Dr. Judith Orloff

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In this final episode of a series with ‘Thriving as an Empath’ author Dr. Judith Orloff, she and the Amens discuss the phenomenon of the mirror neuron system, and how it can create either empathy or narcissism in individuals. Orloff then explains how knowledge of this system can help parents guide their children to experiencing more empathy for others, and how that can lead to happier relationships in their future.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Doctor Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like Brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to Welcome back. We are still with Judith Orloff, and we're talking about her book on empaths. Read the title for me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care-
Tana Amen: I cannot wait to buy this book.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... for Sensitive People, and Doctor Orloff actually has an event.
Tana Amen: Where can I ... Wait. Where can I buy the book?
Dr Judith Orloff: You can buy the book-
Tana Amen: Amazon.
Dr Judith Orloff: ... on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, any book store. It's available everywhere. You can go to my website,, and there's a journal that goes with it too, the Empath's Empowerment Journal, where you can journal about all of your empath issues, and have it be your safe place to be, and release, and clarify, and open up-
Tana Amen: So, interesting.
Dr Judith Orloff: ..., and write about it, and own your empath self in the journal.
Tana Amen: I'm looking at different people in my family now, and thinking, "Oh, wait. This makes sense. I want to learn more." So, it's so interesting. You have an event coming up.
Dr Judith Orloff: I do. On November 2nd in Venice, California, the Mystic Journey's Crystal Gallery, which is a space filled with these gorgeous, life-size crystals where I'll be speaking. And it's a fun place to launch the book, and talk about what it is to be an empath and for empaths to network because many empaths feel alone. And I'm having a retreat for empaths coming up pretty soon, where it's just an empath retreat day, and you could check on that on my website as well.
Tana Amen: Fantastic.
Dr Judith Orloff: So, when empaths come together, it's such a beautiful thing because they see they're not alone. And once you see there are all these people very similar to you, it's comforting.
Tana Amen: That's awesome.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's actually an empathy system in the brain, and it's called the Mirror Neuron System. Tell our listeners or viewers about that.
Dr Judith Orloff: Well, the Mirror Neuron System, that's the compassion system in the brain. These are neurons that help us feel compassion, that beautiful emotion, that spiritual state of compassion and empathy for other people. And it's theorized that in empaths, the Mirror Neuron System is hyper active, meaning it's working overtime. It's similar to what you had said, Daniel, earlier on or about the part of the brain working. Overworking.
In empaths, it's similar with the mirror neurons where it's thought that they're working overtime in empaths, so that the compassion input is intense compared to maybe somebody else's versus a narcissist who has empathy deficient disorder, and doesn't really have the capacity for true empathy that empaths have. Though in the book, I talk about the toxic attraction between empath and narcissists.
Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.
Dr Judith Orloff: Oh yeah. It happens all the time. It's deadly and I'm constantly educating my patients about this. But narcissists are so deceptive at first because it seems they have empathy. They're so charming, and seductive, and reel you in, and make you think that you're the one or you're the most important person. And then the minute you don't do something according to their plan, they become cold, withholding, and punishing because they lack what empaths have.
And empaths, they're such fixtures. They say, "Oh, this person just had a bad childhood. So, my love will fix them." And I'm sorry to say, that's not true.
Tana Amen: Yeah. So, I'm curious. When you talked about mirror neurons, it just triggered something in me, as a mother. I would assume that being maternal would turn that on more because I mean, you watch any mother with a baby and all of a sudden she's gooing, and gawing, and copying the baby, and getting the baby to copy her, right?
It's sort of a like ... Does that increase that part of the brain when you become a mother?
Dr Judith Orloff: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:04:25].
Tana Amen: You joke. You laugh at me because I'm so different or I was so different with my baby than I was with anybody else. It's so much stronger.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, your voice would change.
Tana Amen: Yeah. You can't help it. It's just-
Dr Judith Orloff: No, you can't, but it's a beautiful thing. Plus the oxytocin, the body is flowing though you. But that maternal feeling that you're describing with empaths, that's often turned towards everybody.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Dr Judith Orloff: Yeah. That connection. You want to help, you want to fix, you want to remove the pain. And unfortunately, what happens is that it comes into your own body unless you learn how to hold space for somebody, but not take on.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Dr Judith Orloff: So, these are exercises I work with my patients on, "This is how you do it. Let's practice." So, a lot of this is practice techniques. How do you not take it on? Or I'll send a patient out and do a homework assignment saying, "All right. Go and sit next to that coworker at work, who is still draining for you, and practice this technique of not taking it on, and then report back."
So, a lot of it is putting these self-care techniques into effect. It's a bit of behavioral modification, but how does it work in a real world? So, it's not just theorizing about it, it's make yourself more comfortable by practicing these self-care techniques.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to enhance empathy in children?
Tana Amen: Ah. That's beautiful. I was part of a New York Times article on that, and it's such a great question. If you have an empath child, there's a chapter in the book on how to raise empathic children. And so, you teach them what their empathy is and maybe the downside of it.
But when you teach somebody to develop empathy, it involves listening skills, it involves being quiet and having intuitive listening rather than always adding something to the conversation, where you listen with your heart, and you try and feel where the person is coming from. And you can learn that a lot from animals.
To be with animals and just see how you feel around them. But there have been studies in prisons where narcissists have been ... They tried to teach empathy to narcissists by giving them an animal to take care of, and having that kind of connection to the animal and there's somebody else's wellbeing other than your own.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You have a bunch of books on Audible because I think as people are listening to this podcast, they're going to want to get your new book.
Tana Amen: Wow. You've got competition.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's not competition.
Tana Amen: I'm joking. I always tease him. He needs a 12 step program for writing because he just can't stop writing books.
Dr Judith Orloff: Yeah. Oh, totally.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But besides the new book, Thriving as an Empath, what are some of the other books? And I've noticed you've actually read a lot of your own books that you would recommend for our listeners to really begin to dig into your work.
Dr Judith Orloff: Well, I would recommend the Empaths Survival Guide online course, if you're visual. It's with me on video, that you can experience me and teaching various aspects of being an empath, and it's downloadable. So, you can watch it whenever you want to at your convenience. And it's empaths at work, empaths and emotions, empaths and relationships and love. How to navigate that. Parenting and empaths.
So, I go through various lessons on particular topics to guide empaths through the various parts of life. And then I also have emotional freedom, which is a book I wrote about emotional health and emotional healing because so much of being an empath is being in touch with your emotions, and learning how to heal what has been traumatized or wounded from the past. And so, emotional freedom is a good companion to my empath books.
And the other empath book is the Empath's Survival Guide. But I have a trilogy of books, the Empath's Survival Guide, the Thriving as an Empath book, which is a daybook of self-care exercises, and the Empath Empowerment Journal are all meant to go together. One is to read the information, one is to develop self-care techniques for every day, and the other is to write and journal.
And writing is so sacred not just to an auditory or through a computer, but write, get the pen in hand, and get it down. It's so different. It's such a different experience than doing something on a computer.
Tana Amen: It really is.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It just reminds me of a learning disability that some children have. I call it Finger Agnosia, which means their fingers can't tell what their brain is thinking. So, for some people, the act of writing actually sends interrupts signals to their brain and they get stuck. But if they dictate it, it can be better.
So, I would just say whatever your ability to get this down because I'm a huge fan of journaling to get things out of your head, so you can assess them. You mentioned Stephen Mitchell, whose I think still married to my friend, Byron Katie.
Tana Amen: She's amazing. She's amazing. She's really helped me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We love Katie's work so much because the thing that she teaches is, I mean, what CBT has been teaching forever, which is not to believe every stupid thing you think. But if you don't get it out of your head, and assess it, you believe it 100%, if you have the thought I'm defective. If you don't write it down, get it out of your head and then assess, is that true?
Then the toxic thoughts can seriously damage you. And it sounds like empaths, if they grow up in an environment that shuts them down, that they actually end up with a lot of, we call them ANTs Automatic Negative Thoughts that just steal their happiness.
Dr Judith Orloff: [inaudible 00:10:46] and to such as, "There's something wrong with me."
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. And then I love that because I'm at my board. I have a big whiteboard in my office. And whenever a patients says something like that, "I'm broken." I'll go, "Well, write it down. I'm broken." And then we'll take them through the process of, "Is it true? Can you really know that that's true? How do you feel when you believe the thought devastated? Well, who would you be without the thought?" And it's usually free.
And then we turned it around. "I'm not broken." And they tell all the ways they're not broken. In fact, they're gifted. And that's really our conversation today.
Tana Amen: Yeah. That's the turnaround is, "I'm gifted."
Dr. Daniel Amen: That the turnaround is, "I'm not broken. I am in fact gifted."
Dr Judith Orloff: "I am a beautiful person. And not only that, it is fun to be an empath. It is such a blast to be an empath." Just go out and telling her, "If you and I went for a walk, we'd have so much fun."
Tana Amen: Oh my gosh. My brain is spinning right now. I can't even-
Dr Judith Orloff: [crosstalk 00:00:11:48].
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, yeah. You have to go her bed.
Tana Amen: I know.
Dr. Daniel Amen: For second.
Tana Amen: I know. I want so much more for me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So much fun. Well, unfortunately we're out of time. Doctor Judith Orloff. You can learn more about her at Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self Care for Sensitive People. Also, the Empath's Empowerment Journal. Doctor Orloff has a course online. I imagine they can find it.
Dr Judith Orloff: Right, right. On my website. All of the books and the courses on my website.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, thank you so much for being our guest-
Tana Amen: Thank you so much. It was so great.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... on the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr Judith Orloff: Oh, it's been my pleasure.
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