Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Patterns of Neurotic Interaction: A Study of Empathy and Enkinesis in Interpersonal Relationships

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Patterns of Neurotic Interaction: A Study of Empathy and Enkinesis in Interpersonal Relationships

Article excerpt

Human behavior, for the purpose of the present study, can conveniently be discussed under three headings: one determined by internal stimuli, e.g., hunger; one determined by stimuli arising from physical objects in the outside world; and one determined by cues emanating from a person's social environment. But we know that behavioral reactions to these stimuli cannot easily be described in terms of elementary stimulus-response patterns such as are being studied by the physiologist. Social interaction and interstimulation are based on highly complex dynamic configurations involving past experiences, present needs and the anticipation of future events. They are the resultants from communications flowing both ways on many levels of interpersonal relationships, including spoken and written words, gestures, unconscious expressive movements as well as a variety of equally unconscious responses to involuntary expressive acts observed in other persons. Stimuli emanating from persons constituting our social environment are of a privileged order. We are more aware of their facial expressions and general demeanor than of similar behavior in people belonging to the anonymous crowd. The infant's first attempts at reality testing are directed toward parental figures or other significant adults. Again, we know that it is the familiar faces of his friends and relations which form the ultimum moriens, as it were, in the general disorganization of the perceptual world of brain injured patients suffering from optical agnosia. Meaning conveyed by such manifestations of personality as non-verbal expressive acts, subtle intonations of voice, etc., is thus endowed with highly specific gestalt character and has a significant effect upon behavior. Indeed, we must assume that the give and take of stimuli operating on this largely unconscious level of communication is of prime importance in the dynamics of social interaction in both health and disease. More recently McCleary and Lazarus (1) of Baltimore described perceptions of this type as subceptions.

Empathy and its motor counterpart-what will presently be described as enkinesis-are functions largely based on perceptions and expressive acts of the same order. But we will also see that the underlying social cues are of a still more privileged nature than the rest of social cues impinging upon the individual in our culture. Empathy presupposes a certain measure of rapport with the person with whom we are prepared to empathize. It is usually defined as the imaginative projection of our consciousness into another person. It may, however, be well to realize that empathy is itself called forth by a variety of involuntary signals emitted by the behavioral attitude of the person with whom an empathic link is being established. It is thus based on the sharing of a variety of involuntary (and frequently unconscious) expressive acts by two or more people. Bearing in mind this dual aspect of the empathic function, enkinesis can be described as the imaginative projection of our consciousness into another person's motor or psychomotor behavior resulting in the actual sharing of some of his motor, vasomotor or glandular processes. One could say: empathy registers sensation and feeling while enkinesis represents a shorthand for action projected into the outside world. The two can thus be separated like the physiologist separates afferent and efferent functions in the nervous system. But in doing so we must not forget that empathy and enkinesis are, nevertheless, nothing but the sensory and motor aspects of an essentially identical process of social interaction occurring within a dynamic context favorable for its emergence.

Despite its obvious importance for a better understanding of interpersonal relationships the implied dichotomy of the empathic function has so far been neglected, and even the more familiar concept of empathy itself received comparatively scant attention in both normal and abnormal psychology. …

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