Dr Ashok Bhattacharya on empathy, narcissism and self-esteem (#30)

In this episode we talk to Dr Ashok Bhattacharya.

And we cover a lot of interesting topics, such as: 

What can birds teach us about empathy? 

How can the movie Inside Out improve our relationships? 

Why is insecurity good for us? 

What should we do when we realise that we’re in a relationship with a narcissist? 

How do we really build self-esteem? (And just a hint: the answer is not participation trophies) 

Dr Ashok Bhattacharya is a psychiatrist that has been practicing individual and couple psychotherapy since 1989. He is the founder of The Empathy Clinic which is committed to the teaching, practice, and enhancement of empathy. 

Dr Bhattacharya is the author of two books: 

Cake: a guide to reciprocal empathy. This book is a manual for consolidating marriage relationships.  

And his second book, Deep Fried Nerves, is a fictional novel that follows a burnt out psychiatrist through to his recovery. 

Dr Bhattacharya is wonderfully expressive in this conversation, using hand gestures and visual aids to drive his points home. I’ve included video clips below in the show notes where Dr Bhattacharya was using visual aids.  

We hope you enjoy this enlightening conversation with Dr Ashok Bhattacharya. 

You can listen to the episode on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher or Simplecast.  

Show Notes

2:52 – is it normal to smile when you see a video of someone smiling?
4:14 – mirror neurons (see video clip).
7:57 – how to be the baby whisperer.
9:03 – the hardware and software of empathy.
12:51 – empathy is not standing in someone else’s shoes.
17:45 – empathy is a capacity.
20:17 – empathy is a tool. It’s not good or bad.
23:08 – empathy is not getting in the hole with the person.
26:56 – how empathy impacts relationships.
31:47 – what if we’re not in an empathetic state of mind?
33:13 – the hardest thing to do is to listen (see video clip).
36:31 – helping people solve their own problems.
38:25 – listening requires patience.
38:55 – helping someone learn a lesson for themselves is much more powerful than simply teaching.
42:29 – human beings are designed to be insecure.
45:55 – confidence and self-esteem.
47:06 – narcissism.
49:41 – can a narcissist be helped?
52:18 – being in a relationship with a narcissist (see video clip).
58:25 – directional empathy.
01:02:49 – how can couples navigate life changes together.
01:06:18 – Trusting your partner to have your back.
01:10:3 – how to find the right partner.
01:11:18 – the Van Gogh problem.
01:12:37 – confidence and self-esteem.
01:16:38 – how to build confidence when you are failing.
01:19:34 – connect with Ashok.

Video clip where Dr Bhattacharya uses gestures to explain mirror neurons (04:15-06:22)
Dr Bhattacharya uses a fun visual aid to drive his point home about active listening (34:41-36:11)
Dr Bhattacharya uses a visual aid to explain how to deal with narcissists (53:40-56:19)

Links to References


Mirror neurons 

Daniel Stern – research on babies 




Inside Out (movie) 

Marshmallow test (Mischel in 1972) 

Van Gogh 

Dr. Ashok Bhattacharya – YouTube Channel 

Dr. Ashok Bhattacharya – Books 

Key Quotes

“Our facial expressions are very powerful when connecting with someone…by smiling I can make someone else smile.” 

“If you think of the human experience as a computer, we have hardware and software.” 

“A psychopath – the incapacity to feel remorse. It is like missing the letter R on the keyboard.” 

“A psychopath can experience empathy but not remorse.” 

“Empathy is about self negation.” 

“Empathy is impossible as you cannot actually put you in someone else’s shoes.” 

“Sympathy is when people echo the same feeling.” 

“Ants are incredibly empathetic creatures. Ants help each other, they will cooperate with each other.” 

“Empathy is a capacity… and we also have a dimmer switch for empathy that we can turn up or turn down.” 

“Pain can affect our capacity to empathise.” 

“Anything that draws attention to ourselves reduces our capacity to be empathetic.” 

“Empathy doesn’t mean you do anything about it. Empathy can lead to compassion or kindness or it can lead to being cruel and mean.” 

“Empathy is not good or bad it is just a thing.” 

“We pay more attention to how we feel than the actual words.” 

“In a fight people will say: ‘well, you don’t know how I feel’.” 

“We categorise our experience by our emotions.” 

“The hardest thing is to listen. Most people do not listen very well at all.” 

“Empathy is all about listening and looking and sensing and using our spirit and ethos and everything we have been given to sense someone else.” 

“When we get to a certain age our brain is full of thoughts. Active listening means we need to get off screen completely and just listen.” 

“It is very hard to completely shut your mind off and just listen.” 

“Extroverts don’t get the importance of listening.” 

“We should check to see if our communications have been listened to.” 

“The experience of having someone actively listening to you is very soothing.” 

“Nothing is more satisfying as a therapist when someone is on the precipice of an insight.” 

“Empathy requires a terrible amount of patience.” 

“A teachable moment will always be remembered better if done calmly.” 

“Personality has a huge impact on who we are and how we are with ourselves and with each other.” 

“Human beings are designed to be insecure so that we have to tribe up and seek help and validation from each other.” 

“I just assume everyone is insecure…. I don’t care who they are.” 

“Personality is about what we do about our insecurity.” 

“Narcissism is a defense against profound insecurity.” 

“Narcissist may lack the capacity to feel vulnerability.” 

“Narcissist learns if you lie people may actually believe you. They lie to others and lie to themselves.” 

“The problem with Narcissism is that people like people who appear confident.” 

“The Narcissist is in so much pain that they lack the capacity to show empathy to help someone else.” 

“You have to stay true to your perception if you are in a relationship with a Narcissist.” 

“Human beings tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. People don’t like confrontation.” 

“Narcissists are very good at finding dirt on other people.” 

“Birds and fish have amazing directional empathy…. Have you ever seen them bumping into each other?” 

“Human beings really have to work on directional empathy.” 

“When people meet…3 entities.. You, me and us….this is the compromise of marriage you have to embrace the us factor.” 

“Empathy isn’t stuck like a rock, it’s constantly flowing like water.” 

“Human beings are full of our conscious thoughts and unconscious thoughts and fantasies.” 

“We can sense the energy of another person.” 

“Human beings are all about fit. When we look for a relationship, want our relationship to fit.” 

“Children are usually very confident up until the age of 4….after 5 they are concerned about social evaluation.” 

“Confidence is the capacity to believe in a positive outcome…it doesn’t have to be true.” 

“Self Esteem is simply the accumulation of the successes in your life.” 

“If confidence is connected to self-esteem that person is going to have a much better outcome.” 

“When teaching kids, start with something they do well.” 

“Find the things you can do well and work on them.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.