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Publisher's Summary

From birth, when babies' fingers instinctively cling to those of adults, their bodies and brains seek an intimate connection - a bond made possible by empathy, the remarkable ability to love and to share the feelings of others. In this unforgettable book, award-winning science journalist Maia Szalavitz and renowned child psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry explain how empathy develops, why it is essential both to human happiness and for a functional society, and how it is threatened in a modern world.

©2010 Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

" Born for Love is truly fascinating." (Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project)

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Born for Love is a Rallying Call for Caring and Cry for Help

Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz make their case that caring about others, developed through encouraging and promoting Empathy, is perhaps among the most currently critical challenges to modern society. They suggest that empathy, the capacity to care personally about people, is one of the most valuable characteristics of humanity. The challenges to our world, the problems which societies face everywhere, are problems best solved by applying our precious capacity to imagine ourselves in the place of one another. The basic idea of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you, is a fundamental ethical standard which translates into the idea of Empathy. They suggest that Empathy should prevail, but can easily be lost or discarded if not pursued purposefully. Empathy is a powerful and potent psychological tool which can, like any other idea or instrument, be effectively used or misused. There are societal circumstances, mental disorders, dysfunctional families, cults and certain illnesses all around us which can and do, disregard, endanger, threaten and sometimes abuse empathic techniques. The ability to imagine, to think, to feel even to act not as oneself but as if you were someone else, experiencing life in “another person’s shoes”, varies vastly from one person to the next. The ability to empathize changes enormously with time, place, circumstance and situation. Good movies, books and stories told through countless mediums are those where our empathy is greatest, we’re transported out of our own lives, we can’t help but loose ourselves in the compelling lives of the characters, the time and places, situations, challenges, losses and successes which belong to them, not us. Strong narratives are stories we’re told where we can’t help but be pulled into empathic roles. Our imagination takes hold of our consciousness, along with it our thoughts, feelings and emotions are hijacked. The idea of being in someone else’s place, living their life, becomes so real to us that we can’t help but feel for them. Some people simply do not bother, others simply cannot, imagine themselves as anyone else, they can’t get any sense for what others might feel, think or experience.

“Born For Love” considers empathy and it’s absence in the case of childhood developmental diseases. The Autism spectrum of illnesses are conditions of disconnected minds and thought processes pathologically detached from feelings and experiences to a such a significant degree that it causes them to fail to achieve normal developmental milestones. They do not use speech, hear and say words, communicate, interact and/or physically perform functions such as walking, normally at the rate most children do. Their human functional capacity is negatively affected by a defect of mind. Autism spectrum individuals have significant problems perceiving or imagining the ideas, thoughts or feelings of other people. They are said to be “mind-blind” oblivious to the thoughts of others to varying degrees but in such a way that impacts their behavior, relationships and development. They live in the concrete, the here and now.

Empathy is one of the most human, humane and noble of mankind’s qualities which should be encouraged, supported and prized. Empathy is a precious gift only present when shared.

Perry and Szalavitz do not go into this aspect of empathy which is a critique I humbly offer. Maia’s shared history of addiction and recovery which she so beautifully presented in “Unbroken Brain” taps into empathy’s critical role in addiction. That’s what I was looking for. Maybe I missed it but I did not hear her offer much in regard to the foundational importance of empathy in recovery from addiction. Empathy’s role in the spiritual and psychological aspect of addiction recovery is so huge. 12-step recovery programs are basically founded on psychological principles like honesty, courage, open-mindedness, accountability, trust and empathy. They are so closely linked to fundamental spiritual ideas like higher-power, faith, hope and prayer You could argue that the “spirit of recovery” is empathy. The 12th step of AA suggest that the sobriety of one person is dependent on empathy for the alcoholic who is still suffering. Both the awful thought of what it is like to be an out of control drinker, the schadenfreude and the compassion evoked. Then from the empathic view from the other side. The drinker’s empathy to imagine himself sober, what it might be like to be in the recovery AA’s shoes. Bill Wilson did such a great job of portraying scenario, a therapeutic and effective encounter upon telling his story in the big book of AA. Upon receiving his friend Ebby, while Bill was still drinking, he could not help but empathize, consider what it might be like being in the sober position of his friend. While Ebby clearly was not tempted to drink as he looked compassionately upon the painful sight of his friend Bill languishing in his drunken misery. Empathy and compassion were the prevailing conditions of this encounter which served as the prototype of the 12th step of AA and countless future encounters to come since. The empathy and capacity for compassion which follows, for a recovering AA to share the experience of sobriety with the inebriated potential AA is one of the fundamental keys of recovery.
Empathy prevails, or should prevail in the rooms of recovery.

Empathy is indeed something worth treasuring, promoting and fighting for in every aspect. It is one of the most valuable human qualities. Seeing things through one another’s minds eye is something magical in many ways, a beautiful shared consciousness which discourages hostility, aggression and selfishness. The more I consider it the stronger I feel about it. Literally empathy is only present when shared and shared feelings by definition are empathic and best when they permeate all relationships, communication and negotiation. This book is a good start but there is so much more to be said about empathy.

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I wish I knew this when I raised my children

awesome. insightful based on research and real life experience.
if I had known only 10 per cent when I raised my own children...

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I'm hopeful

Most of the studies in this book are not recent, but the hope for children is. I found this book after reading Oprah Winfrey's book, "What Happened to you," which includes Dr. Perry. I wish Dr. Perry had narrated this book because I wondered if the inflection and emphasis in some section would have been different. I love learning about the force behind these programs that will slowly alter American society and IMHO make this country shine as a leader in humane growth.

Considering what we know about the pervasiveness and impact of adverse childhood experiences, it seems intuitive that we would focus on treating childhood trauma as our first concern in education. We know what works and that the problems span every part of society, but the focus in education is academic achievement and discipline. Achievement is what we measure as progress and anything that interferes with 'that progress' is a burden to taxpayers that should be excluded or molded for the sake of the good children and good schools. Framing our goal as empathy and our expectations of childhood where trauma as common, changes the paradigm of what we should be measuring schools on. How empathetic our our schools, day care, and psychologists? Why do women need to see a trauma psychologist when experiencing spousal abuse to avoid the focus on saving the marriage as a social solution?

I especially liked the discussion on diet, exercise, and human touch as a basic need with massive therapeutic benefit. The discussion on the influence of oxytocin in the mother child bond is long overdue. We are biological creatures on an unstable landscape and the temptation to address violence with violent discipline is truly in our DNA.

I am afraid that parental inclusion in public education is problematic. My experience is that of educators,including special ed teachers, collaborating with administrators to bully weak parents in schools where soccer moms rules in political armies. I don't think schools can reach these goals through self-governance. Perhaps a check and balance system outside of school influence that oversees empathy and health, with the authority to insure s a child's needs are appropriately addressed, would be more effective than our current system. (Something more accessible that suing the school for special ed resource which is ineffective).

We have missed the boat on diet and exercise , so, I guess progress is slow. I like to study children in history because I am more hopeful progress is evolving.

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40 year Psychologist loves and recommends this book

Wonderful!! Full of the greatest known research in the area and eloquently presented. Very interesting to read or listen to. Answers most of the pressing questions and issues of our time. Empathy and Love is the foundation of our health, relationships and moral foundation. Thank you for all your efforts and expertise in bringing us this seminal material!!

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Choose Kindess

I enjoyed reading this Book. The stories were compelling and the data was well presented.
Choose love, kindness and empathy.

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Enlightening and useful

The authors have again succeeded in providing intensely useful subjective, anecdotal and objective information and stories for both professionals in the helping field and individuals who care to know the science of human connection and how it relates to healing on multiple systemic levels.

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Engaging Evidence on Empathy

Engaging read with medical evidence on empathy. Would highly recommend with caveat that conclusions at times were over arching esp. regarding application to government policy, and bias against spanking.

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Maybe the most important book written this century

If you have a child, know an elderly person or live near or work with other people of any age, you should read or listen to this book. I truly believe that it will change your life.

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Insightful Read

This book highlights the importance of empathy and kindness in a way that allows you to reflect on your life and those you grew up with, and who you are today.

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Empathy is learned in the home

Empathy starts in the home with good enough parenting and sometimes with not so good parenting. Fascinating true stories are told to get a better understanding of what is needed to learn and feel empathy for self and others.
Listening to this book was not always easy but it is well worth the time and discomfort to learn this important information. There are proven ways to improve your life your children's life and the life of others. A must-read!