Opinion: Mindful moments on social intuition

POSTED: 01/20/15 7:10 PM

Mindfulness formal practice is sitting with awareness of breath, body sensations and thoughts. “Ehipassiko!” “Come and see for yourself!” Take courage to sit and just be and understand.

A couple years ago, Amazon noticing my interest in researching psychopaths, probably thought that the pendulum of my investigation needed to change from “the dark side” to something more optimistic. “They” recommended that I read Dr. Richard Davidson’s book: “The Emotional Life of The Brain”. Though I have read it three times and referred and compared explanations to other brain scientist hundreds of times, there is a humor and clarity about his writing that makes me chuckle at his obvious, subtle gregarious style. The man is my hero. I want to share a bit of this 63-year-old Harvard educated, professor of U of Madison in Wisconsin, brain science researcher, including pioneering the research on the effects of mindfulness/meditation on the brain by scanning the Tibetan Monks brains, and one of the vanguards promoting the 15% mindfulness movement in the North Americas (the challenge to have 15% of the population practice meditation for mental wellbeing).  There are many personality tests that we can do to find out more about ourselves, think Personality Plus (Choleric, Sanguine, etc. or the Zodiac (horoscope) or the like. Dr. Davidson was able to put together a brain profile with 7 categories that look at how your brain responds to situations. The category, I introduce today, is; social intuition. Have you ever been in a rush to go somewhere, bump into an acquaintance, give clear indication that you need to leave, so you walk to your car, get in and still that person blabbers on not recognizing any of the cues? “People at this extreme on the Social Intuition spectrum are Puzzled. At the other extreme, are Socially Intuitive types. They have an uncanny ability to pick up on subtle nonverbal cues, to read other people’s body language, vocal intonation, and facial expressions.”- says Dr. Davidson – Let’s take the test: 1. When I’m talking with people, I often notice subtle social cues about their emotions—discomfort, say, or anger—before they acknowledge those feelings in themselves. TF.. 2. I often find myself noting facial expressions and body language. TF.. 3. I find it does not really matter if I talk with people on the phone or in person, since I rarely get any additional information from seeing whom I’m speaking with. TF.. 4. I often feel as though I know more about people’s true feelings than they do themselves. TF.. 5. I am often taken by surprise when someone I’m talking with gets angry or upset at something I said, for no apparent reason.TF.. 6. At a restaurant, I prefer to sit next to someone I’m speaking with so I don’t have to see his or her full face. TF..  7. I often find myself responding to another person’s discomfort or distress on the basis of an intuitive feel rather than an explicit discussion.TF.. 8. When I am in public places with time to kill, I like to observe people around me. TF.. 9. I find it uncomfortable when someone I barely know looks directly into my eyes during a conversation. TF.. 10. I can often tell when something is bothering another person just by looking at him or her. TF.. – Give yourself one point for each True answer for questions 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, and 10; score one point for each False answer for questions 3, 5, 6, and 9. Score zero for each False answer to 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, and 10, and for each True answer to 3, 5, 6, and 9. The higher your score (eight or above), the more Socially Intuitive you are; a lower score (three or below) means you are closer to Puzzled.

People differ dramatically in how attuned they are to nonverbal social cues. Extreme insensitivity to these signals is characteristic of people on the autism spectrum, who struggle to read facial expressions and other social cues, but people, who fall well short of a clinical diagnosis, can also be socially deaf and blind, with devastating consequences for personal and professional relationships. From my personal experience, I know this to be true. My articles are mostly about the mental wellbeing of our youth, but the children cannot diagnose themselves, it takes an aware person or a socially intuitive person to pick up on these cues. Mothers, maybe fathers, coaches, teachers trust your gut or intuition on things you sense, and try not to judge.

True story: for many years I had been observing my son Curtis behavior, he was a very quiet child and had a tendency to retreat socially if he felt overwhelmed. Curtis did not enjoy making eye contact, but he could and so he got better at it. I do not remember which symptoms drove me to bring him to a psychologist at the age of 12, but she was very impressed with him – there was nothing wrong, she said. My sisters and I speculated with dyslexia to Asperger’s syndrome. There were calls to other psychologist to inform about the battery of test, but these were quite pricy, and private school tuition was pretty costly, so I never followed through with that. Curtis suffered from cluster headaches. There were private tutors to help him keep up with his school work. There was an exasperated and impatient mother (me) and Curtis, quietly taking it all in. I had made him a promise I did not keep – I would get him a diagnosis and the help he needed. He was 14 when I made that promise. Curtis would have been 23 this Thursday. I did not know how to advocate for him when he was alive – I will  make his experience count though, because of him, his siblings have a socially intuitive mother. Make his experience count, be kind and advocate your children’s mental and neurological wellness.

Debbie Zwanikken

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