Theory of Mind and empathy OR “why the English often behave in crazy ways” (with a gift at the end of the post)

Years ago, when I was discussing some of my experiences in England with a woman who happens to have a Master’s in cultural psychology, she wrote back that it sounded as if English people lacked Theory of Mind. I looked into it because I had never heard of it.

It certainly seems to hold true for a large part of the population of Portsmouth that they do not possess Theory of Mind or only limited Theory of Mind. People here seem completely oblivious to what goes on in other people’s minds and often seem to have no idea of the effects of what they do on others.

Though often they are only too aware of those effects, for example when trolls pester the family of a missing person or when people deliberately make appointments to collect something through Freecycle and then don’t show up. The latter happens so often here that there is a name for these people – “time wasters” – and the practice is often mentioned as not appreciated in “offered” posts that local people make. It is a local thing, yes.

One reason why these “time wasters” do this is when something that has been offered is a word that has a meaning in urban or English slang, often with a sexual connotation. It took me years to figure that out. They also some sometimes flood you with expressions of interest and then don’t respond when you reply, apparently for the same reason.

Many here have no respect for other people’s – random strangers’ – boundaries, even to the extent that they easily violate criminal law so blatantly that they’d be tucked away in prison for quite a while if anyone ever decided to investigate the matter and prosecute it.

I don’t believe that it is typical for Portsmouth, but it does seem to be more prominent in Portsmouth. English people as a rule seem to have very little Theory of Mind. I think it has to do with the stiff upper lip phenomenon, the admiration and misinterpretation of the stoics that turned into the glorification of callousness and cruelty.

It stunted people in England psychologically. They are often so completely out of touch with (hence also not in control of) their own emotions that they are not able to recognise emotions in others and are blind to the effects of some of the things that they do have on others.

This also plays a role in the violence that erupts in England as soon as alcohol comes into the mix. The brakes go off and all the bottled-up emotions come pouring out. It is why a man may bite off another man’s ear in a pub and then go to prison for four years. It is why domestic violence soars in England over Christmas and during football championships. It is why the UK has much more domestic violence and violence against women and girls than the EU.

Another reason is that English people are so extremely reluctant to interact with strangers that there is no reality check on the assumptions that they make about others. An example? “Women looking miserable = pining for a man (whether a specific man or not).” Women can look miserable for all sorts of very different reasons. Another example? “Woman looks happy so she had sex with a man last night.” There are many other reasons – including no reason at all beyond deciding to be happy – why a woman can look happy. (The problem is that people often ACT on these assumptions and also share these assumptions as the  truth in the pub on Friday in village-like England, meaning that these assumptions can affect all your interactions with others where you live.)

One more… “Man looks happy so he has something that I do not have so he probably took something from me.” Seriously?

Below is a video about a small boy learning something the hard way. He has the sudden insight that the girl who hides behind her painting does not want to say whose painting she likes best because she senses that the little boy feels very vulnerable and would like her to say that she likes his painting best and at the same time, does not consider his painting the best and knows that saying that out loud would make the boy feel hurt. She has tons of empathy. She is an empathy superstar.

(Also, here’s what lots of women all over the world do, folks. We erase ourselves so as not to upset men.)

There are two flavours of empathy: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Almost everyone possesses cognitive empathy. Not everyone is capable of emotional empathy. (People with NPD may not often be capable of emotional empathy; this is reflected in their brain structure.)

My bet is that many English people would assume that the girl who holds up the painting behind which she hides is shy because they focus too much on exterior factors. Appearances. That the child actually has a brain and has thoughts and draws conclusions about others, that seems to be hard to fathom for a lot of English people. I run into this all the time. A similar one is “looks a bit shabby = has no taste or fashion sense” or “does not go out = does not want to go out” when the real reason is deep poverty.

One of the reasons why I consider Portsmouth so toxic is because strangers here push themselves into your life – without ever having a conversation with you – in a way that forces you to almost obsess over them and deal with the effects of their stupid game-playing – which costs a lot of time – rather than just be allowed to live your life or – hey, what a thought – work. You find that you increasingly have to find ways of escape to kick your brain out of local victim mode, for example by watching YouTube videos of inspiring fun Americans, people who are proactive and who cooperate with others (instead of what local people often do, which is their best to make the lives of others as difficult as possible). It’s exhausting.

And they are too quick to conclude that you are being dumb and stupid when they don’t realise that you’ve gone into “last rites” mode because they keep stealing your tomorrow from you so you have no more reason to keep tomorrow in mind in anything that you do.

Too many people here believe that pushing others into deep poverty and keeping them there is a really cool thing to do, but that is often because they genuinely have no clue what they’re doing.

To end this on a positive note, I have a great tip for anyone dealing with a lot of stress. Google “binaural beats”. I stumbled upon this technology in the US in the mid-1990s. Sadly, I recently discovered that I had forgotten that I have these files, below, but I am going to create a daily habit of using them.

You play these sound files over your headset; it does not work when you play them on speakers. They kick your brain into a different state. I, for example, use an old phone as MP3 player and I put one of those files on repeat and my headphones on my head.

This is effortless. You do not have to do anything! You can lie down on your bed or sit in a lazy chair and may find yourself drift off into deep meditation, but they also already have an effect when you are going about your life doing things in your house or office.

The designations “delta”, “theta” etc refer to brainwave frequencies that show up on EEGs. They may not work for everyone – and, do NOT use them while driving a car or are operating any other kind of machinery, not even a bicycle – but for many, they can really work wonders, effortlessly. 

You can download this one (delta range) just to help you relax: 


You can download this one (mid theta range) if you would like to feel inspired:


If you have half an hour and are able to lie down on your bed or relax in a lazy chair, you can also try this 30-minute meditation tape by Paul McKenna:

Paul McKenna used to have this on his website as a free download and maybe he still does. He also added it as a CD to one of his books from years ago.

Feel free to share your opinion below, please.

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