This popular question of the role over- and under-empathetic tendencies play in our culture has been on my mind for a couple of years now both personally and professionally as a hypnotherapist specializing in helping over-achievers and leaders. Over the holidays, my observations of nature inspired me to see it in a new light. With politics and power taking up a ton of media-time and consequently mind-space, it was refreshing to step back while I was at the beach and think about things from a new perspective.

For the firsportuguese man o wart time, I saw many Portuguese Man of Wars washed up on the shoreline. They are colonies of organisms that can’t steer their destinies; they must go with the flow. To make up for this mobility powerlessness, they have a strong protection mechanism: they are poisonous to the touch. They are constantly in defense mechanism mode. Even after they are dead, for a time, they are poisonous to touch. With strong boundaries, they tend to lack empathy outside their colony.

forage fish

On the other end of the spectrum are the forage fish, which are born to be prey. They even transfer energy to the top predators by eating plankton and becoming food themselves. They are powerless to defend themselves and yet powerful in their innate purpose food-providers. With virtually no boundaries, they are empathetic to an extreme, giving themselves up to others. This is their sole role in life.


And, then there’s the starfish. They have hundreds tiny feet for mobility. While its surface is not poisonous, it is a protective armor in that it is a leathery, prickly surface. Starfish also have the capacity to regenerate themselves. Finally, according to About Education, “[w]hile they can’t see as well as we do, sea stars have an eye spot at the end of each arm. This is a very simple eye…[it] doesn’t see much detail, but can sense light and dark.” It knows when to connect with others and when to retract.

Human nature at its core is most like the starfish, yet with the subconscious computer component built-in, we all of the capacity to get stuck in the man of war (under-empathetic) mode or the forage fish (overly empathetic) mode. Both exhibit a powerlessness that isn’t true, but our beliefs can make it seem real.

When the mind is first forming beliefs and programs, your decision-making capacity and mobility are restricted. You must go with the flow. In some scenarios, you might learn that being poisonous is the only way to protect yourself. Your computer does its best to learn to spot harm and relies on these “judgments” that are formed in specific environments. You might respond with meanness or revenge. In extreme cases, some adopt this mode the vast majority of the time.

In other cases, your mind may learn to chronically please under certain situations. Under this program, not standing up for yourself may be the chronic norm because you learned from limited experience that it’s safer to be as nice and quiet as possible. You might be over-empathetic to your own detriment. For those who are naturally more perceptive of others’ feelings, this can be a chronic habit as well.

In my previous stint as an attorney and political appointee, I felt in myself and witnessed around me that as we tug back and forth between these two extremes, our legal and political systems reflect the tension. We have policies and laws that are over-protective and under-protective. There’s a constant shame-blame game, and it controls the economy, too, as it exists inside our organizations.

Some (the loud extreme ones that take over our media and politics) republicans accuse democrats of being bleeding hearts (the forage) laced with over-responsibility and over-empathy to others to our detriment. Some democrats (again, the loud and extreme ones) accuse Republicans of being evil (the man of wars) with too many boundaries, not willing to help others. But, what if both are wrong because the truth is that we are actually all starfish?

Once you are older, fully developed and free, the computer programs developed when you were powerless to choose and go where you wanted, to follow your own heart’s discretion, are obsolete. You no longer have to choose between being a man of war or a forage.

Each person has an intuitive discretion mechanism built inside the heart space that knows exactly where you are born to go and can sense deception (or light and dark like the star fish), protecting you when needed. It doesn’t rely on the same senses (i.e. seeing, hearing, etc.) that the judgment programs your subconscious computer does. The heart has a more precise sensing mechanism. It knows when to say yes and when to say no, and how to balance responsibility to self versus others.

Luckily, the subconscious computer also has a regeneration or renewal component (like the starfish) that allows us to delete old expired beliefs and habits and generate new ones. The biggest challenge with activating this renewal component is the negative judgment and fear we have about having the old programs in the first place.

For example, admitting to “man of war” tendencies draws up shame-it’s easier to deny the mean or vengeful programs and never change them. The thing is everyone has them, and they serve a purpose until the day you’re ready to be a starfish. There is no need for shame.

Or, to fear-The mind isn’t sure that the starfish mechanisms will work, will keep one safe. Will the sensor and feet work? What if I get it wrong and hurt someone or get hurt?

I know because I’ve felt and thought these same things and continue to upgrade my own system, and I’ve helped others in the same process. Everyone is basically the same when it comes to the denial, resistance, fears, and judgment around upgrading in the sense that everyone has a taste of all this. What’s worse than the awareness part of the process is staying asleep and continuing to be stuck and powerless.

In 2011, I traded my lawyer/public policy hat for the hypnotherapist one because I realized as long as we have a cultural mindset that waffles between a man of war and a forage, our policies/laws, government, organizations, economy, and lives generally will continue to be polarized. See 2012 positive politics blog series if you want to engage more on this topic.

As a hypnotherapist, I specialize in helping people reprogram their mental computers to the starfish mindset, and I’m committed to helping as many as possible in 2016. Want to learn how this works and get started? Click here

Would also love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.

Happy 2016!