Sunday, April 24, 2011

Does Botox Numb Your Soul?

It’s not really new news. It’s more like old news. I myself have blogged on the emotional downside of Botox. And I was reporting on research studies that had been widely disseminated. Link here.

It almost a cosmic irony that our therapy culture, as obsessed as it is with feeling and expressing your feelings, would co-exist with a cosmetic procedure that makes it more difficult to feel your feelings, more difficult to know your feelings, and now, according to the newest research, more difficult to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

As Jezebel reports, Botox makes you insensitive. Link here. In my terms, it numbs your soul.

It’s easy to understand, and it’s very interesting, to boot. Scientists have discovered that we read other people’s emotions by looking at their faces and mimicking their facial expressions.

If a person has no facial expressions, we are strangely disquieted in her presence.

When a woman numbs her face with Botox she will inhibit her capacity to mimic the facial expressions of others and she will, the research shows, have far more difficulty feeling any sensitivity or empathy.

This means, among other things, that that psychotherapists who tout the value of empathy, as though it were a kind of healing balm, should work with their patients, face-to-face.

If therapists are scrupulously avoiding looking at their patients’ faces, they are undermining the virtue that they believe they are promoting. The therapist’ couch is an antidote to empathy, and also an invitation to stilted communication skills.

Is this anything more than a mildly amusing side effect of Botox usage?

To Kiri Blakeley, there is more to the story. Blogging on Forbes, she suggests that Botox might provide women an unnatural advantage. Link here.

If women are naturally more empathic, and if Botox renders them insensitive, perhaps it is leveling the playing field, Blakeley says, between women and the more insensitive other sex.

(For the record, Blakeley uses the word “empathetic.” According to the dictionary, both “empathetic” and “empathic” are correct. It may just be one of my own pet peeves, but "empathetic," to me, is on much too intimate terms with “pathetic.” And thus, I much prefer “empathic.”)

As Blakeley puts it: “In fact, might not a shot of Botox before a big meeting make women less concerned with others’ perceptions, and more concerned with what men are concerned with: themselves, the bottom line, and maybe, gasp, a raise or promotion? Could there not be some benefits to women being a little less empathetic?”

Sorry to have to say it, but this is not serious thinking. It is not serious to imply that men are just insensitive women. Nor is it serious to say that women should sacrifice a skill in which they are stronger in order to pretend to have a more of a skill in which they seem to be weaker.

It's so unserious that I will tell myself that she is being ironic. Still, Blakeley is running the risk that women take her seriously.

Blakeley does not seem to understand that an insensitive woman does not automatically develop the skills that might be associated with the male of the species.

Besides, as I was saying in my last post, the way to chart your course in life and to get ahead in business is to build on your strengths. If women are naturally more sensitive or empathic, they should definitely make use of this skill, to manage and motivate and lead.

A woman possessing these skills might not lead in the same way a man does. In truth, she would do best not to try. Most perceptive men, and women, will notice immediately that she is not really a man.

Remember, good leadership is not about adopting the right persona; it’s about the results that your team produces.


David Foster said...

It's often been asserted that an excellent salesman must combine two characteristics that are sometimes thought of as opposite, but are actually orthogonal: responsiveness and assertiveness. "Responsiveness," as used here, is the ability to understand and react to the emotions of others--ie, it's very close to empathy.

Being less empathetic isn't going to make you more effective in meetings, quite the contrary.

Anonymous said...

I get Botox and have no problem at all expressing, distinguishing or feeling emotion. It disables your muscles to a certain extent, it does not dismantle one's emotional heart nor does it cause one to loose even a tiny amount of their ability to detect and experience emotion. I love Botox, and it doesn't stop me from making expressions--it just tones down the lines.