Could Botox be a cure for codependence?

Could the dampening effect Botox has on empathy be put to good use?

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Can we talk?

I recently read an interesting NY Times article that discussed a study published in SPPS (Social Psychological & Personality Science), which explored the effect of Botox on the ability to feel human empathy.

CBS News: Botox Paralyzes Emotions? Face It, Says Study

It seems that we unconsciously mirror the facial expressions of other people, which sends them back a signal that we care, and forges a connection. Therefore, when Botox takes away the physical ability of someone to unconsciously mimic another's facial expression, it also removes that person's ability to feel the internal emotions of empathy that those facial expressions would produce inside of their own neurology, and to transmit a connection back to the other party. This, in turn, may result in a generalized dampening of the ability to interpret and process human emotion.

I found this fascinating, so I had to share it with my buddy, John. He snorted and said that the lack of empathy had nothing to do with Botox itself, but everything to do with the fact that, "the type of vain, narcissistic, rich idiot who would go in for Botox is simply less likely to have any empathy for others, and this is just another excuse to check out of being human." That's John for you. I can't exactly say that I agree, but I did laugh so hard that Gatorade came out my nose.

Botox has always intrigued me because of the way it's taken off in our youth-obsessed culture, the way people seem so focused on it and polarized about it, the possible upsides and downsides, the "frozen face" comedy, the interesting off-label uses, and the list goes on.

Botox involves injections with needles, a fact which viscerally skeeves a lot of people, especially since most articles on the topic include the obligatory needle-shot. There's the fact that it seems counter-intuitive that a deadly toxin is being injected in order to bring about some positive effect. There are a few cases where things have gone very badly. People have gotten kind of silly with it. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Young people are getting Botox in a misguided attempt to stop wrinkles before they start, which may worsen wrinkles later because of the muscle atrophy it causes. Even so, cover models are being pressured to be treated with Botox at the tender age of 25.

What's always fascinated me the most about Botox (and caused me to idly toy with the idea of checking it out for myself) is not the promise of a younger, wrinkle-free visage. It's the promise of a better poker face.

That's right. I have a lousy poker face. I don't gamble, so it's not that I need to appear blase for any actual card gaming. However, I have an expressive voice, I talk with my hands, I'm from New Jersey, and I'm not shy about expressing my opinions (as you have no doubt seen here in the ZDNet Heath Blog). Friends have told me they can read my thoughts on my face like a book.

I can think of occasions where it would be useful to appear completely unfazed by whatever life dishes out, to maintain a pose of non-committal stoic dignity. In other words, more Vulcan, less Klingon. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Empathy overload

Empathy overload is a big issue for nurses, caregivers, and emergency workers. Hospitalized patients and their loved ones are often facing a really challenging time in their lives, replete with many stressors, and may be moving through the strong feelings associated with the phases of grief. Emotions are contagious, and it might be advantageous to break the chain of emotional contagion in high-stress situations.

So I am wondering, in the case of people who tend to fall into the over-empathizing trap (especially those in jobs that require treading water in a sea of strong emotion while maintaining professionalism and completing complex tasks in a timely fashion), would a little Botox assist in creating a helpful distance, more of a space between stimulus and response?

Would a resulting lack of burnout ensue, and actually have the paradoxical effect of allowing a person to be more present and focused? People don't like relating to emotionless people, but they sure do like relating to calm people.

Probably, the standard good advice to get enough exercise, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, take a Yoga class once in awhile, have a great hobby to get your mind off your troubles, nurture healthy friendships that involve enjoyable activities, and process stresses you can't reduce should be implemented. Standard disclaimers apply, because these are just ideas. But might these ideas amount to yet another interesting off-label use for Botox?

If you've tried Botox for one of its many uses, and you feel comfortable sharing, please do so in the TalkBacks below. Or just discuss what you think of Botox (or this potential use) in general.