Midlife is when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. Perhaps it’s because we have less to prove. It is also that time of life when we have the ability to step into the shoes of another person eventually becoming more empathetic.
Research published in the Journal of Gerontology—Psychological Sciences, has shown that middle-aged women have the most empathy of all segments of the population having the emotional maturity to understand the needs of others and lend emotional support. That does not surprise me. We get a lot of practice since many of us are long-term partners, caregivers to older parents, or mothers of older kids. But, are we sure to show our empathy in the right way?
Empathy is a key element of Emotional Intelligence, the link between self and others because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we were feeling it ourselves. Empathy goes far beyond sympathy, which might be considered ‘feeling for’ someone. Empathy, instead, is ‘feeling with’ that person, through the use of imagination.
Listening is one of the most important ways you can show empathy, and this means truly listening. But having empathetic conversations can sometimes be hard. It requires removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone, and that is vital for creating a strong bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding and exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences. For this reason, it’s important not to judge. Judgment shuts off a conversation. Everyone is struggling to do their best in life, so why judge and bring someone down?
If you want to be a better empathetic listener, it’s also important to give emotional support. This means, give people your trust and affirmation. Encourage them. Let them know that no matter what happens, you have their back. For Dr Helen Riess of Harvard Medical School, author of the book ‘The Empathy Effect‘, “We are all connected on a neurobiological level far more than we have previously realized. Consciously or not, we are in constant, natural resonance with one another’s feelings. When we are engaged in shared mind awareness, the possibilities for mutual aid and collaborative problem solving abound.”
In this big world of strangers, filled with fear and uncertainty, knowing that there is someone there to support you, without judgement or bias, is the best gift ever. Donate your time!