Empathy – the Feelings of Others Does Matter
Creating an ageless brain involves lifestyle habits created to support healthy aging. No matter how much you practice this healthy lifestyle (physical exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition, socialization, and sleep) if you are so stressed out by current events you will decrease the effectiveness of all your healthy brain efforts. I am deeply concerned about the state of affairs that we find our world in. And of course, I have trouble understanding the positions that some people take when they are more concerned about money and power than the effect all of these catastrophes are having on people’s lives.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is also considered an umbrella term that captures at least three ways that we connect with another’s emotions. One is emotional empathy – we ‘catch’ the feelings of another. Cognitive empathy is an attempt to understand what someone else is feeling and why. And, finally, empathic concern or compassion is our motivation to improve others’ well-being.
Women in midlife have an exceptional ability to influence younger people of both sexes. Our fortitude to keep pushing forward against obstacles thrown in our way has increased the meaning and purpose of our lives. The state of the nation and our environment has revealed another skill that women more frequently use – empathy.
Like resilience, empathy is a skill that can be honed and refined. In this time of social unrest, political upheaval, climate change, and economic challenges, people are being torn apart by the contradictory views and actions they are grasping for. People have been actively embracing anger and rejecting empathy. We have been divided into two camps – us or them. Leadership, whether in an organization or political office, is sometimes judged by the empathy they exhibit. People who are empathic are often thought of by their peers as natural leaders. However, as they gain more power, they often shed their empathy.
Our global and domestic turmoil has brought all these feelings of anger, intolerance, fear, stress, and even empathy to the forefront. In that regard, there does seem to be a gender bias toward women. In all the discussions about the outcomes we have experienced to this point, women appear to be far more concerned for their families and the society around them. Men tend to look at the impact on business and financial recovery. These two different perspectives on the same problem beg the question – Are women biologically prone to empathizing more deeply and naturally, or is it a lifetime of social training that has led women to generally be more pro-social as a natural response?
There are physiological differences between a man’s brain and a woman’s brain. Hormones override the processes of the brain. The hormone, Oxytocin, is found in higher levels in women than in men. Oxytocin can make people more empathic, while Testosterone, found in higher concentrations in men, can have the opposite effect. If you find yourself in a sparing match with someone, try to see their opinion through their eyes. Listen instead of thinking of a response. This intentional listening raises our consciousness and closes the gap between us and them. Once you have activated your neurobiology by sending messages to your brain to activate the neurons responsible for mirroring and empathizing with those around you, this will become an increasingly natural response.
What will become of our culture with all of these divisive splits? Will there be enough people to make efforts to close the empathy gap so that the future is kinder to all of us? We need to keep honing our empathy and resilience skills to make the future look brighter.
Patricia Faust, MGS