Title

Deferred empathy: A construct with implications for the mental health of older adults

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2008

Abstract

Deferred empathy occurs when an experience provokes a memory that after reflection allows people to say, “Now I understand.” Heretofore, the concept was explored only in quantitative research; therefore, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to elicit a more detailed description of the construct of deferred empathy. For most of the participants (n = 20) triggering events involved personal challenges such as loss, loss of control, or interpersonal conflict that reminded them of, and changed, their perception of earlier relationships. Development of empathy involved reflection on past and present events, making choices, changing expectations, and learning acceptance. The process resulted in appreciative understanding of others as well as personal benefits. Findings have implications for mental health promotion in older adults in which life review promotes gerotranscendence.

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