Empathy, Guilt, and Depression
When Caring for Others Becomes Costly to Children
Expressions of concern and caring for others begin in the first years of life and are hallmarks of our humanity. Under certain conditions, they become costly and self-sacrificial as they interfere with children’s self-expression, and social and emotional development. Parental depression can heighten children’s overinvolvement in parental problems, evoking empathy-based feelings of guilt, anxiety, and personal failure, since children are unable to take care of their parents. These are breeding grounds for depression, and girls are at particular risk. Because girls are often more socially engaged with depressed parents, especially mothers, they are more likely than boys to feel burdened, anxious, and depressed. Empathy-based guilt generates negative cognitions and self-defeating actions implicated in the development of depression.
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