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Pathological Altruism$
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Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, and David Sloan Wilson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738571

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738571.001.0001

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Empathy, Guilt, and Depression

Empathy, Guilt, and Depression

When Caring for Others Becomes Costly to Children

Chapter 25 Empathy, Guilt, and Depression
Pathological Altruism

Carolyn Zahn-Waxler

Carol Van Hulle

Oxford University Press

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.

Keywords:   anxiety, childhood precursors of depression, costs of caring empathic overarousal, gender, marital conflict, parent depression, parenting, pathogenic guilt

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