Empathy, Guilt, and Depression

Carolyn Zahn-Waxler and Carol Van Hulle

in Pathological Altruism

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738571
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918669 | DOI:
Empathy, Guilt, and Depression

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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

Chapter.  11170 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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