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Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(4), 1087-1117; doi:10.3390/socsci4041087

The “Double-Edge Sword” of Human Empathy: A Unifying Neurobehavioral Theory of Compassion Stress Injury

1,†,* and 2,†
1
ABPP, Antioch University Seattle, 2326 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121-1814, USA
2
Clinical Psychology, Antioch University Seattle, 2326 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121-1814, USA
These authors contributed equally to this work.
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Martin J. Bull
Received: 28 May 2015 / Revised: 26 October 2015 / Accepted: 6 November 2015 / Published: 20 November 2015
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [743 KB, uploaded 20 November 2015]

Abstract

An integrative neurobehavioral model for “compassion stress injury” is offered to explain the “double-edge sword” of empathy and inherent vulnerability of helping professionals and care-givers. One of the most strikingly robust, yet largely invisible scientific findings to emerge over the past decade is identifying the neurophysiological mechanisms enabling human beings to understand and feel what another is feeling. The compelling convergence of evidence from multi-disciplinary lines of primary research and studies of paired-deficits has revealed that the phenomenon of human beings witnessing the pain and suffering of others is clearly associated with activation of neural structures used during first-hand experience. Moreover, it is now evident that a large part of the neural activation shared between self- and other-related experiences occurs automatically, outside the observer’s conscious awareness or control. However, it is also well established that full blown human empathic capacity and altruistic behavior is regulated by neural pathways responsible for flexible consciously controlled actions of the observer. We review the history, prevalence, and etiological models of “compassion stress injury” such as burnout, secondary traumatic stress, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, and empathic distress fatigue, along with implications of the neurobehavioral approach in future research. View Full-Text
Keywords: compassion fatigue; empathy; stress injury; burnout; vicarious trauma; neuroscience compassion fatigue; empathy; stress injury; burnout; vicarious trauma; neuroscience
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Russell, M.; Brickell, M. The “Double-Edge Sword” of Human Empathy: A Unifying Neurobehavioral Theory of Compassion Stress Injury. Soc. Sci. 2015, 4, 1087-1117.

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