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You are here : Home > Library > Resilience > Intervention > 2008 > Staub, E. and J. Vollhardt (2008) Altruism born of suffering: The roots of (...)

Staub, E. and J. Vollhardt (2008) Altruism born of suffering: The roots of caring and helping after victimization and other trauma, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 78(3): 267-280.

Research on altruism has focused on its positive roots, whereas research on the effects of victimization and suffering has focused on aggression and difficulties in functioning. However, anecdotal evidence, case studies, and some empirical research indicate that victimization and suffering can also lead people to care about and help others. This article examines the relation of "altruism born of suffering" to resilience and posttraumatic growth, and proposes potentially facilitating influences on altruism born of suffering during, after, and preceding victimization and trauma. These include experiences that promote healing, understanding what led harm doers to their actions, having received help and having helped oneself or others at the time of one’s suffering, caring by others, and prosocial role models. We suggest psychological changes that may result from these influences and lead to altruistic action: strengthening of the self, a more positive orientation toward people, empathy and belief in one’s personal responsibility for others’ welfare. The article critically reviews relevant research, and suggests future research directions and interventions to promote altruism born of suffering. Given the amount of violence between individuals and groups, understanding how victims become caring rather than aggressive is important for promoting a more peaceful world.