Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Spirituality and Compassionate Love in Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Social Workers

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Spirituality and Compassionate Love in Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Social Workers

Article excerpt

Compassionate Love leads to the most social good for those who are its recipients. However, self-benefits may also occur as a result of experiencing compassionate love for others. Mental health professionals and clinicians have long noted the positive benefits of giving to others or having an altruistic orientation toward others. For example, according to the "helper therapy principle," identified in social work research done with self-help groups (Reissman, 1965) doing something for others is fulfilling and can increase the self-esteem of the person providing the help. A small amount of research, much of it conducted with older adults and cross-sectionally, indicates that giving to others is associated with life satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem (Caprara & Steca, 2005; Simmons, 1991). However, almost no research has examined the outcomes for the self of experiencing pro-social emotions, such as empathy, sympathy, or compassionate love. Feeling an intense pro-social emotion, distinct from engaging in a helping behavior, may also result in many positive benefits to the self, including increased self-esteem, general positive mood, and closeness to the targets of one's empathy or compassion. Furthermore, when people themselves become the target of another's compassionate love or empathy, they may experience an increase in self-esteem and good mood.

Compassionate love, however, is more encompassing and can be experienced for family, friends, peripheral ties, and all ofhumanity (Sprecher & Fehr, 2005). Compassionate love is a central feature in many religious traditions (Underwood, 2002) and is a self-giving, caring, love that values the other. It is associated, but not synonymous with, related concepts such as empathy, perspective-taking, altruism, social support, volunteerism, romantic love, and familial love. Although empathy has long been viewed as a major factor in promoting prosocial behavior toward others (Davis, 1996; Dovidio & Penner, 2001) compassionate love can be considered to be a more long-lasting, pro-social, emotion directed toward others, and thus may be more likely to lead to altruistic behavior (Sprecher & Fehr, 2005). Sprecher and Fehr have defined compassionate love as: "an attitude toward other(s), either close others or strangers or all ofhumanity; containing feelings, cognitions, and behaviors that are focused on caring, concern, tenderness, and an orientation toward supporting, helping, and understanding the other(s), particularly when the other(s) is (are) perceived to be suffering or in need."

Recently, a call has been made for more scientific study of compassionate (or altruistic) love (Post et al., 2002). In a recent set of studies, Fehr and Sprecher (2004) using a prototype analysis (Fehr, 1988) examined the key features of compassionate love reflected in laymen conceptions. Through various studies, including social cognition tasks such as reaction times to features of love, it was found that compassionate love is a complex and multifaceted concept. The features that laymen regard as most central to the concept are those that are considered to be central to love in general trust, caring, honesty. The researchers concluded that what is unique to compassionate love is the inclusion of features that depict selflessness, putting the other head of oneself, making sacrifices for the other, and so on (Fehr & Sprecher, 2004).

Scientists also have recently measured compassionate love, as an attitude directed toward others, in order to examine the correlates of the experience. Sprecher and Fehr developed a compassionate love scale that can be used, in different versions, to measure compassionate love forhumanity/strangers, close others (family & friends), and a specific close other. They found that people experience compassionate love to a greater degree for close others than for strangers/humanity, that scores on the compassionate love scale are correlated positively with providing social support for others and with volunteerism, and that spirituality and religiosity are associated positively with experiencing compassionate love, particularly for humanity and strangers. …

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