Empathy is key in the development of moral injury
As empathy forms the basis for moral behaviour, empathy-related factors are likely to influence the development of moral injury. In this paper two cases are discussed which illustrate how factors involved in the PAM may help explain the development of moral injury.
Moral injury is a relatively new field within psychotraumatology that focuses on understanding and treating psychosocial symptoms after exposure to potentially morally injurious events (PMIE’s). There are currently three models of the development of moral injury which centre around the influence of attributions, coping and exposure. While the capacity for empathy is known to underlie moral behaviour, current models for moral injury do not explicitly include empathy-related factors.
In this paper, the perception-action mechanism of empathy and the empathic behaviour that it may initiate, are described. The PAM states that perception of another person’s emotional state activates the observer’s own representations of that state. This forms the basis for empathic behaviour, such as helping, by which an observer tries to alleviate both another person’s and their own, empathic, distress. In this paper it is proposed that in PMIE’s, empathic or moral behaviour is expected but not, or not successfully, performed, and consequently distress is not alleviated. Factors known to influence the empathic response, including attention, emotion-regulation, familiarity and similarity, are hypothesized to also influence the development of moral injury.
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