Empathic action and family resilience: A narrative examination of the benefits of helping others

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11 Scopus citations


Empathy is identified as a protective factor that has been helpful for children considered at high risk for poor mental health and social functioning due to experiencing stressful circumstances such as family violence, substance abuse of a parent, or poverty. Yet, little is known about its relevance to a family's ability to overcome adversity. This study examined the narratives of 20 resilient families who maintained family functioning despite experiencing a multitude of risk factors including poverty, death of a child, significant health problems, or substance abuse problems. Narrative analysis was used to identify the ways families situated empathic actions within their stories of resilience. Findings suggest families developed increased compassion for others as a result of their own experiences with loss, trauma, or stress and discussed how helping others increased their ability to cope with the challenges they faced. Future research and practice implications are outlined and support the usefulness of strengths-based concepts and interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-265
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Social Service Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Altruism
  • Empathy
  • Family resilience
  • Narrative
  • Prosocial
  • Qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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