Ervin Staub. PhD. is the American Orthopsychiatric Association's 2006 Hayman Award Recipient honored for his prolific scholarship on the causes of genocide that led to action research on forgiveness and reconciliation, most notably among community groups in Rwanda. Professor and founding director of the PhD program in the Psychology of Peace and the Prevention of Violence, Emeritus, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he studied the roots of altruism, the origins of violence, especially genocide and mass killing, as well as torture and terrorism, and prevention, psychological recovery, reconciliation and forgiveness, with many articles, books, and books chapters. Past president of the Society for the Study of Peace. Conflict, and Violence and of the International Society for Political Psychology, he has worked in many applied settings, including New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, and since 1998 to promote psychological recovery, reconciliation, and forgiveness through seminars and trainings in Rwanda, and then through educational radio programs in Rwanda as well as Burundi and the Congo (see http:www.ervinstaub.com); Johanna Vollhardt, MA, holds a Master of Psychology from the University of Cologne, Germany. She is currently an advanced doctoral student in the Psychology of Peace and Violence concentration within the social psychology division at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is also an academic consultant to the La Benevolencija reconciliation radio programs in the Congo. Her research focuses on prosocial behavior and collective action among victims of ethnopolitical violence; specifically on the role of victim consciousness in constructive versus destructive intergroup relations.
Altruism Born of Suffering: The Roots of Caring and Helping After Victimization and Other Trauma
Article first published online: 24 MAR 2010
2008 American Orthopsychiatric Association
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry
Volume 78, Issue 3, pages 267–280, July 2008
How to Cite
Staub, E. and Vollhardt, J. (2008), Altruism Born of Suffering: The Roots of Caring and Helping After Victimization and Other Trauma. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78: 267–280. doi: 10.1037/a0014223
- Issue published online: 24 MAR 2010
- Article first published online: 24 MAR 2010
- Received September 19, 2008 Revision received September 19, 2008 Accepted September 24, 2008
- posttraumatic growth
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.