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The experience of living with very high empathy: A critical realist, pragmatic approach to exploring objective and subjective layers of the phenomenon

Leonard, S. and Willig, C. ORCID: 0000-0001-9804-9141 (2020). The experience of living with very high empathy: A critical realist, pragmatic approach to exploring objective and subjective layers of the phenomenon. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research,

Abstract

Aims/objectives: Combining mixed methods in a pragmatic way this research attempts to address the research question without being limited by methods’ philosophical and methodological constraints, which have traditionally separated quantitative and qualitative research. High empathy (HE) has been largely unexamined; considered an adaptive female skill facilitating interpersonal relationships. This research aims to contribute to the gap in research regarding the lived experience of HE.

Methodology/method: Within the Critical Realist paradigm The Empathy Quotient (EQ) (Baron- Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004) was used online to select the first eight participants who scored over 70/80 (average male score = 41/80, average female = 47/80). They were invited to a 90 minute interview, transcribed verbatim and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009). Participants were women aged 25 to 68 yrs.

Results/findings: Using the EQ followed by IPA we were able to significantly contribute to the existing research and theory e.g. Empathising-systemising Theory (Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright, 2004), Mirror-sensory synaesthesia, Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, Compassion fatigue, Burnout, Pathological Altruism and Compulsive Caregiving Syndrome.

Discussion/conclusions: HE is not simply an adaptive and socially beneficial skill as previously thought, nor is it pathological in itself. HE presented as significantly impacting intrapersonal and interpersonal processes sometimes for benefit within both the professional and personal realms but often with negative impact. Healthy management consists of clear boundaries between self/other, and mature skills of emotional regulation lessening empathic distress (Singer et al. 2011) allowing for empathic concern and feelings of emotional self-esteem, in what participants termed ‘empathic wisdom’.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Leonard, S. and Willig, C. (2020). The experience of living with very high empathy: A critical realist, pragmatic approach to exploring objective and subjective layers of the phenomenon. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, which is to be published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/%28ISSN%291746-1405. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences > Psychology
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2020 11:58
URI: https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/25193
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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