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Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

Empathy, Ethics and Morality

Monday, May 18th, 2009 by Mauri-Lynne Heller

Most of us would agree that balanced concern for self and others constitutes a measure of psychological maturity and health. While other, mostly mammalian, species share our capacity to live cooperatively and care for one another, only human beings are able to reflect upon this attribute consciously, to develop it and direct it purposefully. It is our singular ability to think about our own thoughts and behavior that sets us apart. We can learn to observe ourselves and the ways we impact others unlike any other animal.

By making intimate experiences meaningful, psychoanalytic therapy helps people exercise and develop this faculty. As self-awareness increases, symptoms are understood as imperfect solutions to emotional concerns and begin to lose their power. Behavioral flexibility increases.

Our very human capacity to feel and demonstrate concern for others is not innate. The evolution of concern and its cousin, empathy, represent major developmental achievements in the life and mind of an infant. Like the capacity to think, they do not simply appear spontaneously. Concern and empathy emerge from within the omnipresent parent-baby matrix that I’ve so often discussed.


Mauri-Lynne Heller is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Psychoanalyst in private practice in Southern California. A graduate of Newport Psychoanalytic Institute and member of Newport Center for Psychoanalytic Studies, she is also an active member of the Writing and Research Task Force. A regular contributor to the online Health and Fitness Pages of the Orange Counter Register, her column "Inside Out" appears twice monthly. She is also a supervisor to clinical interns and a writing/editorial consultant. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory