There’s a good chance you’ve been lectured on the virtues of selflessness. Regardless of how religious you are, putting others’ welfare before your own can carry a lot of clout.
But is acting on others’ behalf always a good thing? Should a willing altruist ever keep from extending a helping hand?
As it turns out, there are many situations in which unbridled benevolence may be a dangerous deed.
Say hello to pathological altruism. Broadly defined as “good intentions gone awry” by pathological altruism pioneer Barbara Oakley, the term applies to any helping behavior that ends up hurting either the provider or recipient of supposedly well-meaning intentions.
Codependency, helicopter parenting, eating disorders, animal hoarding, genocide and suicide martyrdom all count as kinds of pathological altruism. Each is a combination of information deficiency, self-righteousness, and misdirected aims.