Empathy, caring and compassion: toward a Freudian critique of nursing work


Traynor, M. 2023. Empathy, caring and compassion: toward a Freudian critique of nursing work. Nursing Philosophy. 24 (1). https://doi.org/10.1111/nup.12399
TitleEmpathy, caring and compassion: toward a Freudian critique of nursing work
AuthorsTraynor, M.

The aim of this paper is to summarise key psychoanalytic concepts first developed by Sigmund Freud and apply them to a critical exploration of three terms that are central to nursing’s self-image—empathy, caring and compassion. Looking to Menzies-Lyth’s work I suggest that the nurse’s strong identification as carer can be understood as a fantasy of being the one who is cared for; critiques by Freud and others of empathy point to the possibility of it being, in reality, a form of projective identification; reading Lacan and Žižek I propose that repeated research into caring and repeated complaint about barriers to caring can be understood as manifestations of the death drive first posited by Freud. I conclude that psychoanalytic insights suggest that caring roles can raise profoundly ambivalent issues for those who care but they can also point the way to freedom from painful and self-destructive symptoms inherent in such work.

Keywordscare; hermeneutics; nursing; psychoanalysis; Sigmund Freud
Sustainable Development Goals3 Good health and well-being
8 Decent work and economic growth
16 Peace, justice and strong institutions
JournalNursing Philosophy
Publication dates
Online19 Jun 2022
PrintJan 2023
Publication process dates
Deposited10 Jun 2022
Submitted14 Dec 2021
Accepted31 May 2022
Output statusPublished
Publisher's version
File Access Level
Accepted author manuscript
File Access Level
Copyright Statement

© 2022 The Authors. Nursing Philosophy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1111/nup.12399
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