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A lot have encountered people who seem to be addicted to receiving sympathy - before getting to my question, allow me to clarify, what I am referring to are people for whom, knowingly portray 'everything as a crisis'. I am deliberately putting 'addiction' in quotation marks as I am not sure that it is in fact an addiction.

I used to be this way myself, making even the smallest transgression into a big issue and then using it to get sympathy from others, when I received said sympathy - it felt 'good'. (Nowadays, I just deal with issues myself).

So, my question is, is the sympathy 'addiction' akin to substance addiction or is it a deficit of resilience? or maybe both?

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Great question! –  Randy Aug 12 '13 at 10:41
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Are you refering to the psychological concept of resilience as used e.g. in this article? –  Jens Kouros Aug 12 '13 at 14:15
    
@JensKouros yes, that is pretty well where I am looking. Great link! –  user3554 Aug 13 '13 at 6:47
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Relevant? - Munchausen syndrome –  BenCole Aug 13 '13 at 13:45
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is a part answer, which only refers to the concept of resilience.

One of the first studies that invesigated resilience was the Kauai-Study, which was a longitudinal study of a cohort in Hawai to investigate the cognitive, social and physical development of children. (Werner and Smith, 1982) Of the children who had to deal with a couple of risk factors from birth on, about a third managed to overcome the obstacles later in life. This led to the formulation of a theoretical concept of resilience, which included vulnerability of the child as a main risk factor and external stress on one side, and social support and ressources within the child on the other side as elements. These elements interact with one another and influence the development of a child. In this sense, resilience was defined as a potential, or maybe kind of like a trait. If there is enough resilience, a "good" development will be possible in spite of a difficult environment. The second thing to notice is that resilience originally was geared towards children.

The concept of resilience has been expanded to adulthood later. Apparently, though, this has led to some problems concerning the definition, since the original conception was explicitly concerned with development in childhood (Luthar and Cicchetti, 2000). The article of Leipold and Greve (2009) integrates different proposals to solve this problem. In their model, resilience, development and coping are linked. Development is seen as coping with all kinds of demands and stressors, and resilience is seen as succesfully doing so. Note that in this definition, resilience is very different from the one that I have given above.

To get to your question: an "addiction to sympathy" might be seen as a lack of resilience, but not in the sense of a trait. It can be seen as the lack of a process as conceptualized by Leipold and Greve (2009). This also leaves open the possibility that the process might "kick in" at a later stage in development, which not only makes sense but is also what you have experienced yourself.

References:

Leipold, B. & Greve, W. (2009). Resilience. A conceptual bridge between coping and development. European Psychologist, 14, 40-50.
Luthar, S. S., & Cicchetti, D. (2000). The construct of resilience: Implications for interventions and social policies. Development and psychopathology, 12(4), 857-885.
Werner, E. E. & Smith, R. S. (1982). Vulnerable but invincible: A study of resilient children New York: McGraw-Hill.

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This is perfect, as it explains my own experience pretty much precisely. Great answer. –  user3554 Aug 24 '13 at 9:35
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1) I don't believe a person can be addicted to gaining sympathy. I believe that a person who is in the habit of manipulating others for sympathy is more a reflection of a deficit within their personality, as opposed to an addiction.

The one exception being within a Histrionic Personality Disorder or the like, where a person becomes addicted to the chemical release in the brain that comes with high stress and drama. I regard the focus here is on create crises as opposed to seeking sympathy.

2) As for a lack of resilience, the character weakness may or may not be linked to a low level of resilience. There are many variables that would need to be examined before passing that judgment.

The seeking of sympathy can be a part of attention seeking behaviours, which in turn can be a part of a personality disorder. It would be fair to say that the complexity of personality disorders, could not be summed up in terms of resilience. Although it can be said, that a person lacking healthy coping skills, may be less resilient.

The American Psychological Association suggests "10 Ways to Build Resilience", which are:

  1. maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends and others;
  2. to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems;
  3. to accept circumstances that cannot be changed;
  4. to develop realistic goals and move towards them;
  5. to take decisive actions in adverse situations;
  6. to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss;
  7. developing self-confidence;
  8. to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context;
  9. to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished;
  10. to take care of one's mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one's own needs and feelings.

The interesting point in this, is that good coping skills are linked with resilience, and asking for help is considered a good coping skill. Which is akin to seeking sympathy, as charity between people is often motivated by sympathetic feeling, whether it was the intention of the sympathised to evoke it or not.

So in summary,
Is the 'addiction' to receiving sympathy similar to substance addiction or just a deficit of resilience?

  1. I would conclude that there can be an addiction to drama, but not sympathy.

  2. A deficit in resilience could lead to sympathy seeking behaviours due to needing extra support.

  3. More likely, a deficit within the personality, that requires attention and is part of a bigger disorder.

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