Research – Self Compassion 2017-01-13T13:41:24+00:00

Research – Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, Austin, has carried out pioneering work on self-compassion: a construct central in Buddhist psychology but one which, until recently, had yet to be empirically examined. Neff is the psychologist who first academically researched how the concept impacts wellbeing.

She says that it’s time to “stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind.” Self-compassion helps individuals do just that as Neff and her colleagues have found that the practice helps people “escape the harmful consequences of harsh self-judgement and promote psychological resilience”.

(If you have any problems following links in our research, then please copy and paste the text from our footnote* into your browser top bar)

Kristin D. Neff, Kristin L. Kirkpatrick and Stephanie S. Rude conducted a couple of experiments to examine the relationship of self-compassion on psychological health. In one study, 91 undergraduates took part in a mock interview and had to answer a question about their greatest weakness, giving an example of a time or situation this had affected them. The researchers found participants who had measured as having higher levels of self-compassion were less self-conscious and anxious in the situation. They also provided answers that suggested they felt greater interconnectedness, which was reflected in their higher proportion of use of first person plural pronouns and social references in comparison to the answers of their peers with low self-compassion. A second study found those who experienced an increase in self-compassion over a one-month interval also saw an increase in their psychological wellbeing and decrease in self-criticism, depression, rumination, thought suppression, and anxiety.

Access the study here:

Self-Compassion and Adaptive Psychological Functioning

The following is an article written by Neff and Andrew P. Costigan that gives an overview of the understanding of the importance of self-compassion on our psychological wellbeing:

Self-compassion, Wellbeing and Happiness

In this article and 12-minute video Kristen Neff discusses the misconceptions that people have towards why it’s a good thing to be kinder to ourselves:

The Five Myths of Self-Compassion

Here Kristen Neff reveals what distinguishes self-compassion from self-esteem, with a further look at the scientific research:

Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem

Find more about self-compassion and an extensive bibliography of the research behind the concept on Dr. Kristin Neff’s website:

Self-Compassion

Mark R. Leary, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, has spent much of his time researching self-compassion, self-acceptance, and the impact of self-talk and concerns about others’ impressions on our identities.

To investigate the cognitive and emotional processes self-compassionate people utilise to deal with negative life events, Mark R. Leary et al. conducted five studies in which participants were asked to report on difficulties experienced over 20 days. The researchers found those low in self-compassion undervalued their work relative to how others saw it. Whereas, those with higher levels of self-compassion experienced less anxiety and distress when thinking about their problems, and they were able to objectively acknowledge the role they played in negative events.

Find the work here:

Self Compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly

Leary, with Ashley Batts Allen and Eleanor R. Goldwasser, has also studied the impact of self-compassion on the elderly, finding a positive association between the attitude, well-being and quality of life among adults aged over 60.

Read more here:

Self-compassion and well-being among older adults

Here, Professor Mark Leary explains in this short video the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion and why the latter is what we should strive for:

What is Self-Compassion?

Find his biography with more on his continuing work here:

Mark R. Leary

Filip Raes examined the relationship between self-compassion, ruminative thinking, worry, depression and anxiety in 271 undergraduates. He found those with higher levels of self-compassion tended to brood less about their failings. Raes concludes, “..one way via which self-compassion has buffering effects on depression and anxiety is through its positive effects on unproductive repetitive thinking.”

Find the research here:

Rumination and worry as mediators of the relationship between self-compassion and depression and anxiety

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Chris Tkach and M. Robin Dimatteo investigated what best predicts enduring happiness and how the construct of self-esteem relates to this. From analysis gathered on the personality, psychological characteristic, physical health and demographics of 621 retired employees (aged 51-95) they concluded that the two constructs, while highly correlated, are in fact distinct. While mood, social relationships and global life satisfaction are variables that affect happiness, agency and motivation (i.e. optimism and lack of hopelessness) are best predictors of self-esteem.

Find more here:

What are the differences between happiness and self-esteem?

Katherine Nelson et al. examined how performing self-affirmation exercises affects psychological well-being, beyond helping maintain a favourable self-image. In one study with participants from South Korea, after two weeks the eudaimonic well-being of the participants increased. This is the well-being that relates to an individual’s happiness coming from a sense of satisfaction, meaning and flow. In a second four-week study, with participants from North America, both their eudaimonic and hedonic well-being improved. Hedonic well-being refers to happiness deriving from increased pleasure and decreased pain. By the fourth week, results suggested affirming core values was particularly advantageous for those who were initially low in eudaimonic well-being.

Read the full report here:

Beyond Self-Protection: Self-Affirmation Benefits Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being

David Creswell et al. asked 80 participants to complete a 30-minute problem-solving task under stressful conditions. Those who had completed a self-affirmation exercise and who had perceived themselves to have higher chronic stress levels over the month prior to the assessment performed significantly better than those in the control group. The authors conclude self-affirmation improves problem-solving performance in pressured environments, particularly in underperforming chronically stressed individuals.

Access the findings here:

Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress

How to Cultivate Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff with Christopher Germer found participants who practised various Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) exercises in an eight-week programme reported to have cultivated greater self-compassion upon completing the course. Additionally, they reported having developed greater mindfulness and happiness, and experienced lower depression, anxiety and stress.

Access the studies here:

A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program

Find more about Mindful Self-Compassion with meditations by Germer and Neff here:

Mindful Self-Compassion

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Leah B. Shapira and Myriam Mongrain asked a group of participants to write a self-compassionate letter to themselves every day for a week, versus a control group who wrote about an early memory. From the follow up tests, those who had written the letter saw significant increases in happiness for the following six months and a decrease in depression lasting up to three months.

Find more here:

The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression

Juliana G. Breines and Serena Chen conducted four experiments that asked participants to either recall an experience of giving support to someone or to write advice offering support to another person, versus recalling having a fun time with a friend or reading about another person’s problems. When they measured the self-compassion of the participants after completing the exercises, Breines and Chen concluded that giving support to others helps cultivate your own self-compassion.

Find out more here:

Activating the inner caregiver: The role of support-giving schemas in increasing state self-compassion

Breines and Chen also found undergraduate students who practiced compassion towards themselves after making a mistake – “taking an accepting approach to personal failure” – were more motivated to engage in positive change and self-improvement, in comparison to those in control groups in which the participants focussed on building self-esteem, had no intervention, or had a positive distraction following the mistake.

Read how Brienes and Chen came to this conclusion here:

Self-Compassion Increases Self-Improvement Motivation

Footnote*

(If you have any problems following links in our research, then please copy and paste the text below relating to the article you wish to see into your browser top bar)

Kristin D. Neff, Kristin L. Kirkpatrick and Stephanie S. Rude
Self-Compassion and Adaptive Psychological Functioning
http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/JRP.pdf

Neff and Andrew P. Costigan
Self-compassion, Wellbeing and Happiness
http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/Neff&Costigan.pdf

The Five Myths of Self-Compassion
http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_five_myths_of_self_compassion

Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem
http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/try_selfcompassion

Self-Compassion

Mark R. Leary et al.
Self Compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly
http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/LearyJPSP.pdf

Self-compassion and well-being among older adults
http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/elderly.pdf

What is Self-Compassion?

Mark R. Leary Biography
http://people.duke.edu/~leary/

Filip Raes
Rumination and worry as mediators of the relationship between self-compassion and depression and anxiety
http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/ruminationmediators.pdf

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Chris Tkach and M. Robin Dimatteo
What are the differences between happiness and self-esteem?
http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/wp-content/themes/sonjalyubomirsky/papers/LTD2006.pdf

S. Katherine Nelson et al.
Beyond Self-Protection: Self-Affirmation Benefits Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being
http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/files/2012/09/Nelson-Fuller-Choi-Lyubomirsky-in-press.pdf (PDF)

J. David Creswell et al.
Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0062593

Kristin Neff with Christopher Germer
A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program
http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/downloads/pdf/Germer-Neff-MSC-RCT-2013.pdf

Mindful Self-Compassion
http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
http://www.centerformsc.org/meditations

Leah B. Shapira and Myriam Mongrain
The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233219786_The_benefits_of_self-compassion_and_optimism_exercises_for_individuals_vulnerable_to_depression

Juliana G. Breines and Serena Chen
Activating the inner caregiver: The role of support-giving schemas in increasing state self-compassion
http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/Breines-Chen-2013-schemas-and-SC.pdf

Self-Compassion Increases Self-Improvement Motivation
http://static1.squarespace.com/static/50f6f441e4b08191027c661d/t/51663d46e4b060cd9194ed75/1365654854068/Breines+%26+Chen+2012+PSPB.pdf