Credit: Design Ecologist, Pexels
29 May 2021
Guest author: Theodora Sabadeanu
In recent years, psychologists have increasingly discussed the benefits of self-compassion for one’s mental well-being. According to Neff (2011), self-compassion involves being understanding and kind towards oneself rather than judgemental, acknowledging that everyone experiences failure sometimes, and being mindful. The latter involves neither focusing too much on nor ignoring aspects of yourself that you might dislike.
Self-compassion is not about slacking off or making excuses for one’s actions. It is simply about being kind to the self in times of difficulty, which makes us less likely to experience stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
All is good in theory, but people differ in their ability to be self-compassionate. Why is that?
Research suggests that the origin of this positive attitude towards the self is rooted in people’s early relationships with their parents or caregivers. This makes sense since we know that based on how responsive and supportive these attachment figures are, infants develop specific relational expectations and models of the self.
A study by Pepping et al. (2015) illustrates this as the researchers found that high parental overprotection, low parental warmth, and high parental rejection during childhood predicted low self-compassion. On the other hand, visualising a person with whom participants felt comfortable and safe, and who could support them when upset led to a momentary increase in people’s self-compassion. Therefore, it would appear that a nurturing relationship with one’s caregiver can indeed promote a kinder view of the self.
Talking therapies such as mirror therapy aim to provide clients with a safe environment and a secure attachment via the therapeutic relationship, which then helps promote self-compassion. This is important because a more benevolent view of the self not only protects individuals from developing mental health problems but is also key to overcoming such problems.
Neff, K.D. (2011). Self-Compassion, Self-Esteem, and Well-Being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 1-12.
Pepping, C.A., Davis, P.J., O’Donovan, A., & Pal, J. (2015). Individual Differences in Self-Compassion: The Role of Attachment and Experiences of Parenting in Childhood. Self and Identity, 14(1), 104-117.
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