You shouldn’t kick yourself when you’re down . . .
. . . but sometimes it’s hard not to. Even if we’re compassionate toward others, we can still be our own worst critics.
Mindfulness meditation really works. And self-compassion is one of its key benefits.
Kristen Neff, PhD, from the University of Texas-Austin, and Christopher Germer, PhD, from Harvard Medical School, wanted to find out whether self-compassion could be developed through training.
Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer randomly assigned 54 people to either an 8-week mindfulness self-compassion (MSC) program or a waitlist control.
The MSC program combined weekly 2-hour meetings with homework and a half-day meditation retreat. The program began with an explanation of what self-compassion is, and incorporated both formal and informal mindfulness practices.
Before the program, participants completed surveys to measure self-compassion, mindfulness, and other internal states. They took the same surveys immediately after the program’s completion, and then 6 months later as a follow-up.
And, as it turns out, Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer have good news for people who’d like to develop self-compassion.
After taking the program, participants reported significantly greater gains in self-compassion, along with mindfulness, compassion for others, and life satisfaction when compared with the control group.
What’s more, researchers found a large statistical effect size in self-compassion. This is relevant because many previous studies of mindfulness programs have found substantially smaller effect sizes – suggesting that this program might be particularly effective.
Of course, since the research involves only self-report data, we should be cautious about drawing conclusions. When people reply that they’re more compassionate or mindful on a survey, what does that really mean about their mental states?
What’s more, this research involves only a waitlist control. That means we can’t be sure what made the difference. People might develop self-compassion just from getting together twice a week. Or maybe doing “mental homework” of any kind helps all sorts of internal states.
So, while I think this is a good foundation, I’d like to see more research that uses objective measures of self-compassion and an active control.
If you’d like to read the whole study, it’s currently in press in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Of course, to see the benefits of self-compassion with your clients, you need to be able to introduce mindfulness effectively.
Has mindfulness training ever transformed one of your clients’ capacity for self-compassion? What about your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.