A study from researchers at The University of Groningen in the Netherlands, published in the journal Mindfulness, examines the role that self-compassion and self-coldness play in depressive symptoms. In their study, the researchers find that self-judgment and isolation are strong predictors of depressive symptoms and recommend interventions aimed at improving self-compassion through mindfulness.
“Self-coldness measures harsh judgment towards the self, feelings of isolation, and over identification with negative aspects of oneself or personal experience,” lead author Angélica López explains. “These concepts resemble self-criticism, loneliness, and rumination, three well-known and studied psychological processes that have proved to be detrimental for individuals’ wellbeing.”
Responding to one’s suffering with self-compassion is characterized by treating one’s self with tenderness and understanding, seeing one’s failures as a part of the human condition, and maintaining mindfulness in painful experiences. The alternative is responding with self-coldness.
In a number of previous studies, self-compassion interventions have been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms with effects lasting six months to one year. Past studies have also associated self-coldness with reduced improvements in psychological health. In a 2011 review of the self-compassion literature the researchers found that:
“Patients who are self-critical tend to make fewer improvements in short-term antidepressant medication (imipramine), placebo, or psychotherapy (interpersonal or cognitive– behavioral) treatment.”
The purpose of the current study was to explore the predictive ability of self-compassion on depressive symptoms and the moderating role that self-compassion has on the relationship between self-coldness and depressive symptoms.
The authors demonstrate self-coldness to be a strong predictor of depressive symptoms, with feelings of isolation being the strongest predictor followed by over-identification with negative feelings and experiences. The authors highlight previous research demonstrating the role self-compassion plays as a buffer between self-coldness and depressive symptoms.
“As proposed in previous studies, we found a significant interaction between self-compassion and self-coldness. Our results showed that cross-sectionally, self-coldness predicted depressive symptoms in individuals with either low or high self-compassion, with a somewhat stronger relationship among those low in self-compassion. In our longitudinal data, self-coldness predicted depressive symptoms only for those individuals low in self-compassion.”
While some have critiqued the positive psychology movement and its emphasis on self-compassion, others have framed self-compassion as a form of resistance to the neoliberal imperative for self-perfection. The importance that self-compassion interventions place on utilizing perspective taking and mindfulness through experiences of suffering contests the idea that one should aspire to a constant state of happiness.
With an increasing body of support, self-compassion and mindfulness interventions could play a key role as first-line interventions for the treatment of people diagnosed with depressive disorders. This study provides support to the growing body of literature calling for integrative approaches to mental health care.
López, A., Sanderman, R., & Schroevers, M. J. (2018). A Close Examination of the Relationship Between Self-Compassion and Depressive Symptoms. Mindfulness, 1-9. (Link)