Self-compassion is uniquely helpful for dealing with shame, perhaps the most difficult of human emotions. A formal definition of shame is “a complex combination of emotions, physiological responses and imagery associated with the real or imagined rupture of relational ties.” (Hahn, 2000)
Below you will find summaries of research articles highlighting the beneficial effects of self-compassion in soothing the felt-sense of shame. Some of the topics the articles examine are: the effects of self-compassion on stigma related shame, the role of self-compassion in supporting suicidal individuals and how the early childhood caregiving environment contributes to a felt sense of shame or self-compassion in young adults.
The Effects of Self-Compassion on External Shame, Depression and Anxiety (Callow, Moffitt & Neumann, 2021)
In this study the researchers examine the effects of external shame on depression and anxiety. The researchers differentiate between internal and external shame and explain that internal shame is a self-focused emotion created by a global evaluation of oneself as being inherently flawed, inferior, worthless, or incompetent, external shame is associated with an outward attentional focus and occurs when individuals imagine or anticipate negative judgement and evaluation from others. External shame has been described as a form of stigma awareness and reflects a heightened sensitivity to outward sources of criticism or rejection. The results of this study found that self-compassion reduces the anxiety and depression related to external shame. Read the research.
Self-Compassion, Mindfulness and Shame (Sedighimornani, Rimes, & Verplanken, 2019)
In this study the authors examined the relationship between mindfulness, self-compassion, and shame. The results of this study showed that both mindfulness and self-compassion predicted lower levels of shame. In further investigating which components of mindfulness most strongly predicted lower levels of shame, the authors found that it was the component of non-judgment. The authors highlight that these findings show the negative self-evaluative nature of shame and they argue that individuals struggling with shame may greatly benefit from interventions that foster a non-judgmental attitude toward their own feelings and thoughts. Read the research.
Shame, Self-Compassion and Suicide Prevention (Zhang, Carr, Garcia-Williams, 2018)
In this study the researchers examined African Americans who sought service from a public hospital following a suicide attempt. The authors examined both the effects of self-compassion and contingent self-worth on shame and depressive symptoms. They define contingent self-worth as a sense of self-value dependent on other (mostly external) factors. The results of this study showed that only self-compassion, not contingent self-worth predict lower levels of shame and depressive symptoms. The authors highlight the value of incorporating self-compassion training into interventions for suicidal African Americans. They argue that the interventions could reduce the impact of shame on depressive symptoms and ultimately their suicidal behavior. Read the research.
The Impact of the Early Caregiving Environment on Self-Compassion (Dragan, Kamptner & Riggs, 2021)
This study focused on young adults, ages 18-28 and examined the impact of the early caregiving environment on the development of self-compassion. The results of this study shows that the quality of the early caregiving environment is related to young adults’ ability to regulate emotions and to the amount of shame they experience. This in turn is linked to their capacity for self-compassion. The authors underline that these findings are consistent with other studies that emphasize the important role of early attachment-based caregiving for the development of emotion regulation, positive self image, empathy, and psychological well-being. Read the research.
From Early Childhood Abuse to Adult Depression: The Role of Self-Compassion and Shame (Ross, Kaminski, Herrington, 2919)
In this article the authors investigate the extent to which early childhood emotional abuse hinders the natural development of self-compassion. Emotional abuse is a form of maltreatment that most strongly predicts adult depressive symptoms. Theories suggest that some depressive symptoms stem from survivors having learned to treat themselves the way they were treated by their perpetrators. The study confirms that emotional abuse and emotional neglect in early childhood can undermine the formation of self-compassion. This study also showed that individuals with low self-compassion more often experienced shame and depressive symptoms. The authors suggest that self-compassion interventions are particularly effective for survivors of emotional maltreatment. Read the research.
To learn more about self-compassion as an antidote to shame, join Chris Germer’s upcoming 2-session workshop Tuesdays, September 13 and 20, 2022 from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm Pacific Time! Register here.
Callow, T. J., Moffitt, R. L., & Neumann, D. L. (2021). External shame and its association with depression and anxiety: The moderating role of self-compassion. Australian Psychologist, 56(1), 70-80.
Dragan, N., Kamptner, L., & Riggs, M. (2021). The Impact of the Early Caregiving Environment on Self-Compassion: the Mediating Effects of Emotion Regulation and Shame. Mindfulness, 12(7), 1708-1718.
Hahn, W. K. (2000). Shame: Countertransference identifications in individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 37(1), 10.
Ross, N. D., Kaminski, P. L., & Herrington, R. (2019). From childhood emotional maltreatment to depressive symptoms in adulthood: The roles of self-compassion and shame. Child Abuse & Neglect, 92, 32-42.
Sedighimornani, N., Rimes, K. A., & Verplanken, B. (2019). Exploring the relationships between mindfulness, self-compassion, and shame. Sage Open, 9(3), 2158244019866294.
Zhang, H., Carr, E. R., Garcia-Williams, A. G., Siegelman, A. E., Berke, D., Niles-Carnes, L. V., … & Kaslow, N. J. (2018). Shame and depressive symptoms: Self-compassion and contingent self-worth as mediators?. Journal of clinical psychology in medical settings, 25(4), 408-419.