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Kindly Present


Andrea Diaz

As the notion of mindfulness has become more relevant in Western culture, and ever more prevalent in popular media, psychologists have begun to study its effects on the different facets of well-being. A related concept, self-compassion, has similarly been researched in the field of positive psychology. Though similar, mindfulness and self-compassion are two different constructs that can both contribute to psychological well-being. Moreover, studies have shown that the two can work in harmony to bolster the positive effects of the other, as discussed below.

The practice of mindfulness has origins in Buddhist philosophy, which sees suffering as an inevitable universal phenomenon.1 In the field of psychology, mindfulness has been adopted as the practice of being nonjudgmental and accepting awareness of the present moment.2-4 It is focused on distancing oneself from the situation at hand to create enough space for open and honest reflection before responding.1 Mindfulness is a dichotomous construct comprised of realizing that focused attention is being paid to the present moment and noticing what the individual’s outlook is on said moment.2

Self-compassion, by contrast, can be divided into three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.3-5 Self-kindness refers to adopting an attitude of kindness towards oneself in times of hardship, as opposed to engaging in self-criticism.6 A shared, common humanity is the notion of recognizing that one’s mistakes and failures are not radically different from the ones consuming others,6 and thus the individual can begin to connect to friends or even strangers as opposed to suffer in isolation.7 Mindfulness in self-compassion refers to the ability of remaining aware of the painful experience rather than using mechanisms such as avoidance or rumination.3,7

Extensive research has been done on the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on many aspects of the individual. Increased mindfulness appears to be highly correlated with increased Psychological Well-Being (PWB) and decreased stress.4 Similarly, higher self-compassion scores have been associated with less anxiety and depression,5 as well as higher PWB.4 In this context, PWB is concerned with the components that can lead an individual to lead a self-actualizing life, namely a sense of purpose, autonomy, warm relationships, personal growth, self-acceptance, and environmental mastery.8 High levels of mindfulness, in association with self-compassion, can thus lead an individual to exhibit more characteristics corresponding to PWB. Since mindfulness appears to be one of the three fundamental aspects of self-compassion, it is reasonable to propose that the two constructs might be individually correlated in some way. However, despite some overlap, there are some important differences between mindfulness and self-compassion that are worth mentioning. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment; this may be positive, negative, or even neutral—the goal is to be keenly aware of what that present moment entails. In contrast, self-compassion focuses mainly on the human aspect of suffering and how individuals relate to that suffering.3 While mindfulness focuses on one’s experience with the present, be that thoughts or sensations, the central point of self-compassion is the relationship with the self.

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Both mindfulness and self-compassion have been found, independently, to be highly correlated with PWB. Baer, Lykins, and Peters found that self-compassion and mindfulness appear to predict PWB with different strengths.3 Self-compassion was a significantly stronger predictor of eudaemonic living than mindfulness when they looked at the constructs as a whole. By contrast, examining the effects of individual components of each construct yielded equal predictions of wellbeing.

However, when the interconnections between mindfulness, self-compassion, and psychological well-being are examined, the literature consistently shows that self-compassion is a robust mediator between mindfulness and PWB.6,7 Maintaining a present-oriented and non judgmental awareness is associated with improved psychological health when the individual shows an attitude of self-kindness, considers one’s experiences as part of a common humanity, and is mindfully aware of his or her suffering. The ability to notice human experience with compassion in the present moment lends the individual access to a deeper understanding with clarity, thus allowing the capacity for judgement-free acceptance. Individuals tend to make decisions that facilitate the characteristics of psychological well-being when mindfulness levels are high—this is likely due, at least in part, to self-compassionate behaviours.8 The openness and acceptance of mindful awareness gives space for compassionate understanding of the self, placing individuals on a path toward meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Given the profound implications of self-compassion on the mindfulness-happiness relationship, researchers have used a plethora of interventions to harness mindfulness and self-compassion in efforts to increase PWB. These include meditation programs such as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), compassion meditation, and loving-kindness meditation. Collectively, these strategies aim to increase either mindfulness, self-compassion, or both, and have all found significant correlations between these constructs and PWB.3,6,9 More active interventions including mind-body practices such as yoga4 and Tai Chi7 have been found to reinforce mindfulness and self-compassion, further improving an individual’s psychological well-being.

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1. Rosenzweig, D. (2013). The Sisters of Mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 793-804.

2. Bluth, K., & Blanton, P. (2014). Mindfulness and self compassion: Exploring pathways to adolescent emotional well-being. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23(7), 1298-1309. 

3. Baer, R., Lykins, E., & Peters, J. (2012). Mindfulness and self-compassion aspredictors of psychological wellbeing in long-term meditators and matched nonmeditators. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3) 230-238.

4. Gard, T., Brach, N., Hölzel, B., Noggle, J., Conboy, L., & Lazar, S. (2012). Effects of a yoga-based intervention for young adults on quality of life and perceived stress: The potential mediating roles of mindfulness and self-compassion. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(3), 165-175.

5. Bluth, K., & Blanton, P. W. (2015). The influence of self-compassion on emotional well-being among early and older adolescent males and females. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(3), 219-230.   

6. Shahar, B., Szsepsenwol, O., Zilcha‐Mano, S., Haim, N., Zamir, O., Levi Yeshuvi, S., & Levit‐Binnun, N. (2015). A Wait-List Randomized Controlled Trial of Loving-Kindness Meditation Programme for Self-Criticism. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(4),346-356.

7. Nedeljkovic, M., Wirtz, P., &Ausfeld-Hafter, B. (2012). Effects of Taiji Practice on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in Healthy Participants—A Randomized Controlled Trial. Mindfulness,3(3),200-208.

8. Hollis-Walker, L, & Colosimo, K. (2011). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and happiness in non-meditators: A theoretical and empirical examination. Personality and Individual Differences,50, 222-227.

9. Lim, D., Condon, P., & DeSteno, D. (2015). Mindfulness and Compassion: An Examination of Mechanism and Scalability. PLOS ONE, 10(2): e0118221.  


Article Featured in Elemental Issue 4: Substance Abuse