Women are at increased risk for depression and anxiety associated with child maltreatment, given higher rates of exposure to childhood maltreatment and a greater sensitivity resulting in maltreatment-related distress. Thus, there is a need to identify mechanisms of resilience among female survivors of child maltreatment. Self-compassion may promote resilience, whereas fear of self-compassion may diminish this protective effect. Moreover, distinct facets of self-compassion (e.g., self-kindness) versus self-coldness (e.g., self-judgment) may differentially explain risk or resilience for child maltreatment outcomes.
College women (N = 586) completed anonymous online surveys assessing the severity of different types of child maltreatment, self-compassion, fear of self-compassion, depression, anxiety, and stress.
Severity of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and emotional and physical neglect, was positively associated with elevated fear of self-compassion and the absence of self-compassion (i.e., self-coldness). In contrast, emotional abuse and neglect severity were the only maltreatment variables negatively associated with self-compassion. Models indicated an indirect relation between increased maltreatment severity and heightened psychological distress via fear of self-compassion and self-coldness (i.e., isolation, overidentification). Statistical patterns indicative of suppression among the positive facets of self-compassion occurred.
The centrality of emotional maltreatment, along with fear of self-compassion, isolation, and overidentification, emerged across analyses. Findings suggest the absence of self-compassion (i.e., self-coldness) is associated with specific forms of distress. Additional research with child maltreatment survivors should examine self-compassion components rather than a unidimensional construct.
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Terri Messman-Moore would like to acknowledge general professional support for this and all scholarly activities from an endowed professor position, The O’Toole, Family Professor, at Miami University.
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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures were approved by the Committee for Use of Human Subjects in Research at Miami University. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee at Miami University and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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Messman-Moore, T.L., Bhuptani, P.H. Self-compassion and Fear of Self-compassion: Mechanisms Underlying the Link between Child Maltreatment Severity and Psychological Distress in College Women. Mindfulness 11, 1446–1459 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01361-2
- Child abuse
- Child neglect