Self-compassion and Fear of Self-compassion: Mechanisms Underlying the Link between Child Maltreatment Severity and Psychological Distress in College Women

Abstract

Objectives

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.

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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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Acknowledgments

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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Terri Messman-Moore and Prachi Bhuptani jointly designed the study. Prachi Bhuptani conducted data analyses and wrote part of the results. Terri Messman-Moore wrote the introduction, methods, part of the results, and the discussion. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

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Correspondence to Terri L. Messman-Moore.

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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

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Keywords

  • Child abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Self-compassion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress