Self-compassion may break depression link

Being kinder to oneself can weaken the established link between perfectionism and depression, ACU research has found.

Perfectionism that involves self-criticism, concerns about making mistakes and worry about negative comments from others has been linked to burnout and various mental disorders.

Lead author Madeleine Ferrari said people who beat themselves up when they made mistakes or fell short of their own expectations could be called “maladaptive perfectionist” – a type of perfectionism that can lead to depression and burnout.

The ACU study, published in the journal PLOS ONE has shown that being kind to oneself lessened the association between maladaptive perfectionism and depression.

Dr Ferrari emphasised the importance of the study in a rapidly changing social media landscape – where teenagers and adults strived to curate perfect snapshots of their lives and push themselves too far.

“It is important to talk about the way we think and react to perfectionism, particularly in a world where adolescents are bombarded with social media platforms that foster pressure to post a perfect photo, perfect outfit, perfect partner … a perfect life,” Dr Ferrari said.

“Learning how to manage these pressures and practice self-compassion instead of self-criticism when these unrealistic portrayals aren’t met is a vital skill.”

Dr Ferrari and her team assessed about 500 teens, in grades seven to 10, from five Australian private schools, and more than 500 adults, aged between 18 and 72.

The study revealed self-compassion either reduced the frequency of perfectionist thoughts or altered the perception towards them altogether.

Females reported more symptoms of depression compared to men and boys, while the male participants showed higher levels of self-compassion.

“Self-compassion offers an opportunity to manage these perfectionism beliefs so people don’t fall into depression,” Dr Ferrari said.

“Together with self-kindness, it consistently reduces the strength of the relationship between maladaptive perfectionism and depression for both adolescents and adults.”

Adding self-compassion into other therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) might make them more effective, she said.

“However, future experimental or intervention research is needed to fully assess this important possibility.”

Dr Ferrari said learning self-compassion was an extremely important skill.

“We know how to be compassionate and how to motivate the friends we care about when they are feeling down, so we need use that kindness and consideration on ourselves – we need to give ourselves permission to be self-compassionate, learn to be kinder to ourselves, and quell that inner negative voice,” she said.


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