How Self-Compassion Influences the Ability to be Comprassionate to Others

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Self-compassion is the ability to be compassionate and understanding to oneself. Similarly, self-compassion may influence an individual’s compassion towards others as well. Compassion is an important characteristic of the mental health profession. Bowen & Moore (2014) stated that counselor functioning may be impaired due to reduced or low compassion. This state of reduced or low compassion is known as compassion fatigue and the term was coined by Dr. Charles Figley (2002). Mental health professionals are prone to compassion fatigue because dealing with trauma and stresses of other people can be exhausting and can create secondary traumatic stress in the individual (Figley, 2002). Moreover, mental health professionals are long known to be at high risk to develop the burnout syndrome. Burnout is a stress-related syndrome that often affects professionals working in emotionally loaded and highly interpersonal environments (Volpe et al., 2014). Burnout tends to have a negative impact on life satisfaction (Hombrados-Mendieta & Cosano-Rivas, 2011). In a study conducted by Dev et al. (2018), the results indicated that greater trait self-compassion was associated with lower burnout and predicted lower barriers to compassion.

Therefore, in such cases, interventions based on self-compassion can be used to defeat compassion fatigue and burnout in mental health professionals and ensure that they are able to uphold their helping attitude and help increase their level of satisfaction with life.According to Kristin Neff (2003), self-compassion involves being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience. It refers to being kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. Self-compassion involves open-hearted awareness that others share your experiences, both positive and negative, therefore, all human beings are considered intimately connected and worthy of compassion (Neff & Seppälä, 2016).

The three elements of self-compassion as described by Neff (2019) are: Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment, Common humanity vs. Isolation, and Mindfulness vs. Over-identification. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment states that people cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When people deny or fight against this reality suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When people accept this reality with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced. Common humanity vs. Isolation states that self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience. It is something every person goes rather than something that has happened to the individual self alone. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification states that mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.

Nonetheless, it requires that people do not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings and be caught up in negativity. Goetz et al. (2010) defined compassion as the feeling that arises in witnessing another’s suffering and that motivates a subsequent desire to help. It is related to greater altruistic helping (Weng et al., 2015). Helping attitude can be defined as the beliefs feelings and behaviors related to helping people (Nickel, 1998). It is the quality of individual that benefits the giver as well as the receiver. It is willingness and concern for the welfare of others. It refers to voluntary actions intended to help others (Jan, 2017). Altruism and Prosocial Behavior are often used as synonyms for helping behavior. Some researchers have regarded altruism and helping attitude as being parts of prosocial behavior (Afolabi, 2013). Altruism can be defined as actions or behaviors that are intended to benefit another person (Snyder, Lopez & Pedrotti, 2011). According to Eisenberg and Mussen (1989), prosocial behavior refers to voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals. In theories of moral development, prosocial behavior is motivated at the highest stage of moral development by a moral principle of care that urges people to help others even when they cannot expect to gain personally from helping. That is, sometimes people are not necessarily empathically aroused when observing another’s need, but they help nonetheless because they have internalized a value that one should help those in need (Wilhelm & Bekkers, 2010).

Research has shown that engaging in prosocial behavior might be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stress on emotional functioning (Raposa, Laws & Ansell, 2016). According to Midlarsky (1991), helping others might distract an individual from stressors, as well as increase one’s sense of meaning, purpose, and self-efficacy. Compassion is considered as a distinct emotional state that motivates altruistic action (David DeSteno, 2015). Filip Raes (2010) found that self-compassion may act as an antidote to unproductive repetitive thinking, like depressive ruminating and anxious worrying. There seems to be a negative correlation between life satisfaction and depression (Simpson et al., 1996). That is, a decrease in depressive symptoms may be associated with an increase in life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is defined as a global assessment of a person’s quality of life according to his own chosen criteria. It refers to a judgmental process, in which the individuals assess the quality of their lives on the basis of their own unique set of criteria (Shin & Johnson, 1978). Judgments of satisfaction are based upon a comparison of one’s circumstances with what is thought to be an appropriate standard. Judgment of how satisfied people are with their present state of affairs is based on a comparison with a standard which each individual sets for himself or herself (Diener et. al.,1985). According Ruut Veenhoven (1996), life satisfaction is the degree to which a person positively evaluates the overall quality of his/her life as a whole. In other words, how much the person likes the life he/she leads.

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Life satisfaction is a component of Subjective well-being, which includes positive affect and negative affect as well. Subjective well-being is defined as a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life (Diener, Lucas, & Oishi, 2002). Subjective well-being as well as life satisfaction are strongly associated with longevity (Sadler, 2011). Life satisfaction does not decline over much of adulthood but begins to decline after the mid-70s, and these declines can be quite substantial. These declines may be related to increasing health problems, the loss of social support, or even impending death (Baird, Lucas & Donnellan, 2010).

Mental health professionals are known to be compassionate toward others and exhibit other-oriented behavior. Nonetheless, dealing with others’ problems on a daily basis can be emotionally as well as mentally taxing and can have a negative impact on other aspects of life as well. This may lead to problems at work and a low perceived quality of life among mental health professionals. Self-compassion is said to be a valuable coping resources it allows an individual to better understand their inadequacies and failures and to deal with their own sufferings in a compassionate manner. Thus, it is of significant value to understand if and how self-compassion fosters a helping attitude and impacts life satisfaction among mental health professionals. Moreover, it is appealing to study how self-compassion, which is very much innate, influences helping attitude, which is other-oriented. There has been enough research on how compassion influences helping attitude and relatively less on how self-compassion influences helping attitude. Attachment theory explains the importance of attachment and how it influences development. John Bowlby (1970) proposed that infants develop a secure attachment bond to parents when their needs are consistently met.

According to Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1980), infants who do not have their physical or emotional needs met by primary caregivers tend to not form secure and trusting relationships (i.e., secure attachments) with these caregivers nor do they tend, as adults, to form secure attachments to friends or significant others. Bowlby argued that early attachment bonds with parents affect the formation of our “internal working model” of self in relation to others. People who are insecurely attached have less self-compassion than those who are securely attached. In other words, our internal working models of self have a significant impact on how we treat ourselves—with compassion or contempt (Neff, 2011).Gilbert’s (1989, 2000) social mentality theory suggests that individuals relate to themselves through systems that were originally evolved for relating to others. Social mentalities are internal systems that “generate patterns of cognition, affect and behavior… that allow for the enactment of social roles” to solve social challenges essential for survival, such as care-seeking, mating, cooperation, and competition. A social mentality orients a person to create certain roles with others and guides interpretation of the roles others are enacting. Importantly, a distinguishing feature of the human species is our higher-order cognitive capacity for self-awareness, imagination, and reflection. Thus, it is theorized that both internal and external stimuli can produce similar responses.

Therefore, Gilbert (1989, 2000) suggests that social mentalities are activated not only in relations with others but also in relations within the self (Hermanto & Zuroff, 2016).Empathy-altruism hypothesis a theory that explains helping behaviors as resulting from feelings of empathy and compassion toward others, which arouse an altruistic motivation directed toward the ultimate goal of improving another person’s welfare. It was proposed in 1991 by U.S. social psychologist C. Daniel Batson (VandenBos, 2015). The hypothesis states that feeling other-oriented emotion elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of another person in need (i.e., empathic concern) produces a motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing that person’s welfare by having the empathy-inducing need removed (i.e., altruistic motivation).

The more empathy felt for the person in need, the more motivation to have the need removed (Batson, 2011).Negative State Relief Model suggests that when a person experiences negative affect he helps, sometimes because he wants to make himself feel better. This explanation of prosocial behavior is known as the negative state relief model. (Batson et all, 2009). When negative affect is aroused person provides help in order to reduce own negative affect and make the helper feel better.

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