Compassion and Self-Compassion Don’t Necessarily Go Together

Self-compassion is an important predictor of mental health. As I’ve written about before, people with more self-compassion are less likely to experience depression, less likely to ruminate on negative social experiences, and more open to mental health treatment. Basically, being nice to yourself pays off.

But many people who treat others with compassion are more harsh when it comes to how they treat themselves. The reverse is also true: people who are empathic toward themselves aren’t necessarily empathetic toward other people.

Despite the similar names, compassion and self-compassion are two distinct skills.

That idea is reinforced by a new study out from researchers in the Netherlands.

The results of the study suggest that there is little to no correlation between self-compassion and compassion for others. In other words, people who have higher levels of compassion for others don’t have any higher levels of compassion for themselves on average, and vice-versa.

In the study, 328 adults completed questionnaires designed to gauge their tendencies toward compassion and self-compassion.

When the researchers broke down the results by different demographic groups, they found that women were on average more compassionate than men. Interestingly, they found that people with less education tended to have more compassion for others while people with more education tended to have more self-compassion, highlighting that compassion and self-compassion do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

These findings don’t indicate that between compassion and self-compassion you have to choose one or the other.

Quite the opposite, in fact. They suggest that having compassion for yourself and for others are more-or-less independent skills.

And both are, of course, very helpful skills to have. If you’re altruistic toward others while being harsh on yourself, you’re not going to be very happy. And if you’re highly empathic toward yourself while being harsh to other people, well, you’re not going to be much fun to be around.

The takeaway from this study, then, is that developing one of these skills doesn’t necessarily lead to having the other. To become more compassionate and self-compassionate, we have to work on both skills separately.

Image: Dudley