More Self-Compassion Means Less Ruminating on Social Situations

Do you ever play social situations over in your head, thinking about embarrassing moments or wishing you’d done things differently? Psychologists refer to this repetitive replaying of anxiety-provoking social situations as post-event processing.

Everyone engages in post-event processing to some extent, but this after-the fact rumination on social events is especially problematic for people with social anxiety, who tend to fixate on negative social experiences.

Recently, a pair of researchers from Canada suggested that post-event processing might be related to lower self-compassion. Intuitively, it seems that people who treat themselves with less empathy and understanding might also cut themselves less slack after awkward social encounters.

In a series of experiments, the researchers showed that this was indeed the case – both for people with and without social phobia. The first experiment involved 156 college students while the second included 150 people who had sought treatment for social anxiety or high levels of shyness.

In both groups of people, those with lower self-compassion also tended to engage in more post-event processing. Moreover, the effect couldn’t be explained by differences in lower self-esteem. That is, it’s not just that people with lower self-compassion also have lower self-esteem, which leads them to engage in less post-event processing – it’s that people with less self-compassion specifically engage in more repetitive negative thinking following social situations.

Given the choice, most of us would probably rather engage in less post-event processing rather than more. It’s not very fun to have a tape of your social blunders on repeat in your head. Fortunately, this research gives a promising hint as to how people might be able to cut back on post-event processing. In particular, it looks like building self-compassion might make us more resilient to negative social experiences and less likely to rehash anxiety-provoking social situations internally after the fact.

Image: Flickr/Matthew Loberg