Self-compassion, pain, and breaking a social contract
Self-compassion is the ability to respond to one’s failures, shortcomings and difficulties with kindness and openness rather than criticism. This study, which might be regarded as a proof of concept study, aimed to establish whether self-compassion is associated with expected emotional responses and the likelihood of responding with problem solving, support seeking, distraction, avoidance, rumination or catastrophizing to unpleasant self-relevant events occurring in three social contexts. Sixty chronic pain patients were presented with six vignettes describing scenes in which the principal actor transgressed a social contract with negative interpersonal consequences. Vignettes represented two dimensions: 1) whether pain or a non-pain factor interrupted the fulfilment of the contract, and 2) variation in the social setting (work, peer and family). The Self-Compassion Scale was the covariate in the analysis. Higher levels of self-compassion were associated with significantly lower negative affect and lower reported likelihood of avoidance, catastrophizing and rumination. Self-compassion did not interact with the pain vs. non-pain factor. Work related vignettes were rated as more emotional more likely to be associated with avoidance, catastrophizing and rumination and less likelihood of problem solving. The findings suggest that self-compassion warrants further investigation in the chronic pain population both with regards to the extent of its influence as a trait, and in terms of the potential to enhance chronic pain patients’ ability to be self-compassionate, with a view to its therapeutic utility in enhancing psychological wellbeing and adjustment. Limitations as regards to possible criterion contamination and the generalizability of vignette studies are discussed.
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