Analyze This: The power in being understanding of your flaws

Being kind to yourself after making a mistake can have benefits when it comes to depression

It pays to be kind to yourself. A new study shows that being compassionate with yourself when you make mistakes can dampen depression.

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It is generally good to hold yourself to high standards and strive to do your best. But sometimes people have unrealistic views of what they can or should achieve. They set standards that are too high. Then when they make a mistake, they may be too unforgiving of that error. That’s an unhealthy form of perfectionism. This is when a person views as unacceptable anything but being perfect. Such feelings can increase stress and lead to symptoms of depression.

However, self-compassion can help protect people from such negative impacts, a new study finds. Self-compassion is best described as treating yourself the way you would treat a good friend.

“It’s often easy to say kind and supportive things to our friends when things go wrong for them,” says Madeleine Ferrari. She’s a psychologist at Australian Catholic University in Sydney. “If we can say these things to ourselves, we will still reach our goals but will have better mental health,” she says.

Previous research has shown that people who are perfectionists are more likely to become depressed. Ferrari’s team wanted to see if self-compassion might weaken that link. The researchers surveyed 541 adolescents and 515 adults. They asked these people to fill out a set of three questionnaires. These asked the participants to rate their levels of perfectionism, depression and self-compassion. The results of the study appear in the February 21 PLOS ONE.

In both groups, people who were kinder to themselves were less likely to experience sadness and depression, the researchers found. Based on these results, Ferrari’s team concludes that learning self-compassion could improve treatment for some people with depression. And that could be especially true for perfectionists.

The graph plots reports of perfectionism and depression from teens in the study. It is organized by three different levels of self-compassion. M. Ferrari et al/PLOS ONE 2018

Data Dive: 

  1. Examine the graph. What is the overall trend for different levels of self-compassion?
  2. Compare the lines for the three levels of self-compassion. What differences do you notice?
  3. Based on the graph, which group has the lowest levels of depression? Which has the highest?

Analyze This! explores science through data, graphs, visualizations and more. Have a comment or a suggestion for a future post? Send an email to sns@sciencenews.org.

Allie Wilkinson is a web producer and occasional writer at Science News.

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