Analyze This: The power in being understanding of your flaws | Science News for Students

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
Apr 18, 2018 — 6:30 am EST
self hug

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.

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.

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

depression      (in medicine) A mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and apathy. Although these feelings can be triggered by events, such as the death of a loved one or the move to a new city, that isn’t typically considered an “illness” — unless the symptoms are prolonged and harm an individual’s ability to perform normal daily tasks (such as working, sleeping or interacting with others). People suffering from depression often feel they lack the energy needed to get anything done. They may have difficulty concentrating on things or showing an interest in normal events. Many times, these feelings seem to be triggered by nothing; they can appear out of nowhere.

mental health     A term for someone’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. It refers to how people behave on their own and how they interact with others. It includes how people make choices, handle stress and manage fear or anxiety. Poor mental health can be triggered by disease or merely reflect a short-term response to life’s challenges. It can occur in people of any age, from babies to the elderly.

psychologist     A scientist or mental-health professional who studies the human mind, especially in relation to actions and behaviors. 

questionnaire     A list of identical questions administered to a group of people to collect related information on each of them. The questions may be delivered by voice, online or in writing. Questionnaires may elicit opinions, health information (like sleep times, weight or items in the last day’s meals), descriptions of daily habits (how much exercise you get or how much TV do you watch) and demographic data (such as age, ethnic background, income and political affiliation).

standards     (in research) The values or materials used as benchmarks against which other things can be compared.

stress      (in psychology) A mental, physical, emotional or behavioral reaction to an event or circumstance (stressor) that disturbs a person or animal’s usual state of being or places increased demands on a person or animal; psychological stress can be either positive or negative. (in physics) Pressure or tension exerted on a material object.

symptom     A physical or mental indicator generally regarded to be characteristic of a disease. Sometimes a single symptom — especially a general one, such as fever or pain — can be a sign of any of many different types of injury or disease.

Further Reading

Journal: M. Ferrari et al. Self-compassion moderates the perfectionism and depression link in both adolescence and adulthood. PLOS ONE. Published February 21, 2018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0192022.