, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 500–511 | Cite as

Practicing Self-Compassion Weakens the Relationship Between Fear of Receiving Compassion and the Desire to Conceal Negative Experiences from Others

  • Jessica R. Dupasquier
  • Allison C. Kelly
  • David A. Moscovitch
  • Vanja Vidovic


Disclosure of personal distress is linked to important interpersonal and intrapersonal benefits. However, people who tend to view self-disclosure as being risky are likely to conceal their feelings and forgo opportunities to receive valuable social support. One such group of people may be those who fear receiving compassion. The current study of 85 female undergraduates investigated (a) whether fear of receiving compassion would predict decreased distress disclosure and (b) whether inducing a self-compassionate mindset could help to temper the association between fear of receiving compassion and perceived risks of revealing one’s distress to others. Participants completed self-report questionnaires to measure trait-like fears of receiving compassion as well as general distress disclosure tendencies. They were then enrolled in a laboratory experiment in which they recalled a personal past negative experience and were randomly assigned to write about it in a self-compassionate, self-esteem enhancing, or non-directive way. Finally, they rated how risky disclosing their experience would feel and disclosed the event in a written letter to another person. At a trait level, results indicated that the more participants feared receiving compassion, the less they tended to disclose. Moreover, self-compassion training—but neither of the comparison conditions—significantly weakened the positive link between fear of receiving compassion and perceived risks of distress disclosure. These novel findings suggest that practicing self-compassion could help to neutralize the maladaptive relationship between fear of receiving compassion and perceived risk of disclosure.


Self-compassion Self-disclosure Distress disclosure Fear of compassion 



Special thanks to Ariella Lenton-Brym for her assistance in organizing and collecting the data for this project.


This research was supported by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (first, second, and third authors) and the Canada Research Chairs Program (third author).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

12671_2017_792_MOESM1_ESM.docx (29 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 29 kb)


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barnard, L. K., & Curry, J. F. (2011). Self-compassion: conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Review of General Psychology, 15, 289–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Besser, A., Flett, G. L., & Davis, R. A. (2003). Self-criticism, dependency, silencing the self, and loneliness: a test of a mediational model. Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 1735–1752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1133–1143.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Breines, J., & Chen, S. (2013). Activating the inner caregiver: the role of support-giving schemas in increasing state self-compassion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 58–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Callaghan, D. E., Graff, M. F., & Davies, J. (2013). Revealing all: misleading self-disclosure rates in laboratory-based online research. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, 16, 690–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collins, N. L., & Miller, L. C. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: a meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 457–475.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cunha, M., Pereira, C., Galhardo, A., Couto, M., & Massano-Cardoso, I. (2015). Social anxiety in adolescents: the role of early negative memories and fear of compassion. European Psychiatry, 30, 28–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dindia, K. (2002). Self-disclosure research: knowledge through meta-analysis. In M. Allen, R. W. Preiss, B. M. Gayle, & N. A. Burrell (Eds.), Interpersonal communication research: advances through meta-analysis (pp. 169–185). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  10. Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2005). Compassion: conceptualization, research, and use in psychotherapy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 15, 199–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. The British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53, 6–41.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gilbert, P., & Irons, C. (2004). A pilot exploration of the use of compassionate images in a group of self-critical people. Memory, 12, 507–516.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Matos, M., & Rivis, A. (2011). Fears of compassion: development of three self-report measures. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice., 84, 239–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Gibbons, L., Chotai, S., Duarte, J., & Matos, M. (2012). Fears of compassion and happiness in relation to alexithymia, mindfulness, and self-criticism. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 85, 374–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heinrichs, M., Baumgartner, T., Kirschbaum, C., & Ehlert, U. (2003). Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress. Biological Psychiatry, 54, 1389–1398.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Houghton, D.J., & Joinson, A.N. (2012, January). Linguistic markers of secrets and sensitive self-disclosure in Twitter. Paper presented at the 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Maui, HI.Google Scholar
  18. Hyde, L. W., Gorka, A., Manuck, S. B., & Hariri, A. R. (2011). Perceived social support moderates the link between threat-related amygdala reactivity and trait anxiety. Neuropsychologia, 49, 651–656.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. IBM Corporation. (2011). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, version 20.0. Armonk: IBM Corporation.Google Scholar
  20. Joeng, J. R., & Turner, S. L. (2015). Mediators between self-criticism and depression: fear of compassion, self-compassion, and importance to others. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 62, 453–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Joeng, J. R., Turner, S. L., Kim, E. Y., Choi, S. A., Lee, Y. J., & Kim, J. K. (2017). Insecure attachment and emotional distress: fear of self-compassion and self-compassion as mediators. Personality and Individual Differences, 112, 6–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson, E. A., & O’Brien, K. A. (2013). Self-compassion soothes the savage EGO-threat system: effects on negative affect, shame, rumination, and depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32, 939–963.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kahn, J. H., & Hessling, R. M. (2001). Measuring the tendency to conceal versus disclose psychological distress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 41–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kahn, J. H., Achter, J. A., & Shambaugh, E. J. (2001). Client distress disclosure, characteristics at intake, and outcome in brief counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48, 203–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kahn, J. H., Hucke, B. E., Bradley, A. M., Glinski, A. J., & Malak, B. L. (2012). The distress disclosure index: a research review and multi-trait-multimethod examination. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59, 134–149.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Kelly, A. C., & Dupasquier, J. (2016). Social safeness mediates the relationship between recalled parental warmth and the capacity for self-compassion and receiving compassion. Personality and Individual Differences, 89, 157–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kelly, A. C., & Stephen, E. (2016). A daily diary study of self-compassion, body image, and eating behavior in female college students. Body Image, 17, 152–160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Larzelere, R. E., & Huston, R. L. (1980). The dyadic trust scale: toward understanding interpersonal trust in close relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 42, 595–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Laurenceau, J. P., Barrett, L. F., & Pietromonaco, P. R. (1998). Intimacy as an interpersonal process: the importance of self-disclosure, partner disclosure, and perceived partner responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1238–1251.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Allen, A. B., Adams, C. E., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 887–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Macdonald, J., & Morley, I. (2001). Shame and non-disclosure: a study of the emotional isolation of people referred for psychotherapy. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 74(1), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Maltese, A., Alesi, M., & Alù, A. G. (2012). Self-esteem, defensive strategies and social intelligence in adolescence. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 69, 2054–2060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Miron, L. R., Seligowski, A. V., Boykin, D. M., & Orcutt, H. K. (2016). The potential indirect effect of childhood abuse on posttrauma pathology through self-compassion and fear of self-compassion. Mindfulness, 7, 596–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Neff, K. D., & McGeehee, P. (2010). Self-compassion and psychological resilience among adolescents and young adults. Self and Identity, 9, 225–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Odou, N., & Brinker, J. (2015). Self-compassion, a better alternative to rumination than distraction as a response to negative mood. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 447–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Omarzu, J. (2000). A disclosure decision model: determining how and when individuals will self-disclose. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 174–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8, 162–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pennebaker, J. W., Boyd, R. L., Jordan, K., & Blackburn, K. (2015). The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2015. Austin: University of Texas at Austin.Google Scholar
  40. Richardson, C. M., & Rice, K. G. (2015). Self-critical perfectionism, daily stress, and disclosure of emotional events. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62, 694–702.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Saxena, P., & Mehrotra, S. (2010). Emotional disclosure in day-to-day living and subjective well-being. Psychological Studies, 55, 208–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Simon-Thomas, E. R., Godzik, J., Castle, E., Antonenko, O., Ponz, A., Kogan, A., & Keltner, D. J. (2012). An fMRI study of caring vs self-focus during induced compassion and pride. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7, 635–648.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Sloan, A. E., & Kahn, J. H. (2005). Client self-disclosure as a predictor of short-term outcome in brief psychotherapy. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 19(3), 25–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tafarodi, R. W., & Milne, A. B. (2006). Decomposing global self-esteem. Journal of Personality, 70, 443–483.Google Scholar
  46. Vogel, D. L., & Wester, S. R. (2003). To seek help or not to seek help: the risks of self-disclosure. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 3, 351–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ward, M., Doherty, D. T., & Moran, R. (2007). It’s good to talk: distress disclosure and psychological wellbeing. Dublin: Health Research Board.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica R. Dupasquier
    • 1
  • Allison C. Kelly
    • 1
  • David A. Moscovitch
    • 1
  • Vanja Vidovic
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Centre for Mental Health ResearchUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

Personalised recommendations