Impact and Moderators of a Self-Compassion Manipulation on Perceived Risk of Disclosure
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Disclosure of personal distress to others is linked to increased trust and intimacy between persons as well as to important psychological benefits for the individual such as reductions in stress and heightened life satisfaction (Laurenceau, Barrett, & Pietromonaco, 1998; Ward, Doherty, & Moran, 2007). Unfortunately, individuals who fear receiving compassion and expect negative consequences from self-disclosure may conceal their feelings, reducing their ability to garner support from others when needed. The current study aimed to determine whether, compared to two control conditions, inducing a self-compassionate mindset regarding a past negative experience would decrease perceived risks of disclosure and increase disclosure of the experience, especially among those high in fears of receiving compassion. Eighty-five female undergraduate students completed the Fears of Receiving Compassion scale (Gilbert, McEwan, Matos, & Rivis, 2011) online, and were subsequently invited into the lab and asked to recall a past negative experience. After completing measures of positive and negative affect, they were randomly assigned to write about their negative experience in one of three ways: a self-compassionate way, a self-esteem enhancing way, or a non-directive way (control condition). Participants completed post-manipulation affect measures, and were then informed they would have the chance to disclose their negative experience to another participant, in writing first and then in person. Participants rated how risky the disclosure felt, and then wrote a letter to another participant they presumed they would be meeting. Results indicated that writing about one’s negative experience self-compassionately resulted in lower negative affect and shame, as well as greater calm and relaxed feelings as compared to the control condition. For participants in the self-esteem condition, changes on these variables were either equivalent to or marginally different from controls. Although participants in the three conditions did not differ in perceived risks of disclosure or degree of disclosure within their letters, a significant condition by fears of receiving compassion interaction emerged, where there was a positive relationship between fears of receiving compassion and perceived risk of disclosure for participants in the self-esteem and control conditions, but no such relationship in the self-compassion condition. Findings are the first to indicate that self-compassion may reduce the perceived risk of disclosure for individuals who tend to expect negative consequences from disclosure. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.