April 2016 Shame and Self-Compassion Research Update

Every month, we scour the scientific literature for interesting studies that have practical implications for therapists working with shame, self-criticism, or compassion. Below are a few of our favorites for this month:

Experiential acceptance and common humanity are related to increased telomere length in experienced meditators

Telomeres are sections of DNA at the end of a chromosome and are necessary for chromosome stability and DNA replication. Shortened telomere length occurs with aging and has also been shown to occur with various psychological predictors such as stress. Meditation has been associated with longer telomeres, and this study examined the reasons why using a group of meditators and a matched comparison group. Results replicated the finding that meditation was associated with longer telomeres. In addition, the three factors most associated with telomere length across two regressions were age, experiential avoidance, and the Common Humanity subscale of the Self-Compassion Scale.  

Take away: Meditation may achieve some of its health benefits through attenuating telomere reduction in length, or even increasing telomere length. Although this study is limited by small sample size, findings suggest that an increased sense of common humanity and increased ability to be experientially accepting may be partially driving this effect. The take away for clinicians is that this is one more reason why helping your clients with experiential acceptance and common humanity may be good for them.

Read more:
Alda, M., Puebla-Guedea, M., Rodero, B., Demarzo, M., Montero-Marin, J., Roca, M., & Garcia-Campayo, J. (2016). Zen meditation, Length of Telomeres, and the Role of Experiential Avoidance and Compassion. Mindfulness, 1-9.


A new treatment for social anxiety combines mindfulness, self-compassion, and exposure

This study examined a new treatment for social anxiety disorder. This 12-week treatment combined elements of mindfulness-based stress reduction, self-compassion, and exposure to feared stimuli. These preliminary data indicated that the treatment is feasible and shows initial efficacy. Participants in the treatment group did better than those in the waitlist control, and gains were maintained at 3 months.

Take away: Although this new treatment still needs to be compared to an active control group, the combination of mindfulness, compassion, and exposure appear promising in the treatment of social anxiety.

Read more:
Koszycki, D., Thake, J., Mavounza, C., Daoust, J. P., Taljaard, M., & Bradwejn, J. (2016). Preliminary Investigation of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Social Anxiety Disorder That Integrates Compassion Meditation and Mindful ExposureThe Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.


Constructing a self protected against shame

This is the first study to research protective effects of affiliative experiences on the otherwise negative consequences of early memories of shame. Participants were asked to recount a shame story and complete a series of questionnaires. The authors examined whether early memories of warmth would moderate the relationship between 1. Centrality of shame memories and depression and 2. Shame as a traumatic memory and depression. They found that when shame memories were central to a person’s experience of themselves, early memories of warmth had a buffering effect on depression. However, early memories of warmth did not protect people who experienced shame as a traumatic memory from psychopathology. The authors also looked at social safeness and pleasure as a mediator and found that it fully or partially mediated the effects of memories on psychopathology. This means that early memories affect current abilities to be soothed by others which in turn affects psychopathology.

Take away: It may be beneficial to clients to examine their early memories of both warmth and shame, to understand their current abilities to experience warmth, and what gets in the way. 

Read more:
Matos, M., Gouveia, J. P., & Duarte, C. (2015). Constructing a self protected against shame: The importance of warmth and safeness memories and feelings on the association between shame memories and depression.International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy15(3), 317-335.

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