'Self-Compassion' Can Help Divorced People Heal

Kindness to oneself, recognition of shared humanity promote resilience, study suggests

SUNDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Self-compassion can help the newly divorced get through one of the most difficult periods of their lives, researchers suggest.

They explained that self-compassion -- a combination of kindness toward oneself, recognition of common humanity, and the ability to let painful emotions pass -- "can promote resilience and positive outcomes in the face of divorce."

The University of Arizona researchers studied 38 men and 67 women with an average age of 40 who were married for more than 13 years and were divorced for an average of three to four months. Those with higher levels of self-compassion were able to recover faster from the emotional impact of divorce.

The study appears in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The findings could prove useful in helping people better cope with the desolation of separation and divorce, the researchers suggested.

"We're not interested in the basic statement, 'People who are coping better today do better nine months from now.' That doesn't help anybody," said study co-author David Sbarra in a journal press release. The surprising part, he said, is that when he looked at a lot of different positive characteristics, such as self-esteem, optimism, or ease with relationships, "this one characteristic -- self-compassion -- uniquely predicts good outcomes."

"It's not easy to say, 'Be less anxious,'" Sbarra continued. "You can't change your personality so easily. What you can change is your stance with respect to your experience." If divorced people are able to view their loss as part of the wider human experience and accept feelings of hurt or jealousy without judgment, Sbarra said, people may feel less anxious and isolated.

"This study opens a window for how we can potentially cultivate self-compassion among recently separated adults," Sbarra said.

More information

The Canadian Mental Health Association has more about coping with divorce.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release, Sept. 21, 2011

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