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Study: Self-Compassion Linked to Positive Aging

 

Experts commonly stress the importance of exercise and strong social networks to aging well. But, in later life, psychological resources become increasingly important.

Self-compassion has been associated with psychological health in young adults. What about older people?

Australian researchers examined whether self-compassion is associated with psychological well-being in older adults.

Wendy Phillips and Susan Ferguson surveyed 185 individuals aged 65 to 92 years. The researchers recruited the participants from retirement villages and clubs in Sydney, Australia.

The results revealed strong ties between self-compassion and positive aging.

Self-compassion was also linked to aspects of psychological well-being such as ego integrity and meaning in life.

Self-compassion

The researchers found that older adults are likely to experience positive aging if, in response to painful events, they:

  • treat themselves with care and understanding
  • perceive such experience as part of the human condition, and
  • take a balanced view of the situation.

Alternatively, older adults are more likely to experience negative aging, if they:

  • engage in harsh self-criticism
  • fixate on adverse experiences, and
  • feel alone in their suffering.

Highly self-compassionate individuals also exhibited greater emotional coping skills than less self-compassionate individuals.

The findings appeared in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Science and Social Sciences on Oct. 12, 2012.

Ego-integrity

The study showed that high levels of self-compassion are associated with ego integrity.

Erik Erikson’s psychological theory of personality development proposes a stage of "ego integrity" versus "despair" as the last of several stages through which people progress during their lives.

As adults near the end of life, they reflect upon mortality and evaluate the life they have lived. Successful resolution of the stage results in acceptance of past experiences leading to a feeling of integrity and contentment. Unsuccessful resolution may lead to feelings of regret and despair.

The results indicate that an individual who has successfully resolved the ego integrity crisis in older age is likely to review past life experiences from a balanced perspective, feel a sense of connection with others over adverse experiences and give themselves understanding in accepting life’s failures.

Meaning

As well, the study found high levels of self-compassion predicted high levels of meaning in life.

Among older adults, purpose in life has been associated with many positive outcomes including a longer life span.