Fears of compassion: development of three self-report measures

Psychol Psychother. 2011 Sep;84(3):239-55. doi: 10.1348/147608310X526511. Epub 2011 Apr 13.


Objectives: There is increasing evidence that helping people develop compassion for themselves and others has powerful impacts on negative affect and promotes positive affect. However, clinical observations suggest that some individuals, particularly those high in self-criticism, can find self-compassion and receiving compassion difficult and can be fearful of it. This study therefore developed measures of fear of: compassion for others, compassion from others, and compassion for self. We also explored the relationship of these fears with established compassion for self and compassion for others measures, self-criticism, attachment styles, and depression, anxiety, and stress.

Method: Students (N= 222) and therapists (N= 53) completed measures of fears of compassion, self-compassion, compassion for others, self-criticism, adult attachment, and psychopathology.

Results: Fear of compassion for self was linked to fear of compassion from others, and both were associated with self-coldness, self-criticism, insecure attachment, and depression, anxiety, and stress. In a multiple regression, self-criticism was the only significant predictor of depression.

Conclusion: This study suggests the importance of exploring how and why some people may actively resist engaging in compassionate experiences or behaviours and be fearful of affiliative emotions in general. This has important implications for therapeutic interventions and the therapeutic relationship because affiliative emotions are major regulators of threat-based emotions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Depression / psychology
  • Empathy*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Love
  • Male
  • Meditation / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self Report*
  • Self-Assessment
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult