Self-compassionate Aging: A Systematic Review

Gerontologist. 2019 Jul 16;59(4):e311-e324. doi: 10.1093/geront/gny108.


Abstract background and objectives: There is considerable heterogeneity in experiences of aging, with some experiencing greater well-being and adapting more successfully to the challenges of aging than others. Self-compassion is a modifiable psychological skill that might help explain individual differences in well-being and adjustment in later life. The aim of this study was to systematically review the literature on self-compassion and well-being outcomes in studies of older adults aged 65 and older.

Research design and methods: This systematic review was conducted according to PRISMA guidelines, using databases PsycINFO, Medline, and Embase. The search term self-compassion was paired with terms relating to well-being, psychological symptoms, and adjustment. Meta-analysis was used to synthesize results on the relationship between self-compassion and four outcomes including depression, anxiety, hedonic well-being, and eudaimonic well-being.

Results: Eleven studies met inclusion criteria for this review. Meta-analysis revealed that self-compassion was associated with lower levels of depression (r = -.58, 95% CI [-.66, -.48]) and anxiety (r = -.36, 95% CI [-.60, -.07]), and higher levels of hedonic (r = .41, 95% CI [.15, .62]) and eudaimonic (r = .49, 95% CI [.41, .57]) well-being. Further, three studies found self-compassion weakened the impact of physical symptoms on well-being outcomes.

Discussion and implications: We found preliminary evidence that self-compassion is associated with well-being outcomes in older adults, and that self-compassion may buffer the psychological sequelae of health symptoms in later life. Higher quality studies with uniform outcome measures are needed to replicate and extend these results.

Keywords: Analysis—literature review; Psychology of aging/psychiatry; Psychosocial; Successful aging; Well-being.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Self Concept*