Consensual qualitative research on free associations for compassion and self-compassion

Human Affairs 28 (3):253-270 (2018)

Abstract
The aim of our study was to explore the first three associations for the following two stimulus words: compassion and self-compassion. In addition, we were interested in whether the participants would conceptualise these words more in terms of emotions, cognitions, or behaviours. The sample consisted of 151 psychology students. A consensual qualitative research approach was adopted. Three members of the core team and an auditor analysed the free associations of compassion and self-compassion. The data showed that there were four domains for both compassion and self-compassion: the Emotional, Cognitive, Behavioural and Evaluative Aspects of compassion/self-compassion. The only domains that differed were the Biological Aspect of compassion and the Situational Aspect of self-compassion. The most frequently represented domain for both compassion and self-compassion was the Emotional Aspect, while both more positive as well as negative emotions were associated with self-compassion than was the case with compassion. The findings of our study show that the participants perceived compassion as mainly consisting of empathy; the emotions of love, sadness and remorse; cognitive understanding; and behavioural displays of help, physical or mental closeness. Compassion was seen as being mainly directed at those close to them, such as family and friends, and at vulnerable people. Compassion occurs in situations of loss or any other kind of suffering. The participants viewed self-compassion primarily in terms of the positive emotions of love and calmness; the negative emotions of unhappiness, sadness and remorse; cognitive understanding; and behavioural displays of self-help through the provision of self-support and self-assurance. Self-compassion is triggered mainly in situations involving internal suffering caused by criticism or externally as a response to a difficult situation. Self-compassion is evaluated in both negative as well as positive terms. The findings of our qualitative study support the idea that compassion is a multidimensional construct consisting of emotional, cognitive, and behavioural aspects.
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DOI 10.1515/humaff-2018-0021
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