Can Self-Compassion Increase Resilience in the Face of Discrimination?

Can Self-Compassion Increase Resilience in the Face of Discrimination?

Can Self-Compassion Increase Resilience in the Face of Discrimination?

When I first read the headline of the recent Greater Good Science Center article  “Can Self-Compassion Increase Resilience in the Face of Discrimination?”, I assumed that, of course, self-compassion would provide some protection from the impact of overt racism. For years I’ve taught that self-compassion is a powerful resource for coping with anything.

Apparently the researchers, Veronica Womack at Northwestern University and Natalie Watson-Singleton at Spelman College assumed/hoped so, too.


The results of the study of 133 Black women indicated that practices of self-compassion: “I try to see my failings as part of the human condition” and “when something painful happens, I try to take a balanced view of the situation don’t necessarily override the traits of self-judgement and “self-coldness” “I’m disapproving and udgemental about my own flaws and inadequacies, adnd “when I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and fixate on everything thar’s wrong.” 

The self-judgment could be a direct outcome of the overt/covert racism the students were experiencing: race-related conflict, witnessing another person being discriminated against, living or working in a racially hostile environment, or being expected to behave in a stereotypical way because of race.

The power of negative self-judgement to override the resourcing of self-compassion did not completely surprise the researchers.

“If Black people think racism si somehow under their personal control – that, if only they changed, they wouldn’t experience discrimination -it’s likely to harm them, says Dr. Womack If we don’t have  level of socio-political knowledge to contextualize our experiences, it could be dangerous for how we view ourselves, and subsequently, our psychological well-being. 

The researchers suggest current self-compassion practices may need to be tweaked to be more relevant and helpful to Black students by addressing the pervasiveness of racism and the specific ways that self-judgment comes into play. Racism is not the person’s fault, and blaming oneself and tring to act differently to stave off negative encounters can become a way of life, making people feel inauthentic, stressed out, and exhausted. 

“Any intervention we do needs to acknowledge some of the harsh messaging that we’ve internalized to incorporate a level of socio-cultural awareness. 

And so I will tweak my teaching of self-compassion practices to be more relevant and helpful to my black workshop participants, to all of my workshop participants, in the wisdom of:

The areas of consensus shift unbelievable fast; the bubbles of certainty are constantly exploding. – Rem Koolhaas

It is not hard to learn more. Wat is hard is to unlearn when you discover yourself wrong. – Martin H. Fischer