As people get older, they confront a variety of negative life events, including physical and mental changes and the loss of social relationships. In spite of these changes, many older adults maintain relatively high subjective well-being, raising question regarding factors that moderate the relationship between objective life quality and well-being. Many factors that buffer people against negative life changes have been studied, but significant variability in reactions to aging remains to be explained. The proposed research will examine self- compassion, which involves treating oneself with kindness and support in the face of adversity, much like people treat loved ones who experience personal problems. People who adopt a self-compassionate mindset in the face of losses, failures, setbacks, and other difficulties tend to be happier, less anxious, more self-forgiving, and more willing to take initiative to promote their well-being. Self-compassion has a strong association with a variety of desirable psychological outcomes and has been shown to have a stronger positive relationship to well-being than self-esteem. It is known to predict adaptive coping in young adults, and preliminary evidence suggests that self-compassion is related to well-being in older age as well. The proposed research aims to address three questions: (1) How does self-compassion relate to quality of life in old age?, (2) How do older people who are low vs. high in self-compassion think differently about aging?, and (3) Can older people be led to think more self-compassionately about themselves and the aging process, thereby leading them to deal more adaptively with negative events? The three proposed studies use both correlation and experimental designs to explore ways in which self-compassion promotes quality of life in people over the age of 60, identify the self-compassionate cognitions that differentiate self- compassionate older adults from others, and demonstrate that a self-compassionate mindset can be induced in an older population to change reactions to age-related events, at least on a short term basis. Although self-compassion is beneficial at any stage in life, older people should benefit most from its positive effects because of the negative life changes they often experience. In identifying the nature of self- compassion in older people, these studies will lay the foundation for designing self-compassion interventions for older adults, thereby improving quality of life, particularly for those who are highly self-critical in the face of age-related changes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F11-B (20))
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Haaga, John G
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Duke University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Allen, Ashley Batts; Leary, Mark R (2014) Self-compassionate responses to aging. Gerontologist 54:190-200
Allen, Ashley Batts; Goldwasser, Eleanor R; Leary, Mark R (2012) Self-Compassion and Well-being among Older Adults. Self Identity 11:428-453
Allen, Ashley Batts; Leary, Mark R (2010) Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping. Soc Personal Psychol Compass 4:107-118