Mindfulness May Produce Its Benefits by Improving Self-Related Processes

Mindfulness May Produce Its Benefits by Improving Self-Related Processes


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Mindful people might be happier because they have a better idea of who they are.” – Kira M. Newman


Meditation leads to concentration, concentration leads to understanding, and understanding leads to happiness” – This wonderful quote from the modern-day sage Thich Nhat Hahn is a beautiful pithy description of the benefits of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness allows us to view our experience and not put labels on it, not make assumptions about it, not relate it to past experiences, and not project it into the future. Rather mindfulness lets us experience everything around and within us exactly as it is arising and falling away from moment to moment including the self and psychological processes related to the self.


mindfulness training has been shown to increase psychological well-being and happiness and help to relieve mental illness. A number of mechanisms of how mindfulness produces these benefits have been proposed. Many of the proposed mechanisms involve self-relate processes which require “one to evaluate or judge some feature in relation to one’s perceptual image or mental concept of oneself,” such as self-efficacy, decentering, and self-regulation. There has accumulated a large volume of research. So, it is important to examine the findings and what has been learned.


In today’s Research News article “From Self-Esteem to Selflessness: An Evidence (Gap) Map of Self-Related Processes as Mechanisms of Mindfulness-Based Interventions.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8645694/ ) Britton and colleagues review and summarize the published research on the role of self-related processes in the beneficial effects of mindfulness-based interventions. They examine 3 categories of self-related processes, self-regulation skills, and embodied self-regulation processes.


They report that the published research found that alterations self-related processes in part mediate the beneficial effects of mindfulness-based interventions. These include reductions in negative self-evaluations including rumination and dysfunctional attitudes and increases in positive self-evaluations including self-compassion and self-esteem. Self-regulation skills also appear in part to mediate the beneficial effects of mindfulness-based interventions. These include increases in self-efficacy and decentering. Finally, embodied self-regulation processes appear in co-occur with the beneficial effects of mindfulness-based interventions but have not been conclusively established as mediators. These include increases in interoception, selflessness, and self-transcendence.


These findings suggest that mindfulness-based interventions produce beneficial effects by at least in part altering how the individual views and processes ideas of the self. Mindfulness training involves focusing on the present moment and this focus may reduce the influence of the past and projections of the future on the individual’s psychological well-being. Most negative views of the self are past and future based. So, mindfulness training may improve the ideas of self by focusing on the present and seeing the self as processes occurring in the now, a more grounded and realistic view of the self. Obviously more research is needed on this promising area of potential mindfulness mediators.


So, mindfulness may produce its benefits by improving self-related processes.


“[Mindfulness] encourages people to simply observe the contents of their mind. In this way, I think that mindfulness allows for greater self-insight.” – Rimma Tepper


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Britton, W. B., Desbordes, G., Acabchuk, R., Peters, S., Lindahl, J. R., Canby, N. K., Vago, D. R., Dumais, T., Lipsky, J., Kimmel, H., Sager, L., Rahrig, H., Cheaito, A., Acero, P., Scharf, J., Lazar, S. W., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Ferrer, R., & Moitra, E. (2021). From Self-Esteem to Selflessness: An Evidence (Gap) Map of Self-Related Processes as Mechanisms of Mindfulness-Based Interventions. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 730972. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.730972



Self-related processes (SRPs) have been theorized as key mechanisms of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), but the evidence supporting these theories is currently unclear. This evidence map introduces a comprehensive framework for different types of SRPs, and how they are theorized to function as mechanisms of MBIs (target identification). The evidence map then assesses SRP target engagement by mindfulness training and the relationship between target engagement and outcomes (target validation). Discussion of the measurement of SRPs is also included. The most common SRPs measured and engaged by standard MBIs represented valenced evaluations of self-concept, including rumination, self-compassion, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Rumination showed the strongest evidence as a mechanism for depression, with other physical and mental health outcomes also supported. Self-compassion showed consistent target engagement but was inconsistently related to improved outcomes. Decentering and interoception are emerging potential mechanisms, but their construct validity and different subcomponents are still in development. While some embodied self-specifying processes are being measured in cross-sectional and meditation induction studies, very few have been assessed in MBIs. The SRPs with the strongest mechanistic support represent positive and negative evaluations of self-concept. In sum, few SRPs have been measured in MBIs, and additional research using well-validated measures is needed to clarify their role as mechanisms.



Improve Psychological Well-Being and Emotion Regulation with a Mindfulness Smartphone App

Improve Psychological Well-Being and Emotion Regulation with a Mindfulness Smartphone App


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


We know that the effect of this pandemic on people’s mental health is huge. . . Through the app . . You are led through a multi-sensory process of imagining yourself in a particular situation. . . Those techniques can in fact help people to reduce depression, reduce anxiety, and improve their mood,” – Judith Gordon


Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health. But the vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a trained therapist. This results in costs that many clients can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient. As an alternative, mindfulness training with smartphone apps has been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations. In addition, research has indicated that mindfulness training via smartphone apps can be effective for improving the health and well-being of the participants.


In today’s Research News article “A Self-Compassion and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Mobile Intervention (Serene) for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: Promoting Adaptive Emotional Regulation and Wisdom.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.648087/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1616048_69_Psycho_20210504_arts_A ) Al-Refae and colleagues recruited adults and assigned them to a wait-list control condition or to receive a 4-week program of mindfulness, self-compassion, and cognitive restructuring training delivered by a smartphone app (Serene). They were measured before and after training for depression, stress, anxiety, self-compassion, wisdom, psychological well-being, and subjective well-being.


They found that in comparison to the wait-list group, after the 4-weeks of training the participants that received the mindfulness training had significant decreases in depression, anxiety, perceived stress self-judgement, isolation, and overidentification and significant increases in self-compassion, common humanity, mindfulness, and emotion regulation. In other words, the participants had improvements in psychological health and well-being.


Previous research has established that mindfulness training decreases depression, anxiety, perceived stress, and self-judgement and increases self-compassion, and emotion regulation. The contribution of the present study was demonstrating that mindfulness training with a smartphone app was also capable of producing these same benefits. This improves the scalability and convenience of training and reduces the cost, expanding the number of people who can benefit from mindfulness training.


So, improve psychological well-being and emotion regulation with a mindfulness smartphone app.


The Serene app features support videos that introduce users to meditation and other safe activities. . . It offers more than 250 activities and provides link to . . . mental-health support services, including crisis centers. This app is for all ages and is meant to help track your emotions and mood swings.” – Fontaine Glenn


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Al-Refae M, Al-Refae A, Munroe M, Sardella NA and Ferrari M (2021) A Self-Compassion and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Mobile Intervention (Serene) for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: Promoting Adaptive Emotional Regulation and Wisdom. Front. Psychol. 12:648087. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.648087


Introduction: Many individuals and families are currently experiencing a high level of COVID-19-related stress and are struggling to find helpful coping mechanisms. Mindfulness-based interventions are becoming an increasingly popular treatment for individuals experiencing depression and chronic levels of stress. The app (Serene) draws from scholarly evidence on the efficacy of mindfulness meditations and builds on the pre-existing apps by incorporating techniques that are used in some therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

Methods: Participants were randomly assigned to a 4-week mindfulness and self-compassion-based cognitive smartphone intervention (Serene) or a wait-list control group. They were instructed to engage in self-compassion and mindfulness practices and a cognitive restructuring task. They also completed measures that evaluated their levels of depression, stress, anxiety, self-compassion, wisdom, psychological well-being, and subjective well-being. The intervention group was also instructed to track their weekly engagement with the app. Standardized effect sizes for between-group differences were calculated using Cohen’s d for complete case analyses.

Results: Complete case analyses from baseline to the end of this randomized controlled trial demonstrated significant moderate between-group differences for depressive symptoms (d = −0.43) and decisiveness (d = 0.34). Moderate between-group differences were also found for self-compassion (d = 0.6) such that significant improvements in self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness and decreases in self-judgement, isolation, and overidentification were observed. A small between-group difference was found for emotional regulation (d = 0.28). Moreover, a significant moderate within-group decrease in stress (d = −0.52) and anxiety symptoms (d = −0.47) was also observed in the intervention group.

Conclusions: Serene is an effective intervention that promotes increased levels of self-compassion and emotional regulation. Engaging with Serene may help reduce depressive symptoms through mindfulness, self-compassion, and cognitive restructuring which help reduce overidentification with one’s negative emotions. As individuals rebalance their thinking through cognitive restructuring, they can identify the varying stressors in their life, develop action plans and engage in adaptive coping strategies to address them. Serene may promote greater self-understanding which may provide one with a more balanced perspective on their current upsetting situations to positively transform their challenges during the pandemic.



Improve Treatment Resistant Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with Compassion-Focused Therapy

Improve Treatment Resistant Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with Compassion-Focused Therapy


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“A big part of learning to live with OCD is to incorporate self-compassion. Instead of avoiding your anxiety, self-compassion invites you to look at it with understanding and gentle curiosity. This approach allows you to see your pain exactly how it is without self-judgment or self-criticism.” – Nancy Larsen


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) sufferers have repetitive anxiety producing intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that result in repetitive behaviors to reduce the anxiety (compulsions). In a typical example of OCD, the individual is concerned about germs and is unable to control the anxiety that these thoughts produce. Their solution is to engage in ritualized behaviors, such as repetitive cleaning or hand washing that for a short time relieves the anxiety. The obsessions and compulsions can become so frequent that they become a dominant theme in their lives. Hence OCD drastically reduces the quality of life and happiness of the sufferer and those around them. About 2% of the population, 3.3 million people in the U.S., are affected at some time in their life.


Fortunately, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be treated and many respond to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). But some do not. Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in treating OCD. One understudied meditation technique is Compassion -Focused Therapy. It is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. On the face of it learning self-compassion would seem to be useful in dealing with OCD. But there is little empirical evidence.


In today’s Research News article “Compassion-Focused Group Therapy for Treatment-Resistant OCD: Initial Evaluation Using a Multiple Baseline Design.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7835278/ ) Petrocchi and colleagues recruited patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) who had received 6-months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and still have significant residual OCD symptoms. They received 8 weekly 2-hour sessions of Compassion-Focused Therapy after varying periods of baseline (Multiple Baseline Research Design). The treatment consisted of training in meditation and visualization practices during sessions and at home. It is designed to replace self-criticism with self-compassion. Before and after training and 1 month later they were measured for OCD symptom severity, OCD symptom presence and distress, depression, fear of guilt, self-criticizing, self-attacking, self-reassuring, and self-compassion.


They found that the patients all had large improvements in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) symptoms that were maintained at the 1-month follow-up. They also found significant improvements in fear of guilt, self-criticism, and self-reassurance. In additions, there were less reliable improvements in depression and common humanity. Hence, Compassion-Focused Therapy improved the symptom of OCD in patients who didn’t respond to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).


These are important preliminary findings that must be followed up with a large randomized controlled trial. But these results suggest that Compassion-Focused Therapy may be effective in treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) symptoms in patients who do not respond to the gold standard treatment of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The results may suggest that CBT should incorporate Compassion-Focused training when being employed to treat OCD. This should be explored in future studies.


So, improve treatment resistant obsessive-compulsive disorder with compassion-focused therapy.


people with OCD may feel better if they remind themselves that it is normal to worry, and that it is not their fault if their OCD symptoms get worse.” –  Jessica Caporuscio


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Petrocchi, N., Cosentino, T., Pellegrini, V., Femia, G., D’Innocenzo, A., & Mancini, F. (2021). Compassion-Focused Group Therapy for Treatment-Resistant OCD: Initial Evaluation Using a Multiple Baseline Design. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 594277. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.594277



Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is a debilitating mental health disorder that can easily become a treatment-resistant condition. Although effective therapies exist, only about half of the patients seem to benefit from them when we consider treatment refusal, dropout rates, and residual symptoms. Thus, providing effective augmentation to standard therapies could improve existing treatments. Group compassion-focused interventions have shown promise for reducing depression, anxiety, and avoidance related to various clinical problems, but this approach has never been evaluated for OCD individuals. However, cultivating compassion for self and others seems crucial for OCD patients, given the accumulating research suggesting that fear of guilt, along with isolation and self-criticism, can strongly contribute to the development and maintenance of OCD. The primary aim of this pilot study was to evaluate the acceptability, tolerability, and effectiveness of an 8-week group compassion-focused intervention for reducing OCD symptoms, depression, fear of guilt and self-criticism, and increasing common humanity and compassionate self-reassuring skills in treatment-resistant OCD patients. Using a multiple baseline experimental design, the intervention was evaluated in a sample of OCD patients (N = 8) who had completed at least 6 months of CBT treatment for OCD, but who continued to suffer from significant symptoms. Participants were randomized to different baseline assessment lengths; they then received 8 weekly, 120-min group sessions of compassion-focused therapy for OCD (CFT-OCD), and then were tested again at post-treatment and at 1 month follow up. Despite the adverse external circumstances (post-treatment and follow-up data collection were carried out, respectively, at the beginning and in the middle of the Italian lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic), by the end of treatment, all participants demonstrated reliable decreases in OCD symptoms, and these improvements were maintained at 4-week follow-up for seven of eight participants. The intervention was also associated with improvements in fear of guilt, self-criticism, and self-reassurance, but less consistent improvements in depression and common humanity. Participants reported high levels of acceptability of and satisfaction with the intervention. Results suggest that the intervention may be beneficial as either a stand-alone treatment or as an augmentation to other treatments.



Love thyself


“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” ~Malcolm S. Forbes


There is a widespread problem in the west that many people don’t seem to like themselves.  The term used to describe this in psychology is self-loathing, although this term is far too strong and is not an appropriate descriptor for the majority of people. In general, the dislike of self has a much smaller magnitude than the word loathing implies. As a result I prefer self-dislike.


The self-dislike sometimes means that the individual dislikes every aspect of themselves; but most frequently people only don’t like certain aspects of themselves. Often it is there physical appearance, their school achievement, their career, their social behavior, etc. Making matters worse, they tend to overlook their strengths and discount them, focusing instead in the parts that they find problematic.


The discounting and overlooking of strengths shows up in what psychologists call the Imposter Syndrome. Here very successful people do not appear to be able to assimilate their success and instead attribute it to luck. The esteem with which they’re held makes them feel like imposters. It is estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.


When this issue of self-dislike was raised to the Dalai Lama he was totally perplexed and repeatedly asked for clarifications. Not liking oneself is unheard of in his culture. So, he was dumbfounded and without comment. Hence, the problem seems to be primarily one of western culture. This suggests that self-dislike is learned within a particular cultural context with western culture and its values particularly adept at producing it.


There are sometimes circumstances that underlie self-dislike. Abuse or bullying, belittling parents, learning disabilities, physical appearance or disabilities are apt to result in self-dislike. But, most frequently it originates from western culture’s tendency to promote unrealistic expectations.


Physical appearance is a good case in point where the media holds up extraordinarily attractive individuals as what we should strive to be. Very, very few people can ever measure up and so can end up disliking their appearance. Academic achievement is another case where for many anything less than an “A” is seen as failure. Once again few can measure up and most end up disliking their intellectual ability. Sports are another case where the media holds up professional athletes as role models. These are exceptional people and the vast majority of the population can’t perform anywhere near their level and thus feel inadequate. It is relatively easy to think of many other unrealistic expectations prompted by our hyper-success oriented culture.


What can we do to overcome self-dislike. Unfortunately, the self-dislike is usually deeply ingrained and becomes resistant to persuasion or evidence. No matter how successful the person becomes or how much praise is received the person cannot truly believe that he or she has value or worth. They believe themselves to be imposters.


Self-dislike is an indicator that the individual is unsatisfied with the way things are. There is a strong desire for them to be different and the individual believes that if one or more aspects of themselves changed, then things would be much better. This is in fact rarely true. An overweight person who loses a significant amount of weight doesn’t usually become happier instead it frequently produces depression. A far better approach is for people to learn to accept things, including themselves, just as they are.


Meditation is uniquely suited to promote accepting things as they are. So, it would seem appropriate for dealing with self-dislike. Meditation focuses on awareness of the present moment. As we’ve seen, self-dislike is often rooted in the past. By learning to focus on now, the past recedes in importance. When individuals learn to look closely at what is actually going on in the present moment they can begin to see that there is nothing wrong at all. In fact, there is tremendous good present. So, meditation can move the individual away from the past where the self-dislike originated and can then move forward in the present moment to develop self-acceptance.


Another method to address self-dislike is to employ what psychologists call counterconditioning where one behavior or belief is eliminated by replacing it with its opposite. Self-dislike can be eliminated by replacing it with self-love.  Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is designed to do just that. We practice loving ourselves and wishing ourselves well. It seems overly simple, but experience and research has shown that it can have remarkable impact.


Self-dislike is deeply ingrained. It will not be changed overnight. It will take practice and patience to weaken and eventually overcome it. But, contemplative practice can help.


So, engage in contemplative practice and learn to love thyself.


You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.” ~Buddha


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Stop Criticizing Yourself and Feel Better


Being self-critical is good; being self-hating is destructive. There’s a very fine line there somewhere, and I walk it carefully.– Daniel Radcliffe


It can be useful to constructively criticize yourself as long as your realize that you’re human and are not, and will not ever be, perfect. You can then use the self-criticism to try to improve, not become perfect, but a little better. But, when self-criticism becomes extreme it can lead to perfectionistic thinking where you are never happy with yourself. This can lead to great unhappiness and psychological distress.
Mindfulness has been thought to help prevent perfectionism from producing distress. In support of this mindfulness has been found to improve self-esteem (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/why-dont-we-like-ourselves-mindfulness-as-an-antidote/) and a healthy self-esteem is counter to perfectionism. It’s difficult to be happy with oneself and critical of yourself as less than ideal at the same time. There is clearly a need to better understand the relationships between theses variables.


In today’s Research News article “Self-criticism as a mediator in the relationship between unhealthy perfectionism and distress”


James and colleagues obtained measures of self-criticism, perfectionism, mindfulness and psychological distress with an on-line questionnaire. They found that self-criticism and unhealthy perfectionism were positively related to psychological distress. In other words the higher the level of self-criticism and unhealthy perfectionism the greater the distress.


In addition, they found that unhealthy perfectionism was positively related to self-criticism which in turn increased psychological distress. So unhealthy perfectionism increased psychological distress both by directly increasing distress and also indirectly through increased self-criticism which in turn increased distress. Present moment awareness was negatively related to unhealthy perfectionism; that is the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the level of unhealthy perfectionism.


Mindfulness appears to help the individual by reducing unhealthy perfectionism. This doesn’t mean that the mindful individual does not strive to excel. Rather, it suggests that the mindful individual can work toward excellence but does so in a psychologically healthy way.


So, practice mindfulness and overcome unhealthy perfectionism.


“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ― Louise L. Hay


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies