Self compassion, mindfulness and neuroticism

A significant overlap between self-compassion and neuroticism is offering new challenges and opportunities in meditation and mindfulness research.

Self compassion, mindfulness and neuroticism

Authors: Pfattheicher, S., Geiger, M., Hartung, J., Weiss, S., & Schindler, S

Year: 2017

Title: Old Wine in New Bottles? The Case of Self-compassion and Neuroticism

Summary: Self-compassion reflects an approach to relating to oneself with kindness in times of suffering. The self-compassion approach reflects the human ability to create better or worse mental conditions when dealing with our own problems. Psychologised self-compassion comprises three positive states; self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. In 2017 Pfattheicher and colleagues investigated the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS), the psychometric instrument designed to measure self-compassion. However, their research found, when approached from a personality perspective, there were strong similarities between the constructs of neuroticism and self-compassion (or lack of). If confirmed to be accurate, we may need to consider self-compassion and neuroticism as similar constructs.

“From this conceptual analysis and existing conclusive empirical evidence, we assumed that those who score high on measures of neuroticism score low on measures of self-compassion, and vice versa.”

Pfattheicher, S., Geiger, M., Hartung, J., Weiss, S., & Schindler, S

The original paper conceded that it was a preliminary investigation, and identifies several potential limitations. And not unsurprisingly, advocates for the uniqueness of self-compassion, Neff, Tóth‐Király and Colosimo published a response to the Pfattheicher et al. findings in 2018.1

Discussion: Now that the dust has settled somewhat, there is a general acceptance that congruence (overlaps) exist between psychometric profiles for low levels of neuroticism and high levels of self-compassion. The key point to consider is the extent of similarities and differences between the two constructs. The current uncertainty is only likely to be resolved by further research, in particular replication of the Pfattheicher et al. study. One puzzling aspect of this controversy is that a correlation between mindfulness and spiritual practices has been known about for many decades.2 Why this subject has become a contentious issue at this time if hard to explain.

From the science of meditation perspective, the potential relationship between self-compassion and neuroticism signposts some interesting problems and opportunities. There is already a body of research that indicates a solid relationship between the practice of mindfulness and reduction of neuroticism. It would be interesting to understand any similarities and differences in how mindfulness (in isolation from self-kindness and common humanity) and self-compassion meditate measures of neurotism. Similarly a comparative understanding of the relationships beween traditional (non-dual) meditation and medicalised meditation (mindfulness) could provide new scientific understandings.

However, progress in meditation research continues to be hampered by a lack of theoretical stability. In recent years several authoritative studies highlighed a failure to establish the operational cognitive components of mindfulness. Further, there is still a lack of construct validity confirming the precise natures of trait and state mindfulness. These limitations are a factor in the reliability of research utilising mindfulness from positivist perspectives. Further progress in developing the curative potential of meditation/mindfulness is linked to two long-standing questions; how did a spiritual practices become scientifically validated, and what has been lost or gained in the process?



1 Kandler, C., Pfattheicher, S., Geiger, M., Hartung, J., Weiss, S., & Schindler, S. (2017). Old wine in new bottles? The case of self–compassion and neuroticism. European Journal of Personality, 31(2), 160-169.

2 Neff, K. D., Tóth‐Király, I., & Colosimo, K. (2018). Self‐compassion is best measured as a global construct and is overlapping with but distinct from neuroticism: A response to Pfattheicher, Geiger, Hartung, Weiss, and Schindler (2017). European Journal of Personality, 32(4), 371-392.

3 Tartt, C., Deikman, A. J. (1991). Mindfulness, spiritual seeking and psychotherapy. The Journal, 23(1), 29.


Author: Stephen

Neuropsychologist researching what happens when a spiritual practice (meditation) is translated to a psychological intervention; what is lost and what is gained from the curative potential? A PhD candidate writing the scientific history mindfulness. Also researching how compassion and explicitly nondual meditation methods influence our physical and mental health. Stephen has decades of personal practice in spiritual and secular forms of meditation, he has also been trained in the Himalayan Science of Mind and Perception (Tsema). Alongside the teaching and research of nondual methods, Stephen trains his own brain every day with Dzogchen practices.

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