0092-6566/$ - see front matter © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916
An examination of self-compassion in relation
to positive psychological functioning
and personality traits
Kristin D. NeVa,¤, Stephanie S. Rude a, Kristin L. Kirkpatrick b
a Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, D5800,
Austin, TX, 78712, USA
b Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY, 40475, USA
Available online 2 October 2006
This study examined the relation of self-compassion to positive psychological health and the Wve
factor model of personality. Self-compassion entails being kind toward oneself in instances of pain or
failure; perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience; and holding painful
thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness. Participants were 177 undergraduates (68% female,
32% male). Using a correlational design, the study found that self-compassion had a signiWcant posi-
tive association with self-reported measures of happiness, optimism, positive aVect, wisdom, personal
initiative, curiosity and exploration, agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness. It also had a
signiWcant negative association with negative aVect and neuroticism. Self-compassion predicted sig-
niWcant variance in positive psychological health beyond that attributable to personality.
© 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Self-compassion; Self-attitudes; Self-criticism; Self-acceptance; Positive psychology; Big Wve
NeV (2003a, 2003b) has recently proposed the construct of self-compassion as a healthy
form of self-acceptance. Self-compassion represents a warm and accepting stance towards
those aspects of oneself and one’s life that are disliked, and entails three main components
*Corresponding author. Fax: +1 512 471 1288.
E-mail address: kristin.neV@mail.utexas.edu (K.D. NeV).
K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916 909
(NeV, 2003b). First, it involves being kind and understanding to oneself in instances of
suVering or perceived inadequacy. It also involves a sense of common humanity, recogniz-
ing that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of the shared human experience. Finally,
self-compassion entails balanced awareness of one’s emotions—the ability to face (rather
than avoid) painful thoughts and feelings, but without exaggeration, drama or self-pity.
Several studies have found that self-compassion is a powerful predictor of mental
health. For example, self-compassion is negatively associated with self-criticism, depres-
sion, anxiety, rumination, thought suppression, and neurotic perfectionism, while being
positively associated with life satisfaction and social connectedness (NeV, 2003a). Increased
self-compassion has been found to predict enhanced psychological health over time (Gil-
bert & Proctor, in press; NeV, Kirkpatrick, & Rude, in press), and to explain lessened stress
following participation in a widely implemented stress-reduction program (Mindfulness-
Based Stress Reduction; Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005). Self-compassion
appears to have academic beneWts as well. NeV, Hseih, and Dejitthirat (2005) found that
self-compassion was linked to intrinsic interest in learning and healthier coping strategies
after failing an exam.
Research has shown that self-compassion can be empirically diVerentiated from self-
esteem. Although self-esteem and self-compassion are moderately correlated, self-compas-
sion is a stronger unique (negative) predictor of social comparison, anger, need for closure,
public self-consciousness, self-rumination, contingent self-worth and unstable self-worth
(NeV, 2005). Moreover, self-esteem is signiWcantly correlated with narcissism whereas self-
compassion is not (NeV, 2003a, 2005). NeV et al. (in press) found that self-compassion was
associated with reduced anxiety after considering one’s greatest weakness, but that self-
esteem did not provide such a buVer. In a series of controlled experiments, Leary, Tate,
Adams, and Allen (2006) demonstrated that self-compassion was associated with more
emotional balance than self-esteem when participants encountered potentially humiliating
situations, received unXattering inter-personal feedback, or remembered past negative life
While this body of research is promising, there is more to be learned about self-compas-
sion if it is to gain widespread acceptance as a psychologically adaptive mindset. For
instance, most of the research conducted on self-compassion so far has focused on its neg-
ative association with psychopathology. The positive psychology movement has argued
that it is necessary to consider well-being not only in terms of the absence of psychopathol-
ogy, but also in terms of human strengths and potentials (Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi,
2000). We feel that self-compassion is an important human strength as it invokes qualities
of kindness, equanimity, and feelings of inter-connectedness, helping individuals to Wnd
hope and meaning when faced with the diYculties of life. Thus, the current study looked at
the association of self-compassion with positive aspects of well-being identiWed as potential
beneWts of a self-compassionate stance—happiness, optimism, positive aVect, wisdom, per-
sonal initiative, and curiosity and exploration.
In addition, self-compassion has not yet been examined in relation to the Wve-factor
model of personality, a needed undertaking so that self-compassion can be viewed from
the perspective of this well-known personality framework. We expected there to be overlap
between self-compassion and the big Wve, particularly neuroticism, given that feelings of
self-judgment, isolation, and rumination inherent in the lack of self-compassion are similar
to those described by the neuroticism construct. However, we expected that self-compas-
sion would also predict well-being after accounting for shared variance with personality
910 K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916
traits. For instance, we thought that self-compassion would account for unique variance in
reXective wisdom, happiness and optimism due to the increased perspective, resilience, and
warmth associated with self-compassion—strengths that are captured less well by the Wve
Participants included 177 undergraduate students (57 men; 120 women; M age 20.02
years; SD D2.25) who were randomly assigned from an educational-psychology subject
pool at a large Southwestern university. The ethnic breakdown of the sample was 56%
Caucasian, 25% Asian, 14% Hispanic, 5% Mixed Ethnicity, and 1% Other. While meeting
in groups of no more than 30, participants Wlled out a self-report questionnaire containing
all study measures.
Participants were given the 26-item Self-Compassion Scale (SCS; NeV, 2003a), which
assesses six diVerent aspects of self-compassion (negative aspects are reverse coded): Self-
Kindness (e.g., “I try to be understanding and patient toward aspects of my personality I
don’t like”), Self-Judgment (e.g., “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own Xaws
and inadequacies”), Common Humanity (e.g., “I try to see my failings as part of the human
condition”), Isolation (e.g., “When I think about my inadequacies it tends to make me feel
more separate and cut oV from the rest of the world”), Mindfulness (e.g., “When something
painful happens I try to take a balanced view of the situation”), and Over-IdentiWcation
(e.g., “When I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and Wxate on everything that’s wrong.”).
Responses are given on a Wve-point scale from “Almost Never” to “Almost Always.”
Research indicates the SCS has an appropriate factor structure and demonstrates concur-
rent validity (e.g., correlates with social connectedness), convergent validity (e.g., correlates
with therapist ratings), discriminate validity (e.g., no correlation with social desirability or
narcissism), and test–retest reliability (D.93; NeV, 2003a, 2005). All scale reliabilities can
be found in Table 1.
Participants completed the 39-item Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS; Ardelt,
2003), which measures three aspects of wisdom: cognitive (e.g., “In this complicated world of
ours the only way we can know what’s going on is to rely on leaders or experts who can be
trusted”), reXective (e.g., “I always try to look at all sides of a problem”), and aVective (e.g., “I
can be comfortable with all kinds of people”). Ardelt (2003) has demonstrated that the scale
has content validity (as assessed by three independent judges), convergent validity (high
scores on the scale were linked to peer nominations of wisdom), discriminant validity (e.g., no
signiWcant relation to income or social desirability) and test–retest reliability (D.85).
2.1.3. Personal initiative
The 9-item Personal Growth Initiative Scale (PGIS; Robitschek, 1998) assesses an
individual’s active involvement in changing and developing as a person (e.g., “If I want
to change something in my life, I initiate the transition process”). Robitschek (1998)
K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916 911
reports evidence for the scale’s concurrent validity (e.g., moderate positive correlations
with assertiveness, instrumentality, and internal locus of control), discriminant validity
(e.g., no correlations with SAT scores or social desirability) and test–retest reliability
2.1.4. Curiosity and exploration
Participants completed the Curiosity and Exploration Inventory (CEI; Kashdan, Rose,
& Fincham, 2004). The 4-item curiosity and exploration subscale measures strivings for
novel information and experiences with items such as “Everywhere I go, I am out looking
for new things or experiences.” The CEI has been shown to demonstrate convergent valid-
ity (e.g., signiWcant correlations with conWdent ratings), discriminant validity (e.g., no corre-
lation with social desirability, independence from positive aVect) and test–retest reliability
(D.80) in prior research (Kashdan et al., 2004).
Participants’ happiness was assessed with the 4-item Subjective Happiness Scale
(SHS; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). On this measure, two items ask respondents how
happy they are using absolute and relative ratings, while two items describe happy and
unhappy individuals and ask respondents the extent to which the statements describe
The well-known 6-item Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R; Scheier, Carver, &
Bridges, 1994) was used to measure optimism. It includes items such as “I’m always opti-
mistic about my future.”
Reliability for study measures (Cronbach’s Alpha) and inter-correlations between variables
Note. SCS, Self-Compassion Scale; W-C, cognitive wisdom; W-R, reXective wisdom; W-A, aVective wisdom; PI,
personal initiative; CE, curiosity and exploration; HAP, happiness; OPT, optimism; PA, positive aVect; NA, neg-
ative aVect; N, neuroticism; E, extroversion; O, openness to experience; A, agreeableness; C, conscientiousness.
Measures SCS HAP OPT PA NA W-C W-R W-A PI CE N E O A C
.91 .88 .78 .89 .85 .68 .67 .72 .88 .70 .84 .79 .74 .80 .81
Pos. aVect .34¤.42¤.37¤—
Neg. aVect ¡.36¤¡.30¤¡.38 .04 —
Wis.-cognitive .11 .13 .19¤¡.03 ¡.14 —
Wis.-aVfective .26¤.35¤.27¤.10 ¡.22¤.43¤.47¤—
Pers. initiative .45¤.58¤.52¤.47¤¡.25¤.09 .38¤.15 —
Curiosity/explor. .28¤.33¤.34¤.37¤¡.08 .34¤.37¤.18¤.44¤—
Neuroticism ¡.65¤¡.55¤¡.60¤¡.28 .52¤¡.23¤¡.56¤¡.22¤¡.44¤¡.27¤—
Openness to exp. ¡.05 .02 .03 ¡.05 .01 .52¤.18¤.19¤.04 .40¤.07 .15 —
Agreeableness .35¤.30¤.38¤.06 ¡.30¤.22¤.44¤.56¤.16¤.08 ¡.29 .40¤.01 —
Conscientious. .42¤.47¤.45¤.40¤¡.28¤.22¤.50¤.32¤.69¤.29¤¡.45¤.28¤¡.05 .34¤—
912 K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916
2.1.7. Positive and negative aVect
This study employed the widely used Positive and Negative AVect Schedule (PANAS;
Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). The 10-item negative aVect subscale assesses the degree
to which participants are experiencing moods such as “upset” or “nervous”; the 10-item
positive aVect subscale assesses moods like “excited,” and “proud.”
2.1.8. Personality characteristics
Major broad-band personality traits were measured with the standard 60-item NEO
Five-Factor Inventory, Form S (NEO-FFI S; Costa & McCrae, 1992).
3. Results and discussion
First, we used a one-way ANOVA to check for sex or ethnic diVerences in self-compas-
sion, and none were found. Results were therefore collapsed by gender and ethnicity for
subsequent analyses. (All of the following results were also checked to ensure they did not
interact with gender or ethnicity). Zero-order correlations between the SCS and other vari-
ables examined in this study are presented in Table 1. Note that self-compassion was sig-
niWcantly correlated with all of the positive health constructs examined.
Happiness and optimism—two important features of positive mental health—were
strongly associated with self-compassion. Greater happiness may stem from (and also
facilitate) the feelings of warmth, inter-relatedness, and equilibrium that people experience
when they are self-compassionate. Research has also shown that happy people are less
likely than unhappy people to ruminate on negative life events (Lyubomirsky, 2001)—as
are self-compassionate individuals (NeV, 2003a). The contented mindset of self-compas-
sion and its associated adaptive coping skills (NeV et al., 2005) may also help to maintain
optimistic expectations about the future (Scheier et al., 1994). In fact, feelings of compas-
sion for self and others have been linked to higher levels of brain activation in the left pre-
frontal cortex, a region associated with joy and optimism (Lutz, Greischar, Rawlings,
Ricard, & Davidson, 2004).
Results indicated that self-compassionate individuals experienced signiWcantly more
positive and less negative mood generally. However, we do not interpret this to mean that
self-compassion is merely a “Pollyanish” form of positive thinking. Although self-compas-
sion is associated with positive aVect, it stems from the ability to hold diYcult negative
emotions in non-judgmental awareness without denial or suppression (NeV et al., in press).
Results indicate that self-compassion was strongly related to reXective wisdom, mod-
estly related to aVective wisdom, and positively but non-signiWcantly related to cognitive
wisdom. According to Ardelt’s (2003) formulation, reXective wisdom refers to the ability to
see reality as it is and to develop self-awareness and insight. It is likely that self-compassion
and reXective wisdom overlap in a variety of ways, resulting in the strong association
between the two constructs. Research shows that self-compassionate individuals make
more accurate self-appraisals (i.e., without self-enhancement or self-deprecation) than
those lacking the trait (Leary et al., 2006), suggesting that self-compassion may enhance
wisdom because it provides the emotional safety needed to see the self clearly. AVective
wisdom assesses constructive emotions towards others, such as feelings of kindness and
sympathy. The positive link between self-compassion and aVective wisdom suggests that
concern for the self and others are related. While self-compassion is considered to be part
of a more general compassionate stance, the reason a stronger association was not
K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916 913
obtained may be because individuals who lack self-compassion tend to say they are kinder
to others than to themselves (NeV, 2003a), so that being uncaring towards oneself does not
necessarily translate into a lack of other-focused concern. Self-compassion was not signiW-
cantly related to cognitive wisdom, which assesses the ability to understand people and the
real world. This type of “street smarts” does not appear to require self-compassion.
Self-compassion was signiWcantly related to personal initiative, deWned by Robitschek
(1998) as being actively involved in making changes needed for a more productive and ful-
Wlling life. Because self-compassionate individuals are not harshly self-critical, they may be
more able to acknowledge areas of weakness that need changing. This is important because
people are sometimes reluctant to be self-compassionate out of fear of self-indulgence
(NeV, 2003b). While focusing exclusively on pleasure for oneself might lead to self-indul-
gence, compassion involves desiring health and well-being for the self rather than pleasure
per se (Brach, 2003). In many instances, giving the self pleasure actually harms well-being
(e.g., taking drugs, over-eating, watching too much television), while promoting one’s
health often involves a certain amount of displeasure (e.g., exercising, dieting, reading a
diYcult but rewarding novel). Thus, the desire for well-being inherent in self-compassion is
likely to engender productive, positive change.
Results indicate that self-compassion was also signiWcantly related to curiosity and
exploration, a process that involves giving attention to and pursuing novel and challenging
experiences (Kashdan et al., 2004). This suggests that having an open and accepting stance
towards oneself is related to being open to the world in general. Self-compassionate indi-
viduals may be more curious about life because they tend to be intrinsically motivated and
have less fear of failure when faced with diYcult challenges (NeV et al., 2005). Conversely,
this curiosity may facilitate the willingness to hold one’s pain in compassionate awareness.
In terms of the Wve personality traits of the NEO-FFI, self-compassion had the stron-
gest association with neuroticism, with greater self-compassion leading to signiWcantly
lower levels of neuroticism. This supports past Wndings of a signiWcant negative relation-
ship between self-compassion and markers of maladjustment such as depression, anxiety,
and rumination (NeV, 2003b). Self-compassion also demonstrated a signiWcant positive
correlation with agreeableness, suggesting that the kind, connected, and emotionally bal-
anced stance of self-compassion is associated with a greater ability to get along with others
(note that self-compassion has also been linked to greater social connectedness in past
research; NeV, 2003a). Self-compassionate individuals were signiWcantly more likely to be
extroverted—perhaps because they are less likely to worry about the impression they make
on others, a concern that can lead to shy and withdrawn behavior. Extroversion scores
may also be a reXection of feelings of social inter-connectedness that are part of self-com-
passion. A signiWcant link was also found between self-compassion and conscientiousness.
This suggests that the emotional stability provided by self-compassion may help engender
(and be engendered by) more responsible behavior, and further underlines the distinction
between self-compassion and self-indulgence.
The one trait that was not signiWcantly associated with the SCS was openness to experi-
ence. This Wnding was surprising, given the receptive, non-judgmental nature of self-com-
passion. However, openness to experience measures the characteristics of having an active
imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, and preference for variety in addition to open-minded-
ness (Costa & McCrae, 1992), and it may be these dimensions of the trait that are unrelated
to self-compassion. This interpretation is supported by the fact that self-compassion was
signiWcantly linked to curiosity and exploration. Future research should examine this issue
914 K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916
by employing the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, which measures separate facets of
each personality trait.
To demonstrate that self-compassion was not redundant with personality dimensions,
we conducted regression analyses to determine whether self-compassion predicts unique
variance in positive functioning over and above the big Wve. First, we created a composite
of all the relevant outcome variables: happiness, optimism, positive aVect, negative aVect
(reverse coded), wisdom (cognitive, reXective, and aVective), personal initiative, and curios-
ity and exploration. (Most of these variables were signiWcantly inter-correlated, and explor-
atory factor analysis indicated that a single factor could explain 40% of their shared
variance, with all variables displaying factor loadings that were above .40. Thus, use of a
composite variable to represent positive functioning was considered appropriate.) As indi-
cated in Table 2, self-compassion predicted signiWcant variance in positive functioning
beyond that predicted by personality traits. Results suggest that self-compassion is not
redundant with established personality constructs in terms of predicting optimal function-
ing, and that self-compassion taps into certain aspects of positive well-being not fully cap-
tured by the Wve-factor model of personality.
Overall, study Wndings provided strong support for the contention that self-compassion
does more than ameliorate psychopathology—it also predicts positive psychological
strengths. Approaching painful feelings with self-compassion is linked to a happier, more
optimistic mindset, and appears to facilitate the ability to grow, explore, and wisely under-
stand oneself and others. The current research was conducted using self-report scales, of
course, so common method variance may have impacted results (PodsakoV, MacKenzie,
Lee, & PodsakoV, 2003). Though other research has found links between self-compassion
and well-being using more varied methods (e.g., behavioral tasks, experience sampling,
mood inductions; Leary et al., 2006; NeV et al., in press), current results should be inter-
preted with caution until conWrmed using other methodologies. Another limitation of the
correlational analyses employed in this study is that they cannot determine if self-compas-
sion causes or is caused by positive psychological traits or personality. It is likely that both
Standardized regression coeYcients for personality traits and self-compassion predicting positive functioning
Note. The outcome variable of positive functioning represents a composite of happiness, optimism, positive
aVect, negative aVect (reverse coded), wisdom (cognitive, reXective, and aVective), personal initiative, and curios-
ity and exploration.
Predictor Model 1 Model 2
Openness to experience .21¤.21¤
Agreeableness .06 .02
Self-compassion — .27¤
Total adjusted R2.67 .71
K.D. NeV et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 41 (2007) 908–916 915
inXuences are operating simultaneously. For instance, neurotic individuals may be more
likely to lack self-compassion due to their anxious and pessimistic mindset, but increased
self-compassion may also reduce neurotic tendencies (and/or reduce their harmful eVects
given that disliked personal traits are not compounded by harsh self-judgment). It is
unlikely that self-compassion is merely the end result of positive psychological states or
traits, however, because self-compassion occurs precisely when negative personal traits or
life events are encountered and acknowledged. Moreover, well-controlled research using a
self-compassion mood induction (Leary et al., 2006) has found that engendering a self-
compassionate mindset directly enhances emotional well-being.
Although self-compassion is new on the scene of Western psychology, it is actually a
central tenet of Buddhist thought (e.g., Brach, 2003), one of the world’s oldest wisdom tra-
ditions. Another Buddhist construct currently having an impact in the West is mindful-
ness—a state of non-judgmental awareness that involves the clear seeing and acceptance of
mental and emotional phenomena as they arise in the present moment (Baer, 2003). In fact,
a contributing factor to the success and popularity of mindfulness-based therapeutic tech-
niques may be that these approaches tend to include an explicit focus on self-compassion
(Shapiro et al., 2005). Gilbert and Proctor (in press) have developed a compassion-based
therapeutic approach to treating habitually self-critical individuals called Compassionate
Mind Training that appears highly promising. There are also reasons to believe that it is
easier to enhance self-compassion than self-esteem (Swann, 1996). For these reasons, future
research eVorts should be aimed at understanding how to increase self-compassion among
clinical and non-clinical populations, and should examine the impact of self-compassion
on physiological as well as mental health.
Thanks are due to Sam Gosling, Jamie Pennebaker and Phil Shaver for their helpful
advice on earlier versions of this manuscript.
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