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Mechanisms of mindfulness: Rumination and self-compassion

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Why do more mindful individuals tend to be less depressed? We hypothesized (1) that mindfulness is associated with depressive symptoms both via the path of lower levels of rumination and higher levels of self-compassion and (2) that the path via self-compassion would explain variance beyond that which could be explained by rumination. Undergraduate students (N = 277) completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, the Rumination subscale of the Rumination-Reflection Questionnaire, the Self-Compassion Scale, and the depression subscale of the symptom checklist-90 revised (SCL-90-R-dep). Results showed that mindfulness was associated with depressive symptoms both via the pathway of lower levels of rumination and via the pathway of higher levels of self-compassion. Both pathways were found to predict unique variance in depressive symptoms beyond that which could be explained by the other pathway. This suggests that one needs to consider the influence of mindfulness on both rumination and on self-compassion in order to fully understand why mindful individuals tend to be less depressed.
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Nordic Psychology
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Mechanisms of mindfulness: Rumination and self-
compassion
Julie Lillebostad Svendsen, Katrine Valvatne Kvernenes, Agnethe Smith
Wiker & Ingrid Dundas
To cite this article: Julie Lillebostad Svendsen, Katrine Valvatne Kvernenes, Agnethe Smith
Wiker & Ingrid Dundas (2016): Mechanisms of mindfulness: Rumination and self-compassion,
Nordic Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/19012276.2016.1171730
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ARTICLE
Nordic Psychology, 2016
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19012276.2016.1171730
© 2016 The Editors of Nordic Psychology
Mechanisms of mindfulness: Rumination and
self-compassion
JULIE LILLEBOSTAD SVENDSEN1, KATRINE VALVATNE KVERNENES2, AGNETHE SMITH WIKER3 &
INGRID DUNDAS4
*Correspondence address: Julie Lillebostad Svendsen, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Jonas Lies vei 91, 5009
Bergen, Norway. Email: julie.svendsen@uib.no
Abstract
Why do more mindful individuals tend to be less depressed? We hypothesized (1) that mindful-
ness is associated with depressive symptoms both via the path of lower levels of rumination and
higher levels of self-compassion and (2) that the path via self-compassion would explain variance
beyond that which could be explained by rumination. Undergraduate students (N=277) com-
pleted the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, the Rumination subscale of the Rumination-
Reection Questionnaire, the Self-Compassion Scale, and the depression subscale of the
symptom checklist-90 revised (SCL-90-R-dep). Results showed that mindfulness was associat-
ed with depressive symptoms both via the pathway of lower levels of rumination and via the
pathway of higher levels of self-compassion. Both pathways were found to predict unique vari-
ance in depressive symptoms beyond that which could be explained by the other pathway. This
suggests that one needs to consider the inuence of mindfulness on both rumination and on
self-compassion in order to fully understand why mindful individuals tend to be less depressed.
Keywords:mindfulness, self-compassion, rumination, depression, mediation
A large body of research shows that mindfulness is inversely related to depressive symptoms (e.g,
Brown & Ryan, 2003; Barnes & Lynn, 2010), and positively related to well-being and quality of life
(e.g, Brown & Ryan, 2003; Carlson et al., 2003; Roth & Robbins, 2004; Carmody & Baer, 2008). Sev-
eral researchers have noted the need to explore the mechanisms explaining the salutary eects
of mindfulness (Baer et al., 2006; Shapiro et al., 2006), but little is still known about how mindful-
ness exerts its eects. A range of potential mediators have been studied, including decentering
(i.e, increased ability to observe thoughts and feelings as transitory events; e.g, Carmody et al.,
2009), emotion regulation skills (i.e, more adaptive ways of responding to emotional distress; e.g,
Velotti, Garofalo, & Bizzi, 2015), having more specic life goals (in contrast to having diuse goals;
Crane et al., 2012), lessened self-discrepancy (i.e, smaller perceived distance between current
self and idealized self; Crane et al., 2008), and better attention regulation (i.e, improved ability
to consciously control attentional focus; van den Hurk et al., 2012). However, rumination and
self-compassion are the two variables that seem to have received the most attention, and the
evidence supporting other potential mediators is still preliminary (van der Velden et al., 2015).
1Faculty of Psychology, Institute for Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen, Jonas Lies vei 91, 5009 Bergen,
Norway
2Helse Fonna/ BUP Stord, Tysevegen 74, 5416 Stord, Norway
3Oslo kommune, Stovner bydel, Avdeling for helse, seksjon friskliv og mestring, Karl Fossums vei 30, 0985 Oslo, Norway
4Faculty of Psychology, Institute for Clinical Psychology, University of Bergen, Christiesgate 12, 5015 Bergen, Norway
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2
Rumination can be dened as a specic way of responding to low mood in which one
ponders about possible causes and implications of the sad feelings (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991).
Self-compassion may be understood as being caring and kind toward oneself when one suers
(Ne, 2003a). In the context of depressive symptoms in particular, rumination seems to play a
key role (Desrosiers et al., 2012). Indeed, a recent review of mindfulness mediators on depression
(van der Velden et al., 2015) found that rumination along with self-compassion are the variables
which have the most evidence in the existing literature, although there are a few contradictory
ndings (Kerns et al., 2016). In addition, rumination and self-compassion are clinically relevant
constructs that have been shown to change positively as a result of clinical interventions (Segal,
Williams, & Teasdale, 2002; Gilbert & Procter, 2006; Ne & Germer, 2013). Our main purpose of the
present study was to examine if both these variables would mediate between mindfulness and
depression, when studied in the same model.
The path via rumination
Several studies have found high levels of rumination to be correlated with onset, duration, and
severity of depressive symptoms (Kenny & Williams, 2007; Watkins, 2008) As mindfulness is cen-
tered on concrete experience in the present moment, it is thought to counteract rumination
which typically is focused on the past and often more abstract in nature (e.g., Bishop et al., 2004).
The idea that rumination serves as a mediator between mindfulness and depressive symptoms
is in line with the theoretical rationale for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT; Segal,
Williams, & Teasdale, 2002), in which decreased rumination is identied as the key mechanism
of change in mindfulness. Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002 theorize that a depressive episode
leads to the establishment of associations between low mood, self-critical thoughts, negative
memories, and body tension. If one of these symptoms reoccurs, for example, low mood, it may
reactivate the full depressive pattern.
Several studies (e.g., Jain et al., 2007; Coey & Hartman, 2008; Labelle, Campbell, & Carlson,
2010; Heeren & Philippot, 2011; van Aalderen et al., 2012) have found rumination to be a medi-
ator of the relation between mindfulness and depression. Coey and Hartman (2008) found
rumination (Rumination Reection Questionnaire; RRQ) to be a mediator of the relation between
mindfulness (Mindful Attention Awareness Scale) and psychological distress (Brief Symptom
Inventory; BSI) in two dierent student samples. Two additional cross-sectional studies found
that rumination (RRQ and the rumination subscale of the Daily Emotion Report, respectively)
was a mediator of the eects of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program on depres-
sive symptoms as measured by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Short Depression Scale
(CES-D 10) in cancer patients (Labelle et al., 2010) and depressive symptoms as measured by
BSI in a student sample (Jain et al., 2007). Heeren and Philippot (2011) found maladaptive rumi-
nation (Cambridge-Exeter repetitive thought scale; Mini-CERTS) to be a partial mediator of the
eects of MBCT on depressive symptoms (SCL-90-R). Similarly, van Aalderen et al. (2012) found
that rumination (Rumination on the Sadness Scale) was a mediator to the eects of MBCT on
depressive symptoms (BDI-II). However, one recent study (Kerns et al., 2016) found contradictory
results, reporting that rumination did not mediate the relation between MBCT and depression.
Thus, although there is thorough evidence that rumination plays a role in explaining the associa-
tion between mindfulness and depression, more research is needed in order to conclude.
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The path via self-compassion
Self-compassion is a relatively new construct in Western psychology, and like mindfulness, it
has its origins in Buddhist philosophy. Being high on self-compassion implies wanting to alle-
viate one’s suering and extending kindness toward oneself, without suppressing or avoiding
the pain. According to Ne (2003a), self-compassion comprises three interacting components:
self-kindness (being kind and understanding toward oneself, instead of blaming or criticizing
oneself), common humanity (recognizing that painful experiences are part of being human,
rather than feeling isolated and disconnected from other people), and mindfulness (holding
painful emotions and thoughts in balanced awareness, rather than avoiding, suppressing, or
becoming emotionally overwhelmed by them). Thus, self-compassion is thought to entail mind-
fulness, but this form of mindfulness diers from the general concept of mindfulness (Ne &
Germer, 2013). It is more narrowly focused on suering and negative experiences, and refers
more to a balanced perspective on experience, in contrast to the general concept of mindfulness
which is more focused on and nonjudgmental awareness of any experiences. Indeed, these two
forms of mindfulness have been shown to reect dierent phenomena (Van Dam et al., 2011).
The role of self-compassion as a mechanism of mindfulness is in line with Buddhist thought,
where compassion for oneself and others is thought to arise with mindfulness (Radhakrishnan
& Moore, 1957; Hollis-Walker & Colosimo, 2011). When having made a mistake or feeling hurt,
it is common for depressed individuals to react with self-criticism and blame, or an immediate
attempt to solve the problem. In contrast, the nonjudgmental awareness involved in mindful-
ness increases the chances that feelings of hurt may be allowed to enter awareness, enabling
individuals to respond with self-compassion. This involves attending to the pain with an active
wish to relieve the suering (self-kindness), acknowledging that everyone experiences suering
from time to time (common humanity), and recognizing that suering or failing does not mean
that one is a bad person (low over-identication).
Self-compassion has been found to be positively correlated with mindfulness (Hollis-Walker &
Colosimo, 2011; Van Dam et al., 2011; , Lykins, & Peters, 2012; Keng et al., 2012) and negatively
correlated with depressive symptoms (Ne, 2003b; Ne, Rude, & Kirkpatrick, 2007; Ne, Pisit-
sungkagarn, & Hsieh, 2008; Raes, 2011; Van Dam et al., 2011; MacBeth & Gumley, 2012). Kuyken
et al. (2010)examined the role of self-compassion as a mediator between MBCT and depressive
symptoms. They found that MBCT participation resulted in a decoupling of the relationship
between reactivity of depressive thinking and depressive relapse, and that this decoupling was
due to the cultivation of self-compassion. Based on this nding, Kuyken et al. (2010) suggest that
self-compassion has a key role in modulating the reactivity often seen in depressed patients.
These ndings support the hypothesis that mindfulness may increase self-compassion, and
that self-compassion may be a mediator in the relation between mindfulness and depressive
symptoms.
Hypotheses of the present study
Based on the above-mentioned theory and research, we hypothesized that rumination and
self-compassion would be mediators of the association between mindfulness and depressive
symptoms, in a non-clinical sample. In addition, we hypothesized that self-compassion would
explain variance beyond that which can be explained by rumination. While a reduction in
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rumination may go a long way to help individuals cope with depressogenic thinking, the addi-
tional active stance of self-compassion may soothe the emotional turmoil that may accom-
pany such thinking. To our knowledge, no study has examined self-compassion as a mediator
between dispositional mindfulness and depressive symptoms. Furthermore, we are not aware
of any studies that have examined both rumination and self-compassion as mediators between
mindfulness and depression in the same model.
Method
Participants
The sample consisted of 116 men and 155 women (N=277, mean age=22.9years, SD=3.55). Of
these, 53% (N=149) were psychology undergraduate students, 25% (N=68) were engineering
undergraduate students, and 22% (N=60) were medical undergraduate students. Reasons for
choosing several elds of study were (1) to secure a greater heterogeneity in order to improve
the generalizability of the ndings and (2) to increase the likelihood of a more even gender dis-
tribution in the sample as a whole. Most (71.8%; N=107) of the psychology undergraduates were
women, and most (73.5%; N=50) of the engineering undergraduates were men.
Procedure
As a part of a larger study, we administered the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ),
the Reection-Rumination Questionnaire- Rumination, rumination subscale (RRQ-Rum), the
Self-Compassion Scale (SCS), and the depression subscale of the symptom checklist-90 revised
(SCL-90-R) to undergraduate psychology and medical students at the University of Bergen, and
engineering students at Bergen University College. The questionnaires were administered at the
beginning of the lecture, and students used the 15-min break to complete the questionnaires.
The participants were informed that participation was voluntary and anonymous, and informed
consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Instruments
Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire
The FFMQ (Baer et al., 2006) is a self-report measure of mindfulness, consisting of ve factors
comprising a total of 39 items. The ve factors measure ve fundamental skills of mindfulness:
observing (for example: “I notice the smells and aromas of things”), describing (for example:
“I am good at nding words to describe my feelings”), acting with awareness (for example: “I nd
myself doing things without paying attention”; reverse scored item), non-judging of inner expe-
rience (for example: “I think some of my emotions are bad or inappropriate and I should not feel
them”; reverse scored item), and non-reactivity to inner experience (for example: “I perceive my
feelings and emotions without having to react to them”). Each item is a statement that respond-
ents rate on a ve-point likert-type scale ranging from one (“never or very rarely true”) to ve
(“very often or always true”).
The present study used a Norwegian translation of the FFMQ (Dundas et al., 2013). The ve
translated subscales have shown good construct and convergent validities and are internally
consistent, with α coecients ranging from .69 to .95. In the present study, Chronbach’s α of this
scale was .82.
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Rumination-Reection Questionnaire
The rumination subscale of the RRQ (Trapnell & Campbell, 1999) consists of 12 items. Examples
of items are “long after an argument or disagreement is over with, my thoughts keep going back
to what happened” and “it is easy for me to put unwanted thoughts out of my mind.” Agreement
with items is rated on a ve-point likert-type scale ranging from one (“strongly disagree”) to ve
(“strongly agree”).
In the present study, we used a Norwegian translation of the RRQ-Rum which has been
reported to have a high internal reliability (Cronbach’s α=.91) and to correlate negatively with
self-esteem, habitual negative thinking, and mindfulness (Verplanken et al., 2007). In the present
study, the rumination subscale had a Chronbach’s α of .90.
Self-Compassion Scale
The SCS (Ne, 2003b) consists of 26 items loading on six subscales, three positive and three
negative. The positive subscales are: self-kindness (for example: “I’m tolerant of my own aws
and inadequacies”), common humanity (for example: “I try to see failings as part of the human
condition”), and mindfulness (for example: When something upsets me I try to keep my emo-
tions in balance”). The negative subscales are: self-judgment (for example: “When I see aspects of
myself that I don’t like, I get down on myself”), isolation (for example: “When I fail at something
that is important to me I tend to feel alone in my failure”), and over-identication (for example:
“When something painful happens I tend to blow the incident out of proportions”). Agreement
is rated on a ve-point likert-type scale, from “almost always” to “almost never.” High scores on
the positive subscales and low scores on the negative subscales result in an overall high level of
self-compassion.
The SCS has shown good cross-cultural validity and reliability (Ne et al., 2008). In the present
study, we used a Norwegian translation of the SCS (Dundas et al., 2015). Chronbach’s α for the
total SCS in the present study was .91.
Symptom checklist revised (SCL-90-R), depression subscale
The SCL-90-R (Derogatis, Lipman, & Covi, 1973) is a 90-item self-report inventory that measures
psychiatric problems, and consists of eight subscales. The 13-item depression subscale aims to
reect several core symptoms of depression, e.g., low aect and lack of interest. Respondents
indicate how often each symptom has occurred during the last sevendays, by ranging each item
on a ve-point likert-type scale, where 0 indicates “not at all” and 4 indicates “very much.” In the
present study, we used a Norwegian translation of the depression subscale, which has shown
good psychometric properties, and correlated satisfactorily with two related scales: the Neurot-
icism scale in the personality inventory NEO-PI (r = .65, p < .001); and the Giessen Subjective
Complaints List (GSCL; r=.64, p<.001; Vassend, Lian, & Andersen, 1992). Chronbach’s α for the
SCL90-R was .91.
Analyses
Statistical analyses were conducted using Statistica version 12 and Statistical Package for the
Social Sciences (SPSS; IMB, 2011) version 20.0. All variables had a skewness within plus/minus
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1, except SCL-90 which had a skewness of 1.3, indicating a majority of low scores. This is to be
expected in a non-clinical sample and no transformations were performed.
A bootstrapping procedure was used to test the signicance of the indirect path between the
independent and the dependent variables (Preacher & Hayes, 2004; 2008). The bootstrapping
procedure produces a condence interval based on an empirically derived sampling distribution.
In this way, no assumption about the shape of the distribution is made (Preacher & Hayes, 2004).
We used a macro for SPSS called Indirect, which is developed by Preacher and Hayes (2008). The
macro Indirect also tests whether one of the mediation paths are stronger than the other. This
“contrast eect” is dened as the cross-product of one path minus the cross-product of the other
path.
Results
Demographics
Table 1 shows demographics. Women reported more depressive symptoms than men (r= .24,
p<.001), but did not dier from men in mindfulness (r=.02). Age was unrelated to depression
(r=.04), rumination (r=−.11), self-compassion (r=.02), and mindfulness (r=.04). Most partici-
pants (77%) were not familiar with mindfulness.
Correlations between variables in the study
Table 2 shows Pearson’s product–moment correlations between the variables in the study.
FFMQ correlated signicantly with SCL-90 (p<.001), and with each of the proposed mediators:
Table 1. Demographic variables.
Psychology
undergraduates
(N=149)
Medical
undergraduates
(N=60)
Engineering
undergraduates
(N=68)
Total (N=277) Missing
Mean age (SD) 21.6 (2.2) 25. 4 (4.3) 23.5 (4.1) 22.9 (3.6) 3.6%
Gender (female 72.3% 56.9% 23.1% 56.0% 2.2%
Knowledge of
mindfulness
3.2%
None 73.7% 80.4% 92.2% 77.0%
Knows concept,
no practice
10.1% 7.1% 0.0% 6.9%
Practices month-
ly or more
16.2% 12.5% 7.8% 13.0%
Table 2. Pearson product-moment correlations between the variables in the model.
**p<.001.
Depression (SCL-90) Mindfulness (FFMQ) Self-compassion (SCS)
Mindfulness (FFMQ) −.43**
Self-compassion (SCS) −.59** .64**
Rumination (RRQ-Rum) .55** −.49** −.61**
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The roles of rumination and self-compassion in mindfulness
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RRQ-Rum (p<.001) and SCS (p<.001). The proposed mediators correlated signicantly with SCL-
90 (RRQ-Rum: p<.001, SCS: p<.001). There was a strong negative correlation between SCS and
RRQ-Rum (, p<.001).
Mediation
Table 3 shows the results of a mediation analysis using a bootstrapping procedure with two
mediators in the model (SCS and RRQ-Rum). Results showed that both the path via RRQ-Rum
(ß= −.2 [−.2, −.1]) and the path via SCS (ß=−.2 [−.4, −.2]) were signicant and unique media-
tors of the association between FFMQ and SCL-90-r. None of the paths via the mediators were
stronger than the other (contrast eect=.1, p=.2).
Missing data
Five cases were excluded because they did not reach the criteria of having more than 80% of
the items completed on all questionnaires. The remaining missing data were few and scattered.
In instances where more than 80% of a scale had been completed, missing data were imputed
by a k-nearest neighbor procedure. In instances where less than 80% of a scale had been com-
pleted (14 cases, that is 5% of the total sample), these data were not imputed, and the cases were
excluded listwise in the analyses. The scales at the end of the package of questionnaires had a
greater chance of being left uncompleted. Other than this, we could not see any clear patterns
in missing scales.
Discussion
The aim of the present study was to examine the roles of rumination and self-compassion as
mediators of the association between mindfulness and depressive symptoms. We found sup-
port for our rst hypothesis that both rumination and self-compassion were mediators of the
relationship. This is in accordance with prior ndings that rumination (e.g., Jain et al., 2007; Coey
& Hartman, 2008; Labelle et al., 2010; Heeren & Philippot, 2011) and self-compassion (Kuyken
et al., 2010) may be mediators of the association between mindfulness and depressive symptoms.
We also found support for our second hypothesis that the path via self-compassion explained
variance in depression beyond that which could be explained by the path via rumination.
Table 3. Self-compassion (SCS) and rumination (RRQ-Rum) as mediators between mindfulness (FFMQ) and
depressive symptoms (SCL-90-R; N=268).
*p<.001.
Note: FFMQ=Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, SCS=Self-Compassion Scale, RRQ-Rum=Rumination-Reection Scale
Rumination subscale, dependent variable (DV)=symptom checklist revised, depression subscale (SCL-90-r).
Inde-
pendent
variable
(IV)
Mediator Path a (IV
to media-
tor)
Path b
(mediator
to de-
pendent
variable;
DV)
Path c
(total
eect of IV
on DV)
C-prime
(direct
eect of IV
on DV)
Cross-prod-
uct
CI lower CI upper
FFMQ SCS .64* −.37* −.43* −.047
(p=.45)
−.24 −.35 −.15
RRQ-Rum −.48* .30* −.15 −.22 −.08
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However, the path via rumination in turn explained variance beyond that which could be
explained by the path via self-compassion. None of the proposed mediators were more important
than the other. Thus, the results indicate that both self-compassion and rumination contribute in
explaining the eect of mindfulness on depressive symptoms. This implies that understanding
both the process of rumination and self-compassion is important in order to understand how
mindfulness may work in reducing depressive symptoms.
What are the implications of the present results for our understanding of the relationship
between mindfulness, rumination, self-compassion, and depressive symptoms? Perhaps mind-
fulness may be a rst step in responding to depressive thoughts and feelings in a way that ena-
bles self-compassion to take the place of destructive rumination. Ne (2011) suggested that in
order for individuals to give compassion to themselves, they rst need to recognize that they
are suering. She noted that “we can’t heal what we can’t feel” (p. 80). As mindfulness may help
individuals notice and accept the present as it is, mindful individuals are more likely to be aware
of the moments in which they need self-compassion and the moments in which they ruminate.
In contrast, individuals who tend to ignore or repress present moment experiences may not be
consciously aware of their automatic rumination or of their need for self-compassion. Whereas
rumination seems to be a habitual and automatic pattern, self-compassion implies an intentional
act of kindness toward the self. Moreover, rumination is focused on cognitive aspects of pain, for
example, thinking “why was I so stupid?”. Self-compassion, on the other hand, broadens aware-
ness to emotional and bodily aspects, such as feeling the hurt of having failed, and trying to
soothe oneself. In this way, self-compassion may be a mindful alternative to rumination, and the
two may represent opposite response styles. This assumption is supported by the high negative
correlation between self-compassion and rumination found in the present study. It is also in line
with previous ndings that greater self-compassion was related to less rumination (Ne, 2003a;
Ne, Kirkpatrick, & Rude, 2007; Ne & Vonk, 2009). A mindful attitude may help individuals avoid
getting caught up in ruminative thoughts about negative events or one’s failures, and instead
respond in a more self-compassionate manner by directing attention and kindness toward the
feelings of being hurt. This shift from rumination to self-compassion may in turn make depressive
symptoms less likely to occur.
When learning to cope with depression through mindfulness, one does not, however, aim for
an absolute absence of rumination. Instead, a mindful and healthy stance includes a recognition
of one’s rumination as “events in the mind,” which can be approached with a self-compassionate
attitude. Over time, this may reduce any tendencies to mistake ruminative thoughts as direct
reections of reality. In the long run, the frequency of such thoughts may then diminish.
In the present study, the focus was on rumination and self-compassion. Although both seem
to be central mechanisms of change in mindfulness, the relationship between these variables
and other proposed mediators is not known. For example, rumination and self- compassion
may theoretically represent two types of emotion regulation eorts (where self-compassion is
presumed to be more conducive to mental health than rumination). Also, a higher capacity for
attention regulation, or meta-cognitive skills, may explain how mindfulness reduces rumination
and depression. In order to obtain a broader picture of potential mediators of mindfulness
and their relationship to each other, future research should take more potential mediators
into consideration in the same model, preferably using longitudinal designs. This might reveal
any shared variance between potential mediators and contribute to a better understanding of
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The roles of rumination and self-compassion in mindfulness
Nordic Psychology 2016, 1–12 © 2016 The Editors of Nordic Psychology
9
possible causal relationships in the processes that mediate between mindfulness and depression
(van der Velden et al., 2015).
The results of the present study may have some implications for clinicians who wish to incor-
porate mindfulness in their work. The nding that mindfulness may work both via the pathway
of lower levels of rumination and the pathway of higher levers of self-compassion is probably
well-known to many mindfulness teachers and therapists. However, mindfulness teachers or
therapists may vary in how explicitly they address self-compassion. Ne and Germer (2013)
are proponents of addressing self-compassion directly. Others may place a greater emphasis
on addressing rumination. Patients may dier in which pathway to reduced depression works
best for them. For some, directly cultivating a self-compassionate attitude may be preferable.
For others, cognitively oriented techniques directed toward ruminative tendencies may be more
useful. Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2002) have demonstrated how mindfulness suits the cog-
nitive therapy tradition, and the MBCT program incorporates a focus on the negative conse-
quences of rumination. Self-compassion training (e.g., Mindful Self-Compassion; Ne & Germer,
2013) may represent a more emotion-focused approach to depressive tendencies than the MBCT
tradition. Familiarity with both cognitive approaches to reduce rumination and knowledge of
approaches to cultivate self-compassion may increase therapists’ opportunities to tailor mindful-
ness approaches to the individual needs and characteristics of each patient.
The present study has several limitations. First, it uses a cross-sectional design, which does
not permit conclusions with regard to causality (Mathieu & Taylor, 2006; Kazdin, 2007). Second,
it relies on self-report measures only. Third, the current sample consists of students enrolled in
higher education, with low average age and a small age range, reducing generalizability to other
age populations and other age ranges.
Conclusion
In the present study, rumination and self-compassion were found to be mediators of the asso-
ciation between mindfulness and depressive symptoms. Both rumination and self-compassion
explained independent variance in the association between mindfulness and depressive symp-
toms, indicating that both concepts are important in order to understand how mindfulness
works to reduce depressive symptoms.
Ethical approval
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the
ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964
Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
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Julie Lillebostad Svendsen et al.
Nordic Psychology 2016, 1–12 © 2016 The Editors of Nordic Psychology
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