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Low self-esteem is usually linked to negative outcomes such as poor mental health, but is this always the case? Based on a contextual behavioural model, we reasoned that self-compassion would weaken the link between low self-esteem and low mental health. Self-compassion involves accepting self-doubt, negative self-evaluations and adversity as part of the human condition. In a longitudinal study of 2448 Australian adolescents, we assessed how self-esteem interacted with self-compassion in Grade 9 to predict changes in mental health over the next year. As hypothesized, self-compassion moderated the influence of self-esteem on mental health. Amongst those high in self-compassion, low self-esteem had little effect on mental health, suggesting a potentially potent buffering affect. We discuss the possibility that fostering self-compassion among adolescents can reduce their need for self-esteem in situations that elicit self-doubt.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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