Women Are Compassionate But Self-Critical? Duh.

Self-compassion (aren’t hyphens handy?), is the newest buzzword on the block. The New York Times profiles the phenomenon, starting with a 2007 Yale study and progressing to two books published this year. The consensus appears to be that Americans, immersed in the society of “hard work will get you everywhere,” are working too hard and engaging in too much self-criticism and condemnation, to the detriment of their mental and physical health—measured in terms of depression and weight gain.

What You See Isn’t What You Get.

The article (available HERE) includes the following phrase barely a paragraph along:

“People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.”

How, exactly, is this surprising? It sounds like most women we’ve interviewed.  The profile of a person who is a compassionate, caring listener who holds herself to unreal standards to her ultimate detriment isn’t revolutionary. It’s the common profile of a mom, a female friend. It’s like looking into a mirror.

Where Are The Men?

Truly surprisingly, the research claims to analyze people in general. But the cited study was done among female undergraduates, who unknowingly submitted themselves to a study about food guilt.  Women with existing food guilt who were explicitly cautioned not to feel bad for eating a doughnut at the study’s beginning—as everyone had to eat them—ate less overall and felt  guilty about doing so.  What a shock. A more interesting version would have included men.

It’s an unusual case of reverse projection. All women are people, but all people aren’t women. Just like marketers who target women to the exclusion of men, these studies project their striking findings from a female cohort onto the half of the population whose own results may not be so nuanced. Assemble mental health and weight-loss data at will, but remember that conclusions can be only as broad as the research. Hyphens don’t solve everything.

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May 23, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

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