Stigma, Compassion, Self-Compassion, and Distress

Document Type


Publication Date



Stigma is an individual’s devalued identity or other characteristic that may lead to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Decades of literature show that experiencing stigma has negative effects on mental health outcomes. However, some research suggests that the experience of stigma leads individuals to cope with adversity in a meaningful way. Understanding how people benefit from adversity will help promote less distress for people who experience different types (visible or covert) of stigma. Three central questions were addressed. First, is level of distress different based on experience with stigma? Second, does having self-compassion buffer individuals with stigma, in that people with more self-compassion would have less distress than those with less self-compassion? Third, does more stigma experiences lead to more compassion toward others and contribute to lower levels of distress? To explore these questions, participants (N = 416) at a southeastern university completed on-line surveys to assess experience with stigma, compassion, and distress. Separate hierarchical multiple regression analyses were used to examine whether (1) quantity of stigma, (2) directness of stigma, (3) level of visibility of stigma were related to distress. The direct experience of stigma and the lack of visibility of the stigmatizing characteristic significantly predicted higher levels of distress (b = .09, p < .01; b = .09, p < .01; respectively). In order to examine self-compassion as a moderator of the effect of stigma on distress, we conducted moderated regression analysis, with distress as the dependent variable, the centered stigma and self-compassion variables, as well as, the interaction between stigma and self-compassion, as predictors. This hypothesis was not supported. In order to address central question three, indirect effects were tested using bootstrapping (an SPSS script; Preacher and Hayes). Indirect experiences of stigma predicted compassion for others (b = .04, p < .05) which predicted less distress (b = -.32, p < .01). Given these results a follow-up study was conducted to further investigate these relationships. In a follow-up study of participants experiencing either a covert or invisible stigmatizing characteristic, self-compassion is induced by encouraging the participant to help another with the same stigmatizing characteristic. Preliminary results of the inductions effects on compassion for others, self-compassion, and distress will be presented.


Johnson City, TN

This document is currently not available here.