Exploring the role of self-compassion and perfectionism in the prediction of psychological distress and psychological well-being in adolescents: a research portfolio
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Background: Previous research has reported positive correlations between perfectionism, anxiety and depression within community adolescent samples. Psychological distress has the potential to develop into adulthood; therefore consideration is required about potential mechanisms that could positively impact on this trajectory. Self-compassion has been shown to be negatively associated with psychopathology and positively related to psychological well-being. It has also been found to be inversely related to maladaptive perfectionism (negative aspects of perfectionism) in adult populations. No previous studies have examined both constructs of perfectionism and self-compassion in an adolescent population and what impact they may have on psychological distress and well-being. Aims: This research had two aims: 1. Conduct a systematic literature review exploring the relationship between perfectionism and anxiety/stress in young people; 2. Establish empirically whether perfectionism and self-compassion have a role in the prediction of psychological distress and psychological well-being in an adolescent population. Method: For the first aim a systematic review of the literature was conducted to identify studies that explored the relationships between perfectionism and anxiety/stress in young people. Fourteen papers were identified which were subsequently subjected to methodological appraisal using quality criteria. To address the second aim an empirical study was conducted. It was a cross-sectional, quantitative design using self-report surveys, in an adolescent population (n=128; 64.1% female, mean age 16.24 years) across schools in Edinburgh. Results: The results of the systematic review suggested that there is a significant relationship between perfectionism and anxiety and/or stress in young people; however, some inconsistent results were found between the perfectionism subtypes and their impact on anxiety. Methodologically, the studies held good internal validity, but external validity was poor meaning that the ability to generalise findings beyond the remit of the studies was questionable. The results of the empirical study demonstrated a significant relationship between perfectionism and self-compassion and a subsequent relationship with psychological distress and psychological well-being in the adolescent population. An interaction effect between perfectionism and self-compassion was also established for some of the variables, with self-compassion playing a particularly significant role in this relationship. Conclusions: Overall, there is evidence to suggest a link between perfectionism and psychopathology in adolescents. The factors of perfectionism and self-compassion demonstrated a significant relationship, with both constructs having an impact on psychological well-being in particular. Self-compassion demonstrated a strong predictive relationship to both psychological distress and psychological well-being. The significant findings regarding self-compassion in particular suggest that it may be a potential strategy for working with young people (either clinically or in academic settings) who experience psychological distress related to perfectionistic tendencies. Further research exploring perfectionism and self-compassion and the link with psychopathology in adolescents is much needed. In particular, studies are required which attempt to focus on this area with alternative designs (non cross-sectional), different methodologies and various clinical and non-clinical adolescent populations.