Children of parents with mental illness have higher rates of social and emotional difficulties compared to their peers. One factor associated with lower psychological distress and higher well-being is self-compassion. However, the concept of self-compassion has not been explored in the population of children of parents with mental illness. Self-compassion is an attitude toward oneself. It involves non-judgemental openness to one’s own suffering, accompanied by a sense of common humanity and a motivation to alleviate one’s own suffering with kindness. This review scoped qualitative literature regarding children and adult children of parents with mental illness concerning their experiences related to self-compassion.
This review employed a scoping method to examine the presence of self-compassion in the qualitative literature pertaining to children of parents with mental illness. Peer-reviewed articles published in English after 1990 were eligible. Only those reporting children’s experiences which contained concepts of self-compassion were included. Directed content analysis was employed to characterise self-compassion.
Twenty-seven studies were identified, from 10 countries involving 374 children (6–78 years old, approximately 32% male, 68% female). Although examples of self-compassion were described (kind self-talk, acknowledging difficult emotions and sharing experiences in peer support groups), participants typically described experiences which directly opposed self-compassion. Children of all ages reported being isolated by their experience, ignoring their emotions and engaging in self-judgement and self-blame.
Results indicate the presence of barriers and facilitators of self-compassion for children of parents with mental illness. Implications for clinical practice and suggestions for future research are presented.