The psychology of self-compassion is growing in importance for understanding well-being and helping people in therapeutic and educational settings. However, present research may be limited by a narrow focus on nomothetic self-reports like the Self-Compassion Scale. This article supplements that qualitatively, looking at self-compassion in life stories. It is guided by the questions, “How do students experience the struggle between self-compassion and its deficit? And how is this experience manifest in their narrative identity?” This study examined three Japanese university students who submitted their narrative self-reflections, including stories of the high point, low point, turning point, and recurring pattern in their lives, without any direct prompting about “self-compassion.” However, their life stories spontaneously pointed to self-compassion and its deficit. These stories were analyzed using the methods of narrative analysis presented by Murray and Josselson, beginning with descriptive/inductive approaches then proceeding to a more interpretative phase using McAdams’ psychology of narrative identity. As expected, their stories included their struggles with self-criticism and self-isolation in what they do and how they think and feel about it. But beyond that, the paper points to entire personas in their stories and their self-conception revealing this struggle with low self-compassion. This shows that self-compassion can be seen on the level of narrative identity via life stories.


mindful self-compassion, narrative identity, life story interview, Japanese education

Author Bio(s)

Anton Sevilla-Liu is associate professor for Clinical Pedagogy at Kyushu University, Japan. His research includes philosophy of education (particularly in the Kyoto School of Philosophy), educational practices for well-being, and narrative research. He is the author of Watsuji Tetsurô’s Global Ethics of Emptiness (2017) and editor of Journal of Japanese Philosophy. Please direct correspondence to sevilla.anton@artsci.kyushu-u.ac.jp.


This paper was written with the aid of funding from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Project Number: 21K13525). The author would like to thank Prof. Dan P. McAdams for his suggestions on understanding narratives and Prof. Ueda Kayoko for her advice on the interpretation of the stories. The author is also deeply indebted to Mizokami Atsuko and Catherine Sevilla-Liu for their efforts in exploring approaches to narrative analysis. Thank you to my team and all my participants for accompanying me in this narrative journey!

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