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Pastoral Burnout and Self-Compassion

Posted on November 12th, 2013

A study conducted out of Duke University, published in 2011, looked at the four primary factors of why clergy burnout:

  • Desire to please others. Fear of letting parishioners down or not living up to their expectations can leave clergy depleted….Clergy high in desire to please neglect their hobbies, families, and spirituality, fear letting down congregants, and have a hard time saying no to requests. Clergy low in desire to please reserve time for their personal lives without feeling selfish or anxious about disappointing others.
  • Guilt or shame proneness. Overall, “shame is considered the more painful emotion because one’s core self—not simply one’s behavior—is at stake”.
  • Self-compassion. Self-compassion entails offering kindness, patience, and understanding to oneself during times of failure or disappointment. Individuals high in self-compassion recognize that others go through similar experiences and feel connected rather than isolated during times of pain. (They) neither ignore nor ruminate about their own shortcomings.
  • Differentiation of self from role Beebe (2007) found that clergy who are able to differentiate who they are and what they value from their role as a clergy member and their effectiveness in that role tend to experience lower levels of burnout. One of the particular difficulties of those in ministry is to maintain a healthy differentiation between self and role, especially when those they encounter always see them as “the pastor,” resulting in the clergy member being more likely to merge their self-concept with their role concept.

What was most surprising to me, however, was their conclusion that “clergy who were higher in self-compassion,  i.e. who were kind to themselves during times of stress and failure, see themselves as connected with others, and are able to hold their worries in mindful awareness without ruminating, are less likely to experience burnout.”

Many of my conversations with pastors do often revolve around these four items. But I found this finding of self-compassion being the most significant fact especially powerful.

What is your experience?

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