Objective: Self-criticism is a self-condemning and self-compassion a supportive style of self-to-self relating. These concepts have increasingly been studied in people with cancer, but mainly with quantitative studies. This study is the first to explore how adult cancer patients experience self-criticism and self-compassion in the context of their illness.
Design: A multimethod qualitative study design was used, combining individual and group semi-structured interviews. Participants were 26 people with cancer who familiarized themselves with the topic by doing various self-compassion exercises for 2 weeks prior to the interview. Individual and group interviews were analyzed together using thematic analysis.
Results: Four themes regarding self-criticism were identified: (1) being harsh or strict with yourself, (2) feeling guilty or angry, (3) feeling useless or like a burden, (4) feeling ashamed and not wanting to show weakness. Six themes regarding self-compassion were identified: (1) being mild to yourself, (2) guarding your boundaries, (3) accepting the illness and limitations, (4) maintaining a positive perspective, (5) connecting to others, and (6) taking responsibility for your health.
Conclusion: Our findings offer insights into practical and daily life experiences of self-criticism and self-compassion of people with cancer, which can aid the further development of theory, scales and interventions.