Self-criticism, depression and autonomy support

A new study from Theodore Powers and colleagues looks at the relationship between self-criticism and depression and the extent to which autonomy support can help reduce depressive symptoms.


Self -criticism includes various things such as negative thoughts about yourself, shame, and the fear of losing the approval of others by not living up to their expectations. 
Previous research has shown that self-criticism or self-critical perfectionism is associated with various problems and disorders such as depression (e.g. Werner et al., 2019 ). 

Social Support 

Social support can be important to reduce the negative consequences of self-criticism. But the effectiveness of social support seems to depend on how it is provided. 

Autonomy Support vs. directive support 

Two forms of support that strongly contrast with each other are autonomy support and directive support.  
  • Autonomy support involves recognizing one's feelings and perspective, refraining from undue control and pressure, and encouraging choices and options. 
  • In contrast, directive support (a controlling style of support) refers to well-intentioned attempts at support that may nevertheless be perceived as intrusive or controlling, such as repeated reminders or conditional praise. 
Previous studies have shown many benefits of autonomy support, both for the support giver and the recipient). There are also indications that autonomy support correlates negatively with depression. 

Research Powers et al. (2022) 

Powers et al. (2022) investigated the relationships between self-criticism, depression and autonomy support in 283 students during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, they expected self-criticism to be related to increased depression over time. 
Second, they expected that autonomy support would be related to less depression (while more directive support would not be related to depression). 
Third, they expected that the relationship between self-criticism and depression would be moderated by autonomy support. This means that individuals who are more self-critical and experience more autonomy support would experience fewer depressive symptoms. 


The results showed that self-criticism increases vulnerability to stressful events such as a pandemic. Self-critical individuals are more likely to develop depressive symptoms. 
They also found that autonomy support was negatively associated with depression. The results also showed that autonomy support moderated the relationship between self-criticism and depression. 
In other words, self-critical individuals who received a lot of autonomy support experienced fewer depressive symptoms.