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Theresa Robertson, L. Mickey Fenzel, Ph.D.

Relationship of Spirituality and Self-Compassion with Shame and Stress Among Men Convicted of Sex Offenses

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In recent years the number of people, primarily adult men, required to register on public online sex offender sites has proliferated. The effectiveness of online sex offender registration in fulfilling the original intent of protecting the public and reducing recidivism has proven to be questionable (Ackerman & Sack, 2012; Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyopadhyay, Sinha, & Armstrong, 2010; Melcher, 2011; Prescott & Rockoff, 2011; Tewksbury, 2014; Tewksbury, Jennings, & Zgoba, 2012). In addition, unintended, harmful effects have resulted for registrants and their families as a result of public registration requirements. Two psychological consequences of online public registration are high levels of shame and stress. To date, minimal effort has been made to address these, or other collateral consequences on public registration requirements.

Research indicates that levels of spirituality and self-compassion are associated with levels of both shame and stress. Investigating these relationships within the population of sex offender registrants has the potential to provide valuable information to begin to develop effective treatments to address shame and stress resulting from placement on sex offender registries.

The current study examined the extent to which spirituality and self-compassion might impacted levels of shame and stress among a sample of men currently on a sex offender registry, and examined if spirituality altered the strength of the relation between self-compassion with shame and stress. Data from a sample of 60 individuals convicted of sex offense crimes were analyzed using multiple regression to assess the bivariate and multivariate correlations between criterion (Spiritual Transcendence and Self-compassion) and outcome (External Shame and Perceived Stress) variables, and to determine if Spiritual Transcendence altered the relationship between Self-compassion and the two outcome variables.

Self-compassion was found to be inversely related to both external shame, and perceived stress. While zero-order correlations did not reveal any association between spiritual transcendence and either outcome variable, spiritual transcendence was inversely related to both external shame, and perceived stress when controlling for personality traits, age, months on registry, and religiosity. Finally, the hypothesis that spiritual transcendence would moderate the effect of self-compassion on external shame and perceived stress was not supported.

Individuals convicted of sex offenses have identified spirituality as an important component to successful recovery (Geary, Ciarrocchi, & Scheers, 2006). Furthermore, spiritual interventions incorporating meditation have been found to contribute to the reduction of perceived stress (Oman, Hedbert, & Thoresen, 2006) and distress (Kohls, Walach, & Lewith, 2009). At the onset, one of the primary purposes of the current study was to begin to garner information to identify therapeutic constructs that might be helpful in identifying treatment approaches to address some of the damaging psychological consequences of the social stigma attached to the label of “sex offender.” The results of this study indicate that therapeutic applications using self-compassion as a base have the potential to mitigate shame and stress associated with public registration requirements.

Geary, B., Ciarrocchi, J. W., & Scheers, N. J. (2006). Sex offenders, spirituality, and recovery. Counseling and Spirituality, 25(1), 47-71.

Kohls, N., Walach, H., Lewith, G. (2009). The impact of posititve and negative spiritual experiences on distress and the moderating role of mindfulness. Archive for the Psychology of Religion, 31, 357-374. doi:10.1163/00846209X125247242282032

Oman, D., Hedbert, J., & Thoresen, C. E. (2006). Passage mediation reduces perceived stress in health professionals: A randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 74(4), 714-719. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.74.4.714

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