What are the 3 Different Pillars of Self-compassion?

Feb 16, 2023

We’ve all heard that we need to be more kind toward ourselves and treat ourselves with more “self-compassion,” but what does that actually mean? In today’s blog post, we’re going to be breaking down the three elements of self-compassion. 

Buddhist psychology provides the foundation for self-compassion, a way of relating to oneself, and Professor Kristin Neff, a leader in this field of study, defines self-compassion as consisting of three parts:1

self-compassion, heart lights

Self-compassion pillar #1: Self-kindness

When we are struggling, self-compassion means being kind and sympathetic to ourselves rather than being our own worst enemy and tearing ourselves apart. It’s treating ourselves with kindness and speaking to ourselves as we would a friend. 

For example: what would you say to a friend who is having a poor body image day and is making negative comments about themselves? What voice tone would you use? What advice would you give? My guess is that you’d show them sympathy, not tear them down even further! 

Self-compassion pillar #2: Common humanity

Self-compassion is knowing that we are human and that it’s OK to make mistakes because… we are human!  Being “human” means that you are mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion means recognizing that suffering and personal failures are things that everyone goes through and not just things that “I” go through. In other words, everyone has flaws and struggles from time to time. 

For example: Maybe you’re having trouble with binge eating right now and feel like you’re all alone. You feel bad about yourself because you don’t know anyone else who is going through this. So, you find a group of people who will help you instead of isolating yourself. For instance, you might join a Facebook group that helps people who have trouble with binge eating! In the Facebook group, you realize that many people are struggling with this too, so you feel less alone. 

Self-compassion pillar #3: Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps us develop self-compassion by helping us see our flaws and our strengths without exaggerating or ignoring them. It’s being willing to look at our negative thoughts and feelings with openness and clarity instead of trying to shut them out. 

For example: Maybe you’re having a bad body image day and the voice in your head is making it worse. Notice what’s coming up without judging it, and try to figure out where these thoughts are coming from.

The practice of self-compassion may seem strange at first if you are used to being hard on yourself. Just like exercising a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it will get. 

In times when you find it difficult to be gentle with yourself, remind yourself that you are worthy of kindness! For more resources of practicing self-compassion, visit our resource page or contact us today for 1 on 1 support.

self-compassion, heart, hands

What Does the Research Have to Say?

There are many ways that showing yourself some self-compassion can benefit you in your journey. 

Research reports that higher self-compassion is related to greater body acceptance and appreciation and lower body dissatisfaction.2 Additionally, self-compassion has been associated with healthy forms of eating, such as intuitive eating, and reduced maladaptive forms of eating, such as emotional eating.3 

There is also evidence that a compassionate attitude toward oneself could promote health-protective practices, such as healthier eating habits, exercise, sleep behaviors, and stress management.4,5 

Showing yourself compassion means that you recognize and accept that you are a human. Not everything will go the way you want it to. You will feel frustrated, lose things, make mistakes, and fall short of your goals. This is what it’s like to be human, and it’s something we all go through! 

The practice of self-compassion may seem strange at first if you are used to being hard on yourself. Just like exercising a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it will get. 

In times when you find it difficult to be gentle with yourself, remind yourself that you are worthy of kindness! 


  1. Definition and three elements of self compassion. (2011, March 22). Self-Compassion.
  2. Schoenefeld, S. J., & Webb, J. B. (2013). Self-compassion and intuitive eating in college women: examining the contributions of distress tolerance and body image acceptance and action. Eating Behaviors, 14(4), 493–496. 
  3. Carbonneau, N., Holding, A., Lavigne, G., & Robitaille, J. (2021). Feel good, eat better: The role of self-compassion and body esteem in mothers’ healthy eating behaviours. Nutrients, 13(11), 3907.
  4. Homan, K. J., & Sirois, F. M. (2017). Self-compassion and physical health: Exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychology Open, 4(2), 2055102917729542. 
  5. Sirois, F. M., Kitner, R., & Hirsch, J. K. (2015). Self-compassion, affect, and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 34(6), 661–669. 


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