How compassion can increase your self-esteem

How many times did you read in a newspaper that the body of an old person was found in the apartment long time after the death? Well, this is what happened in my building the other day.

The victim was not an old person. He was a man in his forties known to be nice and smiley.

His body was found several days after the death. We, the tenants, called the apartment block administrator because of a terrible smell. He called the police. And they found the body.

I met this guy a couple of times, despite the fact that he lived only one floor below.

“If you need something” he said once “just let me know”.

This news shocked me deeply. “If only I'd known he was not doing good” I thought “I would have invited him for a coffee, a dinner. I would have smiled him more”.

I have no idea on the reasons why this guy committed suicide. I barely know his personal story. What I know is that I don't want to ignore what happened to someone living that close to me. His death makes me think about the collective responsibilities we have as members of a society. How much should we "check up" on each other?

Even if you have absolved yourself at that time, you are nonetheless involved” singer- songwriter Fabrizio De Andre sang in La canzone del Maggio.

As a coach, I am sensitive on mental health issues. My clients come with their baggage of emotions and If I notice that they need the support of a therapist, I have the responsibility to send them to a mental health professional.

“Your life is important. Fight for it. Honour your highest potential” said psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden. In his book “The six pillars of self-esteem”, he illustrateed six practices to increase self-esteem. Self-acceptance is one of them. "Self acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself" he wrote in the book. Then he highlitghed the link between self-acceptance and compassion.

What is compassion?

According to Theravada Buddhism, karuna (compassion) is one of the four Brahmaviharas (divine abodes). Like metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekka (equanimity), brahmaviharas are virtues that lead us to explore our heart and its vibrations. They are "heart postures" to practice through meditation and with small actions in the daily life.

In her book "Questo immenso non sapere", poet and meditation guide Chandra Candiani defines karuna as "the moment your heart jumps when it faces pain. When we suffer" she says "we tend to feel guilty or to think that we did something wrong and we end up blaming ourselves. And by doing so, we cannot be compassionate for others, because sooner or later we will apply the same severity we use with ourself, towards others".

How do you become compassionate?

We tend to see compassion as an attitude towards others. But can we support someone suffering if we don't manage our own pain?

In the above mentioned book, Candiani says that you become compassionate when you stop refusing your negative feelings and let them talk to you. This is the basis of self-acceptance. Can you remember what the flight attendants always say before the take-off?

"Put your oxygen mask first".

In "The Book of Human Emotions", author Tiffany Watt-Smith says that "according to a former nurse working with terminally-ill patients, real compassion means to support people so that they can find strenght in themselves".

This is also one of the principles of coaching: to let the client become aware of his/her own resources.

What are the benefits to practice karuna?

According to Watt-Smith "Compassion can harm our emotional stability, but the research shows that it is worthy: not only other people will benefit from our actions, but we will also improve our wellbeing and fulfillment".

Thanks to compassion you will develop a positive and non-judgemental mindset. You will train your mind to accept your emotions without labelling them as positive or negative. You will strenghten your mind to accept life as it comes, living the present moment the way it is.

You will begin to notice your emotions without trying to push them away from you.

How do you practice karuna?

1) Think about someone who is suffering. Feel the person close to you. Feel his/her pain. Send this person a greeting: “I wish you to be free from pain. I wish you to take care of yourself”. Feel the bond with the person, honor this bond.

2) Now think about your own pain. Bring your attention to your body: where do you feel it? Investigate it. Send yourself a greeting :” I wish you to be free from pain, that you can take care of it”. Enjoy this greeting. Feel it inside yourself.

My course on self-esteem is starting next week, on Wednesday 22nd June.

There are still available places. Info and reservations:

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