The Courage To Be Authentic: Self-Compassion for Men

– written by Frits Koster

I had been living in South East Asia as a Buddhist monk for about 6 years. When I came back to Europe in 1988, I fell into a strong culture shock and identity crisis. I remember one of the things that really supported me was reading a book by Guy Corneau: ‘Absent Fathers, Lost Sons.’ The title of the book may already point out that this book was aimed at a problem that is felt by many men. Thirty years on there hasn’t been much change – many men are still desperately searching for their masculine identity.

Nathan Vos wrote a book in 2017 titled ‘Man o man’ about his brother who committed suicide. He mentions that ‘self-help among women is a booming business but men often don’t take their happiness very seriously.’

I have been teaching mindfulness and compassion for many years, and it is indeed remarkable to notice that – except in the prison where I sometimes teach – the majority of participants are always women. You might assume that men don’t need mindfulness, kindness and compassion so much. I fear however that this is not correct. Statistics show that men can also suffer from fatigue and burnout, but usually they have a smaller social network than women, and men don’t like to talk much about their problems as it is often even seen as a sign of weakness. Because of this, men will tend to isolate themselves much more easily when there is a difficulty. They do this, for example, by working hard, or by using alcohol or drugs.

In general, fewer men than women are diagnosed with symptoms of a burnout. But when it does happen, the symptoms have become much more serious. And if we go one step further, the number of men committing suicide in European countries is almost twice as high as for women. This was pretty shocking news to me.

As Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ We cannot change our past, we have to live with what we have. However, we can develop mindfulness and compassion in this moment, in looking at ourselves and in looking at the world we live in. This requires courage, namely the courage of vulnerability. It may show itself in starting to recognise inner habitual patterns and in developing new patterns. This requires practice, but in this way we can gradually develop understanding and a more compassionate attitude towards ourselves.

We can develop two types of compassion: yin-compassion and yang-compassion. Yin-compassion has a gentle expression and may show itself by being kind and not overly demanding of ourselves as men. Yang-compassion has a fierce and strong expression and may show itself as courage or as a non-wavering determination in the midst of difficulties. It may manifest itself in speaking out when we experience injustice, or in saying ‘no’ when we feel something goes too far.

Sometimes we may need yin-compassion, other times we may need yang-compassion. Developing mindfulness brings us the sensitivity to inwardly listen and attune to what is most needed at the moment.


Frits Koster is a meditation teacher, and MBSR and MBCL teacher and trainer. You can read more about him by clicking HERE or visit his website at www.compassionateliving.info.

One thought on “The Courage To Be Authentic: Self-Compassion for Men

  1. For many years Fritz, I have been interested in rights of passage and the cultural vacuum in the West where both adolescent boys and girls are no longer supported through the changes from adolescent to adult, through middle age to old age.

    I was lucky to be a apprentice with Someone trained by Stephen Foster and Meridith little who’s Vision Quest work provides a trans cultural model of rights of passage and saw how people of all ages, gender and race were all seeking both the challenge of dying to the old self and being born to the new as well the need for a culture to witness and validate that change.

    Interestingly there was a need for men to embrace the feminine aspect -the anima, but also for women to embrace the animus. I was reminded of this when you mentio yin and yang compassion….but also the compassion of an adolescent, adult, middle aged and elder have different faces and aspect, like the seasons in nature that they mirror.

    Just some reflections really, as I too am interested in the people who are drawn to compassion work, mindfulness , MBCT, MBSR. But also the wider context and the lack of elders in our communities – for both men and women, and how this reflects in our communities – the wisdom that embodies and shares compassion with the fiery summer of youth, the dark inward look of adolescence and autumn, and the clear view of the adult looking over the world laid bare in winter…..and of course the inspiration of spring and birth and rebirth.

    Maybe rambling a bit here….but some thoughts reflecting in response to your blog..

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