CHALLENGE #4: Mindfulness in Difficult Relationships
Updated: May 17, 2020
We all have them. People who push our buttons. People who drive us crazy. People who make us act in ways that we don't like very much. And often these people who get under our skin the most are those in our lives who know us best.
It might be a sibling or parent, a relative or friend, or even a teacher, coach or boss. It might be someone that we see every day, once a month or once a year.
Whoever comes to mind for you, what if you could improve those encounters or, at the very least, decrease your stress related to them?
The reality is that we all experience anger or frustration. We are human. We experience emotion. What you do with that anger or frustration, however, is a choice.
There are tons of books, articles, sessions and courses you can take to educate yourself on navigating difficult relationships. Below are just a few simple steps to consider and perhaps introduce to your routines.
How do you experience these difficult interactions? Do you clench your fists? Do you feel warmer? Do you have pain in your stomach? Do you get a headache? Begin to pay attention to the physical sensations connected to these interactions. And what about your mind? Are you replaying experiences you had with them in the past or are you worrying about future interactions? Self-awareness is key to improving these interactions for how can we change our patterns if we are oblivious to what is happening in our bodies and minds?
As you increase self-awareness, then you will be able to make decisions and take steps to help you through and be in control. For example, if you begin to notice that you clench your fists and tense your shoulders during these interactions, perhaps you can recognize it, open your hands, relax the shoulders and stand like a mountain, tall, calm and stable. Your physical stance affects your mind and vice versa. But you can't take steps to improve anything if you are completely unaware of your body and mind.
The foundation of all mindfulness is the breath. We are always coming back to our breathing. How you breathe is part of self-awareness, but deserving of its own title because it is SO important. Can you take a moment before entering a difficult conversation to do a breathing exercise? With increased self-awareness, can you notice during a conversation when your breathing rate is increasing and the quality of your breath decreasing, and can you take a moment to focus on the breath. STOP: Stop, Take a few Mindful Breaths, Observe, Proceed. What about after dealing with a difficult person in your life? Can you choose to remove yourself from distraction and practice some mindful breathing before proceeding with your day? With awareness of breathing comes calm, collected and rational communication and decision-making. When our breathing rate increases and even becomes out of control, we are in a fight-or-flight state. This is when we can say and do things that we later regret.
How often have you found yourself in a conversation only to realize that you don't know what the other person was saying? What happened? How did you miss it? Where was your mind during the conversation?
Mindful listening, similar to mindfulness, means being present moment with full attention and without judgement. To do this, it means removing distractions, such as phones, ipads, music and activities requiring your attention, such as homework or cooking. It also means paying attention to where your mind is wandering during the conversation, and bringing it back to what the other speaker is saying, similar to how you bring your focus back to the breath. Does your mind wander to your to-do list or are you even formulating what you are going to say, rather than actually listening.
Fully listen to the other speaker. Digest the information. Take a breath. And then respond.
A great practice to try is a loving-kindness meditation. This might be daily or weekly. It may be an easy task for you or you might find it rather challenging. But, either way, keep at it in order to provide self-care and some improvement in relationships.
First, begin by finding a comfortable meditation position with eyes closed or gently open gazing a few feet in front of you. Repeat the phrases below silently to youself. First, sending loving-kindness to yourself. Then to someone in your life that you hold dear. Then to someone who is 'neutral' that perhaps you see in passing. Then, if possible, to someone that you find challenging. And finally, to all living beings or even all creatures in the world or universe.
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I accept myself just as I am.
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you accept yourself just as you are.
May we all be filled with loving-kindness.
May we all be happy.
May we all be healthy.
May we all accept ourselves just as we are.
The great part about mindfulness is that we don't just practice it for ourselves; We also practice it for those we love and everyone we interact with. Mindfulness, no doubt, has personal benefits, but it also greatly benefits those around us.
If you are struggling with some challenging relationships, I invite you to read on. Here are a couple of options for further reading:
How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People (and Some Other Secrets)
How to Handle a Toxic Relationship from mindful.org
Meditator's Guide for Dealing With Difficult People from Live&Dare.com
Mindfulness and Difficult People from HuffPost.com
Before or after dealing with a stressful relationship, a yoga class can help. Here are a few online classes that could be helpful:
Let It Go Yoga Flow for Stress Relief - Kayla Perry from Alo Yoga
A 30 minute restorative class
Yin Yoga for Deep Emotional Release - The Yoga Ranger Studio with Aprille Walker
A 75 minute yin class for hips and glutes
Self Love Yoga - Yoga with Adrienne
A full 50 minute gentle hatha class
Vinyasa Yoga for Emotional Release - Yoga with Caren Baginski
A gentle 30 minute vinyasa class