Communication

  • Mindfulness in Relationships: Connecting with Others

     

    Horses Grooming One Another

    Written by Jenni Chante

     

    Relationships of all kinds can be a minefield of unrealistic ideals, old baggage, hang ups, habits and misunderstandings. All too often we find ourselves stuck in unhelpful ideas and beliefs, rather than genuinely connecting with people.

     

    Thinking that we know those around us inside out can sometimes block us from being present and really hearing them. Or we may feel so sure of our role within a relationship that we find ourselves repeating unnecessary behaviours which lead to the same old arguments again and again.

    In arguments we often place the blame on the other person – they’re not listening to us, they don’t understand, they’re being difficult or purposely trying to wind us up. Conversely, people can feel the same way about us.

    Yet by becoming more mindful, we can start to accept some responsibility. Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions is not the same as blaming ourselves. We can take responsibility without layering guilt over the top.

    By introducing mindfulness we can start to let go of the repetitive dramas and reach a much deeper, more meaningful level of connection with our partner, family, friends and also ourselves.

    Here are some useful questions to ask ourselves when things feel difficult or strained within a relationship.

     

    1. What are my beliefs about relationships?

    Relationships are important to most of us. We may even attribute our self-worth to our relationship status or circle of friends. It’s useful to be mindful of what we think a relationship should provide us with, or what feelings and experiences we believe shouldn’t arise in a successful relationship.

     

    Do you have ideals of what your perfect relationship should look like?

    Or the type of people you think you should spend your time with?

    Or how your family unit should function?

    How does it match up with the truth?

    Are confrontations arising because of some discrepancy between your fantasy and reality?

     

    The truth is real relationships will rarely meet idealised expectations. Life is messy and unpredictable. Not only will your expectations cause rifts, they may also be holding you back from experiencing the true joy which can come from honest, real connection.

     

    2. What are my beliefs about my partner, family and friends?

    We can very quickly fall into the trap of thinking we know a person. We experience a few of their idiosyncrasies and bam – we’ve made up our mind up about them. When we do this with a partner it leads to us experiencing people through our limited lens of who we believe they are, rather than seeing them as they truly are – a perpetually evolving human being with great capacity for revealing new facets of their character.

    Be mindful of whether you’re being present with those around you, or whether you’re stuck in an old idea of who they seemed to be at some stage in the past.

     

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    3. What are my beliefs about myself?

    Just as we can become caught in old ideas about others, the same can be true of ourselves. We may believe we have a certain role to play within a relationship, or that certain aspects of ourselves are not good enough.

    But like others, we also contain deep potential for change. By bringing attention to the limiting thoughts about ourselves, we can break free of old cycles of behaviour.

     

    4. Do my verbal expressions match my true feelings?

    It’s an ongoing joke that women expect men to be able to read their minds. However, most of us are guilty of wanting others, particuarly our partners, to guess or uncover what we’re really feeling, and that’s true of both men and women.

     

    How often do we really explain our feelings in full?

     

    Or when misunderstandings arise, how often do we truthfully look at what we’ve said, rather than staying stuck in how we feel. Of course, sometimes we ourselves aren’t entirely sure of what’s going on inside our minds, so it’s not always possible to be clear.

    Yet even during these times we can still bring mindfulness to our confusion, and express that our loved ones. Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry, I know I’m not making sense, I feel really confused” can take the edge of a heated argument or miscommunication.

     

    5. Am I exaggerating?

    Often when we are upset, we project our current feelings into the past and future. For example, say that we are upset that our partner didn’t help us with a household chore. This may trigger some old emotions around not feeling supported, and that emotion colours our view of the past.

    Suddenly instead of it just being “You didn’t help me with ___”, it’s “You never help me” or “You always let me down”.

    An alternative suggestion might be “I’m feeling frustrated / unhappy / stressed because the house is a mess. I’d like us to make this more of a priority”, placing the onus on how we’re feeling and offering a solution without the need for an argument.

    By being more mindful and honest about the truth of the situation, and of dealing with the present problem instead of raking up the past or projecting our suffering into the future, we can avoid a lot of conflict and remain closer and more connected with those closest to us.

     

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  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

     

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication.

     

    Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated.

    But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

     

    Understanding Ourselves First

     

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them.

    We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood.

    If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty. For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.”

    By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can approach communication with clarity and build stronger relationships.

     

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

     

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person.

     

    Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel?

    Do we want to punish them with our words?

    Or do we want to feel understood?

    Do we want to find a resolution to a problem?

     

    Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain?

    It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

     

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    Noticing Our Tone & Language

     

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little.

    Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why.

    For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset.

    Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

     

    MEDITATION

    Mindfulness of Breath

     

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  • Top Tips for Mindful Communication at Christmas

     

    A season for family, friends and festivities, Christmas brings our relationships and interactions with others into the spotlight. It’s often said that our closest relationships present us with our greatest challenges in life, so it’s little wonder that family gatherings over the festive season can be fertile ground for tension and conflict. Bringing mindfulness to our interactions can help us to navigate our way through this period and cultivate positive connections. Read our top tips and find out how…

    Listen with Intent

    Connecting with others is important to our happiness and wellbeing -- when we are disconnected, we can feel stressed and revert back to reactive patterns of communication. We can bring mindful presence to our conversations by staying open and curious, and listening with patience and acceptance. We don't necessarily have to agree with what a relative or friend is saying, but we can still be open to different points of view and listen with the intent to understand, not to judge. In this way, the person communicating has the experience of feeling respected and valued.

    Make Space for Emotion

    The festive season can bring with it a full spectrum of emotion -- from warmth and celebration, to bitterness and frustration caused by quarrels, or sadness and loneliness triggered by memories of lost loved ones. We can use mindfulness to make space for all of our emotions by observing whatever arises, and knowing that we don’t have to act or react to it, but to simply let it pass through our awareness with acceptance and non-judgement.

    Abandon Expectations

    Around this time of the year, we can find ourselves bombarded with images of Christmas ideals of unity, harmony and joy, but the reality can be different and far more complex, especially when it comes to close relationships. We can lay the ground for a more enjoyable experience at Christmas by choosing to not have any expectations, and by staying mindfully present with our social interactions as they unfold moment-by-moment.

    See Good In Others

    Dealing with difficult relatives can be one of the greatest challenges over Christmas. This year, see if you can transform a testing interaction with a relative by looking for the good in their character. It’s always possible to find qualities that you appreciate in someone, such as kindness, generosity, humour or even just positive intentions. When we make the choice to stay open and consciously look for these traits, we may find our interactions are transformed.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs at calendar of events to support mindfulness practice and communication throughout the year. 

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  • How to Mindfully Cope with Difficult Parents

    If we have dealt with challenging or damaging behaviour from our parents in the past, this can make our present relationship with them feel like an emotional minefield.

    We may even feel that we don’t want a relationship with them at all, but feel guilty for that, because there is so much pressure from society to have positive relationships with our parents.

     

    How can we navigate these complicated dynamics and look after our own well-being at the same time?

     

    And, if we want to have a good relationship with our parents;

     

    How can we remain open and present with them when there may be so much pain from the past?

     

    Accepting Our Feelings

    Many of us probably loved our parents unconditionally when we were children. Although there may have been times when their decisions or behaviour seemed unfair, we generally accepted that they must know best. This may mean that they unknowingly left us with some negative beliefs about ourselves. For example, if a parent had a quick temper, we may have grown up thinking that they were right to get so angry all the time because we are bad. It’s usually not until we’re older, and can see our parents with more objectivity, that we realise the problem wasn’t with us, it was with them. Even so, those old, ingrained beliefs can be hard to shake off, and so we may find it difficult to let go and forgive. But this is okay.

    Mindfulness practice helps us notice our true feelings, and encourages us to accept them without judging or clinging. Although it can be tempting to think that judging ourselves for having feelings of anger, resentment or disappointment may push us into letting them go and replacing them with more ‘acceptable’ feelings, it usually does the reverse. By judging our feelings as bad, we end up holding onto them more tightly, fuelling our original feelings with added guilt and shame.

    Accepting our feelings simply means that we acknowledge the reality of the moment, whatever that contains. It’s not about what is right or wrong, or good or bad, or what should or shouldn’t be in an ideal world. It’s about saying to ourselves, “These are my feelings. This is my current experience. And that is okay.”

    The Importance of Self Care

    Now that we are adults, we have the option to give ourselves the care and understanding which may have been lacking in our childhood. Rather than pushing our feelings away or making them wrong (in ways that may echo how our parents reacted to us when we were in need), we can use some self-compassion to finally acknowledge ourselves and take care of ourselves.

    We can also use this self-compassion to create clear boundaries with parents who may be behaving unreasonably. Although we may feel that we ought to always be around for our parents, especially as they get older, if they are being emotional abusive we can give ourselves permission to take a step back. This could be in temporary ways, for example we cut back on how often we visit or telephone our parents. Or this stepping back could be more permanent, depending on what we feel is right for our situation.

    Caring for ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean that we do anything differently when we’re with our parents. We don’t have to tell them how we feel about them, although sometimes that may feel right to do. Coping with difficult parents, rather than changing anything on the outside might actually be a very personal, private process, which is more about coming to terms with uncomfortable feelings, and giving those feelings a kind and patient space to exist within.

    Becoming Clear on What is Right For Us

    If we go through life mindlessly, we may feel that we are not really in control of anything. We might make decisions that are based on old beliefs, habits or the expectations or wishes of others, rather than having a clear idea of our own present values and needs. In a parent-child dynamic this can feel magnified.

    We are so used to interacting with our parents in a certain way; perhaps with us giving our power away to them, and perhaps them expecting it to be that way too. In some ways this is inevitable; they spent years guiding us, making decisions for us and shaping who we are. Yet by becoming more mindful about what we want to get out of, and give into, the relationships in our lives, we can start to make more conscious decisions about what is and what is not okay for us – even with our parents.

    Being more mindful in these difficult situations with our parents can help take us out of knee-jerk reactions and auto-pilot responses, so that we can act with greater clarity, self-compassion and in ways which are more aligned with our values.

     

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