I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is for me to become frustrated and angry with people I truly love, particularly during stressful times. The people I love are the people I should trust the most. However, I’ve noticed that instead of actually listening to them, I often make assumptions about what they think of me and how they interpret my actions. Applying mindfulness to relationships can be both challenging and eye-opening. And this week, I’m giving it a shot.
Using mindfulness to control triggers
When I’m frustrated or angry with someone, I’ve noticed a change in my physical response. For example, if my heart starts to beat faster during a conversation, I decide to be intentional and take a breath, sending air deep into my belly. Breathing this way reminds me to pay attention to what’s going on in the moment. It also helps me to consciously take note of my frustration and decide how to proceed, rather than let my emotions decide for me.
Seeing multiple perspectives
I realize that many times, when I react out of anger, it’s a response that occurs because of a past experience that hurt me. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our past relationships often guide our behavior. Mindfulness can help us decide how to react based on the current relationship rather than the past one. Instead of thinking, “This person never hears what I have to say,” I can be mindful and able to consider my own patterns and responses (e.g., What is my own pattern of responding in these situations? Can I change my mind about how I see this interaction?) Admittedly, this can be difficult. Although sometimes I feel stubborn and I don’t want to let go of my old patterns, this mindfulness exercise teaches me so much about myself and my options for how I respond to others.
Incorporating mindfulness into our relationships can be difficult. But once we find a way to make it work, it can be very rewarding. Consider it an ongoing practice of self-discovery and growth. You’ll likely need to try many different ways to bring mindfulness into your relationships before you find what works for you. But it’s worth a shot. Try the following exercise the next time you’re in an argument with someone.
Stop and bring your awareness to the negative emotion as soon as you become aware of it. Breathe, paying special attention to how your breath naturally releases some of your tension. Reflect on the present situation and ask yourself if you can change your mind about how you view what’s happening. Is the situation triggering something from a past hurt? What is the other person’s intention right now? Is that person being triggered by the argument as well? Choose your response: What is possible here? What response might be effective, respectful or even loving? What is my best choice?
Your mindful responses may surprise you — and the people you love.