There is certainly no instruction booklet on how to foster meaningful relationships. The way we first learn is through modeling our parent’s behavior, by process of elimination, and through on the job training when we’re thrust into our social worlds in school and other places we socialize. As we know, sometimes these may not be the most reliable and most conducive sources and lessons.
From my own experience and through the lens of my patients, I see the long-term effects that fractured relationships have on our self-confidence, ability to be self-compassionate, and capacity to give and receive nurturance from others. It impacts on the way we view ourselves, others, and relationships in general.
These are 10 mindful lessons:
1. Lead by your values, not by someone else’s behavior – We are prompted and taught to react and interact based on someone else’s behavior. If someone is mean, we are instructed to act in kind. Experiencing ourselves as mean and “feeling” mean doesn’t benefit ourselves or the other person. Rather than being reactive, think about “who you want to be” and “who your best self is.” If your core value is kindness, respecting others, etc. then signify those values unconditionally and absent of contingencies. Be that way “no matter what.”
There is a lot of shame and regret that inevitably lingers when you are not acting from your values and a place of integrity. Always ask yourself, “What’s going to help me sleep at night and lend to who I am and want to be?” You can make a conscious choice about how you want to behave.
2. Don’t treat people the way you would like to be treated but rather how they want and need to be treated – We approach people in the way we know and is familiar to us. If someone is disappointed, we approach them in the way we like people to approach us. How would we know otherwise? Always ask others what they need. There’s no way for you to know that because each person is uniquely different and their needs can change from moment to moment based on their circumstances, mood, and many other factors.
3. Speak back to the mind when it evokes insecurity – Our mind is always trying to protect us, intrinsic in that is it being relentless and obstinate at times. Our mind has a mind of its own. It sometimes provides more protecting than we need and could often evoke intense self-doubt, insecurity, and worry. It could say things like “no one likes me” or “everyone is smarter than me.”
We need to challenge these broad generalizations and negativity and act from a place of who we want to be. The only way to test out its validity is to purposefully lean into the challenge and then work from a more realistic place. “Some people are having negative reactions to me” or “Not everyone is going to like me” is workable, whereas “No one likes me” is not.
4. Gaining confidence is an inside job – It is our job, not the job of others to build our confidence, self-belief, and self-love. The better we feel about ourselves, the better “self” we will be in our relationships. Also, those people who respect and treat us well we’ll attract and choose to be in relationships with.
We need to think about whether we are putting in the time into getting to know ourselves and better understand the way in which we think and feel. Also, whether we are making strong concerted efforts to enhance ourselves while working with and accepting our challenges. Daily, it is critical to evaluate, acknowledge, and validate what we specifically did to lean into our values and work toward our personal growth.
5. When you have a strong reaction, take a mindful pause – When we have strong negative emotional reactions to others, it’s important to take a pause between our thinking and doing. It gives us time to process how we felt, what it evoked in us, and how we’re prompted to react. Think through all of that and then go back to #1 on the list and lead by your values.
6. Approach relationships with curiosity and openness – We approach relationships with our entire selves, including our judgments and expectations. Always approach situations by asking yourself, “How else can I see this?”
Think of yourself as a researcher, trying to better understand human behavior and make it a point to reserve judgments and expectations. Approaching with curiosity will allow for less defensiveness, more empathy, and room for shifting preconceived ideas and notions about our sometimes faulty and habitual beliefs.
7. Teach people how to treat you – People are not expected to know what you want and need even though we wish they did. We desire it so much, that we often get disappointed when they don’t know it automatically.
Other people are not us, so they can’t possibly understand. We need to let them know and ask for what we need and set appropriate boundaries with others so that they get to understand our needs better.
8. Relationships evolve like people do – We, as human beings and the relationships we engage in are forever growing, changing, and are in a state of flux. If that’s the case, we need to understand that our needs and preferences will change overtime in sync with our development.
Patients are usually puzzled when asked why it’s okay for them to be selective in the people they desire to socialize with but why it’s their expectation that everyone like them. Along with this is the acceptance that our friends and overall relationships may change overtime and what we need from them will change too. This is all expected and part of our natural development.
9. Recognize that we are all complex and multidimensional – We have many parts of ourselves which include those parts which are imperfect and less favorable. Notice all the facets. Expand your lens to notice it all even though you will be drawn to hyper focus, be critical and judgmental of, and at times disdain, the less desirable parts of others. Remind yourself that these attributes are part of them but do not make up all of them. People are generally caring and thoughtful by nature, however their underdeveloped and regressed parts can often take over, masking who they really are and want to be.
10. Perpetually be in the present moment – We get distracted because of the stimulus going on around us and often lose sight of the importance of being with others fully. This includes intently paying attention, showing warmth and connectedness, and following up with others to show them that you heard them, care about them, and are invested in the relationship.
We know through research that those engaged in positive relationships live longer and have more meaningful lives. We often get in our own way and can’t see past familiar patterns of behavior that may no longer serve us well and often negatively impact us. Through our awareness, willingness, and concerted effort we can proactively and consciously form more meaningful and satisfying relationships in which we want and are deserving of.