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Deal with Difficult Relationships with Mindfulness

Most people experience at least one difficult relationship. Perhaps many of your relationships are difficult — that’s not something to be ashamed of. Relationships can stir up all sort of challenging emotions. Here, you discover how to manage tricky relationships more mindfully.

Follow these tips to handle difficult relationships:

  • Regular meditation practice.

    Meditating regularly is the best way to turn down your stress response when you next encounter the difficult person. You’ll be more mindful of the situation and will respond wisely instead of reacting by withdrawing or attacking.

  • Move toward your difficult emotions if you can.

    An absolutely key aspect of mindfulness is to learn to move towards difficult thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Avoiding difficulties creates an unhelpful, negative state of mind. By approaching difficulties, you feel more empowered and in control, and quite often the difficulties don’t seem as bad as you thought, or may even dissipate altogether.

  • Be aware of the person’s positive qualities.

    Nobody is all bad. Everyone has good qualities. Your boss always makes sure that you’re paid on time. Your aunt cooks delicious food. Your friend’s partner always pays for dinner. Be mindful of people’s positive qualities, not just the negative ones.

  • Anchor yourself with your breath.

    While you’re in the company of someone difficult, feel the sensation of your breathing. You could even do a mini meditation just before the meeting, focusing fully on your breath. This meditation helps to get your head out of the ‘story’ of your relationship with this person and focuses on the now.

  • See the person as separate from their behavior.

    If you behave badly for an evening or in a situation, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person — you just made a mistake. In the same way, consider a person’s behavior as separate from that person. You are not your behavior, and they are not their behavior. You can disagree with the behavior rather than the whole person.

  • Think why.

    Whatever the person has done to hurt or annoy you was done for a reason. Perhaps he’s had a tough childhood, a bad set of genes or just a rough day. Think about why he behaves the way he does, and you won’t feel so threatened by him. You’ll understand the underlying reason for his actions and therefore you may be a bit more forgiving.

    For example, if your colleague always ignores you in conversations, maybe it’s because you remind her of her sister who was really nasty to her when she was growing up, or maybe her mother always ignored her, or perhaps the part of her brain that deals with empathy or attention just isn’t working that well. Considering these possibilities may foster compassion in you towards that person.

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