Much of our suffering arises in relationship with others, as we are all different, have differing opinions and needs and life experiences that shape who we are. There are two types of relational pain; one is the pain that arises when someone you care about is suffering (pain of connection), the other comes from experiencing loss or rejection and feeling hurt, angry or alone (pain of disconnection).
Downward Spiral of Negative Emotions
Our capacity for emotional resonance means that emotions are contagious. Our brains communicate emotions to one another and this is regardless about how carefully we might choose our words. For example, if some- if you are annoyed with your partner, and you try to hide it your partner or friend can still pick up on your feeling of being annoyed and might even ask, “ Are you angry at me?” Even if you deny it, they will feel the irritation, which will affect their mood and their tone of voice. You then feel this, in turn, so you become more annoyed, and your responses will have a harsher tone, and so it goes on. Other people are partly responsible for our state of mind, and we are also partly responsible for their state of mind.
Close Connections with Others start with Feeling Connected to Ourselves
Self- compassion can interrupt a downward spiral and an upward spiral can start instead. If we can direct positive feelings of compassion to ourselves for the pain we are feeling in the moment, this will also be felt by another- and will show in our tone of voice and subtle facial expressions- and help to interrupt the negative cycle. Cultivating self- compassion is one of the best things we can do for our relationship interactions as well as for ourselves. When we meet our own needs of love and acceptance, we can place fewer needs on our partners, allowing them to be more fully themselves. Self- compassion gives us the resilience we need to build and sustain healthy relationships in our lives. Research shows self- compassionate people having happier and more satisfying romantic relationships, with partners being given more freedom and autonomy in their relationships.
EXERCISE: Self- Compassion Break in Relationship Conflicts
- Next time you are in a negative interaction with someone, try using the Self- Compassion Break. Start by saying silently to yourself: “ This is a moment of suffering” or “ This hurts”- saying something to acknowledge how you are feeling, then reflecting on the common humanity aspect saying “Suffering is part of any relationship” or “ There are others just like me”, and then directing some kindness to yourself because of the pain you are feeling saying “ May I be kind to myself” or “ May I be strong”. It can help to use some kind of supportive touch, placing your hand on your heart or elsewhere, or using a subtle form of touch by holding your own hand and feeling the warmth.
- Before re-engaging with the other person, try practicing Giving and Receiving Compassion to maintain your caring attitude. Breathe in for yourself, acknowledging the pain you are feeling in the moment, then breathe out for the other. Make sure you fully validate your own pain and give yourself what you need as well as honouring the struggle of the other person.
- Notice how the state of mind of the other person may change as your own state of mind changes.