Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
My mother and I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship. Neither of us have great boundaries with one another. She often feeds my anxiety in a way that feels malicious, and I have a bad habit of trying to “fix” her lifestyle to be more like my own. Often, I would brace myself for visits with my mother as if I were preparing for battle. I was constantly pitting myself against her, even when there was nothing to be won.
As I began to explore mindfulness meditation, I found the focus of my relationship with my mother shifting. I was no longer guarding myself against her, waiting for the “fight” moment. I was able to view her with empathy and see that our unhealthy patterns existed not because of a lack of love, but a lack of understanding.
When family members push your buttons, it’s easy to switch into fight or flight mode. Negative tendencies in intimate relationships are difficult to change, but mindfulness meditation can help rewire your brain to create healthier relationships. So when your mother tells you you’re folding your towels wrong, you can take it as a suggestion meant for your happiness and not an attack on your homemaking inadequacies. Here are a few ways mindfulness meditation has helped me create healthier relationships.
Long term relationships, such as those with family members, are often wrought with a complicated history. I went into every encounter with my mother expecting it to be a negative experience. I had been carrying that expectation ever since I was an angsty teenager who was upset over the fact that she wouldn’t let me pierce my belly button or go to that super-cool Korn concert.
Mindfulness brings me into the present and can help to disassociate current events from past negative experiences. I may not be able to forget the past, but I don’t have to dwell on it. I can approach each encounter as a chance to build a better relationship, and let go of my hardwired expectations.
My behavior with my mother was always distorted by what our interactions meant to me. I was always on the defensive. I never stopped to consider how she felt, or how I was affecting her happiness. When I shifted my focus to actually listen to her and let go of my preconceived notions about what she was “trying to do to me”, I was able to build a more meaningful relationship with my mother.
Mindfulness meditation has helped keep my brain organized, so my emotional baggage doesn’t get tangled up with someone else’s words. It helps give me the tools to communicate effectively, without always focusing on myself.
One of the biggest game-changers in my relationship with my mother was gaining the ability to stop before reacting. I was so used to diving into my knee-jerk reactions that I never fully absorbed what was happening between us. Mindfulness gave me a moment of pause before jumping to my usual defenses.
My mother knows my triggers and consciously or subconsciously, she pushes them all the time. Mindfulness helped me take a breath before crumbling into tears or snapping back over an innocuous comment about my child-rearing abilities. That small pause often makes the difference between allowing a trigger comment to became a huge deal and simply brushing it off.
By being more aware of my emotional state and triggers, I am better equipped to build positive relationships. When I became more introspective, I was able to ask myself what I really wanted out of my relationship with my mother. I realized I only wanted good for her, and she felt the same way toward me. Keeping that core belief that our relationship should be about wanting the best for one another helped me put aside the small annoyances and focus on the importance of building a strong bond with my mother.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.