Feel like the poster child for unhappy or failed relationships? Seem to get caught in the same problematic patterns no matter what you do? Despite how you feel, you are not a lost cause. With some effort, you can enjoy happy relationships.
Begin by focusing on the one central factor involved in all of your relationships – you! The more self-aware you are, the less likely that blind spots in understanding yourself will undermine your relationships. And even better, self-awareness can help you to improve your relationships.
It’s particularly helpful to develop compassionate self-awareness. This involves relating to yourself in a positive way – enabling you to cope with inner struggles more effectively. With the added element of self-compassion, you will be less defensive and more open to seeing your part in relationship problems– freeing you to help resolve them. (More information about compassionate self-awareness can be found in this brief video.)
When considering relationship problems, you must gain a full understanding of your part of the problem. It’s not enough to say: I let myself be a doormat; I have an anger problem; I like people who aren’t good for me. These are good starts, but broad observations are not enough. You need to be more specific.
You can gain a fuller understanding by directing your attention to the following:
Sensations: In a quiet environment, direct your attention to your body. Note any sensations in your body, such as muscle tension in your chest, tightness in your throat, and churning in your stomach.
Thoughts: Pay attention to the thoughts that go through your mind and the way that you talk to yourself. You might also notice that there are certain underlying beliefs that direct your thinking. For instance, if you think that you are inadequate, you might be quick to notice and criticize yourself for any mistakes you make or weaknesses you have.
Emotions: It can be difficult to identify your emotions, and some people gloss over their emotions by using vague descriptions. For instance, someone might say they are upset – but does that mean they feel sad, hurt, angry, jealous…? To truly know how you are feeling, you must be more specific. If you are at a loss when you try to identify your emotions, you might use a search engine to find a list of emotions.
Actions: Pay attention to your actions, including what they say about you and how they affect you. For example, you might notice how you demean yourself whenever someone gives you a compliment. This might reflect negative self-perceptions and self-loathing, and it might prompt others to see you negatively, too.
As you make these observations, you may notice how these aspects of your experience interact, and how they affect you in your relationships. For instance, you might notice that your body gets tense (sensation) after your partner has spent time with other friends. You worry that he might have cheated on you (thought), leaving you feel jealous (emotion). With continued reflection, you might notice that you tend to avoid confrontations (action) because you fear him leaving you. You might also realize that you’ve repeated this pattern in previous relationships.
Self-understanding often helps people to empathize with, and have compassion for, their struggles. This clarity might also open you up to a healthier, and more compassionate, perspective of others. With this foundation, you will feel more supportive of yourself when you struggle, and more like a teammate as you work through problems with others. You will also feel motivated to work constructively to improve your relationships and your life!