Have you noticed how you leave one bad relationship only to find yourself repeating the same patterns in your next one? You’re not alone.
A recent study out of the University of Alberta found that people tend to recreate many of the same patterns in their new relationships as they had in their old ones. Although a new relationship may seem better for a while, most of the same problems tend to creep back in over time. But fortunately, a bit of effort and a willingness to learn from experience can help you can become one of those “lucky” people who enjoy a happy, satisfying relationship.
With compassionate self-awareness (a combination of self-awareness and self-compassion), you can successfully change relationship patterns – either in your current relationship, or a future one. By seeing yourself from a compassionate perspective, you will be less defensive and more open to appreciating your part in relationship problems – freeing you to resolve them.
In trying to gain a full understanding of your contribution to relationship problems, it’s not enough to say: I have an anger problem; or, 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 self-understanding by directing your attention to 5 basic areas of self-awareness (STEAM), as shown below. (You might also find it helpful to print the Gain Self-Awareness Through STEAM worksheet.)
Sensations: In a quiet environment, direct your attention to your body. Note any sensations in your body, such as muscle tension in your chest or tightness in your throat.
Thoughts: Pay attention to the thoughts that go through your mind and the way that you talk to yourself, noting any underlying beliefs that direct your thinking. For instance, if you believe that you are inadequate, you might be quick to criticize yourself for any mistakes you make.
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 hurt, angry, jealous…? To truly know how you are feeling, you must be more specific.
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 encourage more negative self-perceptions, and it might prompt others to see you negatively, too.
Mentalizing: How you understand your own or someone else’s actions based on thoughts, feeling, or other inner experiences.
As you observe the first four areas of awareness (STEA), you might become able to see how these aspects of your experience affect you in your relationships. For instance, Jen noticed that her body got tense (sensation) after her partner Nicole spent time with friends. She worried that Nicole cheated on her (thought), leaving her to feel jealous (emotion). With continued reflection, she noticed that she tended to avoid confrontations (action) because she feared Nicole leaving her. She also realized that she 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. In Jen’s situation, her increased compassionate self-awareness, enabled her to be understanding of her struggles and to talk effectively with Nicole about how they could work together to help her overcome her insecurities.
By developing your compassionate self-awareness, you can better understand the dynamics in your relationships – and the role that you play in those dynamics. Once you’re aware of your patterns, you can make changes in yourself that will enable you to create and maintain healthier relationships.
(To learn more about compassionate self-awareness, watch this 2 minute video.)