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Learn & Practice

Tuesday Tip: Working with Difficult Relationships

By The Healthy Minds Team

In this week’s Tuesday Well-Being Tip, how to support your personal well-being, even with a challenging relationship.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

For many, the New Year can be a time of reflection and examination. If you’ve been leading a mostly isolated life since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic as well, this reflection may be even more illuminated as we evaluate our current relationships in these unusual times. Perhaps your self-reflection has led you to question some of these relationships – or the roles you play within them.

In the Healthy Minds Framework for Well-Being, there are two pillars that can support evaluation and guidance in relationships: Connection and Insight. In the Connection pillar, we focus on the skills of appreciation, kindness, and compassion to promote supportive relationships and supportive interactions. In the Insight pillar, we cultivate the skills of self-inquiry, self-knowledge, and transcending the self to understand how our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs shape our experiences and sense of self – and therefore our relationships with others.

This work can be challenging, especially when utilizing these skills with “difficult people.” Fostering positive relationships can feel overwhelming when you have been hurt by, or feel negative emotions toward an individual. While you cannot control other people, you can control your own reactions to – and the role you are playing with – difficult people and thus support your own well-being through this work.

Again, this work can be challenging, so give yourself as much self compassion as you can while working through difficult relationships.

In today’s Tuesday Tip, we’ll guide you through this process.
  • Step 1: Bring to mind someone with whom you have a positive relationship. Examine the role you play in this relationship. Ask yourself, what is the dynamic like between you two? Can you uncover a belief or assumption about this relationship? This doesn’t need to be positive or negative – just a firmly held belief like, “we have different points of view on politics,” or “she and I share a sense of humor.”

  • Step 2: Examine this belief. Ask yourself: how does this belief influence my interactions with this person? You might notice that your beliefs make you feel more open and comfortable, or perhaps more tense and guarded. How might this set of ideas influence how the two of you interact? Notice what comes up when you think about this.

  • Step 3: Notice this story’s limitations, so you can get a fresh perspective. Whatever story you’re working with, whether positive or negative, notice how simple and limited it is. Is it always true? Have you had any interactions that prove this story false, or even prove the opposite story true? Try to have an open mind here. Explore and see what you notice.

  • Step 4: Bring to mind someone with whom you have a difficult relationship, and once again, examine your beliefs and the roles you both play in this story.

  • Step 5: After questioning your assumptions, can you find something to appreciate about this difficult person? What if you were this person’s mother or best friend – what would they say about this person?

  • Step 6: Find your appreciation. Once you’ve found something positive, silently express appreciation. For example, “I really appreciate what a good parent this person is.” Let any negative associations come and go while you notice one positive quality they possess. 

  • Step 7: Give yourself some compassion and kindness. If you are feeling resistance or frustration to finding appreciation for a difficult person, don’t worry. That’s normal. We’re going against the grain here. This practice doesn’t condone bad behavior – it allows us to release our own stuck feelings, so we can be a little more balanced when we interact with difficult people. So, let’s take care of ourselves here. As you breathe in, imagine taking in the difficulty of this practice in the form of smoke or heavy fog. Visualize the negative energy being extracted from the challenge, and watch it completely dissolve in your heart, like clouds evaporating in sunlight. Then, every time you breathe out, send yourself happiness and well-being. Imagine yourself receiving happiness in the form of light – bright, open, and free.

That’s it. It’s a lot, and can bring up a lot of feelings, so be gentle with yourself. Remember, this practice is for you – so you can free yourself from the roles and stories that play out with difficult relationships. Stretch your imagination, and stay curious about any emotions you are feeling. 

What we’ve done here is combined several different meditations from the Connection and Insight pillars of the Healthy Minds Framework. You can explore these practices with seated meditations on Beliefs about Relationships and Appreciation for those We Find Challenging.

Get more practices and tips by downloading the Healthy Minds Program App, freely available thanks to the generosity of our donors wherever you get your apps.

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