Our adult brains are running on outdated software developed long ago when we were children that causes us to fear being more emotionally present and authentic in our relationships–precisely what’s needed to build healthy, loving connections. Instead of being able to make good use of our feelings we unknowingly respond to them as though they’re dangerous, and they’re not. We engage in our relationships reflexively, unknowingly controlled by our old programming, and wonder why we’re having such a hard time.
We end up repeating the same defensive patterns over and over–patterns that get us nowhere–as if we had no other options. For instance, we get caught in circular arguments with our partners, instead of taking the risk to share our hurt or fear. We minimize, deny, or hide our anger, pull away from our partners and avoid being direct, and then end up feeling resentful, disinterested, or depressed. Or, we fail to express the fullness of the love in our hearts–and then can’t understand why our partners complain about feeling frustrated, alone, and unsure of our love.
But we don’t have to remain prisoners to our past. We can change the way our brain is wired. The key to doing so is by developing emotional mindfulness. By focusing our attention in positive and constructive ways we can free ourselves from old habits and fears, befriend our emotional experience, and develop new ways of relating. We can update our nervous system. We can rewire our brains to support our relationship success.
When we get triggered in our relationships, we go from stimulus to response in a nanosecond. A button gets pushed, and our default programming takes over. It all happens so quickly. But, if we could slow things down, if we could widen the gap between impulse and action, we’d afford ourselves some necessary space to be able to do things differently.
Practicing emotional mindfulness serves as an antidote to our struggles by helping us to see and shift the emotional dynamics that have been unconsciously governing our behavior more readily. It grows our awareness of our feelings and increases our capacity to abide and work constructively with them. In turn, we’re better able to regulate our distress and objectively see and respond to what’s happening within us and before us.
In my new book, Loving Like You Mean It: Use the Power of Emotional Mindfulness to Transform Your Relationships, I share my proven four-step approach to developing and utilizing the skills of emotional mindfulness. Each of the steps address different efforts required to re-program our software.
- In particular, with Step One, “Recognize and Name,” readers learn to identify when their old programming has activated their nervous system’s threat response so they can begin to break patterns of habitual responding.
- In Step Two, “Stop, Drop and Stay,” they learn to turn their attention inward and comfortably abide with and move through what’s happening inside of them without being reactive.
- In Step Three, “Pause and Reflect,” readers learn to mine the wisdom that comes with being in touch with their truth, consider a now-broader range of options, and choose a course of action that is more aligned with their intentions and values.
- Lastly, in Step Four, “Mindfully Relate,” readers learn how to manage the anxiety that comes with opening up in a new and different way, stay centered and present, and express their truth in a manner that paves the way toward healthier relating with their partners.
Opening up to our here and now emotional experience with another person is transforming. With the right tools and regular practice, real change can happen. Your relationship can be fuller and richer than you ever imagined. The capacity for healthy, loving connections is inside all of us, just waiting to come out. Don’t you want to be able to love like you mean it?