Relational mindfulness is a skill that helps us keep in touch with what we’re feeling in the moment. When we tap into that self-awareness, we can notice our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations as we relate to others in the present. It’s a challenge to get in touch with yourself and stay in touch with yourself while you’re interacting with others. It’s especially difficult for people pleasers, people drawn to helping professions (hello, therapists!), and people with a history of trauma who often feel the need to stay safe by monitoring others instead of themselves.
Why Practice Relational Mindfulness?
The purpose of relational mindfulness is to be aware of how things outside of you affect you. If you’re a people pleaser, helper, or someone with a history of trauma, you may have noticed that you’re naturally mindful of the other person but not looking at yourself at all. It’s totally normal to become unaware of your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations in a situation where you’re socially expected to give attention to another person.
When you have a tendency to hide yourself and focus on others, relational mindfulness is a challenge to include yourself in the conversation. Including yourself means that you matter, your thoughts and feelings are equally important in the relationship. I know for people pleasers, helpers, and people with a history of trauma, that can be a really uncomfortable idea. Hiding is safe, and focusing on others allows you to avoid feeling what you’re feeling.
Relational mindfulness is a challenge! I hope this practice helps you improve your awareness of yourself as you engage and relate with others.
Experimenting With Relational Mindfulness
There are small things you can do to start dipping your toes into the practice of relational mindfulness. As a first step, you can try shifting into a posture of internal awareness as you’re watching a show or movie, reading the news, or listening to music. Practicing alone without another person around feels easier and helps you be less self-conscious. It can take time to learn to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations.
Check in with yourself. Start by noticing your reactions to things you observe as you’re watching or hearing or reading. What statements create a reaction in you? What is the reaction? Just describe the awareness to yourself, don’t try to analyze where it came from or try to change it.
The goal with this practice is to be able to maintain a dual awareness of your own internal world and what’s going on externally at the same time. In your early practice, it might take you a while to name what you’re feeling- or even to realize that you are feeling something. By observing your reactions to media at first, you’re giving yourself space to take the time to identify your feelings.
Exploring Relational Mindfulness Safely
As you expand your practice of relational awareness, you’ll want to start checking in with yourself during conversations with others. The best place to start is with a safe person. Preferably, this is someone you trust enough that you can tell them about your relational awareness practice. Ideally, you can practice together, naming your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations you observe as you interact with them.
Practicing with another person
Relational awareness practice with another person can be a fun experience. You can go back and forth with each other simply observing your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations and reporting to each other what you observe. Alternately, you can check in with each other at regular intervals during your conversation and name your observations as you go.
Practicing alone… with others
When you don’t have someone you can practice with, you’ll still want to try bringing your dual awareness skills into a real life conversation. It’s easier to start in a group where you’re one of several participants so if you get stuck on an observation it doesn’t interrupt the flow of conversation.
Advanced Relational Mindfulness
Finally, you’ll feel ready to maintain your dual awareness when you’re in a one on one conversation. The core challenge is to stay in touch with your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations while staying fully aware of the other person. The goal of relational mindfulness in this context is to ensure you’re taking care of yourself and your needs
Want to Learn More?
Therapy can help you develop your internal sense of who you are. This is especially helpful for people pleasers, people in helping professions, and people with a history of trauma. Through relational mindfulness and other skills, you can learn dual awareness skills. These will help you improve your relationships by prioritizing yourself. Therapy can help you address your natural barriers to developing a focus on yourself. Learn more about how I work with my clients here. Or click here to learn more about me.