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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Relationships: Stop Watering the Seeds of Suffering

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 16th 2009

 All of us could use some help and support in our relationships. But there are things we do that end up engaging a more destructive side. We can't help it. As human beings we're bound to become frustrated, irritable, suspicious, and even despairing. More often than not, the people who this energy rubs off on are those who are closest to us. It could be a husband, wife, best friend, or child. Either way, we engage in a way that only serves to drag the other down. Internationally best selling author and acclaimed Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls this "watering the seeds of suffering." Maybe you come home from a hard day's work, tired and irritable and pick up fight with your partner. Or maybe the contract at work hasn't come through yet so you begin telling a colleague how you really didn't like the way they did that report. There may be some momentary relief because by sharing this negativity we're not the only ones carrying it, but now the other is suffering and now in a weaker state to support us.

Unaware of the space in between the trigger and the reaction, relationships can fall into a cycle of escalation that doesn't serve anyone. Whether at home or at the workplace, it's ok to talk openly about getting frustrated, irritated, or despairing at times and bring it out in the open that this is a natural emotion in life. If the person you are speaking with his human, there's a good chance they have had these feelings too. By doing this you now make it ok to share the actual emotion when it is arising, rather than taking it out on the unknowing person. This is a healthier way to interact and often times leads to a sense of connection and empathy rather than hate and despair.

To take this a step further, if you an another often get caught in a downward cycle, you can make an agreement where you notice when this is beginning to occur and create some gesture that signifies respectfully noticing that the cycle is happening. In other words, make an agreement to not water the seeds of each other's suffering. For example, if bickering begins, you might both agree that putting up one hand acknowledges this past agreement and that both of you might just take a time out, try and relax, and then come back to one another from a more grounded place. In the past, other people have put up two fingers in sign of peace and yet another agreed to bow to one another in a sign of respect. The reason this can be helpful is that it is often unhelpful to the relationship to communicate from places of imbalance.

This could also work very well in the workplace during this economy when people often share negative stories and gossip that in the end only serve to reduce morale and make actually working more challenging. Make an agreed upon sign with your co-workers that reminds you both when this cycle is happening and to nip it in the bud, because at the end of the day it makes the job more difficult.

As always, please share your thoughts, insights, and questions below. Your additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    noticed some errors - - Mar 18th 2009

    I just wanted to make a comment that i noticed some possible grammatical errors.

    pick up fight with your partner. is this meant to state pick a fight

    and where it is said with his human... is this meant to be, with is human

    Have a good day

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