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

Relationship Problems? Stop Watering the Seeds of Suffering

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 19th 2012

man woman arguingLike everything else, all of us human beings have a dark side. We bound to become frustrated, irritable, suspicious, rude 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 bestselling author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh calls this "watering the seeds of suffering." 

As my friend and Psychologist Beverly Berg, PhD says in a recent tweet, "If you want to insure that your marriage end in divorce, just keep on endowing your partner with evil intent. It's very effective." 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.

The Now Effect is when we become aware of that space between the stimulus and response and we become clear about what really matters and can then engage healthier choices. However, unaware of the space in between the trigger and the reaction, relationships can fall into a cycle of escalation that doesn't serve anyone. 

One way of remedying this is to talk openly about getting frustrated, irritated, or despairing at times. If the person you are speaking with is human, there's a good chance they have had these feelings too. By doing this you now make it okay 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 and another person get in a habit of downward cycles, 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 often times just isn’t effective to communicate from places of anger and imbalance.

This also has application 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 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.

Becoming more mindful of the unhealthy ways you engage in relationships can pop you into spaces of clarity more often, giving you the opportunity to choose a healthier response and realizing The Now Effect. 

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.

ADHD - gary k - Jan 24th 2012

Easier said than done.  But how does one handle the situation when the other person appears to suffer from ADHD?

a more educated and philosophical explanation... - johnmichael - Jan 24th 2012

Thank you for this article; it illustrates something that happens all the time in the world of professional sales, due to the unusually high levels of stress and rejection that people have to learn to deal with.

In my days as a professional coach, the analogy I used to teach this principle, I borrowed from the movie "Ghostbusters".  In the movie, there was a particularly malicious spector who enjoyed passing through people, and leaving them covered with slime.  In my capacity as a coach, I saw my mentees do this frequently.  They would enter a room of happy, well adjusted people after had a terrible day of rejection, failure and frustration covered in "emotional slime", and proceed to "pass through" everyone they could in order to share, and reduce their load of slime. One thing would lead to another, and before long things would spiral downward into who-can-tell-the-worst-rejection-story land. 

After a 15 or 20 minutes, the formerly miserable , slime covered sales reps, would whistle their way out the door - slime free, having left a room full of once clean and happy innocent bystanders, covered covered with "slime", that which was flung upon them as well as of their own making.

I found it productive to teach the same signal method you suggest, as a way for the innocents to defend themselves, and for the offenders to recognize what they were about to engage in.

I'm saving your article for coaching purposes - it will appeal to those I work with who would respond to a more educated and philosophical approach than "slime"!




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