Developing Positive Relationships with Others and Oneself: The Benefits of Self-Reflection
by Dr. Catherine Buchan
Prior to 2000, I found some relationships with colleagues, or romantic partners, challenging.vI either took too much responsibility for the issues we were experiencing, believing they must all be my fault, or I blamed them. I was living, like many people, in what I describe as the “asleep zone” (Buchan, 2008). Then I experienced burnout, had some therapy, discovered personal development and began meditating. These factors resulted in me discovering how important it is to make time for regular self-reflection. I learnt that to have positive relationships with others, one of the most important things is to take responsibility for our own happiness instead of depending on others for this, and to develop a positive relationship with oneself (Buchan, 2008). Becoming aware of our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, needs and so on, is essential for this, and you cannot develop self awareness without self-reflection.
Additionally, when someone would say something that triggered me, I would have an instant, internal automatic emotional response. I felt as though they controlled my emotions. I would blame them for “making me” feel bad. If this was in an intimate relationship, my coping mechanism was to withdraw emotionally, which blocked intimacy and created a vicious cycle, often leading to a complete relationship break-down. The benefit of self-reflection is that you learn to observe and notice what is going on within yourself, which creates a pause, and thus a moment of choice. This breaks the automatic responding. This fosters non-reactivity of inner experience, which helps positive relationships with others, and gives you the opportunity to respond more calmly (May, Ostafin & Snippe, 2019).
However, we have to be careful we are practicing self-reflection, rather than the other form of “self-attention”, namely rumination, that is repeatedly and endlessly going over a thought or problem (Joireman, Parrott & Hammersla, 2002). Only self-reflection is positively associated with taking others perspective and empathy (Joireman et al., 2002). This is where self-compassion is important. When I first began self-reflecting, like many people, I had a tendency to judge myself, my thoughts, emotions and behaviour etc. I also found becoming consciously aware meant I had a tendency to ruminate at times, which had a negative impact on my mood and so on. Being introduced to mindfulness and in particular, the eight attitudes of mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn, 2008) really helped, and continues to help me, practice self-reflection rather than self-rumination
Buchan, C. (2008). 22 Boyfriends to Happiness: My story and the seven secrets on how to find true love. Triniti Press.
Joireman, J. A., Parrott, L. and Hammersla, J. (2002). Empathy and the self-absorption paradox: Support for the distinction between self-rumination and self-reflection. Self and
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Kabat-Zinn, J., (2008). Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. Piatkus Books.
May, C. J., Ostafin, B. D. and Snippe, E. (2019). Mindfulness meditation is associated with decreases in partner negative affect in daily life. European Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 35-45.