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5 Ways To Use The Power Of Mindfulness And Compassion With Families and Teens

By Adrienne Glasser LCSW, RDMT

Mindfulness is everywhere these days, but how can we use it when helping families? In it’s most simple form, mindfulness is remembering to come back to the present moment.  A simple but fair question is: “What else would one be doing?”  A busy mind races to the past and future.  Resentments and to-do lists click in and the mind wanders anywhere and everywhere.  We bring these too-busy brains to all of our relationships, to our partners, our family and our children. Many times, this can make the love and positive regard we have for others feel less accessible to them. It can cause us to momentarily forget how much we care for them.

Sharon Salzberg shares a fable on Happify(link is external) in which an elder protagonist states, "I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is fearful, vengeful, envious, resentful and deceitful. The other wolf is compassionate loving, generous, truthful, and peaceful." A child asks, “Which one will win the fight?” The elder responds, “The one I feed.” How we work with, acknowledge and energize our feelings determines the direction of our growth. We change ourselves through our own intentionality as we seek to become the persons we want to become.

In my work as a psychotherapist and meditation instructor with families and teens, I have seen various ways that mindfulness and compassion (also known as Karuna in Sanskrit) can be used to unify families.  I test these methods in my home life and can confirm, from experience, that the practice of meditation creates major change. Below are 5 Steps that are useful when working with mindfulness and compassion to help families and adolescents. These tips will work for you in your life situation and family! 

1. A foundation of Positive Regard (pathway to compassion): [This is not meant to be practiced in a home atmosphere marked by abuse.]  If someone is having a hard time connecting to their underlying love for a partner, child, or parent, ask them to focus on their heart and to visualize a time they felt connection or love with the person they are trying to have better communications with. This memory can inspire compassion and de-escalate conflict. Often we feel that we must pick only one emotion to feature. The more families can discuss the possibility of holding both love and other emotions for each other in their hearts and minds, the more possibilities for compassion can arise. 

2. Remembering to “come back to the breath” (mindfulness): If families are unable to access positive regard or connection, coming back to the breath to create a pause-- between distortions, misperceptions, negative expectations--can help make space for clarity.

3. Curiosity about underlying vulnerability (curiosity leading to compassion):  By seeking to understand a family member’s sense of vulnerability, the source of their suffering becomes clearer. Being able to hear feelings clearly, rather than the stories we may tell ourselves about what our feelings should be, is at the heart of building compassion in families.

4. Validation of underlying feelings and vulnerability (compassion): At the end of the day, we all want to feel heard. When we feel depleted of validation ourselves, it is difficult to offer it to our loved ones. Yet, when family members give validation to each other, it becomes more likely that they will be heard in return.

What is validation? It’s saying that you have heard what your loved one is feeling and that you understand it without judging it. This does not mean you necessarily agree with everything they say. What is most important is that you hear (validate) their underlying emotion(s). Help them clarify their feelings if and when they begin to open up to you. If family members are unable to reciprocate validation when you feel you need it, it is important to resist overly intense pursuit of what you feel you need. You can invite the response you want but no matter how mindful you may be, you cannot control others responses.

5. Compassion for others is contagious. Giving facilitates a foundation of positive regard and increases the likelihood of meeting individual needs, too. Encourage yourself and family members to focus on what they can offer. Ask for what you need. Verbalizing the request for understanding can be powerful regardless of whether or not another person can fulfill the request.

This article, written by Adrienne Glasser featured on Psychology Today, discusses various ways mindfulness and compassion can be used with families and teens. 

 

Further readings of interest:

4 Steps to getting your relationship unstuck

Compassion and emotional safety go together well.

Photo Credit and Video about Basic Meditation Practice Here

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