How to be an Adult in Relationships

Mindfulness is being an adult. It is unattainable for someone who lacks inner cohesion, personal continuity, and integration. Being a fair witness requires a healthy ego, because distance and objectivity are unavailable to someone with poor boundaries, no tolerance of ambiguity, and no sense of a personal center.


Mindfulness can be either consciousness without content (pure awareness with no attention to any particular issue or feeling) or consciousness with content (attention without ego intrusions, called mindfulness of the mind).


Mindfulness is a courageous venture because it is trusting that we have it in us to hold and tolerate our feelings, to grant them hospitality no matter how frightening they seem, to live with them in equipoise. We then discover a strength within us that is equivalent of self-discovery. From that self-esteem comes effective relating with others. Because mindfulness leads us to let go of ego by letting go of fear and grasping, it is an apt tool for relating. It makes us present to others, without the buffers of the neurotic ego.


We simply stay with someone as he/she is, noticing not judging. We take what a partner does as information without having to sensor or blame. In doing this we put space around and event rather than crowding it with our own beliefs, fears, and judgments. Such mindful presence dress us from constricting identification with another’s actions. A healthy relationship is one in which there are more and more such spacious moments.


Mindfulness is not meant to helps us escape reality but to see it clearly, without the blinding overlays of the ego.


Mindfulness is inherent in human nature. We were built to pay attention to reality. Indeed, paying attention is a survival technique. Over the years, though, we learn to escape reality and take refuge in illusory sanctuaries built by and ego frightened of reality. We notice that it is easier to believe what will make us feel better, and we feel entitled to expect that others will be what we need them to be. These are man-made chains that look like links to happiness. But once we commit ourselves to experience divested of ego wishes and attachments, we begin to act straightforwardly, becoming truthful with one another.


The healthy ego is the part of us that can observe self, situations, and persons, assess them; and respond in such a way as to move towards our goals. It assists us in relationships by making us responsible and sensible in our choices and commitments.


The neurotic ego, on the other hand, is the part of us that is compulsively driven or stymied by fear or desire, feeding arrogance, entitlement, attachment, and the need to control other people. Sometimes it is self-negating and makes us feel we are victims of others. This neurotic ego is the one we are meant to dismantle as our spiritual task in life.


The neurotic ego wants to follow the path of least resistance. The spiritual Self wants to reveal new paths.


Childhood forces influence present choices, for the past is on a continuum with the present. Early business that is still unfinished does not have to be a sign of immaturity; rather, it can signal continuity. Recurrence of childhood themes in adult relationships gives our life depth in that we are not superficially passing over life events but inhabiting them fully as they evolve. Our past becomes a problem only when it leads to a compulsion to repeat our losses or smuggles unconscious determinants into our decisions. Our work, then, is not to abolish our connection to the past but to take it into account without being at tis mercy. The question is how much the past interferes with our chances at healthy relating and living in accord with our deepest needs, values, and wishes.


Every person needs the nourishment of food throughout life. Likewise, a psychologically healthy person needs the sustenance of the five A’s - attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing. It is true that unmet needs for the five A’s in childhood cannot be made up for later in life, in the sense that they cannot be fulfilled so absolutely, so immediately, or so unfailingly. That absolute, immediate fulfillment of needs by one person is appropriate only to infants.


But needs can be fulfilled, in short or longterm installments, throughout life. The problem is not that we seek gratification but that we seek too much of it all at once. What we did not receive enough of before, we cannot receive enough of now; what we did receive enough of before, we can receive enough of now.


We do not outgrow our early needs. Rather they become less overwhelming, and we find less primitive ways to fulfill them. For example, an infant may need to be cradled and carried, while an adult may be satisfied with a supportive remark and a kindly glance. Sometimes a lifelong need can be fulfilled by just such little moments of mindful love.


~ David Richo


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