Updated: Jul 26, 2020
Interpersonal mindfulness can be viewed as an extension of personal mindfulness. One practice is focussed on your experience within and interpersonal mindfulness is focussed on your reciprocal inner and outer experiences. Let's be real, people can often trigger you and you can often find yourself being reactive in relationships but the answer isn't always disconnecting. Provided the relationship is not abusive or neglectful there may be an opportunity for you to practice interpersonal mindfulness and co-regulation and it can be just as effective and healing as personal mindfulness.
Given that good relationships are the key to health and wellbeing, healing trauma and longevity the interpersonal mindfulness practice is especially important. Mahatma Gandhi said "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." We are social creatures and giving r receiving acts of kindness makes us feel good and warms our hearts. Taking care of others has evolved because its essential for our individual and group survival.
Using the mindfulness practice we can begin to become aware of our relationship patterns, instead of reacting we can regulate our own system and begin to notice any patterns that might not be helpful for connection. We may notice that we continually try connecting with things that are not helpful to us so its important here to develop trust and agency in your approach and seek the support of a mindfulness teacher, counsellor or coach if you need more help. Attachment theory is a popular theory that informs education, healthcare and many welfare programs; it’s a robust model developed by John Bowlby
Attachment theory explains the different affect regulation strategies that develop as a reflection of the sum of our closest relationships and explains the foundational neural circuitry that develops from the non-verbal, instinctive relationship you developed with your primary carer in infancy. The neurobiological mechanism that drives altruistic behaviours are now sequences in our genes, wired into our brains and woven into our culture.
Attached conditioning informs our working model of self, others and relationships and also guides how we deal with stress and threat regulation. Research has found it influences everything from attitudes, emotions, regulation, behaviour and interpersonal processing.
Our attachment conditioning sets up the foundational neural circuitry for all our relationships and when we experience a relational habit or familiar reaction in relationships it probably will be recognised in your original attachment style.
Attachment styles learned in our early years can be influenced with mindful awareness and a commitment to being present. If you were one of the lucky ones to grow up with secure attachment then mindfulness might come relatively easily to you but the research has found mindfulness and attachment are bi-directional so as you practice mindfulness you can develop greater levels of secure attachment conditions. Reciprocal interpersonal mindfulness is also a great way to practice developing attachment conditions.
There are four main attachment styles to be mindful of but secure attachment style leads to positive development while all of the others are maladaptive to varying degrees. Our attachment style exists on a spectrum and you might experience different attachment styles in different situations or with different people. Provided you had "good enough parenting" you will find you probably have a secure attachment most of the time. It's normal as parents to not be attentive 100% of the time. The research shows good repair work also helps children develop the capacity to face difficulties, build resiliency and stay connected in later life relationships.
The still life experiment shows us an example of the importance of secure attachment and repair.
Attachment styles by John Bowlby
Secure Adults: Securely attached adults have the ability to connect and feel close, and also to honour their own and their partner's need for separateness. They are responsive and empathic to their partner's feelings and can easily forgive. They have appropriate boundaries and are confident, trusting and loving mates.
Avoidant Adults: Avoidant adults become physically and emotionally distant in relationships. They prefer detachment rather than connection, because of a very strong unconscious fear of dependency, which they believe will lead to rejection. They are unresponsive and intolerant to the needs and feelings of their mates. They are rigid and lack spontaneity. They are often angry, controlling and critical. They need considerable reassurance and praise, but do not ask for it. They do not do well disclosing feelings or being intimate. They can be a responsible partner if you do not make many emotional demands of them.
Ambivalent Adults: Ambivalent adults are up and down in relationships. One moment they might be available and the next rejecting. They love arguments and rarely get resolution on issues. They are over-close in relationships. Their needs are always changing, yet they expect their partners to know what their needs are and to meet them. They tend to want to control in a critical, demanding and volatile manner, yet rely on their partners to keep the family going. They are quick to blame others and can tantrum when they do not get their way. They might hit below the belt in a fight. They fight hard and play hard and are never dull, keeping their mates off guard with an unpredictable and charming nature. They need a grounded partner to keep them in check.
Disorganised Adults: Disorganised adults have chaotic relationships. They do not give love and affection easily and are unresponsive and insensitive to their partner's needs. Abuse and neglect is common in their families. They have explosive rages and lack empathy and compassion for their mates. Because of their damaging early experiences, they have a great need for safe and secure relationships, yet lack the trust in their partners to help create it.
In relationships we can engage in corrective emotional experiences whereby more "secure" attachment styles can be learned. These modifications can redefine relationships in many significant ways and interpersonal mindfulness is the practice of developing healthy attachment architecture.
Learning to create a healthier relationship provides an arena to heal old wounds and to establish a meaningful bonds for the future. This kind of change develops in both the left brain (cognitive, conscious) and right brain (emotional, unconscious) architecture helping the brain to be balanced. Neuroscience has shown that the contemplative practices like meditation and mindfulness support plasticity on attachment architecture.
The more we can undermine reactions of disconnection and isolation and step into consciously choosing the values of the whole community the more we will be able to actively participate co-operatively in developing a culture of connection and community-mindedness.
Try these coaching questions to build your interpersonal awareness.
1. What attachment style do you most identify with?
2. How do attachment styles show up in your relationships? Partner, family, friends, colleagues etc
3. What are the values of your organisation or culture?