Relating to others

‘Relating to others’ is the forth of Christopher Germer’s ‘Five pathways to self-compassion’. We humans have evolved to be highly social creatures – in childhood we’re very dependent on caregivers for many years, and even as adults we can only function well as part of a community. This doesn’t mean we have to have vast numbers of friends and be invited to parties every night of the week. A social butterfly in a crowd can feel lonely, while someone else might like their own company and need extended periods of solitude, and still feel warmly connected to a few key people. We’re all quite different as to the type and frequency of social interaction we need, but it’s long been established that feeling lonely and marginalised is terrible for our health, both mental but also physical.

If we think back to our happiest childhood memories, they were often times when someone kind spent time with us in a way which showed care, respect, and friendliness. Perhaps we were walking along a creek with this person, or wrapping a birthday present, or learning how to flip our first pancake. They were often moments of great simplicity, but also deep emotional warmth. They may have been times when we didn’t need to prove ourselves, but where the other person was really present with us, not rushing off to be somewhere more important.

In mindfulness, the way we relate to ourselves will inform how we treat those around us. If we hold a hostile attitude towards ourselves, it’s likely that this will be expressed in some way towards others, though the way we live it out can be quite subtle, almost hidden. Perhaps we do our best to be helpful, but have a tendency to be sarcastic at times? We might spend a lot of time gossiping about the shortcomings of others, and be quick to judge and criticise. Sometimes, when people start to meditate, they’re shocked at the unfriendly tone of voice they use towards themselves. We benefit when we treat other people with kindness, and this includes ourselves as well.

Weekly practice idea:

This week, think back to a time when you shared a happy moment with someone else, either in your childhood or more recently. What were the qualities of the interaction which you really appreciated? Write down these qualities, and reflect on how you’re currently nourishing these in your life.

Anja Tanhane



Are you your own best friend, or your harshest critic? If you were a team, would you be playing for yourself, or against? Or perhaps you are a capricious friend to yourself – perfectly civilised when life is rolling along smoothly, but transformed into a snarling viper whenever you make the slightest mistake.

Many of us struggle to find the right balance between being willing to examine our motivations and actions, and giving ourselves an unnecessarily hard time, often over quite minor mistakes. How we treat ourselves depends on complex factors, including our cultural background, gender, religious affiliation and personality.

When people begin a regular mindfulness practice, they often notice an increased friendliness towards themselves. In the words of Daniel Siegel, we can allow ourselves to become our own best friend. Fortunately, this seems to correlate with being less judgemental towards others as well, becoming more patient with their foibles and vulnerabilities.

There is a significant difference between being friendly towards ourselves and becoming narcissistic. Longitudinal studies of American college students have shown a marked increase in narcissistic traits over the past few decades. Related traits such as unrealistic expectations, materialism, low empathy, and less concern for others, have also increased. We might sometimes feel that being too friendly with ourselves will encourage our narcissism, that we’ll no longer care enough about others. Interestingly, it seems the opposite is the case. Studies on the effects of mindfulness meditation have consistently shown that by tuning into our own experiences with an open, friendly acceptance, we are more able to be present and empathic with others as well. Like a well-functioning sports team which relies on good communication and encouragement, but also constructive feedback and a willingness to improve, it seems we’re at our best when we feel supported in our willingness to learn.

It is like a balm to our soul when we walk into a room and are greeted by a friendly smile. If we are greeted by a frown instead, our anxiety levels tend to rise. If we are learning mindfulness meditation to help us decrease our anxiety levels, it makes sense to not spend our lives metaphorically frowning at ourselves. As Mother Teresa said,

‘Peace begins with a smile.’

Weekly practice idea:

This week, when you make a mistake, notice how you react. Are you unnecessarily hard on yourself, or do you find yourself brushing off your mistake without much thought? Are you less kind to yourself than you would be to a friend?

Anja Tanhane