By Molly O’Brien
If meditation is typically a solitary, internal practice, how can it improve our relationships with others? Meditation helps us make peace with the world because it gives us space to let our true selves emerge — the part we do not usually let others see. As we become more familiar with our undisguised, spontaneous side, we are more likely to let others in. The ego-driven image we regularly present to the outside world falls away and we start to interact openly. Connecting with people more honestly enhances the quality of our relationships.
In studies of the effect of meditation on social decision making, subjects who meditated had increased activity in areas of the brain that function to dismantle negative emotions — particularly in regard to fairness in social interactions. The experiments contained two groups of subjects: one that underwent loving-kindness meditation training and one that did not. When presented with scenes of conflict or violence, meditators reacted with less anger and fewer punitive feelings. Given the opportunity, they granted more benefits to victims of unfair treatment. The researchers concluded that people who meditate develop a greater capacity for compassion and altruism than non-meditators.
Improved response flexibility
Have you ever wished you could take back a harsh statement you made? While it is normal to get frustrated by people who push our buttons, those feelings can get so powerful that they erupt into hostile behaviors. According to an article from psychologist Marsha Lucas, meditation gives us a firmer grip on our impulse control. We learn to forge conscious responses rather than yield to emotionally reactive outbursts.
Despite the unhappiness caused by our self-criticism and judgmental attitude toward others, it is an easy habit to fall into. Whether it is because we do not like a particular person or we are feeling down on ourselves, judging someone else can provide a momentary mood lift. The rush is fleeting, however, and eventually makes us feel worse. In learning not to judge ourselves, meditation helps us extend this attitude toward others. Rather than labeling their actions or behaviors as good or bad, we learn to observe them without criticism — resulting in improved relationships.