It’s sad how many relationships, which begin with such love and promise, devolve into mutual rancor and resentment. When this happens is there something faulty in our basic expectations in relationships? When we resent other people for not living up to our expectations, aren’t we essentially acting on the assumption that we deserve to have whatever we want? That’s not an uncommon attitude – but it’s hardly a mature perspective, and it’s a guaranteed setup for constant emotional turmoil, because it’s a safe bet that other people don’t believe that it’s their duty to fulfill our expectations. What’s more likely to bring happiness and contentment in your life – to spend your time trying to make sure you get what you deserve, or to live with the intention of acting from gratitude toward the people around you?
The Japanese have a popular form of psychotherapy called Naikan. The term literally means “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye.” The therapy consists of structured processes for introspection and self-examination. Instead of concentrating on the wrongs that others have done to them, Naikan practitioners step back from their own resentments, and deliberately work on developing gratitude. They also focus on paying attention to what they habitually ignore about themselves, and they examine their own mistakes, failures and weaknesses. The process requires them to acknowledge what they’ve done to cause difficulty to others. Such self-reflection diverts their attention from blaming others or complaining about how they’ve been treated. Naikan practitioners focus on three simple questions:
- What have I received from my (person X)?
- What have I given to (person X)?
- What troubles and difficulties have I caused (person X)?
The natural fourth question, “What troubles and difficulties has this person caused me?” is deliberately ignored in Naikan because most of us are naturally good at seeing answers to this question. Naikan teaches that too much focus on it is the cause of much of the discord in our connections with others.
Anyone can do this practice. Just pick someone with whom you have difficulty, and spend some time focusing on the three questions and writing your answers. Be specific rather than general. Don’t leave items off your list because they seem trivial, or because you receive them every day. If your partner brought you coffee in bed this morning, for instance, put that on your list.
People who do this practice conscientiously for seven consecutive days are often amazed at how much happier they feel in their relationships. Anyone who does find it helpful and wants to learn more about this approach to self-development might want to read Naikan, Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, by Gregg Kech. This book makes the concepts of Naikan easily accessible to Westerners. The simple techniques it describes are powerful aids in moving from a self-centered perspective to deeper understanding and harmony in relationships.