Improving Relationships with Meditation

Dr. Patricia Carrington’s award winning meditation technique CSM (Clinically Standardized Meditation) is a clinically sensitive meditation method developed by the Medical Department of New York Telephone Company and used by numerous medical institutions, organizations, and individuals worldwide. For information click here.

Meditation and Personal Growth

Patricia Carrington, Ph.D.

Author of “The Book of Meditation

Just as meditation can increase one’s sense of individuality and lead to self-assertion, allowing one to feel close to one’s self, by the same token it often increases one’s sense of closeness to others. As Erich Fromm has pointed out, love of self and love of others are but two aspects of one fundamental capacity for loving.1* It is interesting to see meditators become more individualistic and, at the same time, more cooperative and friendlier to others than they were formerly. The openness and ease with people, which often comes with meditation and the increased friendliness and greater tolerance for the weaknesses of others, parallel the easing of the meditator’s attitude toward himself.

It is a common psychological observation that as self-blame lessens, so does the tendency to blame others.2 In the same way, if we can experience joy in our own aliveness, we will support the aliveness of others, the reason why psychotherapists begin by helping their patients to accept themselves. Relationships with other people seem automatically to improve as this occurs.

Another byproduct of growing certainty about one’s own identity is that having become the center of their own awareness, meditators may find themselves having less need to be the center of attention in a social gathering; it is no longer necessary to prove an identity and self-importance which are now self-evident. This may lead the meditator toward a more natural relationship with other people. She may become more genuinely aware of others for their own sake because she is no longer concerned with how she is ‘coming across’. Meditators’ families frequently report that they have become ‘much easier to live with’. Their friends often say they are ‘easier to talk with’, ‘friendlier’ or ‘warmer’.

I recall an immediate change of this sort which I noticed in a patient within a few days after she had learned meditation. This woman had behaved in a critical, argumentative and suspicious manner in her treatment sessions with me, but in this hour she was different. Her face was relaxed and more attractive. She looked directly at me when she spoke. Her speech was quieter. For the first time since she had come into therapy I felt that I was facing a friendly human being, one with whom I could work in a constructive give-and-take fashion.

It was significant that in this session she reported a change in her relationship with her little daughter as well. Since she had commenced meditating, she was finding herself no longer so ‘hard’ on the child and she realized that in the past she had been taking out feelings of anger at her husband on the little girl. Now, she said, she could quietly instruct her daughter without commanding her to do things, and the child was responding by becoming more emotionally open with her mother.

Several research studies support these observations on the fortunate changes in human relationships that frequently occur with meditation. Studying the social effects of teaching meditation to high school students, educator Howard Shecter reports that meditating students showed a significant increase in ‘tolerance’ scores on tests of social attitudes given to them before learning Transcendental Meditation (TM), and again fourteen weeks after learning it.3 Along similar lines, researcher David Ballou, studying the effects of meditation on the personality of prisoners, found that when a well-known clinical measure of personality, the MMPI, was administered to two groups of prisoners – one group which was taught TM and the other which did not learn to meditate – the meditators improved significantly on the ‘social introversion’ scale, moving toward the more ‘socially outgoing’ end of the scale, while the scores for the control group remained unchanged.4

In another prison study, researchers found that prison records kept on meditating prisoners showed that the number of positive activities these people participated in, such as sports, clubs and education, had doubled after they started meditation, while the number of prison-rule violations was reduced. Non meditating prisoners, on the other hand, did not change in their behavior over the same period of time.5 While such studies need to be carefully evaluated in terms of other possible factors that may have influenced changes in the prisoners – such as the positive attention they may have received from meditation instructors or the expectations they held for the technique – the fact that they correspond with what I and other psychotherapist colleagues have seen in patients, suggests that they probably reflect genuine changes in social attitude and relationships with meditation.

As the anecdotes described in this chapter illustrate, the improvements we see in meditating patients are not merely clinical ones; that is, meditation does not just result in the solution of an emotional problem, although this can certainly happen. Equally important is its capacity to expand the ability to live life more fully and to savor the sense of self. For this reason, meditation has many benefits to offer numerous meditators who will never need psychotherapy.

* Fromm makes a sharp distinction between self-love and ‘selfishness’. The ‘selfish’ person is said not to love himself, but hate himself. His lack of fondness and care for himself then leave him empty, frustrated, and anxiously concerned to wrench from life whatever satisfactions he can. This makes him seem to care too much for himself, but he is actually making an unsuccessful attempt to cover up and to compensate for his failure to care for his real self, and therefore to be able to care for others. People who have genuine self-love, on the other hand, have the capacity to love both self and others.

1.     E. Fromm, Man for Himself (New York: Rinehart, 1947).

2.     Ibid.; K. Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (New York: Norton, 1937); H. S. Sullivan, The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry (New York: Norton, 1953); C. R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person (Boston: Houghton, 1961).

3.     H. Shecter, ‘The Transcendental Meditation Program in the Classroom: A Psychological Evaluation of the Science of Creative Intelligence’, in Orme-Johnson and Farrow, (ed.), op. cit., vol. I, pp. 403–9.

4.     D. Ballou, ‘The Transcendental Meditation Program at Stillwater Prison’, in ibid., pp. 569–76.

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