Friday, December 30, 2011

everyone wins

It's almost January and my new years resolution is to write more so here I am again sitting at the computer to take a few moments and reflect on how I can contribute to the world I want.

I had an awesome chance a few days ago to be a dance competition judge for a group of 8 girls (9 if you count my Evelyn) at a pj party. At first I was pleased to be asked and very much enjoyed watching the joy and abandon with which this group of 5 to 8 year olds took to the dance floor. Then came the moment when the girls asked me Who won? the top 3? who was the best? For a moment I panicked not knowing what to do. Everyone of the girls had put her soul into the show and all wanted to have the merit of being the best.

I felt tension and ill at ease and questions flashed in my mind: How do you live life in a collaborative non violent way where we get beyond the drive to categorize and compete when small children ask you to put them on a scale and judge them for their performance? And beyond that how do you honor their genuine desire to have feedback about how they are doing? We tried doing away with grades in schools and it was a failure because human beings need feedback, crave it, ask for it and ultimately benefit from having an honest idea of how they are doing with regards to learning a new skill.  

I was really happy to have at my disposal after a few moments of panic a way to respond. In NVC consicousness we give feedback by describing what we enjoyed about what we saw, how the performance met my needs. So I chose to tell each girl what I liked about her performance (I liked how you moved around the floor, I enjoyed your smile while you danced, you really understand rythym, wow what a great move that was, you danced well with the others) and the reward was 8 girls smiling and happy who continued to come up with ways to enjoy their PJ party. (luckily the neighbors in my friends apartment were not there!!!)

I recently finished my third year of training in Non violent communication and i realized that giving feedback is important and that how you do it has an impact. I've had the opportunity to give feedback in the past to adults and sometimes to kids in a one to one basis but this was the first time I had the chance to see the fruit of choosing to do it this way in a group. The girls all kept dancing and I could see that each one was paying attention to the element I had pointed out that I enjoyed and incorporating it more into her next dance. When the question of judging their performance came up I feared that choosing one girl above the others would cause them to abandon the game which would have been sad because the sheer pleasure of dancing up a storm and learning about your body when you are a child is magic like no other.

I wish everyone one of my readers many such PJ party moments in 2012.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


As a society we sanction those who have gone against our norms (criminals) by sending them to jail. We take away their ability to make choices, to be autonomous in their actions. Someone else is in charge. And it's not something that is enjoyable to live life like that. 

I have been continuing my training in non-violent communication and have recently become more aware of how wonderful it is to have the ability and the right to make informed choices for myself. We live in a society where there is a great amount of personal freedom but many people live in jails of their own making. Feeling a general sense of malaise but not able to identify it or act on it. 

I had been struggling with a concept that underlies NVC which is the intention with which we approach our relationships with our own self and others. Essentially this intention is one of benevolence and welcome for all that we experience whether comfortable or uncomfortable. The understanding is that becoming aware of all the different thoughts and feelings we or the other person have and accepting them helps us to identify the underlying needs. 

Most of us become aware of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings and move to quickly eliminate them. The first step is to become aware of the judgmental or distorted thoughts or the uncomfortable feelings. Most people don't even get to this level. But once you are aware what do you do? When you have decided to approach life from a perspective of NVC you create internal space for these experiences and ask yourself what they are telling you about your underlying needs.

A part of me experienced a great deal of discomfort with this because I had a belief that acceptance meant that everything goes and all options are open, I discover 10 different needs and now I have to meet them all. However I now see that acceptance is not about everything goes, it's about allowing yourself to become aware of what is going on, not fighting it. Once you have accepted and allowed uncomfortable experiences to play out without becoming submerged by them you start to develop a greater sense of what is right for you based on your knowledge of who you are and what you really want and need in life. Becoming aware of all the different needs we have is an exercise in taking responsibility.  You recognize and acknowledge all the different parts of yourself and then make a choice based on the most accurate data available. It's true that there is abundance, millions of strategies and knowing this is freedom. It's also true that in life we make choices. The NVC process helps me make choices that respect myself because I know exactly what I am saying yes to and what I am saying no to. If I say yes to my need to relax and play today I may be saying no to my needs for order because I am not cleaning my house. However I can acknowledge this and make plans to take care of my need for order at a later date when I am ready to say yes to order and no to play. I am not playing while feeling guilty about not cleaning the house. I have acknowledged both my desire to play and my desire for a clean house and decided that play is my priority for the moment. 

I am discovering how NVC can help me to make choices and take more responsibility for my life and I cherish the feelings of calm, peacefulness and power that emerge when I make choices based on knowing as much about my needs and other peoples needs as possible. 

It's midnight and I am writing this because I feel a need to contribute but now I want to say yes to sleep.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


it's past 6:30 and the sun is still up!!!! The snow is melting and life is stirring.  Spring is my favorite season because it is a time when I feel energized, excited and full of awe at the beauty of nature.

In recent years popular psychology has incited us to be more aware of our emotions. In practice I see that most people who have cut themselves off from their bodies will notice their uncomfortable emotions first. I also notice that when speaking with children parents and caretakers will name emotions such as fatigue or frustration but rarely give words for more pleasant states such as happy or joyful.

I specify "cut off from their bodies" because one of the most powerful ways to tell the difference between an emotion and an interpretation or judgement that we are telling ourselves is to notice if we are basing ourselves on our thoughts or on what is happening in our bodies. I have met people who swear they are happy because their life is going good but their body language creates dissonance and makes me think they are sad.

On the flip side popular psychology also encourages us to be positive. I have met people who take this so seriously that they would never admit to being human and vulnerable enough to feel fatigue or irritation.

The NVC approach asks that we speak about feelings and needs. Since feelings are considered to be a way to detect underlying needs the ability to detect and name  a full range of emotions that are present from moment to moment is important. Moment to moment awareness though is not enough. We also need to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards the experience.  

What I love about this approach is that it encourages people to be aware of both comfortable and uncomfortable experiences and to honor them all. When I meet people who are cut off because we are a society that dislikes discomfort and judges it to be bad and something to eradicate, I feel sad because most of the time this also means being cut off from our ability to sense emotions such as joy, tenderness, awe ect...

Honoring it all means being aware of and fully experiencing those wonderful moments in life. Too often when I ask people about their last happy or pleasurable experience they have no idea. Take the time to savor the feeling of expectation of a good meal. Savor the meal, notice the joy a smile brings.

It also means noticing the sadness, the irritation, the feeling that something is not how you want it to be and allow these feelings to be. Listen to what the discomfort is telling you. These feelings are valuable for knowing what our needs are. Honoring them allows you to start inviting possible strategies to meet your needs into your life.

So what are you feeling at this moment: happy, sad, confused, excited, angry, dissonance, torn, joyful, calm? Are you inviting what is or is there a thought that pops up like "I should not be sad look at all those poor people in Japan"

Knowing what is there in every moment and welcoming the full range of experiences is a wonderful way to live life. The first time I experienced this state of presence I remember that what struck me most was a sense of internal space that was just immense.

It reminds me of the following story. (Don't ask me where I heard it) 

A student is experiencing some distress since his studies are not going as well as he wants them too. He goes to see his teacher. The teacher asks the student to take a walk with him down to the lake. Once on the beach he tells the student to pick up two handfuls of sand and invites him to put one in a cup of water and drink it. How does it taste he asks? The student a little bemused replies "terrible". Now put the other handful of sand in the lake and drink some water from the lake the teacher says. The student drinks the water and finds it refreshing and good.

The teacher goes on to explain that in both cases the same problem, a fistful of sand were encountered. In a small container there is no space and the sand mixed with the water is terrible. But mixed in a vessel as big as a lake the sand has almost no impact. If you can have less sand then great but it is better to grow to be as big as a lake or ocean so that no matter what the problems you have you have the internal space to receive them and not be overwhelmed.  

The practice of moment to moment awareness coupled with non-judgement supports the creation of this immense internal space. When I went to see the Dalai Lama speak in Montreal he said that training the mind is like an ocean. Although there are waves on the surface underneath it all their is calm and space.

My daughter is trying to catch my eye and I am going to go savor this moment with her.

Monday, March 7, 2011

what a good girl...

What a good baby!!!

I've heard these words over and over again. My daughter has been travelling with us and involved in social life since she was born five months ago. The other day waiting at a restaurant there was a group we did not know waiting in line. Evelyn got really excited and I could not figure out why. I finally noticed where she was looking and realized she wanted a piece of the action and did not like being excluded from the group. She settled down as soon as I moved closer to the group. She is quite social and is so excited about being out, seeing new things, she generally behaves in a way  that people label as good. I know they mean that they have enjoyed her presence and curious and alert temperament and I've found myself using the term myself sometimes. 

Always with some disquiet and a feeling of dissonance however. It is no longer politically correct to say bad boy or bad girl. We've been told to use praise instead. So good girl, good boy, good baby are okay right?. For me  the term always brings to mind the many "good" people I've had the privilege of meeting who did not dare try anything in life that they might fail at for fear of loosing the label. Chief amongst them Pierre, my husband. He was such a good little boy, so intelligent and got so much praise that he will readily admit today that these labels prevented him from accepting failures in life or trying anything that he did not do 100% well. (until he met me of course!!!!) We do children a disservice by using such polarizing dualistic language as good and bad to label their behavior. I don't want to get into a debate about good and bad or evil but I want to express how much I wish we would not use the terms as a label for normal everyday behavior.

So neither good nor bad right??  Yes. But wait there is hope. What I love about NVC is that once you can get the hang of it, which takes practice, it offers very real very practical alternatives to how we currently talk. I could write a book (there have been several written) about the way positive labels remain labels and cause problems with self-esteem and anxiety as well as life preparedness. If you are a parent with a secret fear of not being a "GOOD" parent please don't have a heart attack if you use these terms but keep reading for some alternatives.

A person who practices NVC will learn to use a celebration or an expression of gratitude when wanting to acknowledge something that they observed that they liked. The idea is to replace the label "good" with the Observation, Feelings and Needs that are alive in us when we see a someone do something we liked. 

A celebration might go something like this: 

"When I see Evelyn smile and full of energy it makes me very happy  I care about children and like to see them develop"  

"I was very astonished by how much she pays attention it makes me think she will have an easy time learning about her world."

"I am glad she was calm, I was a little worried when they told us a baby would be here."  

Gratitude is expressed in the same way. You tell the person what you saw, how much you appreciated or were touched by what you saw and most importantly what need of yours the action meets. This is a way of letting the person know that their behavior has an impact on you and encouraging them to direct themselves according to how their behavior impacts others. This is far more valuable than knowing that the behavior is good or bad. 

Let"s use the example of "good girls don't cry" I hear many variations on this theme. She is such a good girl she hardly cried. ect...

If you hammer home the message that good girls don't cry then crying is labelled and the child who wants to be good learns to not cry. At times and especially as a baby I hope my child would cry when she is  uncomfortable. So instead of saying "You were such a good girl that you did not cry" you might try "I appreciate  and am very happy that you did not cry at the party. You seemed to enjoy yourself. It allowed me some time to talk with my friends." She learns that you value talking to your friends as well as the fact that you value her enjoying the party as well. 

When people use the label good girl I always try to think of what is behind those words. Is the person relieved because they were a little ambivalent about having a baby at an adult function? Is the person touched because it brings up memories of their own children? I enjoy when people take the time to really say what they feel and need because there is a certain authenticity and honesty about it. With my fellow NVC practitioners I can be reasonably sure that I will get authentic feedback about how I am being perceived and the impact I have on others without a truckload of judgement. When I took Evelyn to a training I was very pleased that many people came to us to express how they felt and what they needed in order for Evelyn to be present at the training. Some people found that having her so close to the room we were in was disturbing their concentration. Instead of talking behind my back they came to me and we were able to find a solution. Using the NVC process to express gratitude as well as to give feedback when someone's behavior does not work for us is very valuable to me. I like the level of connection that happens when people dare to be authentic.  

Nap time! 




Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the paradox...

I am blessed with so much in life not least of which is the opportunity to study with teachers who have wisdom and depth in what they teach. When I got pregnant I took Yoga classes. I did not realize that my teacher would have such profound knowledge and experience. After giving birth in October I signed up for post natal Yoga and todays post is about an incident that happened in my last class. One of the most wonderful aspects of NVC and especially the way my teachers teach it is to use the present moment and what is happening live as a source of learning.

I have been having some back pain recently and my teacher (whose name is Cecile) encouraged us to move into a position where we could feel tension and some pain and breathe into it, relax the muscles and let the tension go. The relief I felt after this exercise was palpable. So what does this have to do with NVC? A lot actually.

I am currently dealing with a conflict situation in an organization I volunteer with. I am fascinated by how conflicts play out and how much human beings try to avoid facing a conflict head on. It's as though conflict is always a negative thing when in fact it can bring great transformation when dealt with and not swept under the rug.

The wisdom Cecile proposed at the level of the physical is that transmuting pain requires allowing the pain to be and attending to it.

I thought I understood before but I had never realized that even at the physical level this applies. Conflict is painful for most of us. We are a species that cannot survive without the support of a wide variety of relationships. We also have a pretty strong desire for autonomy and freedom. When there is conflict it can seem that the relationship with the other is in peril and or that our personal freedom and autonomy is at stake and this creates all kinds of unpleasant tensions and a whole host of different types of behavior. From one person who is as blunt as a dull knife because they guard their autonomy with a vengeance to another who will accept anything to preserve the relationship but then vent to others or use passive aggression like purposefully being late for example. But guess what!?! Almost everyone has this dilemma going on inside them too and has come up with some strategy to try and find a balance that works for them. Mine was simple: I did not care about the relationship and was often so blunt it hurt. But there was always a little part of me that wished for a better balance. Imagine my surprise when one day I finally understood that I did not have to choose between different parts of myself. That I could preserve the relationship and maintain my autonomy and freedom.

We come back to the above phrase:  Transmuting pain requires allowing the pain to be and attending to it.   In the NVC tradition one of the trainers (Dominic Barter) proposes a method called restorative circles as a way to support people in dealing with important conflicts in their lives. I won't get into it now but the basic premise of the NVC way of approaching conflict is that it is neither good nor bad but rather an opportunity to discover the underlying needs that need to be attended to. Allowing myself to go into and stay with the tension at a physical level gave me valuable information about what is going on in my body and what I need to pay attention to. Approaching a conflict as an opportunity to discover what is going on within myself (if the conflict is internal) and if with someone else then it allows me to see what the tensions are in the community that I share with the other person. (family, work ect...)

Some people won't allow conflict to be at all for fear of a break in the relationship. They ignore it. If I decided to I could ignore the tension in my back but then what would happen? Soon enough I won't be able to ignore it anymore. Conflict is like muscle pain in that what it is trying to tell us has to be heard and will come back again and again and again until it is. Has anyone ever noticed that people (maybe you) tend to have the same conflict over and over again, different story, different actors but same underlying theme. Using physical pain as an indicator of the underlying strain I have in my back and then putting my full consciousness attention (through the breath) on it allowed me to understand the extent of the tension. Just that by itself already reduced it and I can now take pre-cautions to reduce and minimize it. The same thing applies for any conflict situation you face. Use it as a point of entry for discovering the extent of your needs and if the conflict is with someone else the needs of that community.

I realized that I could take care of both my desire for autonomy and my desperate need (at the time) for relationships. I did this by paying attention to both these needs, taking the time to face the pain I felt that made me guard my autonomy so jealously and the consequent pain of not having the type of connections with people that I wanted. I was then able to evaluate if the strategies I was using were really working for me. This allowed me to adjust and to create more space for healthier relationships without any negative impact on my autonomy.

When in conflict with another if we slow down enough and bring an attentive presence both to personal experience and what the other is experiencing the same thing can happen. Giving the pain attention and recognizing the underlying needs, naming them, allowing the pain to be until we can name the needs, allowing this to inform us of the extent of the injury on both sides is the first step that creates a base to then find effective strategies that will make our lives more wonderful. NVC allows me to make space for all the aspects of myself as well as myself and the other because I know that once we have found the underlying needs there will be consensus that those needs are important. Ironing out the strategies to be used then becomes easy and fluid. Conflict can be a source of great learning if we let it.      

Have to put the baby to sleep. I am tired but grateful for the chance to share these thoughts with you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Disolving the walls

Non violent communication is a four step process at it's core and so far we've covered three of them. The reason we spend more time on the first three is that without learning to observe, know your feelings and connect them to underlying needs communication can't really happen for the simple reason that we are not clear about what is really going on. Underneath our decisions, our behavior and what we like or dislike in life there are feelings and needs. Spending time to clarify what they are, learning to honestly express them and becoming curious about what is behind the others decisions, behavior, likes and dislikes is really important to opening up communication.

Because observation is the first step those who practice NVC seek to develop an acute and precise sense of what feelings and needs are present within themselves. This is crucial for the development of self-mastery because it allows you to know very quickly when your brain and body are liable to not be in the best space for decision making or communication  AKA: you are emotionally flooded or your body is in survival mode like when you are hungry or tired. Smile if you have ever regretted  a decision made when in the heat of emotions or because you were hungry or tired. Most people have.

So far so good but NVC does include the word communication so the last step Request is where we learn to dissolve the walls that so often get in the way of communication. We unfortunately live in a society where we educate mostly by punishment and positive coercion. These methods build up walls that take time to dissolve. Have you ever had the impression that we talk at each other rather than with each other? We know the difference. The rare times when we have real connection between two people the conversation flows and the energy is really fantastic but sometimes people talk for hours and everyone plays along but really no one is even interested in the topic at hand.

Learning to integrate requests into our everyday interactions might feel somewhat uncomfortable but it has powerful and very surprising benefits.  The word itself was carefully chosen. In NVC we are responsible for our needs and make a distinction between our needs and our preferred strategies for meeting those needs. It is called non violent communication because we choose to make requests rather than demands. We live in a space where there is abundant ways to meet all our needs. The best part is that by practicing the art of accepting a NO to a strategy we had our heart set on, often opens the door to getting exactly what we wanted in the first place.

In NVC we consider that there are three types of request and that the first two are really important before moving on to the last one.

1) Request for clarity: often called a reformulation, it is different ways to make sure that the other person is really hearing what you meant them to hear. For example: Could you please tell me what you heard from me? Let me see if I understand correctly? For the sake of clarity could you tell me how you understood what I just said?  Could you in a few words tell me what you got from me?

(Pierre absolutely hated when I first started making requests because I used "let me see if I understand you correctly so often! Now he uses the phrase himself at times.)

2) Request for connection: this step is about being open to really hearing how the other person feels about what was said. It is about sending the ball to them so that they can express themselves about how they relate to what you just said. For example: Can you tell me how you receive what I am saying? What is alive in you when you hear me say..? Can you tell me how this impacts you? How do you relate to what I am saying?

3) A positive and clear observable request for action that is not a coercion: Example: Can you clean up your room NOW or else vs would you be willing to put your clothes in the drawers, the plates in the kitchen and sweep the floor? When do you think this could be done by?

Try it and you might see that it can help you feel like there is real communication. I enjoy having my husband at home so it's time for me to go get him. -25 here we come!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why self empathy? Isn't non violence about being aware of and serving others?

If you walked a day in my shoes you would meet people who want to be of service and contribute to the well being of their fellow humans but are bitter, angry, exhausted and burnt out. AKA they aren't really able to be of service to anyone in the end.

In my last post we briefly touched on the different positions of power and I want to expand on that idea now. What I see when people describe themselves as givers is that they mostly assume a power over stance. They feel obligated to give, won't care for themselves and hope that giving will result in others caring for them. the switch to a power with mode of functioning is a wonderfully rewarding experience because not only can we continue to contribute but we can learn to do so in a way that fills us with energy rather than draining us of vitality.

It starts by realizing that you cannot directly know another persons reality. The only way to access life is trough direct experience of your own.

Being connected with life is the first step in knowing how to help another. This happens through a deep awareness of yourself and what your needs are.

Then knowing in your core that you do not know what the other is experiencing even if you think you do, and being humble and curious enough to "offer" the other your presence.

The first step is crucial because of a curious experience that you may not believe until you have experienced it yourself. In my training I have often seen experienced NVC practionners take on the role of a complete stranger and the person who they are dialoguing with will say "How did you know that my 'brother, sister, mother, father, friend' tells me the same thing you are telling me all the time" They can do this because these practionners have done the work required to connect with their own life. They know what they feel and what their needs are and because all humans share needs, they can make educated guesses about what a complete stranger they know next to nothing about MIGHT feel or need based on one fact and this one fact alone: They share a common bond of humanity.

I have experienced this many times. Monitoring what comes up for me helps me to better GUESS what is alive in the other person. Being able to recognize the life in another is a priceless gift and often the only "help" they need. Read any book that promotes empathy and you will hear stories of the way it helps people feel better and then allowing them to solve their own challenges without any more help from you.

This is why self-empathy is not a luxury nor selfish. Taking the time to connect and know your own life energy is a way you can come close to guessing what the other is experiencing. It is an essential step in learning how to offer the healing power of empathy to the other.

I work as a social worker and do not underestimate the role of direct and concrete assistance. However if people don't feel you "get them" they won't accept or use the assistance you can give. More than one well meaning person has strategies they wish people in need would accept but are frustrated that the person who needs help refuses their well meant advice. I get calls from people who could use concrete advice but who don't feel the person offering and mandated to offer the advice "get's them" Facing such a situation I checked in with myself and felt how very difficult I would find it to be in their shoes, in me I felt grief come up. I asked the family " What about this situation is the most difficult for you, I sense perhaps some sadness?"  Sure enough grief, the unfairness, the suddeness, the overwhelming nature of the situation all came pouring out. Once we had connected around these feelings the family was better able to make decisions based on the information they were being given.    

Notice I checked in with myself. That is the starting point. If I want to help anyone I absolutely think that the cultivation of self empathy is essential. It allows me to be aware of myself and to guess what others might need based on that knowledge. It also allows me to be aware of when I am too involved or triggered by a situation to be of use to the other person.

The second reason self empathy is not a luxury, nor selfish is because a deep knowledge and commitment to caring for yourself naturally increases your energy. Since human beings have many needs that drive them to give to to others including the needs for significance, connection, contribution, friendship, belonging and more taking care of our needs will naturally lead to a life where we contribute to others.

One of my favorite exercises that I see in nvc trainings is to reflect on the difference we feel when we give from a genuine desire and drive to be of service and a situation where we think we have to give for moral reasons or because of some other force. Learning to give from "the heart" feels better and does not leave you feeling bitter, angry, exhausted and burnt out. The core of this way of giving is to adopt a "power with" approach and self empathy along with curiosity and non-judgmental presence is absolutely essential in adopting this way of relating to people.

People often want someone to "just be there for them". Practice being there for yourself and you will undoubtedly find it leads to being able to better"be there" for others.

Pierre has recently been kidnapped and replaced by some stranger who wants to do laundry, dishes and other household tasks.  I enjoy a clean house and want to feel the happiness a well ordered start to the week can bring so I guess this is goodbye for now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

a road less travelled

Since 2008 I have been integrating nvc into my life. Each time I return to a training I gain a new appreciation for the depth and coherence of an nvc way of living . I feel a great deal of pleasure and even awe that I am still as excited about this as I was when I first started out.

My last post was about needs and I want to continue on this theme before moving on to the mechanics of making requests. I am choosing to do this because so much of what makes the NVC way of living wonderful is tied to a different way of conceiving of and experiencing our needs.

I want to underline a few key concepts about needs:
A) The difference between strategies and needs
B) The abundance and beauty of needs
C) The present moment focus when we talk about our needs
D) The relations of power and responsibility.

Each of these themes deserves it's own space and I am only writing a brief introduction here.

The difference between strategies and needs was greatly liberating for me because it allows me to relax when things are not going the way. I remind myself that there are millions of strategies to meet every need and I  see this in my life. When Pierre left to live in Fermont for four months we both had to come up with different strategies to meet our needs because of the distance between us. A healthy relationship is one where you enjoy being together and contributing to each others well being. An unhealthy relationship is one where you force the other to adopt a strategy they are not comfortable with in order to contribute to you because you have no other ideas for how to meet your needs.  I am sure most people reading this have had the bitter experience of talking someone into doing something they were reluctant to do and then having them sulk the whole time!

The next concept is one that took me some time to experience and really appreciate. There is no way for me to convey this in words because only experience will really convince anyone of it's power. Needs connect us as human beings and there is a beauty and sacredness to needs. Taking the time to just sit and marvel at how wonderful it is that you are alive enough to want love, connection, peace, joy, playfulness, safety, mourning the essential step.  Whether in the physical world you have found the right strategy or not becomes somewhat irrelevant because the act of recognizing and giving space to the need and connecting to the sacred energy and abundance of words that have been immortalized in the poetry and art of every culture opens you up to attracting the right strategy.

In the beginning when you first realize you have needs you never paid attention to, it might feel terrible. You might even be angry! (the reason why so many people stop therapy, it's supposed to help you fell better and you feel worse) You all of a sudden have this sense of lack you've been hiding from and have no idea how to go about meeting your needs. I've seen docile, nice (aka hid their needs) people become quite aggressive and abrasive at this stage in therapy. The gut reaction is to go out and try new strategies (rest more, pay more attention to your body, have a spa day-week, exercise, say NO etc...)

The path that NVC leads to is one where you slow down and meditate on how wonderful it is that you are a human being who has the need you have uncovered, you fill yourself up with the connection that need creates with all others who have the same needs.  For me this is self evident, it is the reason that cancer survivors feel good when donating to cancer groups or the sense people have in lighting a candle to the patron saint of sufferers at the saint Joseph's oratory.  Uncovering our needs is a way to step into this realm of interconnectedness and abundance that we have learned to ignore. When you fill yourself up with this energy then there is no lack and what you are seeking will naturally come to you. Like I said you won't believe me until you've tried and experienced it for yourself.

So by all means do the spa day but before that take the time to just sit with the word rest or love or any other need that a spa day would care for and observe what happens in you're body.
The other frequent experience people have when uncovering needs for the first time is that they recognize that certain needs are severely neglected and have been for a long time. Therefore they have a strong emotional charge. (I don't want to get into it at this time but this level of emotion is often referred to as the pain body from the work of Eckhart Tolle) This is where a present moment focus is essential. Recognizing that a need is present can be painful but liberating but it can only really transform if you see that the events of the past are only stories that you keep re-telling in the present moment. You tell the stories that stimulate needs that want to be heard now in the present. Anchoring this way of understanding needs allows you to not get stuck in the powerlessness of wishing things had been otherwise in the past and getting stuck in those stories. I've mentioned it before that one of the benefits of NVC for me has been how many stories I no longer tell myself. Present moment focus has been key to this process. Whenever I am thinking about a past event I always qualify it by saying "As I am thinking about ABC... the need that is present now is..."

The last concept I want to highlight is the positions of power. There are three different ways to approach meeting our needs. Power over, power under and power with.

People who adopt a power over approach assume they are responsible for other people's needs and that their constant service and devotion will make people want to contribute to their needs in return. In other words if I give enough hopefully I will have someone care for me. They also assume that they know what others need without asking.  

Power under means that I allow other people to decide for me what my needs are and how they will be met. I am not the driver in my car because I don't have the ability to drive. I assume that I am the one at fault and that without the other I cannot survive.

Power with means that I take full responsibility for meeting my needs and recognize others right to do the same. I make requests to others to meet my needs and offer to contribute to their needs with the full understanding that we may both say no.

Responsibility for ones needs takes practice and I still struggle with this. An example of the difference this attitude brings:

I want (need) love and affection from you, give me a hug more often... (aka you don't hug me often enough)

I want (need) love and affection in my life, I plan on (seeing friends, writing love letters, giving and asking for more hugs...) would you be willing to explore different ways that we would both like to give and receive affection  in our relationship? Can you tell me what you are hearing from me?

I am feeling calm and inspired right now and want to get creative with tonights meal so until next time.

If you are reading this I would greatly appreciate having feedback about what you are reading and how you connect with what I am writing. Please post any feedback or e-mail me through facebook. This would contribute to my learning and help me to clarify where I need to focus more to transmit all the benefits this way of living can have..       

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the beginning continued part 3

Please consult the website for a list of needs.

I want to celebrate the fact that there are people who have asked themselves for thousands of years the question "What is the nature of a human being?" Whether you personally have asked yourself this or not, everyone has some more or less coherent beliefs about the nature of human beings. How you choose to answer this question will influence how you view yourself and how you communicate with others. I propose that it is better to answer the question explicitly rather than to never pay attention and let society influence how you chose to see other human beings as well as yourself.

Marshall Rosenberg when he first developed the NVC model had studied with Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers is one of the giants in Humanist psychology. He chose to believe that having a strong bond with people and reflecting to them a vision of themselves as innately capable and "good" actually helps a person to manifest this vision of themselves.

In NVC we assume that all behavior has a "positive" motivation underlying it, even if the behavior does not work for us, for others or for society. A classic example is a teenager who has decided to smoke. There are many valid needs that are not met by that action. The need for long term health, safety, harmony. The need that is met is one for autonomy or social inclusion. I'm not sure how this is viewed in NVC but experts on child development agree that these two needs are developmentally really important for teenagers. In fact being aware of when different needs might be taking up more space in a persons life is a good skill to develop. Children have a certain stereotypical sequence that they mostly follow. For example first year is the need for safety and attachment and physical care. They need support to regulate their temperature, to eat and to stay clean. By second year theses needs remain important but the child takes over some of them and language stimulation and autonomy take more precedence. For adults a need that has long been ignored might at times take more space than others but in the end all needs are important and can be met.  

In NVC there is a powerful assumption that human behavior and emotions are motivated by underlying needs.  The needs that motivate us are universal and can be understood at a visceral level by all human beings. They unite us all because we all have the same needs. They are necessary for healthy life and we choose to act in order to fulfill our need whether we know it or not.

A need can be met in thousands if not millions of ways but our cultural conditioning tends to limit us. For example many of us believe that love is is met only within family or couple relationships and therefore evaluate that they lack love when the couple or family relationships are not what they want them to be. When learning NVC there is a crucial distinction between a need and the strategies to meet a need. I may need affection in my life but I don't need a hug from my husband or child. I could get affection in many other ways although I might prefer a hug and want it to come from them. This is where NVC starts to really live up to it's name of non-violence. In our current way of speaking people tend to confuse strategies and needs and will say they need a spa day or signs of affection from their spouse or that the other person quit their job ect... and when the other person decides that the proposed strategy does not work for them  then we get upset that a vital need is not met. If you need food but believe that only an apple will do as food then your mind will start sending panic signals to your body and you will use violence to get your apple or turn violence inward by denying that you need food. NVC allows you to have the freedom to recognize that it is food you need not an apple (although you would be very pleased with an apple!) and to open your options when other people refuse your requests. I am assuming that if you are reading my blog regularly you will recognize that I don't believe we make good decisions when our minds flood our bodies with chemicals that reduce our field of action. Confusing strategies and needs is a great way to create this type of flooding. Taking the time to ask yourself "if I had (a bath, a million dollars, a relationships, my boyfriend got a better job ect... then what need would I be caring for" before taking action is a reflex I try to have.      

An example of how this works:
Pierre came home and announced that we had guests the next day. The house was not in a state that we could receive guests . He sat down in front of the TV and was not responding when I asked him to cooperate with the tasks that needed to be done to prepare for our guests. I was about to go into the living room and stand in front of the TV or de-plug it or (in my fantasy world) throw it out the door and demand cooperation. I thought I was justified. Luckily I became aware of my rather aggressive state and that good decisions rarely come out of such states. I sat down and took the time to give myself some empathy: I was feeling overwhelmed, angry and tired. What I needed was rest, support, order and consideration. I then went with empathy for Pierre, (remember the concept that all actions have a positive motivation.) He was refusing my demands because he had needs that at that moment were more important to him. I could not think of any though but I chose to ask him what was motivating his refusal to prepare the house for guests. He admitted being very tired and in need of time to escape from his busy day.  He then listened to what I had to say and we worked out an agreement we could both live with.

We live in a society that does not encourage a needs based approach. I have many times heard well meaning people describe children as manipulators when the way I saw it the child is trying to meet their need for security or autonomy or safety. Their behavior can be censured by pointing out what needs of ours are not met. If we don't take the time to acknowledge the positive motivation behind the action the other person is blocked by their evaluation that we are "not getting them". In the book Seven habits of highly effective families Stephen Covey talks about the need for "psychological air". The NVC process up until this point is a way to offer this "psychological air" AKA the other person is interested in me and understands me. That is why I chose to go with empathy towards the other in the above example.  Mr. Covey in his book clearly believes that you cannot teach or get cooperation if the other person is gasping for "psychological air" This is at the base of much of the frustration that adults feel when their well meant, reasonable and hard won advice is rejected or ignored by children.

To some it may come as a surprise that the number one complaint I heard from children was "The adults don't listen to me!" I am not advocating that we do everything a child asks here. That would not be meeting their needs for structure and guidance and safety. What I am suggesting is that taking the time to be curious and aware of what is motivating a particular behavior often helps you to better respond to the behavior and helps the child better accept any correction that might ensue. For example a child who rarely sees daddy will want to stay up with him and will refuse to go to bed. You as a parent want the child to not be tired and cranky but at that moment that is not the child's primary need. No matter what you say the child won't go to sleep. By taking the time to think and ask what motivates this behavior you might come up with solutions that work. At the very least you will be less angry. I have seen parents arrange their schedules, find time to have lunch with the child, make sure dad does the bedtime routine ect... are only a few possible solutions.

The baba is sleeping so I am going  get some rest with her.



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In the beginning continued...

In the beginning, many years ago Pierre used to say that speaking to me is complicated (he still says this from time to time but not nearly as often!). As I learned and applied what I learned in our relationship we were able to move away from intellectual arguments based on our respective positions to a way of communicating that makes a disagreement into an opportunity to better understand the other person. I knew what I had been attempting to do was working when I overheard Pierre say to a friend at a party ''My wife studies this non-violence thing, it's annoying but it works!"  

When I work with people I find the 4 step NVC process to be immensely helpful. People come to me dissatisfied with their communication with their family, friends, colleagues but in my experience we start by evaluating which step of the process is most difficult for them and focus first and fore-most on self-empathy. The area I struggle in the most is slowing down and taking time to really settle into myself and observe what my feelings and needs are before opening my mouth to speak.

My last post was about the first step OBSERVATION. In the last few years there has been quite a bit of work done and studies published about the benefits that mindfullness can have on mental and physical health. The first step of learning to observe without judgement in NVC is very much in line with what is taught in most of the mindfullness literature I have read. In my experience spending time to settle and observe without judgement is a really key skill. If this your mind is categorizing and blaming and  evaluating every experience you have to decide whether it's okay or not then look no further than Observation for the moment. Just notice what is going on inside you. For more information on mindfullness you can follow the links provided by the work of  Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn.

The next step in NVC is to name your feelings. Things can get a little complicated by our traditional language habits. We tend to use "I feel that..." which is really a way of saying I evaluate or think that... a feeling is a state of being and learning to separate out words such as  I feel abandoned, attacked, that it is unfair from true feelings is part of the challenge of learning NVC. For example I  use the formula "when I tell myself (a story) that I have been abandoned, what am I feeling about that thought?". For abandoned I might say scared, lonely, angry. Please consult the www. website for a list of feeling words.        

My mind was cluttered with stories. One of the major benefits of NVC for me has been that I spend a lot less time away from my day to day experiences going over, and over and over stories in my mind. I had many stories associated to my upbringing. When I started recognizing (observing) the repetitive stories I learned to go further and touch on what feelings I had that were still very present in my day to day living. As I started to recognize the underlying feelings and then moved into the needs many of the stories stopped having significance and literally disappeared. If a story does pop up again I don't get stuck there. I use the presence of a story as a warning that I have feelings and needs that need to be attended to. (More on power later...)

NVC helped me to pierce trough two concepts about feelings that many people hold. The first one I have observed many times in people who suffer from depression. It is the illusion that feelings are a permanent state. In fact feelings are very much impermanent. If you take the time to sit and notice you will realize that this is so. A feeling may last for awhile but it will change with time.  A great formula for suffering is to feel pain or lousy and then add a thought "Oh no what if I feel this way FOREVER, or this is the way I have been for years!!!" When I gave birth to my daughter I took hypno-birthing classes and one of the best recommendations was don't pay attention to the time. Cover the clock so that you don't get caught up in the idea that the discomfort will never end.  

The second concept is that there are negative and positive feelings and that we must only cultivate the positive ones. Please don't do this to yourself!! No feeling is negative or positive, they just are. The purpose of feelings is to alert you about an underlying need. Both comfortable and uncomfortable feelings are valuable. Unfortunately uncomfortable feelings can be painful and our minds like to reject them and attempt to control or reduce them because of this. Practicing NVC requires the courage to sit with the discomfort and allow it to be.

A classic example is people who have a history of anger. Without going into details on a particular situation I have done interviews where I set myself up  a security plan (shoes on, close to the door, keys in my pocket, other workers close at hand ect...) A person who is angry often has important and very deep needs that are not heard. Their behavior puts the needs of those who are listening in jeapoardy. If I don't feel safe then the odds are I won't be open to listening to you. After having ensured my security when confronted with this type of anger I have often found it very helpful to stick with the person until they can get to the underlying feelings of insecurity, sadness, and fear. Marshall Rosenberg has been known to say "don't listen to what other people think of you. You will live longer"  After having stuck with many people who have called me names and told me how incompetent I am, it's incredible the transformation that can happen when a person filled with anger   has their feelings and needs acknowledged.  An example of this type of situation is a man who fears that his daughter is rejected by his ex-wife. What comes up is all the pain and loneliness he feels being excluded from his family. After expressing this he becomes open to hear all the pain he inflicted on his family that had lead to his exclusion. This in turn leads to a genuine acknowledgement from all the people involved that things need to change.

A poignant moment in my training came one day when someone described a painful feeling as a soft pain rather than an acute one. For me this is one of the concrete benefits of adopting the NVC model. By regularly acknowledging both pleasant and unpleasant feelings within yourself the unpleasant ones become much less painful. They don't disappear but they do become less scary and painful. Noticing the pleasant moments is no less  important. I have often found that the simple act of noticing that feeling of satiety after a good meal or the pleasure of seeing a smile makes my day so much more wonderful.

It's interesting that the advice that stands the test of time usually involves an inside out approach. Using the 4 steps of observation, feelings, needs and requests is a way of speaking with others but first we learn how to apply it to ourselves.

I have a crying baby to attend to so thats it for today.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

In the beginning...

Pierre (my husband) came home one day with a book called "Arreter d'etre gentil et soyez vrai" by Thomas D'ansembourg.  At the time i was beginning my career as a social worker and I read pretty much everything that might help me better do my job. After having read the book and applied it in my work; I decided to continue researching the Non violent communication model. I liked what I read and decided to further my training. This decision was a turning point in my life.

Please answer the following questions:
Do you have trouble being heard or understood by your loved ones?
Are you disappointed or discouraged when you try to get cooperation from family members?
Have you ever been told to pay more attention to your needs?
Does this leave you with a sense of panic because you have no idea how to pay attention to your needs?
Do you make a habit of categorizing and judging life and people as either good or bad?

The idea is that the way we are organized and socialized in our society promotes a way of living that does not encourage people to be aware of their feelings and needs even though our emotions and needs underly the choices we make. In other words we make choices and take actions to meet our needs but are un-aware and perhaps even unable to name what motivates us. If you don't know what you really need then how can you possibly communicate what you really need to another person?

Specifically we have a tendency to use language that is judgmental and categorical. You are a good girl, bad boy. He or she is smart, stupid, lazy ect... We also tend to compare; you are like your sister, mother, aunt ect... and we tend to be unclear; He talks too much... We rarely talk about our feelings and when we do we make the assumption that our feelings are because of the circumstances or people in our lives for example "I am angry because you stole the car"

NVC is a simple but complex because it requires a change in the intention behind our communication. The intention of non violent communication is to make life as wonderful as possible for both yourself and others by figuring out what needs are present.

It involves a set of skills and attitudes: Self empathy, empathy for the other and honest expression.

Each of these three skills is based on a four step process: Observation, feelings, needs, requests.

Observation is the first step. It is describing what you see without judgement. Instead of your room is a mess describe that there are 2 shirts, pants, socks and a plate on the floor. It is also crucial in becoming aware of how we currently operate. Observing your inner state and being aware of it is a very important skill. When I did crisis intervention I always encouraged parents to be aware of when they or their children are in "a red light state"  or "emotionally hijacked" A crisis invariably involved at least two emotionally hijacked persons. Becoming aware of this state allows people to remove themselves from  the situation until they can talk without judgement and tap into their intention to meet the needs of all the people involved. It is impossible to operate with this intention when your body is taken over by chemical signals that are telling you to run away or attack "kill" annihilate the other person. Judgement creates this state of fear and need for protection and therefore the first step of  NVC encourages us to reduce the incidences of judgement and to learn to translate the judgement we hear from others into observations. This reduces the incidences of being in a state where you are hijacked.

When you are choosing to be in a state of self-empathy you are observing (describing) what is going on inside you, what your thoughts are, what emotions and what intentions are present within your body. When you are choosing to be empathetic towards the other you are guessing what might be happening inside the other person. When choosing honest expression you are stating a fact, describing what you see as though through a camera lens. For example "when you call me at midnight instead of you are being so rude for calling this late".

My three month old daughter is moving her mouth in a way that makes me think she may be hungry so I guess this is it for today!!!