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.



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