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. cnvc.org 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.


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