Monday, January 23, 2012

The observer

I hope to show this to my daughter Evelyn when she is all grown up. Last night she fell asleep with me in my bed and unfortunately when we went to move her to hers she woke up and decided that she much prefers sleeping in our bed. Two hours later we still had not managed to get her to go back to sleep in her bed.

Now I've seen you desperate parents out there on Facebook and I know there is no easy answer to this dilemma. We discussed it with Pierre and our decision is that we want her to spend at least the first part of the night in her bed. So once the decision is made there is no turning back because I can see the writing on the wall with this child and she has a will of her own. Yesterday she clearly decided that she was going to sleep in our bed.

My job is to love and protect and guide this child and I can't do that if I always do as she asks because it's the easy path to take. My dilemma is that this could turn into a power struggle between us and I am hoping to minimize the occurrence of such a nasty interaction.

There are so many emotions and needs at play when going through such a tough situation (hers, mine and Pierre's) and I was really glad that I was able to connect with myself and her while going through this. It's so difficult to not give in when faced with a very angry or upset person. We are conditioned to see these emotional states as negative and to want to do everything in our power to alleviate them even if what we do in the here and now has consequences that are less then desirable later.

So in a nutshell this is what we did: rocked her to sleep, put her down in her bed, stayed in the room until we thought we were safe and as soon as we got up she woke up, stood up and screamed to go to our room. Went back, if we were lucky put her back on her back if not then rocked her back to sleep. All this for two hours.

I titled this blog post the observer because it's what helped me not panic or become overwhelmed yesterday. Essentially emotions happen and it's easy to get caught up in them and not have the necessary perspective to recognize the different layers of what is going on for yourself and for the other person. Practicing feeling an emotion and just letting it be, observing it, recognizing that the emotion is a part of you but not all of you helps in these situations. It allowed me to work with my daughter, to accept that she she was upset and angry and that it is okay for her to feel that way. It allowed me to recognize that she wanted me to stay in the room even after she (grudgingly) accepted to try to lay down in her bed and sleep. It allowed me to be aware of my emotions and needs but to accept that if i wanted her to get to sleep in her bed I needed to honor my needs but put them aside to be present with her given how upset she got. After two hours I was surprised at how much energy I still had and am really touched by the impact that these ideas had on helping me deal with pretty challenging parenting situation.    

Non violent communication has given me the gift of being able to accept a fuller range of human emotions and to teach my child to do the same without having to immediately intervene to alleviate the discomfort. I feel more confident today as a parent because I made a decision and stuck with it but did not make it into a power struggle. I was amazed and hopeful for the future when I finally thought that she was asleep she woke up again and was again standing in her crib. As soon as I came to her room she looked at me and lay back down and went to sleep. At strong will is a great thing to have but you need your parents brains until your own catches up and I hope that I manage to create a relationship with her so that she will freely give me the authority to be her parent. So far so good.    

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nobody listens to me

You are not listening to me is a pretty common complaint and one that usually gets a defensive reaction. It's sad that the only tool most people seem to have to try and take care of their need to be heard is to tell the other person that they are not listening. I'm the first one to fall into this trap. It feels so terrible to have something important to say and to see that the person you want to connect with is not taking the time to consider what you are saying. 

Last night Pierre came home and immediately told me he had a headache. I of course conveniently forgot about this since I wanted to speak to him and ask his opinion about the plans for the week. After a few attempts to communicate I started feeling the frustration go up and I was about to start a fight by saying ''You NEVER listen to me, isn't what I have to say important etc..." Luckily (although he denies it) some of my nvc training has rubbed of on him and he said ''What you have to say is important but I am not able to listen right now, I have a headache, am hungry and need to relax can we talk about this later?''  

Of course you need to later keep faith and be available to listen but his response really underscored a key issue in communication: The importance of checking if the conditions for communication are present. I don't even know how many times I have coached parents who expected children to execute a task when the child did not even hear the request (because they were distracted by the TV or a toy or the parent yelled the request from another room) 

Checking if the person you want to listen is available is one side of the equation, the other is being honest with yourself about whether or not you are available. I have had to adjust to accepting when Pierre says he is not available but even more difficult is letting people know when I am not able to communicate in a way that respects my intentions. I just keep talking even when there are about a thousand signs that it would be better if I didn't.  

I have seen harried parents make huge withdrawals from their relationship with their children because they decided to discipline a child in a moment where they were tired, hungry, not feeling well, anxious or overwhelmed. I have also seen parents try to reason or teach a child when that child was having a major meltdown. It's easier said than done but waiting and being clear about our intentions in our relationships is essential. In these types of situations alerting everyone that there is a storm and letting the storm pass goes a long way in preventing the storm from  becoming a hurricane or a tornado.  

It's an aspect of communication that I struggle with because I get caught up in wanting to be heard and don't heed the warning signs from me or from the other person that it's not a good time. Of course there are times when what you have to say is very important and needs to be heard. I have found it useful to change mediums in these cases and write instead of speak or chose to speak to someone else who is more available. 

I once worked with a girl who had 25 years of experience on the crisis intervention line and she said that in her whole life she has only dealt with a true emergency a few times. I will always remember this because it helps me to take a step back and ask myself if there is really an emergency that justifies me reacting by using force or a directive approach to what is going on. If there is no emergency then creating the conditions for communication might take some time but will save time and effort in the long run. 

In reality though not being heard feels like an emergency. In the seven habits for highly effective people author Steven Covey describes the feeling as lacking psychological air. This is why it is so important to have a few options available should either person be lacking psychological air. It's also why the practice of NVC entails regularly doing check ins with yourself and offering yourself empathy on a daily basis. It's like breathing exercises you can't just use it when there is a stressful situation. Taking the time to listen to yourself (don't skip lunches for example) everyday increases the chances that you will be available to hear what others have to say and in return that they will be willing to hear you. 

The research supports that having choices in life is one of the best indicators of health. Knowing that what you have to say is heard and taken into consideration is really important to happiness in my opinion. I am grateful that I have had the chance to learn, model, teach and mediate skills that increase the chances that people will listen to each other. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Deciding to trust

Today I decided to take a decision. I decided that despite the insecurity and lack of certainty about the future I would not continue to go against my nature. I decided to stop working for youth protection as of this morning.

It's a decision I don't regret. I have learnt a lot. I appreciate the work of those who are made to work in this type of environment and am at peace with the fact that I am not one of those people.

Since 10 am this morning I have three interviews lined up (and a sweepstake letter in the mail!!) a sure sign to me that I made the right decision. Today I have decided to trust life and to stop worrying so much about the future. This is my life and in 2012 I am going to invest my energy in things that bring me energy not things that drain me of vitality. I am convinced that I have much to contribute in this world and that trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole is useless. I would rather celebrate my uniqueness and find a way to earn a living where my natural talents will be useful.

Trust is not an easy path. It's scary and uncertain and vulnerable. But what a great feeling to be at peace, to live my life in line with who I am. I don't regret the time I have been with youth protection it has taught me the value of being honest with myself even when it is scary.

I am sitting here excited about what the future will bring, sad that a chapter of my life is over but grateful for all the people in my life that have allowed me to move beyond a spirit of lack into one of abundance.    

I decided to take a trip to the north pole and have discovered that I don't like the cold. I don't regret the experience but I won't continue trying to convince myself that I am a polar bear when clearly I am not. There is a part of me that wanted to stay and prove myself but in the end what would I prove? That I can force myself to work in a way I don't enjoy?

No matter what life brings me now I made a decision based not on rational thought (who would rationally quit a government job with no job lined up??)  but on a mix of reason and emotion that I am starting to trust more and more. It's a great feeling to be able to say No. To clearly say that something is not working for me.

It's a scary place I am in now but it's absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A gift

The holiday season is ending and many of us have had the joy of giving and receiving gifts. We all know the difference between a gift given by obligation and one where the person genuinely thought of our well being. I wanted to write today about feedback, a gift that we often have difficulty receiving as well as giving.

Thinking of feedback as a gift has helped me a lot. It explains why most people complain that they are never heard when they try to express important things.

We are used to being told what we have done wrong. In recent years a lot of advice has been written to focus on what we want instead of what we don't want, to also give praise not just criticism. So we have three options praise, criticism or information about what the other person wants from us.  

Faced with critiques most people defend themselves. Not conducive to being heard. And it's maddening because lets face it we can't always only give positive feedback sometimes it is the other persons interest that we give them feedback about something that isn't working. Praise can be appreciated but again not if the other person does not feel it is genuinely given without strings attached.

Information about what the other person wants (example: Whisper in the corridors instead of don't talk so loud.) is an effective strategy to have in our communication toolbox. What I am writing about today is a way to greatly increase the chances you have of being heard when you try to communicate something and of hearing what others are trying to say to you.

Giving the gift of feedback implies that you slow down and think before talking and that you only choose to talk if what you have to say will enhance the other persons life. As with any gift it's the intention that counts. I have found it very helpful to ask if a person is available to hear me before offering feedback and letting them know where I am coming from "I hope that what I have to say will help you get better results, reach your goals, support you"

The intention of offering what you have to say as a gift also implies that once the gift is given it is absolutely the other persons to do with as they would like. Sometimes when people see me as menacing in the context of my work I will hand them a paper let's say about Love languages and say "I am giving you this as a gift, it is your's to do with as you wish. you can keep it, you can write on it, you can throw it in the garbage if you wish, my job is to give it. What you do afterwards is up to you" Having worked in contexts where people are not voluntary I have gotten used to the fact that what I have to say sometimes ends up in the garbage (literally). Often though they grumble and end up at least glancing at what I have given them.

Feedback is a subject that could take up many blogs because it is such a valuable skill and is really worth thinking about. I really appreciate this opportunity to write, it helps me to clarify and integrate what I have learned.

The gift metaphor is valuable because no matter how awkwardly or imperfectly we may say something if the underlying intention is to offer a gift the form used will not matter as much. The metaphor also helps me to understand that when someone levels criticism at me I can choose to hear the gift that they are offering and not get defensive and cut the connection with the other person. It helps me to hear them even when they are saying things that are hurtful.      

My body is giving me feedback that it is time to go to bed. Goodnight!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Learning to love the shadows

A friend of mine sent this conference and I enjoyed this talk because it really underscores a key aspect of what I have been doing for the last couple of years. Non violent communication is essentially the study of human connection and how to increase our chances of having connection in our lives. Connection is fundamental to having a life of joy, happiness, health. We are hard wired to seek connection and yet it eludes so many in our society. Connection is lost when we use shame to control peoples behavior.

We live in a shaming society. We use punishment and reward as a primary way of socializing people to accept the norms of our society. I am not saying that punishment and reward are not powerful ways to get people to act in certain ways. They are effective, but a what price?

I am also not saying that we don't need tools to stop someone who is harming others from doing so. We need to at times use forceful interventions to change behavior but the philosophy I come from sees these types of interventions as last resort not the primary way we get people to accept the norms of society.

As the speaker in the above video says shaming and punishment leads to fear which leads to people who are afraid to show vulnerability and who then have difficulty experiencing genuine connection. Discomfort with vulnerability is rampant in our society and is why we see so much numbness, rigidity, perfection seeking and the costs of these ways of living. We are so scared of the parts of ourselves that are imperfect, our shadowy side, the part of ourselves that is messy, uncomfortable, intense, in  pain, not pretty, not as we should be. We are scared that if we recognize and show these parts of ourselves we will live one of the most painful experiences a human being can experience: rejection.

The catch 22 in all of this is that in order to never experience rejection we settle for relationships where the nectar of true connection is never experienced. You can't protect yourself from rejection all the time and experience true connection. Every human being has shadows, flaws, imperfections. It's normal and part of being human. Non violent communication offers concrete ways to become more comfortable with authenticity and vulnerability:

Central to NVC is the ability to empathize with ourselves and with the other. Empathy is the ability to capture without judgement, feelings and needs in the present moment. Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy means you get the others emotions and needs and you experience it with them. Empathy is the ability to be aware, be touched but not be caught up in the experience. Empathy is offering yourself or another a calm, neutral presence. A space to let the emotion happen so that you can discover the underlying needs.

Needs are like a temple lost in the rainforest. The signs (the feelings) to get to the temple are all there but without a calm neutral, stable guide no one dares search for the temple. But the guide offers nothing but a map. They are not caught up in wanting you to get to the temple. If you do then great! If you don't that is okay too. Most people without a guide and a map will deny even having seen the signs. Practicing empathy is about letting yourself or encouraging someone else to discover and create a map that could lead to hidden needs.

A little more clarity: When I offer myself empathy I use the four elements of NVC (observation, feelings, needs, requests) to guide me and help me create a map of what is going on inside me and what I want. What allows me to do this is a collection of attitudes, a way of receiving what I am discovering: non-judgement, acceptance, seeing the beauty of the needs, curiosity, adventure, abundance is the best I can do for now to describe this state of presence.

Regularly practicing self empathy is not pity it is a necessary pre-requisite to authenticity and connection. If you do not have self-knowledge how can you live an authentic life? You don't know what is really happening inside you. Learning to identify your needs and guessing the others needs before speaking is key to connecting with others.

Connection happens when people feel that they are seen, they exist and who they are is valued and taken into consideration. The tools I have been learning have helped me to first (as much as possible) offer myself this gift and then extend it to others.
I am not sure if I have told this story but it is worth repeating: Two families were in the pool at my grand-parents place in Florida. Both parents wanted their child to come out of the pool.

One parent chose to use shame and punishment: Get out of the pool now or you will not be allowed back this afternoon. The young boy visibly angry (and plotting revenge) got out of the pool.

The other parent upon hearing the child's refusal asked the following question: When you say no to getting out of the pool is it because you are playing a game and are having fun? The child at this point explained that she was playing tag and was on the safe base. Everyone then agreed that she could get out, put on her sunscreen and have her place back afterwards. I was amazed at how joyful this child was the whole time I had the pleasure of being around her.

The parents decision to treat her child with consideration and respect humbled me. I was amazed to see that it  took a little more time to dialog with the child but that the results were a cooperative, happy child compared to a sullen unhappy one. I could see that this child felt the nectar of true connection and to this day am grateful that there are people around who won't settle for anything less.