If you’ve been drawn to read this, then I guess that you’ve experienced real pain in your life. Not physical pain that can die off quickly and is quickly forgotten. But the overwhelming, demeaning pain that throws you in the mud like you are a cheap old toy that is not loved and needed anymore. The one that leaves you feeling abandoned and rejected. It slanders, mocks you and befouls your goodwill. It kills your trust and faith in people. The sort of soul-crushing pain you can only suffer in your relationships, not on the battlefield. The kind of pain that can devastate your self-esteem and even kill your desire to live. But the opposite is just as true. Relationships are double-edged swords, and the sharpest ones around. They can cut through the mightiest of foes in both directions. They can turn heroes into miserable wrecks, or they can cast our demons away with their purifying light. They are the most significant source of joy and fulfillment in our lives – research has proven this. Nothing is more fulfilling than being loved, valued and having someone to live for. Communication is the arm that can wield this mighty sword. Swing in the wrong direction, or at the wrong foe, and you can face dire consequences that you will lament for the rest of your life. If you’ve been suffering because you’ve experienced conflict between you and someone you love and don’t want to lose, read on. If you also need more respect, appreciation, empathy or honesty from someone in your life you keep thinking about, you already have enough reasons to continue reading.
What is Nonviolent Communication (NVC)?NVC, also known as Compassionate Communication, is a “Language of life.” It is a process that supports partnership and resolves conflict within people, in our relationships, and even in society. An American psychologist, Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. created it. NVC helps us create relationships that are based on empathy and honesty, on compassion and a desire to give to others from the heart. It aids us in stepping out of the destructive, vicious circles of “victim” and “perpetrator,” of “reward” and “punishment,” and of “right” and “wrong.” It equips us to step into an empowering, life-affirming circle of compassion, peace and mutual understanding where we can meet everyone’s needs. Where relationships can flourish, including our relationship with ourselves. Nonviolent Communication has been used successfully to mediate between Palestinians and Israelis in conflict areas. It is powerful enough to create peace in virtually any situation. Why the name, “Nonviolent”? Because NVC considers communication that is based on the ideas of “right” and “wrong,” violent. On the other hand, it calls honest and empathetic communication that is based on a desire to meet everyone’s needs, non-violent. Labeling each other and each other’s actions along the ideas of “right” and “wrong,” will lead to defensiveness, aggressiveness, and a lack of trust and compassion. We can do this indirectly too, by using closed body language, a disgusted facial expression, rolling our eyes, a cynical tone of voice, or words that imply judgment and evaluation. We do this all the time, impulsively, automatically, usually without even noticing. Then we and our partner both lash out at each other or put up walls, and we lose the trust and connection between us.
“But violence is everywhere and it’s impossible to change!”People, who are passionate about practicing NVC and non-violence often complain about the increasing amount of violence in the world. They judge their anger, don’t accept it as something that’s natural, necessary and even beneficial. As Marshall did, they might have been grown up in a violent family or neighborhood too. At some point, they decided to eliminate violence from their lives because of the traumatic events they’ve experienced, or because it’s not “spiritual,” or for other reasons. With such an emphasis on expressing a part of ourselves that we label as acceptable, at the expense of revealing other “unacceptable” parts, those denied parts of us will become our shadows. They will rob us of our wholeness, our natural, wild, primal side, adaptability, and full personal power. I’ve chosen to embrace, love and express all aspects of my personality that I might be feeling resistance towards at the moment. If I need to set boundaries and cut cords with people who are disrespectful or abusive, I’ll often choose to do that instead of attempting to use NVC. I’ll still do this, even though I’ve been practicing Nonviolent Communication since 2006, I understand NVC inside-out, and I was also teaching it at some point. In a way, this is also practicing Nonviolent Communication, because you give empathy to your own needs for respect and dignity when others are not willing or able to. I don’t react to people anymore with negative emotions the way I used to do. I’m more accepting and neutral towards people’s unconscious attempts to trigger negative emotions in me, and I don’t take advantage of any mistakes they make or weakness they show. These come from being able to see unmet needs instead of an “enemy” standing in front of me. I can also just confidently make requests to others often without having to express my underlying feelings and needs. For these reasons, I haven’t had to use NVC more than a few times in recent years. I haven’t been in a relationship for a while, but if you are, or have children and a family, NVC is going to make a tremendous difference in your life. Expressing my anger and setting boundaries is something I’ve had to work harder on than most people do, because of painful childhood experiences. I am grateful for my anger and wouldn’t judge or resist it if expressing it can indeed serve me. But if we deny them, parts of ourselves can become our subconscious shadows, and we’ll have a distorted view about them. We can quickly start projecting our own denied anger and violence onto the world and begin seeing it everywhere in the world around us as though we are wearing colored glasses. “But violence is obviously at an all-time high in the world, isn’t it?” – You are probably saying now. “Just turn on the news. Violence is flowing from everywhere!” If you’re addicted to watching the news on the television and believing everything that they are telling you there, this could be a massive shock for you. Professor Steven Pinker has documented how the amount of violence and terrorism in the world has reached an all-time low in human history and that it continues to decrease steadily. We’ve never lived in more peaceful times. Why do the newspapers and news channels then do their best to try and convince you of the contrary? Well, they are paid by their advertisers. The larger the audience they can coerce into paying attention to them, the more they will get paid. Research has shown that we give far more attention to negative news than to positive ones. If these media outlets can’t come up with enough horrible incidents that grab the reader’s attention, they’ll go out of business. Whatever they are telling you, or not telling you, are all financially motivated. They speak with authority, and we tend to believe them without questioning the distorted reality they are painting to us. It’s a fact that our external world is more peaceful than ever. But the amount of subtle violence we express towards ourselves and others has hardly changed throughout history. When we make mistakes, we beat ourselves up and give the same treatment to others too. We judge and label our unacceptable desires. We criticize other people also, if we consider them, or what they do, wrong. We might only do it in our heads as we want to remain polite, but there is a war going on in our minds. And this inner conflict is reflected in our relationships and our society too. The cause of this lack of love towards ourselves and others is limiting beliefs. Beliefs, like “I’m not good enough,” “If I make a mistake or fail, I’ll be rejected,” I’m not important, worthy or competent, and others. These limiting beliefs can prevent us from expressing empathy and honesty in our relationships, and they stop us from finding fulfillment there. I’m going to address this in a future article that will introduce you to how you can use Nonviolent Communication and interact with people at a whole new, conscious level.
Nonviolent Communication’s 4 StepsNVC is composed of 4 simple steps. These are:
- We learn how to observe others’ behavior that contributed to our feelings, without judgments and evaluations. (Observation=You haven’t washed up after yourself 4 times this week. Evaluation/judgment=You always leave a mess behind in the kitchen.)
- We get in touch with what we are really feeling in the moment, making sure we avoid talking about what we think. (Feeling=I’m feeling annoyed. Thinking=I feel that you are disrespectful.)
- We identify our unmet needs and values that are contributing to our feeling. (e.g., I need respect, or I need orderliness.) To learn what universal human needs are and how they work, read this article. I’ve created a comprehensive cheat sheet for you about human needs. You can access it here.
- After completing the first three steps our partner can hear how we feel and what we need, we then request them to help us meet our needs. Talking about what we do want instead of what we don’t want is essential. Just like mentioning concrete actions that our partner can do in the present moment, using precise language. (e.g., instead of making the vague request, “Could you please stop ignoring me when you get back home from work?”, we can ask, “Could we keep the TV turned off when you come back home and spend half an hour together to talk about how we are feeling and what would help us be more fulfilled in this relationship?” We do this without expecting them to comply with our request, and without applying pressure or threatening them with consequences. If we do any of those, it’s a demand, not a request, and we risk breaking the trust and empathy in the relationship.
- As an ever-present bonus step, we can always choose to empathize with the feelings and needs of our partner if they resist anything we say to them. When they start to feel that we genuinely care about them, they’ll find it easier to begin to reciprocate.