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Non-violent Communication


One of the most common issues for those who attend my clinics revolves around the ability to communicate effectively around sex, sexuality and their relationship needs. In his book “Non-Violent Communication”, Marshall B. Rosenberg puts forward a four component process for effective communication: Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests. We state our observations on actions someone is taking which affect us and do so without judgment, we then state our feelings when we observe this action, we identify our needs in connection to the feelings and finally we request concrete actions which enrich our lives. When we work through this system, we can both establish a flow where we express honestly through the four components (what I am observing, feeling, needing and requesting) and receive empathically (what you are observing, feeling, needing and requesting). While it is a powerful system when put into practice between couples (and continued practice is needed before this becomes and natural flow), perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of using the NVC process may be in the understanding it gives us to enable us to generate self-compassion.

I met Margot Anand recently at the RDS Conscious Concerts and during her delivery, she simply stated this essential truth: “The degree to which we can love another is limited to the degree with which we can love ourselves”. So we will look at how our internal criticisms prevent us from seeing our own intrinsic beauty and disconnect us from our own divine self. The place to look is at how we have been taught to evaluate ourselves and in particular when we have been less than perfect.

Take this little test: recall a time when you did something you wish you hadn’t (or to put it more commonly you made a “mistake”). It can be anything, either in or out of the bedroom, write down what were your immediate thoughts or words to yourself?

Typically we use phrases like: “stupid”, “messed up again”, “how could you do it”, “it’s your fault again”. Unfortunately evaluating ourselves in such a judgmental moralistic way we engender self-hatred which leads to guilt and shame. Whether it be sex, intimacy or other behaviours in a relationship, actions taken as a result if feelings of guilt and shame are not free and joyful acts and have major repercussions around how the act is perceived by ourselves and others. In fact as Rosenberg points out, there is one word in the English language which encapsulates how we evaluate ourselves and is a major contributor to guilt and shame, that word is “SHOULD”. How many times have you said to yourself “you should do this” or “shoudn’t do that”. Words like should, must, and have to, all engender a lack of choice, resistance and, if we succumb to their demands, joylessness. When we are acting from a place of self-judgment, however, we are expressing our unmet needs and there is the potential for learning. If we can evaluate ourselves from a place of compassion we can understand what those needs are, enrich ourselves and act more in accordance with our values. If we look at our self talk around something that we did, we can ask ourselves what needs are not being met that are causing us to be so self-judgmental in so doing we can experience a different set of other feelings which are arising in response to those needs, whatever they are: Fear, Dissapointment, Grief and similar feelings may be experienced. Importantly though we are not experiencing these feelings from Guilt or Shame and their impact is substantially different. Further, when we connect to those unmet needs we may experience regret, but will not experience blame or self hating that we have typically experienced: Our awareness is focussed on our needs and this stimulates the creative opportunities. In contrast, our typical moralistic judgements close down such possibilities and lead to a cycle of self-punishment. When we experience and move past this form of regret we, empathically connect the part of ourselves that regrets the action and the part of ourselves that took the action and then we generate self-compassion and self-forgiveness. As a consequence we become free to move forward into learning and growing and when we can connect to our needs moment by moment we increase our ability to act in harmony with them. In embracing all parts of ourselves and recognise all the needs of each of those parts we become more self-compassionate and able to act in ways that enable all our needs to be met.

In addition to the above, there is a third aspect of self-compassion and that is to look at what is behind every action we take and to choose to take actions out of desire to enrich our lives rather than fear, guilt, shame or obligation. But how do we begin to recognise what activities we are doing are coming from guilt, shame or obligation?

Try this exercise:

Write down on paper everything in your life that you believe you “have” to do and that you do not enjoy doing.

Now after you have your list, in front of each write “I choose to” ....(you are acknowledging a choice to do them)

Next after “I choose to”...... write ”because I want”........ (you are looking at the need that this fulfils)

As you go through your list you may find there are valid important reasons, but you will uncover different motivations: Money, Approval, to escape punishment, to avoid shame, to avoid guilt, to satisfy a sense of duty, and (perhaps the most dangerous) “because we are supposed to”. All of these have a price tag and if they do not enrich your life then look at the knowledge that you can choose to do these things or not do these things, then you can stop doing those which are not enriching your life and alter others so you are doing them out of what Rosenberg calls “a sense of play” and in doing so enrich your life and be more compassionate and bring more integrity into our lives.

Mark Sutton June 2014


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