Two weeks ago I attended a meeting of a volunteer group I participate in. A group member whom I will call “Raymond” related to me in a way I did not like. The next day I noticed in me emotional pain and lack of inner peace. Then, my feelings dissipated and the incident receded from my awareness. A few days later, I went back to the setting where the exchange took place. A friend of mine, a therapist, asked how I was. I said I felt sad but didn’t know why. “It’s not necessary for you to know the reason,” she replied caringly. “Just allow yourself to feel your sadness.” Yes. I like this advice. Feel the sadness. Don’t
ignore it, suppress it, or try to change it with clever thoughts.
In addition, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) provides us with a process that has been most helpful to me in recovering from challenging encounters. We call this process “Self-Empathy.” Following are the steps in a nutshell:
0. Judging and Blaming — Give expression and release anger, blaming and judging, if present.
1. Observation — Identify the event that triggered your emotions. Describe it objectively, free from evaluation. For example, rather than “She insulted me,” we would say, “She called me careless and irresponsible.” The former is my interpretation of the other’s action. The latter is simply a quote.
2. Feeling — Identify and experience your emotions fully.
3. Need — Identify the underlying need(s) causing the emotions. CONNECT with the most salient need.
4. Request – Ask what you could do to meet your needs in this situation.
Here’s how the process unfolded for me that night in the privacy of my home. At times I follow the steps above. This time I allowed my thoughts and feelings to flow freely while keeping in mind the various aspects of the model:
CONNECTING WITH FEELINGS:
Why am I hurting? What’s bothering me? (Silence)
Suddenly, I realized what the stimulus for my sadness was. I entered sadness fully.Then I became angry.
RELEASING ANGER, JUDGING AND BLAMING:
How DARE you treat me like that?! . . .
I vented anger until it was gone. I gave expression to the judgments present in me without justifying them (“I have a right to be angry”) or judging myself for having judgments (“I shouldn’t get angry”).We say that it is important to let anger flow until it exhausts itself without either squelching it or fueling it.. After releasing anger, tears rolled down my cheeks. When they ceased, and not a second sooner, I asked the critical question:
IDENTIFYING AND CONNECTING WITH OUR NEED(S):
What is my need here?(Silence)
SAFETY!!! Of course! How can I do anything in this group if I don’t have
Next, I made heart connection with my need for safety and rested there for a few minutes.
Safety. Safety. Aaaaah.
Identifying the need brought clarity. Connecting with the need brought a sense of relief. Nothing had changed externally but I felt calm.
Next, I asked myself what I could do to meet my need for safety in the
MAKING A REQUEST OF OURSELVES:
What can I do? How can I have safety in this relationship?
Here’s the answer that emerged:
Before our next meeting, I will process this incident again to see if I have a residue of anger. If so, I will go through the steps above again. Next, I will talk to a friend to try to understand and connect with the needs Raymond was trying to meet when he interacted with me the way he did.
You may wonder how the above action plan could meet my need for emotional safety. I believe that if I feel resolved and peaceful about this situation, I will be prepared to engage in an NVC dialog should the opportunity arise.
You may also wonder why I didn’t connect with Raymond at the time. I tried but since we were in the middle of a meeting, there was a general wish to move on with the agenda. At the end, I asked him if we could talk later but he declined.
As you may have noticed, I left the Observation out during the process. Yet, if I were getting ready to talk to Raymond, it would be important to distinguish what he did from my interpretation of his actions. I will expand on this another time.
Friends, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m grateful to NVC for a model to heal myself from challenging encounters, understand my needs, and gain clarity as to how to meet them.
Regards to all,