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Non-violent communication

Highlights from a nine-day conference with Marshall Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication

Susan R. Johnson MD, FAAP, 5/6/2003

EXPRESSING OUR FEELINGS AND NEEDS:

1) Choose every moment of your life. There is no such thing as "I can't" or "I don't have time". We choose what we are going to do and not going to do based on priorities. We make choices so let our words reflect that truth. Don't fool yourself into thinking you have no choices in your life that is how we become stuck.

2) Nature gives us our emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear etc) so we can realize we have needs that can be met. Feelings come from our needs. Feelings like joy, gratitude, happiness mean that our needs are being met. Feelings like frustration, fatique, sadness etc means there are needs that aren't being met. Our emotions (feelings) give us the clue to our needs that we are meeting and those needs that we aren't meeting, yet.

3) Some basic needs include survival (food, water, shelter, movement, exercise, rest, touch, health), safety (protection dependability, consistency, security, order, peace), Independence/Autonomy ( integrity, authenticity, emotional and physical boundaries, choice, solitude, respect for ones' personal tastes, values, preferences, interests, lifestyle,), Interdependence and nurturance (connection, trust, inclusion, cooperation, equality, acceptance, honesty, respect, compassion, love, affection, tenderness, comfort, touch, warmth, understanding, recognition, support, appreciation, sexual expression, consideration, and gratitude), Clarity and Awareness (understanding, wisdom, experience, knowledge), Celebration of life (Creative expression, play, joy, sexual expression, aliveness, humor, passion, mourning), Purpose and Meaning (Fulfilling work, life purpose, goals, dreams, aspirations, commitment, competence, growth and development, integrity), and Spiritual (beauty, inspiration, meaning, harmony, freedom(from fear), order, peace, communion, fellowship, honoring of life's key moments-birth, death, loss etc)

4) At first (Stage 1) we are oblivious to our unmet needs and can become paralyzed by our own feelings and collapse in tears or have major tantrums and we don't know who to blame. Later (Stage 2) we begin to have an inkling of our unmet needs and we can become downright abusive in expressing our needs to others and blaming others especially if we perceive the other person as infringing on our space and blocking our ability to get our needs met (My needs are more important than yours!). Still later (Stage 3) comes mutual understanding that both of our needs are equally important and meeting both needs leads to a deeper connection with the Divine, ourselves and others.

5) If you state your feeling without giving what need of yours is not being met then you open the door for someone else to feel responsible for the feeling you expressed.

6) Expressing our needs in addition to our feelings keeps others from feeling responsible for our emotions. Doing everything out of a mood of joy also keeps resentments from building inside of us and keeps us from blaming others for our frustrations which really result from our own unmet needs.

7) We don't ever have to say "No" to another person. The word, "NO", disconnects us from the other person and as human beings we have a deep need and desire to help others. So state your own need that keeps you from honoring another's need, and then work to get both needs somehow met. You may not be the person that can meet their particular need at that particular time but you can brainstorm with the other person so that their need can be met as well even if it is by someone else. Your willingness to be with the other person during this process lets the other person know he or she is important too and that their needs are important to you. Be aware that with our children and ourselves, our big loud "NO's" are often autonomy tantrums. If we hear another's request as a demand (you should, you must etc) this also leads to an autonomy tantrum.

8) When another person says "No" to your request then say "I would be interested in understanding what the no is about?". Keep the conversation and the connection with the other person alive.

9) Be aware of feelings that are actually our judgements or evaluations of others and are not really feelings. Words, like "I feel misunderstood", "I feel unappreciated", "I feel abused" etc., are judgements of the other person and are not true feelings. When we use these evaluative or judgement words we can cause the other person to become defensive and disconnect from us.

10) There are 4 feelings in us (anger, guilt, depression, and shame) that represent a big warning signal. We often will blame others when these 4 feelings arise in us, but they are a signal to us that we have underlying needs that have not been met. Find those unmet needs and the strong feelings will start to dissipate.

11) I am often triggered by those people that share some of my similar unmet needs (eg. not feeling worthy, having trouble connecting to others, having trouble finding my own boundaries).

Is is said that like attracts like. I can no longer so easily judge another person. People in the past I might have judged as being heartless, cold, selfish, conceited, full of pride may have underlying unmet needs similar to my own. It is interesting to note that I go out of my way to not appear heartless, cold, selfish, conceited, and full of pride. Maybe it is time I own my dark side and realize that the people that trigger my judgements are actually helping me to become more aware of this dark side. I guess we are sisters and brothers of each other.

12) Any addiction to anything is actually someone's solution to an unmet need (such as lonlieness, lack of connectiveness, lack of self-worth etc) That solution may not be a life generating or life affirming one but it is a solution.

13) After expressing our feeling and need to another person, it is important to make a specific request. That request can even be for that person to repeat back to you what they have understood so far. If you only state your feelings and needs to another person you leave them in Limbo. They can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed. A request gives something for the other person to do. They may agree or disagree with your request, but even if they disagree then you can get curious and ask them to give a feeling and need as to why they disagree. The most important thing is to stay connected to each other in the conversation and hold both needs as important.

EMPATHETIC LISTENING (as opposed to just intellectual understanding)

1) The biggest journey we ever take in this lifetime is the one from our head to our heart.

2) When I forget to empathize with anothers feelings and needs, I miss an opportunity to connect more deeply with them. Our eyes change (soften, get deep) when we are deeply empathizing (connecting) with another human being and the other person will see and feel this change.

3) If I only sympathize with someone (just feel their feeling) then I am back into myself with the energy(disconnecting from the other) and not with the other person. Try to hear their feeling and their unmet need behind their feeling and thereby empathize (be with the other). If I only sympathize, I block my ability to be with the other person in empathy. An intellectual understanding of someone's situation can help a little but it won't bring the relief from their current suffering. Hear and focus on their present feelings and unmet needs. This kind of listening is powerful and healing. You can actualize someone into existence by listening.

4) We literally get ill when we don't empathesize with ourselves and others. We detach and disconnect from our self and from others and this is what leads to illness.

5) When another person is in pain and expressing anger toward you remember to connect their anger to their unmet need. Don't take responsibility for their feeling they are expressing toward you. You can't fix it and you are not the cause of it. You can't make another's pain go away. Your presence just triggered something in them. When the other person becomes aware of the their unmet need that triggered their anger then healing will begin. So as a friend and fellow human being, all you can do is be a mirror to this person and reflect back their feelings and possible unmet needs. When the person can identify their unmet needs, then the healing of their anger and pain can begin. Remember the bumper sticker "I Am You, You are Me, We are One".

6) Try not to hear what another person thinks about you (don't get caught in the emotional brew) , instead listen for their unmet needs when they are speaking to you and reflect those needs back to them. If you find someone getting furious, get curious. If you find yourself getting furious, get curious.

7) Be present to what is living in the moment. What is Alive in you and in the other person. This is all that matters. If someone appears stuck in past hurts and you are not enjoying their flow of words to you then for both of your sakes interrupt their flow of words and bring them to their present feelings and unmet needs. This brings connection back between the two of you and this is where healing exists. This is what it means to be alive and living in the present moment.

8) Things we often do block empathy because we do them too soon, before the other person has had enough time to really share their feelings and unmet needs with us. These things include: giving advice/fixing it ("If I were you, I'd...), explain it away("I would have called but...), correct it ("But you're the one who...,"I never said ...), console ("It could have been a lot worse"), tell a story ("That reminds me of the time..."), shut down feelings ("Quit feeling sorry for yourself"), sympathize ("Oh you poor thing"), evaluate/educate ("If you weren't so defensive..."), investigate/interrogate ("How come you did that?","Why didn't you call...?"), or One-Up ("That's nothing. Listen to this!").

PUNISHMENTS AND REWARDS

1) A system in our society based on punishments and rewards teaches the child to play it safe "You can't fall out of bed if you sleep on the floor". To take risks in ones life and make "mistakes" is how we learn and grow as human being. Rewards and punishments stunt our ability to grow and develop and think creatively. Also a life based on winning or getting rewarded has no meaning except getting the rewards. We lose ourself and learn to only seek the approval of others.

GRATITUDE

1) Don't do anything that isn't play - find the joy in the activity or don't do it. There is a price to pay for things we do out of guilt, anger, shame etc. We make others feel responsible for our resentment.

2) Take time to express gratitude. Gratitude is the energy that fills us up and strenghtens our will to do what we intended to do on this earth. The fuel from sincere gratitude gives us the energy to serve. When we are able to do the things we intended to do then we feel joy. Joy comes from fulfilling our need to contribute to life. So sincere gratitude is the secret for having joy in ones life. (Note: when people are in pain (have a lot of anger) it is hard for them to express gratitude. When a person's needs are not being met it leads to their criticism of others and an inability to express gratitude). Are you creating space in your life for gratitude?

3) "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly". So often we don't follow through in expressing our gratitude or thanks because we think we have to do it perfectly. (ex. hand painted note card or a 3 page letter). We become overwhelmed with the task and often don't do anything at all.

4) When giving praise: ask yourself if your are saying something to get others approval or to truly express appreciation (for a need of yours that was met somehow by the other persons deed, words etc.). Let your love and appreciation for the other and life in general radiate out like the rays from the sun without any expectations of receiving anything back (the results).

5) When someone offers you praise, accept it with the same gratitude that was offered to you and remember The Creater, the One whom the praise really belongs too. A phrase once said to Marshall Rosenberg: "I kiss the God in you that gave you the power to give us what you did".

PEACE AND LOVE

1) In our intimate and close relationships ask the other person: "How can I make your life more wonderful today?"

2) Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.

3) When we are really free as human beings we no longer need to submit or rebel. Advice to teenagers: Avoid putting yourself in a situation where you give someone else the power to make you submit or rebel (don't take the bait). Create your own story.

4) When you or someone else makes a "mistake" remember to say to yourself or others "Oh what a beautiful mistake?"

5) Avoid the use of static (labeling) language in our writings and speech (Ex. "I can't do this" vs I can't do this-yet"). Words like good/bad, right/wrong, correct/not correct as well as stupid/idiot/immature/selfish/idealistic are all static words (labels). The use of these words disconnects us from ourselves and others.

6) Love is a continuous process of revealing deeper and deeper truths. Love is the most joyous and most terrifying thing a human being can do.

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© Susan R. Johnson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
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