My commitment to 30 days of focusing on nonviolent communication was satisfied as of September 28. It was a resounding success. Here is an overview of how it went, as well as some thoughts for the future.
The Social Media Element
In order to keep myself focused, I committed to practicing NVC at least once a day on social media (mostly Twitter). I missed only one day, and that was just because I was busy that day and forgot. I made up for it the next day with multiple posts.
This was indeed helpful in keeping me focused. Otherwise I may have spent my days thinking about NVC without ever concretely practicing it. Although I did practice it in other ways, I think I spent a far greater time thinking about it than practicing. I think that it is also helpful just to think about it, because our thoughts can be violent or nonviolent, but NVC is often work. Particularly, it is work to learn to communicate nonviolently when we’re so used to communicating and thinking violently.
I did see some major effects on my relationships from practicing NVC during this month.
First and foremost, I had one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had in my life. A long-term sexual relationship I was in was up in the air – we had been struggling for months and didn’t know where things stood with each other. We had both been procrastinating on having this conversation with each other.
He didn’t know what happened, but I did: I knew that the communication had fallen apart, and that was the main problem. I had stopped communicating much in the relationship about a lot of things that were important to me. I was afraid to talk about certain things for fear of being judged. Increasingly, I found that my needs weren’t being met, and so things got more and more stressful for both of us.
I also went back and forth in my head between blaming him and blaming myself, all while not knowing what really to say that I felt comfortable with. I felt very confused by this way of thinking. I began studying NVC a few days before we finally talked, and in that time alone I had gained so much clarity. At that point, I was able to fully recognize this blame game that was going on in my head, while also understanding the game I did want to play: the empathy game. The “how can I make life wonderful for you and me?” game.
I told him many things I’d been holding inside, and he didn’t judge me. He just listened. He didn’t try to tell me what to do, or that my fears were wrong. He gave me what I needed more than anything, and he gave me exactly what NVC is about: empathy. Or to put it in NVC terms, he helped me fulfill my need for empathy in just the way that I needed.
It was an incredibly cathartic conversation: so much emotional tension released. I cried a lot, and I felt more in touch with my feelings afterward: I found myself crying while rereading this book, where I hadn’t cried at all before. So many of my needs were met through that conversation – so many needs that had gone for a so long unmet. The overall feeling was one of harmony and peace. I think those are what we feel when so many of our other needs are being met: love, connection, understanding, physical intimacy, autonomy, etc.
What happened in that conversation, specifically? It’s so personal, I don’t want to share a lot of details here at this time. But I brought up Rosenberg’s book on NVC many times during that conversation. I managed to avoid any kind of blame or manipulation or judgment of him, and for the most part, of myself. And I think that allowed him to be fully empathetic with me as well.
Although we did end the relationship, it was mostly for other reasons than the relationship itself (including distance). That conversation felt like a turning point for me, in so many ways. It felt like that was the point where I could begin to fully embrace my project of nonviolent communication, by resolving an enormous conflict in my life. It also gave me a lot more confidence and hope for the future of my dating life. It was my first long-term sexual relationship, so I really needed that affirmation. That I could be accepted by a lover for all of me. For all of these things I’d been afraid of not being accepted for.
The other most important conversation in my life was actually very similar to this and happened some years ago. That, too, was based deeply upon empathy and acceptance, and was extremely cathartic and life-changing.
Only time will tell, but I feel like I’ve entered a new chapter of my life with nonviolent communication, particularly with this one conversation.
Now there were also some more minor effects on my relationships. For example, every in-depth conversation I had during this month ended up turning to the topic of NVC. I found all of these conversations amazingly fulfilling and inspiring as a result. I also simply felt more confident in talking to people, knowing that if a conflict arose, I had NVC to turn to. Even if it was just empathizing with myself silently. I felt more connected to people, who were almost all quite interested when I brought up the topic.
One of these people liked what I had to say so much that he bought a copy of the NVC book for himself afterward. Then he bought me a copy of the condensed version of the book in French! I was thrilled. It was just want I wanted.
Another relationship with a potential lover and definite friend has flourished because I feel less afraid of being judged, as a result of NVC. My need for acceptance is being met more than ever, which naturally reduces my fear of being judged. And again, having that confidence of knowing how to handle it (through NVC) even if I am judged.
Today, I had a very minor conflict with a friend I was planning to meet up with to practice NVC with. I was upset when he cancelled a couple hours before, telling me he forgot he already had dinner plans with someone else. I was really looking forward to it and know it could be weeks before we get another opportunity.
I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I was pretty annoyed, maybe even a little angry about this. I know now that anger comes from playing the blame game, and that I was thinking violently about it. And I know that this type of thinking has ruined relationships for me in the past, and destroyed my sense of hope and confidence for my own future. I also knew that the anger would probably go away if I just avoided thinking about it for an hour or two. But I wanted to work through the feelings this time, instead of just avoiding them. After all, the very purpose of our meeting was to work on NVC!
So I started writing out my thoughts in NVC format. “I am annoyed because I’m needing….” and so on. After 5 minutes of writing and pondering over it, the anger dissipated. I wrote him back without that feeling of annoyance, and all’s well that ends well!
What a powerful, relieving, confidence-building tool!
The Challenge: My Coworker
One relationship I am particularly struggling with right now is with my coworker. I don’t think this relationship has improved at all since I began working on NVC, but I do think I am a little less stressed about it.
She yells at me a lot. I think she’s constantly playing the blame game. According the NVC framework, she’s stuck in the obnoxious stage of communication (at best). There are three stages: emotional slavery, obnoxious, and emotional liberation. In the obnoxious stage, we recognize that we need to express our own needs in order to get them met, but we fail to recognize that emotional liberation requires that we work toward fulfilling others’ needs as well. Well, she is very good at barking commands at everyone beneath her in workplace status. She even sometimes talks in terms of her “needs” and how others do or don’t (mostly don’t) do what she needs.
Violence between us actually escalated during this month, probably because I’ve been more into the obnoxious stage myself. I have a history of being too afraid to express my own needs and make requests to get them met. This is particularly common among women, according to Rosenberg. I’ve been thinking to myself more and more than I’m just not going to put up with her “bullshit” anymore. I’m not going to just bow down to her because she is Thai and (I’m guessing) thinks that younger people should just nod and say “yes” and do exactly as commanded to because elders are inherently superior.
Nevertheless, I did laugh a couple times after we yelled at each other. I turned around and thought to myself, “Okay, what is she needing?” Or that it had really nothing to do with me. This was new.
At one point she actually put her hand around my neck in a gesture to shut me up. Just goes to show that “violent” communication really does lead to physical violence.
Right now I’m trying to figure out how to address her needs without sacrificing my own sense of autonomy, respect, and authenticity. Without thinking I’m doing this just so she’ll stop yelling at me and judging me and blaming me. I know it’s possible, now that I have this framework. I think what I need at this point is to just set aside some time to work through this specific conflict in my head, in writing, etc., and to come up with solutions. I think that the biggest thing might be finding the confidence to request concretely to her what I am needing. Or maybe making a request to my boss to help me get her to be nice to me and other employees. And I know I am never going to do that on my own if I don’t really focus on it in order to get concrete about what I need to do, in order to push past my fears and habits.
In any case, I think I’ve laid the groundwork by studying/practicing NVC as I have so far.
Self-Empathy / Self-Confidence
This biggest part of this month has not been the individual relationships but my own sense of well-being. As I wrote above and in my project update, so many of my needs that were previously unmet began to be met through practicing NVC. So I’ve come to realize that self-confidence stems from getting our needs met, and from knowing how to effectively get them met. It also stems from self-empathy.
Granted, the change in my emotions isn’t ALL because of NVC. But it is all from getting my needs met, including nutritional needs. Getting enough Vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium has helped my mood and ability to concentrate enormously over the last 2.5-3 months, which primed me for this life-changing time concentrating hard on NVC. It was the focus on NVC after developing my ability to concentrate and improving my mood potential that allowed me to begin to feel all kinds of satisfying feelings. Increased confidence is one of them.
Both the improvements in my relationships and the quiet practice of self-empathy have helped me so much here. I feel a deep and growing sense of harmony and peace when I read about NVC, when I think about it, and when I stop to think something empathetic toward myself. Sometimes it’s just to say to myself, “Okay, I keep repeating this negative affirmation. That’s all it is. It’s a self-judgment. It’s because I’m needing such-and-such. It’s because I’m afraid I won’t be understood or loved or accepted by others.” Even if I continue to have these judgments, I just spent an entire month where virtually every time I had a judgmental thought toward myself, I was aware of the way that it was judgmental. And contemplative of this fact.
I am also more confident because I believe that working on NVC is a very worthwhile activity that will open the world up to me in the future. No one I’ve met outside the NVC community itself (via an established group), and perhaps the guy who introduced me to NVC, has thought as much about the specific framework of NVC as I have. Or worked on it as much as I have. That I know of, that is. I have a lot of friends who are familiar with it, it seems, including some who’ve read the book. But all those I spoke to about it during this month said that at best they had just read the book and not managed to implement much of it.
Therefore, I can tell that even doing this quiet work on myself is so needed in this world. While I don’t want to be arrogant and think that I am remotely close to being an expert, perhaps I could be in 20+ years. If I work on it diligently. That’s something truly worth living for. Right now I really feel like I am spending my time well.
For the Future
I have a few ideas for how I can continue to work on NVC. Namely, I think I need to start honing in more on specific aspects of NVC, or specific issues I’m dealing with, and giving them a thorough attention. For example, I could spend a week focusing on feelings, a week on needs, a week on requests, a week on my coworker, etc.
I do have plans to facilitate an intro to NVC workshop in October. I could make that a regular thing. Or make it a regular thing to meet up with friends to practice NVC. Or to attend workshops / discussion groups on NVC that already exist, although I have some barriers to those that I need to work through.
I could really change the focus of this blog to NVC and start writing more regularly.
Or I could simply make it a regular practice of working through specific situations in NVC in writing, as I did with that one friend.
I can also try to find fresh materials to read and listen to related to NVC.
However, I’d like to find a way of focusing that doesn’t leave me feeling constantly like I’m doing a chore, and doesn’t suck up time I really need for other things. So maybe I’ll go back and forth between a passive and active focus (reading/listening vs practicing/writing/workshops).
For October. I’m going to finish my third reading of this NVC book. I’m going to facilitate a workshop on NVC, for sure. I’m going to meet up with at least one person to practice one-on-one.
And I’m going to work on making concrete requests. I think that’s something I need particular work on. I already focused a lot on feelings and needs this last month, but not much on requests. It’s relatively hard to practice requests via social media. I’m going to spend at least 7 days focusing specifically on requests during the month of October.
I’m kind of scared of this, actually. Making requests requires being able to accept “no” for an answer, and listening for the answer and all that accompanies it. If you can’t take “no” for an answer, it becomes a demand rather than a request. Or it turns into self-judgment. All the more reason for me to hone in on it.
That’s it. Assuming I continue to make significant progress in NVC, I will continue to post updates here. Until then! Thanks for reading.