“We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand...
and melting like a snowflake.”

Nonviolent Communication

“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
-- Augustine of Hippo
My life experience, intellectual and emotional maturation have showed me that we can not fight violence with violence, fire with fire. We need different tools in order to make our points across people and help the next generation to be better able to see through the social, linguistic, emotional and intellectual conditioning that they are getting in homes and at schools, freeing them from the behaviour patterns and mindset that keeps the older generations stuck. If this is accomplished they will then be able to replace this destructive conditioning that our institutions provide with one more in harmony with our hearts and planet Earth. I believe that understanding conditioning and education and the consequences it brings us in the future is of extreme importance.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is one of these tools that enormously helps to better understand why violence is not the way, and how we can reverse our conditioning to our own advantage and recognise what is actually happening within ourselves, in our hearts, and communicate with others on that level, rather than fall into the old patterns of blame, judgement, punishment, reward, manipulation and violence.

Marshall Rosenberg is an ex-psychologist, who trained under Carl Rogers. He gave up practising clinical psychology in order to dedicate himself to the development of NVC also known as Compassionate Communication, which I think is pretty cool, and would like to share with you.

The following is based on my understanding of NVC so far:
Before a violent (re)action or violent speech takes place, four conditions must be present:
1st Condition
Unmet needs and values
Here you'll find on the one hand, on the mind level, our conditioning, habitual thinking, linguistic patterns, beliefs and values. On the other hand, on the heart level, you'll find basic human needs such as the need for empathy, need for affection, need for connection etc; This is the most important condition and the one hardest to be aware of: our inner world;
2nd Condition
External event
An external event which will act as a trigger or stimulus for a feeling to arise; 
3rd Condition
Emotional reaction
The feeling or emotional reaction to the external event observed or listened in the 2nd condition
4th Condition
Intellectual reaction

The thinking as a reaction to the feeling that arose in the 3rd condition. This thinking will identify the 2nd condition as the cause of the 3rd condition. This kind of thinking that leads to accusations, judgements and so on, is responsible for our anger.
Violence in action and/or speech.
I'll use as an example a common situation which we're all familiar with:
Steve is sitting on the couch watching some movie on TV taking a rest from a long week of hard work. Marta comes up to Steve and asks him: "Hey Steve! Let's go out tonight to Shelly's house she's giving a party and she invited us!". Steve immediately replies with "Oh no! I'm too tired and I want to watch this movie tonight." to which she answers back saying "You are so incredibly selfish! You'll never change!". In situations such as these the most common reaction on our part is violent speech and/or action: Steve throws the remote against the TV and shouts "How can you be so unfair? Can't you see how hard I've been working this week? And how hard I've been trying to please you lately! You're the one who is selfish!".

We humans tend to believe that the cause of our pain in this situations is the 2nd condition, the external event which in reality acts as a stimulus or trigger for the feeling to arise, whereas the real cause, as we will see, is in the 1st condition: unmet needs or values. We're not aware that our minds have been programmed to think and use language in a way that makes us search for an external cause to blame for our suffering, making us thus unaware of our deeper needs and feelings on the heart level, which are the real forces that motivate our behaviour.

Because we have been conditioned to react this way we can't stop ourselves from being angry. Anger is what comes up when we start thinking and blaming the external event or the other person as being responsible for our pain. This anger is a defence mechanism triggered by our accusatory, judgemental thinking, leading thus to violence in speech and action.

What NVC suggests in this situations is to pause this habitual process. This can be done by pausing the sequence between the 4th condition and the result. The ideal would be to pause after the 3rd condition and not go into our heads to search for someone to blame. But because most of us are incapable of overriding our habitual response after so many years of conditioning and training the best we can do is use anger as a reminder, a warning, telling us that some value of ours is not being respected or that some unmet need is not being fulfilled. In this way we're going back to the 1st condition in order to notice what is there that is the real driving force behind our pain.

So once we're in the 4th condition, what we can do after noticing the anger, is to be aware of the thinking after the anger arises. We can observe and listen to what it is telling us because it will give us clues that will help us go back to the 1st condition, our inner world, and identify the belief or value of ours that is not being respected and/or the unmet need not being fulfilled. This takes time, patience and practise.

If we are able to create a space before the violent speech or action, we can pause the game for a second, and choose to be aware, shining thus the light of consciousness onto ourselves, as Marshall puts it, in order to remember not to believe this thinking but listen to it and connect it to our unmet values or needs in the 1st condition.

So let's take a closer look at what happened between Steve and Marta, and what could Steve do according to the NVC approach:

1st Condition
Unmet needs and values
Steve needs to rest and get his mind off of worries from work; Steve needs appreciation for his latest efforts in trying to meet Marta's needs.
2nd Condition
External event
Marta accuses Steve of being selfish and unable to change his ways:
3rd Condition
Emotional reaction
Steve feels hurt and unappreciated;
4th Condition
Intellectual reaction

The thinking: "Can't she see how tired I am? Goddammit! I've been trying so hard to please her can't she even see that?" and subsequent anger;
Steve throws the remote and shouts to Marta:
"How can you be so unfair? Can't you see how hard I've been working this week? And how hard I've been trying to please you lately! You're the one who is selfish!"

Steve could have stopped, after being aware of his anger, and pay attention to his thinking which said: "Can't she see how tired I am? Goddammit! I've been trying so hard to please her can't she even see this?". So it's possible to identify his needs through this thinking: Steve needs some appreciation for his latest efforts in trying to meet Marta's needs, and also the recognition that he is tired and needs to rest his body and mind.

This recognition of his unmet needs would result in a release of tension because he would be able to understand what was happening in his heart that he was not aware of, but was the real cause of his pain and subsequent thinking and anger.

This would open the door for other possibilities of communication. Steve could then say to Marta "When you call me selfish, I feel hurt because I have made a strong effort lately to give you the affection and attention you need, and I would like to receive some appreciation from you. And I also feel disappointed because I'm tired from a long week of hard work and would like you to have noticed that.". At this point the conversation would have taken a whole different route.

Of course NVC also teaches us how to connect to the unmet needs of the other person. In this case I'm using as an example, Steve could have chosen another approach. After recognising the real cause of anger within himself, and before making his request, he could try to identify the unmet need behind Marta's accusation: "You are so incredibly selfish! You'll never change!". After identifying the need of the other person he could ask: "So it looks like you're feeling disappointed and angry because you would like to spend some time with me and your friends, and I'm resisting your request. Is this correct?". In this way Steve would be trying to identify what needs does Marta have that she was trying to fulfil. In this case Marta is clearly trying to meet her need for connection with her friends and partner. Because Marta is clearly identifying Steve as the cause for her feelings and not her unmet needs or values, Steve would be thus assisting Marta in better understanding herself.

By initiating communication based solely on our thoughts and perceptions, which will lead to anger, labels, accusations, judgements, violence, and no awareness of what is going on inside our hearts, the result tends to be most often detrimental to our interests, and ends up causing pain to ourselves and others. Using the NVC approach in communication we invite the other person to communicate with us at the heart level. It's a way of communication where there is honesty about what we are actually needing and feeling in that situation. To communicate on this level takes courage because it demands that we expose vulnerability to the person with whom we are communicating.

Perhaps more importantly NVC teaches us a way of practising compassion and empathy towards ourselves by helping us recognising the causes for depression and negative mind states as unmet needs. Instead of repressing or ignoring the negative thinking patterns, we can listen to them and connect this thinking with our unmet needs, and then do something to try to meet those needs.

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
-- Jesus Christ 

I'm still at the beginner level in NVC, and this text is based solely on my understanding of it so far which is little. I leave you with this video of a workshop on NVC with Marshall Rosenberg. I hope you find this post helpful.


Anonymous said...

How would one deal with recognising an unmet need in another person and finding it aberrant, and so not feeling able to interact with it on an empathetic level? (I hope that makes sense)

I'd also like to say, keep up the good work. I read all your posts and find them really engaging.

Bruno Tarrana said...

I believe we human beings all have the same basic needs. All human behaviour stems from those basic needs (programs). The strategies we developed to meet those needs vary a lot from person to person, culture to culture.

What you might be considering aberrant is not the need itself but the strategy the other person adopted to meet that specific need.

By strategy I mean the habitual actions, ideas, views and preferences the person has adopted to serve that need.

Maybe you are trying to empathize with a preference the person has developed to meet a certain basic need. The preference is still on a superficial level, it's a strategy. You can try to go deeper and realize the basic need behind that preference.

Maybe one thing that keeps you from going deeper is the evaluation you're making about the person's strategy as "aberrant".

And that evaluation of yours comes about probably because that person's strategy is contradicting some strategy or preference of yours that you developed to serve some basic need of yours.

So maybe one way of going deeper in figuring out what's happening in the other person, is to start figuring out what's happening inside yourself. Offer yourself some empathy and see what is it that's making you see the other persons strategy "aberrant".

I would appreciate that you could comment on this blog using a username.

Thank you and I hope this helps