I would like to devote time this week to speak about part two of the four part process of Nonviolent Communication: Feelings.
Feelings are emotional energy, and they can be felt as movement within our body. For example, anger and fear can be felt as tenseness; whereas sadness may be felt as heaviness or fatigue. Feelings are not thoughts, evaluations or judgments. They are the messengers of our needs. Positive feelings signal needs met, negative feelings signal unmet needs. For example, when we are hungry, we need food; fullness signals we have met our need for food. This same principle works with emotional feelings and needs. For example, when we feel fearful; we may need reassurance; and if we are feeling sad, understanding may be the need. The cause of our feelings is always our needs.
Several years ago when I first began studying this process of NVC, I heard Dr. Rosenberg say that observations were never the cause of our feelings, only the stimulus. I didn't understand the full impact of that concept until I went through a personal experience that really brought the idea home to me. I was in a class and I made a comment that the teacher did not seem to understand. Later, while talking with another student about that moment, she said she had wondered why I had even made the comment to begin with.
In that instant, I saw how the teacher's reaction led to the student's reaction. The teacher did not understand, nor did the student. The teacher seemed annoyed, as did the student. Suddenly, I was the one who annoyed them. And they both dismissed me, without engaging further to clarify what I was trying to contribute. If they had been in touch with their own need for understanding, they may have asked for clarity instead of reacting with annoyance.
That brief moment in time left me with a lesson about how attitudes, judgments and stereotypes can be formed quickly, when we associate people and their actions with our negative feelings and reactions. If we couple this tendency with memory, it is easy to see how our associations store up over time and we get triggered by events that resemble similar experiences in the past. Then we start reacting in the current moment as if the stimulus was the cause of our feelings. In addition to memory, our thoughts are also culprits; we think someone should have done something differently, so therefore we think they were wrong. And we are so often harder on ourselves than on others. Meantime, we pay no attention to our unmet needs, as long as we keep the focus on blame or shame.
What if, instead, we could remind ourselves that our negative feelings are merely directional signals, pointing us toward our needs that await fulfillment? In knowing our needs, we could then be open to finding strategies that would allow us to live in harmony and integrity with our values and be accountable for our lives.
What if we could disassociate the people and things that have been bound up with our negative feelings over time, and just reflect upon the needs we had that were not getting met in those interactions? And then taking it a step further, how we might meet our needs differently in the future? If we hold the intention, I think we CAN do this rethinking process with practice, and we can reprogram our minds in the process. And I believe that the end results will be more serenity and fulfillment for all concerned.
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