This past weekend, I took a workshop on Nonviolent Communication (NVC). In the workshop, I worked on a current conflict I have with a friend who doesn’t seem to hear me in the ways I want to be heard. It didn’t take long in the workshop before my Inner Child was crying and getting really scared. Even after all these years of healing, when thinking about difference and conflict, my Inner Child feels like she’s back in the old place of being forced to do what other people want.
Yikes! This is scary! But I think it’s also an opportunity to really work with the old stuff about abuse (again!!). This old stuff is keeping me from being my true self with (some) other people, and I’m tired of it!
Here’s what’s coming up: this friend, “Carol,” often cuts me off when I am expressing something difficult. Last time it happened I was talking about my son and how I felt anxious about him and a problem he was having. After listening a bit, Carol said, “Well, all we can do is stand back, with love, and wait to see what happens.” I felt she was dismissing me, unwilling to hear my feelings, and my heart started pounding. I got as far as exclaiming, “Wait, it sounds like you are telling me to suck it up and not have feelings!” Without responding to my exclamation, she went on to talk about a similar situation she’d been in. I didn’t know how to go any further so I let it go by.
NVC is showing me that I don’t have to be stopped by this kind of interaction. I can go further. I can say out loud, “Wait a minute, I’m not done here. When you said, ‘All we can do is stand back...’, I felt hurt, angry, and lonely, because I need to be heard in my difficult feelings, I need respect and connection. Would you be willing to listen some more to my feelings and reflect back what you heard?” She might or might not have responded well, but at least I could voice my real feelings and needs.
Those are the four steps of NVC:
1. Name the situation in a description
2. Say how I felt (not “You made me feel X,” but “I felt X.”)
3. Say my needs, ( just the basic needs as they are inside me, like “I need respect,” not “I need you to respect me.”)
4. make a request, an action that would make the situation feel right instead of wrong.
These four steps sound so simple, but even in the supportive atmosphere of the weekend workshop my Little Girl was really over-the-top scared. The thought of standing up to someone and really insisting on my feelings and needs threw me right back to the five-year-old who was being violated and how terrified and unable to speak up I was back then, Also, when I tried to tell my mother about my distress, she cut me off and would not listen, so I can be triggered by someone not listening.
Core issue: If I am to be real friends with someone, I need them to listen to difficult feelings and not cut me off or try to fix it. Yes, it’s an old wound and an old issue, BUT the current needs I have are OK. It is all right (unlike when I was five) to have real needs and to say these needs to people who want to be friends with me.
I’m really enjoying the NVC work (when I’m not terrified), because it assures me that it’s OK to have my real feelings right now, and it’s OK to have real needs and state them. This friend Carol may or may not be able to hear my feelings and needs and may or may not be able to respond in a helpful and friendly way, but it’s still OK to have these deeply human needs and feelings and to find ways to satisfy them.