Nonviolent Communication and My Inner Child

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.

Healing from Abuse is a Lifelong Journey - Relationships

I uncovered repressed memories of sexual abuse nearly 20 years ago. Then I did 10 years of intense work in therapy, and 5 years of writing a memoir about it all (The River of Forgetting). The last 5 years I've been pretty darned happy, and pursuing art and other adventures.

But life keeps unfolding, and I need to grow again, against the boundaries of some of my relationships. There are ways in which I've been too accommodating and nice, and ways I've repressed my own needs even (or especially) in my closest relationships.

Finally my bigger spirit is coming through and demanding to take up space. The little girl, who was so obedient and good, now has her hands on her hips and is saying No. No more getting pushed around by a dearest friend, who is always in crisis, expects to be able to take up all the air space, and expects me to be the perfect listener. No more letting another friend jerk me around as she changes her mind every five minutes.

I've encountered surprisingly great fear in addressing these simple differences and my need to be my own person. Just being in dialogue and disagreement with these friends has me feeling the old, old fears in my gut: fears that I'm wrong, that "they" will force me to do things I don't want to do,  that they will distort my reality and make me feel like a bad girl, fear that I'm trapped in relationships that are not working well.

At the same time, I see the bravery of my inner child. That little girl has guts! She survived a hell of a lot and grew up successfully, even though she also got her mind twisted and was forced to live the lie that everything was OK in my family when it wasn't. Now she is willing and able to name problems and rock the boat.

All these years after uncovering the abuse and doing healing work, I find myself growing again. My inner child is no longer willing to compromise her core self in order to be connected. Friendships will shift and I will come through stronger.

“Her work will open your heart and eyes” says Kathy Morelli

Kathy Morelli, on, has posted a new review of my memoir, The River of Forgetting.

The conclusion of the review says:
Ms. Rowan’s story helps raise awareness of the horrors of childhood sexual abuse.
She also inspires us as she shows us that self-growth and self-love are not just worn-out cliches. She walks a path of self-care and perseverance towards emotional growth, maturation, self-reflection and develops her own authentic emotional truth, and her own authentic and spiritual identity.
Her work will open your heart and eyes to the extensive damage caused by childhood sexual abuse. And her long path to healing will inspire you.
 Thank you, Kathy.

Fear of Success, Fear of Failure, and the Inner Child

My Inner Child gets really confused about public success and failure. If I fail, I feel bad and humiliated; if I succeed, my Little Girl is afraid I’ll be shunned. I recently had a show of my abstract paintings in my small home town. It was successful in that other painters were interested in my work and people enjoyed it. Great—but it ups the ante, increases the stakes.

Here’s how I learned about success and failure. My older sister Suzie was first-born in our family and she had Down Syndrome. The doctors told my parents to quickly have a replacement child and put her in an institution. They had me only 16 months after Suzie, and a couple of years later, found a boarding school for her. I was under a lot of pressure to be normal and more—to be “smart enough for two.” I certainly tried. I knew my parents were anxious and I responded by succeeding at school, at piano, at most things I tried.

But at school, which was in a working-class neighborhood, I was under pressure to be “normal” in a different sense—to be not too smart, not too quick. Other kids were quick to sense I was different, with my engineer father and my intelligent mother, the books in our house, the radical politic views. When I got perfect scores on homework and tests, kids let me know they disliked me for it.

I learned it was a narrow walk—that success and “failure” (or making mistakes) were both risky. Either way I was liable to be rejected.

So this art show opened up wonderful things for me but also is scaring me in old, deep places. I want the world to be different from that. I want my world to be a place where everyone’s success is valued, where everyone gets a chance to be herself or himself—this person with a talent for spotting birds, that one good at singing, another person just full of heart and goodness. One way to help that along is for me to truly love and value others in their diversity, and I do, on my good days, I do.

The Talk-Funny Girl: a memorable novel of redemption

The Talk-Funny Girl, by Roland Merullo
We first meet Marjorie, the protagonist of this novel, on the day of her 17th birthday when she starts out to look for work. It's immediately clear that her family is a shambles and a scary place to grow up. It's also clear that she has a strength and tenacity at her core, despite mysterious dark circumstances. The prologue also has told us that the narrator survives and lives well, so we have that solid assurance that we need to follow the often harrowing story.
Only slowly do we learn just what her parents are caught up in and the meanings of some of the punishments, "facing" and "boying", that are constantly threatening our heroine. She became dearer and dearer to me as the ugliness of her background was revealed more clearly. How can she get out of here? She's been raised to believe that all the punishments are part of a true system.
The hallmark of the thoroughness of her brainwashing is the private family dialect in which she speaks. "I come for a try for paying work," she says to a possible employer, and “I couldn’t not say on them” to indicate that she can’t lie to her parents. Her teachers try to correct her speech and, sensing a spark in her, attempt to lead her out of the morass, but her bonds to these abusive parents are so strong that she continues to talk funny and endure the taunts of others rather than try to make a break for it--and where would she go? One of the strengths of Merullo's writing is how he convinces us that a child could indeed be sucked into such a whirlpool (as indeed children are, every day, every year).
Only slowly does our heroine find a way to move out, and the dance of this change in her is the core of the book. In addition, the plot involves revelations about family and church that are startling and frightening, revealing just how far Marjorie has to move to escape. This book haunted me with its redemptive, strong story. I recommend it highly.