This is not the blog I originally intended to write after my two day introductory course into Nonviolent Communication (NVC)… Well, the theme is the same, but its content different.
Towards the end of my marriage – a little too late I know – I happened across the work of Marshall Rosenberg, who promotes nonviolent communication. NVC is a process of connecting with people in a way that allows everyone’s needs to be met through empathising with the universal needs we all share. It is a way of relating to ourselves and others, out of an awareness of feelings and needs; rather than judgments, labels, punishment, guilt or shame. At the heart of NVC is the ability to connect to our own ‘humanness’ and to the ‘humanness’ of others. It is to see ourselves and each other, not as objects or as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but as whole, dynamic people with varying combinations of feelings and needs.
When we can express that which is alive in us in a nonjudgmental, non-blaming way, we have a much greater chance of inspiring an empathic connection with others. As humans we all share these same qualities: e.g. the needs for trust, safety, appreciation, caring, freedom… the list goes on. When empathy is experienced in connection to another person (or to ourselves) we, as humans, have a natural desire to improve the life of that person. Within this connection an exchange can take place that greatly enhances the chances of getting everyone’s needs met.
The Jackal and the Giraffe:
In NVC the Jackal is used to symbolize the life alienating, domination language most of us were raised with. The Jackal, as an animal, is a scavenger, competitive and vicious. A Jackal as a person is one who approaches people (including themselves), places and things through the lens of a Right/Wrong, Good/Bad judgments. They speak a language that instills fear, anger, guilt and shame. It often inspires, painful obsessions and behaviours. The Jackal sees everything as deserving either reward or punishment for themselves or others. Their language is demanding; ‘Do this’. ‘Don’t do that’. The Jackal lives in our head – judging, analysing and blaming themselves and others. We can have Jackal ears facing in (self judgements/blame), and Jackal ears facing out (judgements/blame of others). This is represented by puppet ears in role plays during the course – I kid you not 🙂
In NVC the Giraffe is used to symbolise the life serving, partnership language that inspires connection and community. The Giraffe is a very powerful yet peaceful, gentle animal. It has the largest heart of any land animal on earth and the longest neck which allows for a far, overall view of the world around it. To speak ‘Giraffe’ is to speak from the heart. A Giraffe person is non-judgmental, non-blaming, non-demanding and non-threatening. A Giraffe is objective in their view and understanding of their feelings and needs as well as the feelings and needs of others. They practice empathy and desire to make life more wonderful for themselves and those around them. We can listen with Giraffe ears in (self-empathy and compassion) and Giraffe ears facing out (empathy and compassion for others).
Reading the book inspired me and left me with a sense that if more of us communicated in this way, the world would be a better place. I attempted some of the communication with my ex-husband, but it sounded clunky and awkward and resulted in angry accusations that I was just using my latest fad of self-help guidance to bullshit him. The resistance was immense and the battle lost.
But, I still pursued my new interest in the hope that I would not make the same mistakes again. I figured, I needed to go on a course to find a safe environment to learn and practice the new skills of NVC. I seem to have a perpetual habit of thinking courses will make me a better person.
I was greeted, on the course, by two calm and friendly instructors – one to take the course and the other as an assistant to help with any 1:1 supervision required if things got overwhelming – I recall thinking…’Well I ain’t gonna be that guy who needs help!’
Initially, I felt quite anxious as there were 17 eagerly awaiting attendees all sat in a circle. My anxiety was heightened when we had to mingle and ask three questions to three different people. I recall thinking, ‘Do I have to remember all this information ? I won’t remember’. But, I quickly established that it was a welcome icebreaker; and just simple chats was all it ever was going to be. We had to comment how we were feeling at that moment, and I felt a sense of comradeship as we all articulated feelings of excitement, curiosity and anxiety. We were instantly a supportive team working together.
As the first day rolled along, I recall feeling clear-headed, sociable, relaxed and enjoying the experience. It was great fun doing role plays with Jackal and Giraffe ears pointing inwards or outwards – a good fun way to visualise and ground new information.
I left the first day of the course with heightened spirits and wanting to learn more to help with the fluidity of this new communication language…
No sooner had I left the venue, did I notice an unfamiliar stomach cramp and irritable bowel feeling. I felt a little detached and exhausted from the adventurous day. I found it difficult to think. Instead of chatting about my day to my friend, I noticed I was uncharacteristically criticising my family about the smallest of things. I was aware I was doing it, but unsure why. This blame-type chatter even dribbled on into the morning conversations.
My friend, as usual, sat and listened in a supportive and non-judgmental way. I left to travel to my course, but felt detached and unable to remember much of the previous day. As I read the course material on the tube, it was as if I was reading it for the first time. What was happening to me? I recall sensing shame at my recent deluge of minor criticisms of my family.
I was 5 minutes away from the venue, and ‘Whoosh!!!’, a dark cloud swept through my mind – an up-swell of deep seated grief, hurt and sadness pervaded my body and overtook it like a virus. I was in tears, and shaking all over – thoughts of my past life flooding like fast cinematography through my brain.
I managed to call the instructor, and he gently invited me to continue on to the venue and chat to his assistant (B) on a 1:1. I was now ‘that guy!!!!!!’ I did as he suggested, and was greeted by happy smiley faces of course participants which, at the time, contributed to me feeling worse 🙁
B was most helpful, and actively listened and gently guided the conversation to reach several insightful conclusions. Although I now have my Giraffe ears out working quite well (empathy and compassion for others), my Giraffe ears in were non existent and my Jackal ears in of deep-seated self-blame was also deeply hidden within me – Phew…I know it’s confusing…sorry 🙁
It was a good thing happening!!! After all this time, I was finally connecting to my true feelings of self-blame : grief, hurt and sadness about my life. I was desperately needing (self)acceptance, emotional support, trust, to take care of myself and find meaning in my life. The feelings stem from a lifetime of trauma – but there was no need to explore this in any more detail than to simply connect with my true feelings and communicate with my ‘Giraffe ears’ facing inwards :). I had not really acknowledged the intensity of the corrosive self-blame I harbored about myself which clouded my life so much. .. feeling Grief, Sadness, Scared and Regret 🙁
Please don’t misunderstand my blog and think that this reaction is typical of such a course… Don’t be put off. .. It’s just that some people are so detached from themselves and have a history of upset which can trigger a temporary intense response; but it is a path to healing. I have also been surrounded by negative key people in my life, which has clouded me and interrupted the effectiveness of my inner compass and trust.
I felt a huge internal positive shift and cried a river of heart-felt tears. Up until that point I was merely paying random lip-service to my wants and needs, and not really understanding my deepest core feelings. I simply had strategies in place (skill building, CBT, yoga, volunteering, meditation and going on courses!) disguised as wants/needs.
Although, I could have continued the course, I decided to leave and be quietly in nature for a while. I then chose fun and laughter with my closest friend. I did not want to share my ‘unravelling and vulnerability’ any more on that particular day…
I may or may not go back and redo the course, but I gained a tremendous amount from the experience, and require a little more time between NVC training and my current situation – recently divorced, temporarily homeless and without a job…
I accept that I need to grieve right now for the life I have lived to date and the life I have not lived: opportunities lost. Thank you NVC for facilitating my connection to my true self – warts and all!! It was the best of times and worst of times all in one weekend.It was REAL…Thank you B 🙂
(the initial description of what NVC is was adapted from An Introduction to Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Consideration Rather than Domination by Doro Kiley, Professional Life Coach)