Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is an approach developed by Marshall Rosenburg to ‘inspire heartfelt connections between ourselves and other people – connections that allow everyone’s needs to be met through compassionate giving.’ He also defines it as “a natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart”.
What is it to be violent?
Violence is not only physical – it is any expression, such as thoughts or words, that lead to hurt or pain. When using violence you are applying force, either upon yourself or another, which takes you away from your natural state of compassion to all beings.
As a practitioner of NVC I have witnessed many times the transformative qualities of NVC in my relationships: with myself, my friends, my family and my community. Any stranger you meet, when approaching them with NVC, becomes a friend.
When my second son came into the world, my life as a parent was turned upside down. From the age of two, a time when they start to show their personality more, he struggled with any “discipline” that we gave him. We were using a “power over” model of parenting, which I learnt as a teacher and from my own parents, whereby you place an expectation of behaviour onto a person, and there is a consequence that you put in place if they do not respond to this expectation favourably.
With the support of NVC I learnt to see that this is a model based on fear. He sensed this straight away and instead of rising to this expectation through fear of the consequence, he either chose to fight it physically or mentally, or he caved in, in despair, feeling lost and discouraged. With the support of NVC, I learnt to recognise the signs of overwhelm for him, and see the needs behind them. When he was 2, the needs were simple – he either needed touch (a hug), rest or food. Often just a 5 min cuddle was enough to set him back on the path.
There is a two year age gap between my boys and as they got older they started to fight more. During this time, I was able to complete an NVC mediation course which taught me skills on how to manage conflict. The model is a simple one to follow, with clear steps and all of it based on seeing the needs in ourselves and others in times of conflict. It involves a third party, the mediator, which was often me, and sometimes it was my husband. I have heard of children even acting as a mediator for other members of their family or in classroom situations. As a result of using NVC in the home, I often hear my children talk of their needs in a situation. Such as “ I need him to trust me”, or “Mum, can you please acknowledge me”.
I want to be clear that NVC has not turned my home into a perfect sacred space. It has empowered us to see that when conflict arises, we have a choice: we can either close off from this conflict and analyse the rights and wrongs of each other, or we can open to the conflict and see it as an opportunity to show compassion towards ourselves and others.
Conflict is a gift. It doesn’t always feel like that when you are in reaction and angry or frustrated, but upon reflection, when you have an opportunity to breathe and calm down, NVC can shine the light on the love behind every action.
One morning I was sitting outside having a cup of tea, when the newly arrived house sitter from next door came out of her house, to go about her day. We greeted each other and I got a sense that her heart was heavy. I asked her if she was ok. She told me her concerns briefly and I listened with presence and curiosity in silence, which allowed a safe place for her to talk so her feelings and needs could surface. I didn’t try and fix her problem, give her advise, judge, console, reassure that “it will be OK”, collude with her, or tell my story of a similar problem. I just listened and she felt heard.
After listening, when I felt there was a natural pause, I told her what feelings and needs I was hearing. For example, “I really hear how overwhelmed you are feeling right now, and my guess is that you are needing support, and understanding.” Again, it’s not about getting the feelings and needs right, it’s about just showing your intention to connect and empathise. When I did this, she was amazed at how light she felt afterwards and was amazed at my ability to support and understand her. I told her that it wasn’t me that created this, it was the giving of each others’ hearts. The compassion shared.
Non-Violent Communication is based on your intention to be compassionate towards yourself and others. If you have that intention, there is no place for right and wrong. There is just connection and love.
Caroline Crumlish August 2018