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Beyond Feelings: Getting Started With Nonviolent Communication

If you are interested in living a more meaningful, authentic, and connected life the teachings of psychologist and international peacemaker, Marshall Rosenberg, are for you! Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is used in a wide range of situations—from mediating conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, to helping couples work through disagreements and increase intimacy, to personal growth/inner healing work, and everything in-between. I have been personally enriched since I started learning NVC six years ago and am awed and inspired at the transformations in the lives of my clients and am excited to share how you can use NVC tools in your life!
Ready? Great! I am going to focus on two areas:

1) How you can use the tools and consciousness of NVC to create a more harmonious relationship with yourself, to develop more inner peace, self-compassion, authenticity, and genuine empowerment.

2) How NVC can support you in your relationships with others, including partners, lovers, friends, colleagues, coworkers, bosses, supervisees, teachers, neighbors, siblings, parents, children, and even that pesky telemarketer who won’t stop calling you. I will pay particular attention to how couples can use these tools to stay connected through conflicts, deepen intimacy, and enjoy each other more.

So how does it work? I think you’ll understand it better if you actually experience some beginning principles, so here’s an exercise you can do right now:

  • Start by thinking of a recent situation that was difficult for you. Okay, got it?
  • Now, turn your attention to what you are feeling as you think about it. Ask yourself, “When I think about this situation, what am I feeling?” For example, are you feeling angry, sad, scared, exhausted, confused, or any variation of these emotions? It can help to actually see a list of feelings, so I encourage you to click here (http://www.cnvc.org/Training/feelings-inventory) for a great list of feelings that help you articulate your experience.

In addition to turning our attention to our feelings, NVC goes further than other therapies because we also turn our attention to our needs – met and unmet needs. In the NVC model, our feelings are connected to our needs: when our needs are met, we feel pleasant feelings such as joy, contentment, and excitement; when our needs are not met, we feel unpleasant feelings such as sadness, loneliness, and anger.

Try this:

  • Again, thinking of the recent situation, what needs of yours were not met? You can click here (http://www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory) for a list of universal human needs, such as connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy, and meaning to help get you started.

These two questions: What am I feeling? and What am I needing? are at the heart of NVC.
One of the reasons NVC is so transformative for so many people is that it invites us to take responsibility for our feelings, by shifting our focus away from blaming others for our feelings and towards looking inside and identifying what met or unmet need is the source of our feelings.
For example, if someone tells me that this blog entry is crappy, rather than blaming them for making me feel hurt, through NVC consciousness my perception shifts to seeing that I might feel really sad because I have an unmet need for appreciation and contribution. Certainly their statement affected me, but it didn’t cause my feelings.

This is one of the big shifts of consciousness that NVC offers: other people don’t cause our feelings; our feelings stem from our met or unmet needs. We are so used to blaming others when our needs aren’t being fulfilled, and this often leads to disconnection, not only from others, but also from ourselves. The more we can connect our feelings to our needs, the more likely we are to actually get our needs met.

Can you sense how empowering this can be and how it has the potential to avert a lot of conflict in our heads, homes, communities, and planet? No more waiting for other people to change in order for us to be happy. No more blaming our partners for “making” us angry. No more believing we’re powerless victims. That’s the potential that NVC offers us and, from my own experience, I can tell you: it’s huge.

Here’s my invitation to you: Next time you feel upset about something, take a breath, and listen inside: What are you feeling? What are you needing? I believe that if you make it a practice to connect your feelings to your needs, you’ll notice a big change in how you relate to yourself and others. Let me know!

I’d love my posts to be interactive so that it speaks to you and supports you as you try out NVC principles. We are just getting started so come check back in on Thursdays for more NVC tools. If you want to go straight to the source, I highly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, or check out www.cnvc.org.

Ali Miller

Ali Miller

Ali Miller, MFT has offices in San Francisco and Berkeley where she provides psychotherapy, couples counseling, and facilitates women’s groups called “Authentic Connection.” She is also available for consultation and trainings to therapists who want to incorporate NVC into their therapeutic work.

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  1. Jessica Rucker on July 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Great article! I appreciate how accessible you make NVC, Ali. I have some experience with the practice and I’ve experienced getting caught up in the format of NVC speak. Your blog makes it easy to understand the underlying principles and use it. Thank you!

    • Ali Miller on July 27, 2012 at 4:18 am

      Thanks for your feedback, Jessica! I’m so happy you found it useful. Funny you mention getting caught up in the format, because I was just thinking in yoga about how I want to write about how NVC is sometimes criticized as being too formulaic–definitely something I plan to address.

  2. Newt Bailey on July 26, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I love this introduction Ali! Looking forward to the Thursday installments…

    • Ali Miller on July 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks, Newt!!

  3. Karunadakini on July 27, 2012 at 2:50 am

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Karunadakini on July 27, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I really enjoyed how simple and clear you make NVC sound, you boiled it down to its essence in a way that everyone can relate to. Very helpful and strait forward.

    • Ali Miller on July 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks, Karunadakini!

  5. Karunadakini on July 27, 2012 at 2:53 am

    I really enjoyed how simple and clear you make NVC sound, you boiled it down to its essence in a way that everyone can relate to. Very helpful and strait forward.

  6. Karunadakini on July 27, 2012 at 2:56 am

    I really enjoyed how simple and clear you make NVC sound, you boiled it down to its essence in a way that everyone can relate to. Very helpful and strait forward.

  7. Marina Smerling on July 27, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    I have a need for celebration that is met in seeing you here. I feel woopety woop, woop woop woop.

    • Ali Miller on August 2, 2012 at 11:47 pm

      woop woop woop!!! thanks marina!!

  8. Anonymous on July 29, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    I’m so struck by NVC’s similarity to AA — same philosophy, same goal, same method. I appreciate this blog and will check it next week. Thank you!

    • Ali Miller on July 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      Hi Anonymous,
      Thanks for commenting! I’d love to hear more about your take on the similarities between NVC and AA. Care to say more?

  9. Anna on August 15, 2012 at 2:48 am

    Hi Ali, I’m not a therapist, but I want to say thank you for this post. I am in the process of trying to find or achieve emotional healing from past abuses, and am feeling both hopeful and intrigued by your post. I am hoping that NVC is something that can be used with past abusers – tied in with very definite boundaries and clear communication of course. If you feel like commenting I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. And thank you again for sharing. 🙂

  10. Ali Miller on August 16, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks so much for posting your comment. I’m really glad to hear that my post touched you. There’s an NVC process for healing and reconciliation that can be used with people who have hurt you (if you’re no longer in danger and they’re up for it) or it can be used in a role-play setting where someone would play an empathic version of the abuser and you get the healing from expressing your pain fully and being heard by a compassionate listener who’s empathizing with you. At some point I might write more about this in a blog post. I’d be happy to meet with you in person to do the process if you’re in the San Francisco bay area. Feel free to contact me at 415-820-1433.
    Take good care,

  11. Anna Pollard on August 18, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Thanks Ali, that’s very helpful. Unfortunately I’m not even remotely close to your area as I live in sunny Perth, Australia! Thank you so much for the reply. All the best, Anna.