Blog Archive


January 16th, 2013

NVC Brings 3-D to Life

Recently, I had my first 3-D movie experience. I had imagined a flimsy blue and red cardboard mask I would struggle to keep over my eyes. Instead, I joined a crowd of people wearing dark glasses in the theater. I waited before unwrapping mine. I watched previews in regular D go on and on, irritatingly loud, and triggering feelings of helplessness and desires to complain that I paid to see something else, not this parade of advertising. Eventually, I succumbed and put on the 3-D the glasses and eventually the feature film began.

My choice for this first was Life of Pi, a fantastic visual feast. The experience affected me so much that I am now applying a 3-D metaphor to other areas of my life.bengal-tiger-why-matter_7341043

For example, my study of When Parents Hurt by Joshua Coleman, PhD becomes more significant and more relevant when I apply the 3-D glasses of NVC.

One of the topics he discusses is “Unenforceable Rules” a concept that comes from the work of Dr. Luskin and other researchers, primarily at Stanford University, developing work on forgiveness. Luskin is the author of several books including Forgive for Good.

Dr. Coleman applies this teaching about Unenforceable Rules to parents of adult sons and daughters. Here are some of the examples he gives.

“I am entitled to my adult child’s respect, no matter what.”

“My adult child should be able to balance out whatever mistakes I’ve made with all of the good that I’ve done as a parent.”

“If my adult child rejects or mistreats me, then I must have done something terrible to deserve it.”

I can relate to all of them and I have several more I of my own.

While I was sweeping my very long driveway before the freezing winter weather, I started thinking that I wanted help and soon it occurred to me that I wanted my adult sons to phone and say “Hi mom, I’m in town and would love to come over and give you a hand. Is there some way I can help you with something?” The likelihood of this happening is akin to my surviving a week in the middle of the ocean on a raft with a Bengal tiger.
It didn’t take long for this little thought to turn into a story about how my sons should want to help me. Isn’t this what adult sons of a single mother do? What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with me?

You can see the downward spiral.

I recognized this as an “Unenforceable Rule” and putting on my NVC 3-D glasses, I saw these “Unenforceable Rules” as a combination of Demands and what Dr. Marshall Rosenberg has dubbed “Suicidal Strategies.”

The first NVC tool I applied to the situation was Observation.
Now I was back on the driveway sweeping. Just that. I decided (Choice) that I didn’t have to sweep the whole darn driveway. I could leave some of it for another day.

The next tool I chose with my 3-D lenses was Self-Empathy.
What Need of mine would trigger this kind of “Unenforceable Rule?” A stream of them came along, help, support, connection, trust that when I really do need help it will be there.

Then I made a Connecting Request to myself. How do you feel when you become aware of this, I asked? Much more calm and happy, I told myself as I finished my chore, for today. Self-connection.12284003152h508c

As I put away the tarp, the rake and the broom, I wondered what Unenforceable Rule my adult sons might be burdened with? Maybe that their mother will always, into eternity, be available to them. And what Needs I wondered, might generate such an “Unenforceable Rule?” After this spontaneous Empathy fantasy, I asked myself “How do you feel when you have that thought?.”

“I feel like having a piece of chocolate,” I answered. And I did.

Tags: Adult daughters, Adult sons, Compassionate Communication, Empathy,Nonviolent Communication, NVC, Parents, Self-empathy, Unenforceable rules
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For Parents of Adult Sons and Daughters, An Exercise

November 20th, 2012

Drawing a Map of Relationships with Adult Sons and Daughters

Materials you’ll need:
Blank paper. I enjoy using 11”X14” drawing paper
Pens, pencils or crayons

1. Draw a circle that represents you.

2. Draw a circle to represent each son and daughter.
∗ Notice where you’ve placed the various circles.
∗ What size are they relative to each other and to you?
∗ Are there lines/circles you’d like to change? Bring a circle closer? Or move it farther away?
∗ Do you want to draw a more defined boundary between the circle that represents you and any of the circles?
∗ Do you want to grow the circle that represents you away from the others? Or move yourself closer?

3. Add any other circles such as your partner, your grandchildren, sons and daughters in-law, your friends, your work, your art, your spiritual life etc. Notice how they affect the map and especially notice what you’re learning from the changes.

4. Take a look at this map of you, your sons and daughters and other parts of your world.
∗ What is it telling you?
∗ What needs are being expressed by the locations and inter-relationships of the various circles?
∗ What requests will you make of yourself, and of others, to address these needs.?
∗ What is there to celebrate?
∗ What is there to mourn?

© Selene Aitken

A Quick View of Relationships in his MomentA Quick View of Relationships in his Moment


Tags: Daughters, Parents, Relationships, Sons
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What about Anger?

June 12th, 2012


When I was a little girl living with my angry drunk mother and mild father, I protected my self with anger. I used anger to deflect, as best I could, what would otherwise hurt. This worked pretty well. As an adult, it hasn’t worked so well. Reacting with anger has kept me from activating options that don’t cause pain for me or others.

What is anger, really? I think of contraction, explosion, hot loud noise, cold silence. Energy. Separation.

The theme of the current issue of Tricycle magazine is anger.

In addition to familiar Buddhist approaches to anger, I found new perspectives. Fleet Maull author of Dharma in Hell: The Prison Writings of Fleet Maull andRadical Responsibility: A Path to Freedom, says “Our anger can motivate us to get involved, but it won’t sustain us.” That reminds me of the exhaustion, the depletion following outbursts of blame and accusation. It also reminds me of the inspiration and enthusiasm energized by wanting to address injustices and harmfulness.

I appreciate Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings on anger. With regard to the fiery energy that motivates to action, he’s warned not to mistake adrenalin for Life Energy.

The tools he’s outlined also work for me. First I consider the thoughts I’m harboring, what should be different from how it is. Thoughts like “He should treat me with respect.” “She should have more integrity.” These thoughts can be surprisingly banal “this stupid computer should not wipe out my last paragraph.” Sometimes the sentiments are more elevated “those people have suffered enough, it’s not right that on top of everything, we bomb them.”

Beneath the thoughts, the righteousness, live many feelings. In the issue ofTricycle, fear is named as the emotion under anger. I’ve found that in addition to fear, sadness and helplessness are two of many feelings that appear under the surface of anger.

How effective do you think he's going to be?How effective do you think he’s going to be?

As soon as I sense my feelings, my NVC training directs me to identify what is really important to me in the situation. Here is where I feel my ground and the release from reactivity. I have choice now. I know what my needs are, I can decide what strategies to activate.

I end with a Request.

Tags: anger, choice, feelings, Marshall Rosenberg
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Notes from Practice Group on ‘feedback’ or ‘connecting’ requests.

June 9th, 2012

Using prepared role-play scenarios to practice the mechanics, we tried variations of “What is it like for you to hear this?”

It became quickly evident that explanations don’t take the place of empathy. However, one woman did experience relief from getting more information about the situation. Others only responded to knowing they were understood and cared for.

For me, the juiciest insight was the feeling of anxiety some reported when they listened empathically, an uncomfortable feeling in the gut.  Yes, there is vulnerability and uncertainty in being open to hearing what the other is experiencing. Also vulnerability in making a guess that might be answered with an unexpected reaction. We leap into the ocean of the unknown.427113_10150681857270339_601810338_11949464_46695655_n

I love the awareness of the group’s participants, and their honesty. It does take courage to be completely present. When there’s no agenda, anything can happen

Tags: awareness, Courage, explanations, vulnerability
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June 5th, 2012


A way to take responsibility.

A strategy to meet needs and foster connectionquestions marks

It’s taken me a long time to consistently remember the Request part of theNVC process.

Now I catch my not making a request pretty quickly. Hey, she didn’t tell me what she feels about what I said. I wonder if she’s upset? Did she understand what I really meant?

I’m dangling. Incomplete.

Or, I’m irritated or unhappy because I’m not getting what I want. But wait, I haven’t asked for what I want . . . oops

Request for Feedback:

Making a statement that holds important information, or a promise of connection, or carries tender honesty, without following it with a request is like making a beautiful kite and leaving it in the garage. I want to know, will it launch? Is it joyful for other people? Does it need tweaking so it lifts, tacks, does stunts?

Each time I get the satisfaction of knowing what effect my words have had, my practice of making a connecting or feedback request is reinforced. I know if I’ve expressed myself clearly, or not, and I know how the other person is relating to what I’ve said.

The barrier to asking “Would you please tell me what you’ve heard me say?” is that it can sound formulaic and stiff. Off-putting!

Useful to remember is that repeating back what one has heard is essential in many professional settings such as flight traffic controls, military activities and medical procedures. Why not in everyday interactions as well?

Practicing natural language helps to avoid sounding stilted. Including the need makes a big difference. “I want to be sure I’ve been clear, would you tell me what you understood me to say?” “I want to check for clarity. . .” “Just making sure we’re on the same page. . .”

“How is it for you to hear this?” may take more courage because of the emotional vulnerability. Many language choices are available to suit the occasion. “How’s this landing?” is currently popular. There’s also “How you doing with this?” and many variations on “I care about you/this relationship, and I’d like to know how you’re feeling after hearing me.”


Action Request:

By comparison, what is known in the NVC world as action or solution requests have been pretty easy for me, at least as far as how to express them. I just say what I want and why. Luckily, I’m not bothered by hearing a “no.” And I can say “no” without difficulty. I realize this isn’t the case for a lot of people.

A helpful reminder is Q-Tip. Quit Taking it personally. The other person’s “No” to my request means “I’m attending to other needs.”

What’s more difficult for me is remembering that I don’t have to meet all my needs by myself. I can ask for help and support. My request is a gift to myself and to the other person. As I develop the consciousness of interdependence, asking for help and support becomes a little easier. I have a ways to go here because my habit of independence is so entrenched.

Soon I’ll write about Request vs Demand.

I’d love to hear from you.

Do you relate to any of what I’ve said?

Has what I’ve written served you in any way?

What’s easiest for you, a feedback or a connecting request or an action request?

Are you comfortable asking for help or support?

Do you feel easy about saying “No” to another’s request?

How is it for you to receive a “No” in response to your request?

When has your request brought you exactly what you wanted? and more?

Tags: Connection, Feedback, Making requests, NVC, Practice
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