by Milla — she=he
Here are the notes from the third day of a one year course on conflict and communication that I’m participating in.
Communication and conflict management – a one year course in Helsinki, Finland – first meeting at Oranssi, 9.00 – 16.00, Sunday 27.2.2011
6 persons present.
The dialogues in this text are not word-by-word quotes, they are there to give a clearer understanding of how the exercises are performed, and what they might look like in ‘real life’.
STARTING THE DAY: Remembering
‘Remembering’ has become a tradition in nvc circles. It’s a space in the beginning of the meeting, where people are invited to say why they practice nvc – for instance showing pictures or reading a poem. No more than 5 minutes per person, not more than half an hour in total.
The facilitator reads:
Hopi Prophecy, The Eleventh Hour —
“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation? Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Today’s plan before lunch – self-empathy and reconciliation processes. After lunch – to do more practical work with empathy partners, and looking at some papers related to the course, including an evaluation of the learning process, and the study plan.
NVC & Society: Learning – Self-empathy – Reconciliation
The facilitator drew a three dimensional box representing how we interact within, and construct, the society we live in, where System – Inner dialogue – Outer dialogue are three parts affecting one another.
In the current system, we are used to ‘learning’ by understanding how ‘bad’ we are, and how ‘wrong’ we are. For instance when a child is reprimanded/’taught a lesson’ by an adult and perhaps told to say they are sorry for whatever they happened to do (not do) / say (not say) – they are asked not to just say that they’re sorry, but to “say it like you really mean it!” usually ending up with a shamed child in tears, sobbing: “I’m sorry!” This type of learning [– “If I understand how bad it was what I did, I will learn something” –] is not connected with a functioning evaluation system, where it’s clear what it was that was said / done (not said / not done) and what the affects of the actions were. When we learn with blame it’s not concrete enough to see where we went in a certain direction [– “Aah, that’s what I did.. Now I know..” –]
In the current system we learn not how to care, and how to give out of love and generosity, but to think that we are obligated to serve others (and they are obligated to serve us) through shame and guilt.
So, how does learning with self-empathy work?
Reconciliation and learning through evaluation:
- What were the needs that weren’t met and
- what did I do,
- how did it affect me and other people?
EXERCISE 1: Learning & self-empathy – The inner educator & The inner chooser
We were asked to make two columns on a paper, representing two parts in ourself: The ‘inner educator’, telling us how ‘stupid’ we are and how we can do things differently, and the ‘inner chooser’, that makes choices – that chooses what we do.
We were asked to think of something that we regret – that we regard as a mistake – and to make an observation. “What did you do, what did you say? – Or didn’t say or do when you wanted to?” We were asked to pick an example that we could work with individually on our paper, while doing one example together in the group.
Someone was saying that it was difficult to pick one, that there are so many things. The facilitator replied that an observation could be “At least one hundred times I’ve stayed silent when I…” It just needs to be an observation:
How many times has this happened? – When was the last time? – When was the worst time?
Some examples of regrets shared in the group: Not caring for her health, need to go to the dentist —- Leaving things to the last minute [Facilitator: “When did it happen last?”] Two weeks ago, having to read something in relation to her education, and reading everything but that material —- Drinking coffee, when knowing it affects mental and physical health negatively —- Laying on the sofa and watching TV the whole evening, from seven pm till when she falls asleep
The example worked on in the big group: ‘I’ve stayed silent. I’ve not talked about my feelings for 16 years.’
Facilitator: When did you do it last? Or which one was the worst time?
Participant: One month ago.
F: What did you do when you didn’t talk about your feelings? You stayed quiet?
P: I was sitting in the car, being quiet, and dad was driving somewhere.
[The facilitator writing on a big sheet of paper in the column marked ‘inner chooser’ “1. You were quiet sitting in the car with your dad”]
F: Were you thinking it was a mistake to stay silent, cause it could have been helpful to share something? [Giving instructions on how to do the exercise: Second step is to give room for your inner educator, all the ‘jackals’, all the blaming thoughts about what you should have done.]
P: ‘You should have said something, you’re such a loser, not caring for your rights or justice, not standing up for yourself.’
F: Anything else?
P: Also, that ‘you don’t even deserve standing up for yourself.’
[The facilitator writing in the column marked ‘inner educator’ “2. You should have said something. You are a loser. You don’t stand up for yourself.” and saying that a problem with ‘positive thinking’, is that we start telling ourselves “Oh, I shouldn’t think that about myself” and this way we miss the important message that is behind these statements. The third step is to connect with the feelings and needs in these ‘jackals’/self-blaming thoughts.]
F: What are you feeling when you are saying to yourself ‘You should have said something’?
P: Worried.. Anxious.. Alarm..
F: What is the feeling behind ‘loser’?
F: ‘You don’t stand up for yourself’? – Worry, sad.. is that it?
[The facilitator writing in the column marked ‘inner educator’ “3. Worried, Anxious, Fear, Insecure, Sad”]
F: So what needs are these feelings telling you about?
P: Trust, Acceptance.. Safety, Security.. My well-being.. Protection and well-being. ‘You should have said something so that you stay well’..
F: ‘Loser’.. what need is there?
F: And ‘You don’t stand up for yourself’?
P: Scared and sad. Openness, Authenticity..
F: Are you okay with this? Or is there something else?
[Facilitator giving instructions: In this process, check if there are more jackals coming up. The really harsh ones that you don’t want to recognize, when they notice that the others are getting space, they might come up.]
P: ‘You will never survive this life’.
[The facilitator adding the sentence to number 2: “You will not survive this life.” And adding feelings and needs to number 3: “fear, scared, hopelessness”; “to be at ease, relaxation, security, hope, celebration, joy” The facilitator continues giving instructions: The fourth step is that you ask yourself what you were feeling at the time when you made this specific choice.]
P: Hopelessness, anger, hate, despair.. Guilt..
F: Anything else? – So, what were you needing?
P: Hope, empathy, love, acceptance, space, autonomy, freedom, peace..
F: So, these are a lot of words.. What would have happened if you would have had that? What would have happened for you in that moment?
P: I would have communicated.
F: What need of yours would have been satisfied?
P: Protecting myself from pain. Belonging..
[The facilitator is listing the feelings and needs in the column marked ‘inner chooser’ “4. Hopelessness, anger, hate, despair…” “Hope, empathy.. belonging..”]
F: So, if you go back to that moment when you were quiet. What need of yours was alive in you when you chose to do that?
P: Safety, support.. not so much love.. more support..
F: You were hoping by being quiet to get more support than if you opened your mouth.. protecting yourself from pain.. from not hearing more of this ‘loser’ thing.. Were you feeling lonely at the moment?
P: Mmm.. [Affirmative]
F: So, what is that telling you about?
P: A need for authentic connection..
F: Sounds like a strategy.. What would that have given you – authentic connection – a feeling of belonging?
F: Anything else that was going on for you when you chose to be quiet?
P: Now I”m thinking that the educator, or someone, would say that I should be the kind of the person who can stand pain.. Who is developed and can stand pain.. So, not standing pain.. Avoiding pain..
[The facilitator adding the sentence “You should stand pain” at number 2.]
F: ‘You should stand pain’.. So, what is that telling you about? Is it security?
P: If you can’t stand pain, then you can’t live.. So, then thinking what can happen if you can’t stand the pain.. that I might kill myself.. so, I have to be able to stand the pain..
F: So, it’s some sort of protection of life itself?
F: Anything else happening?
[The facilitator writing in the ‘inner chooser’ column “5. Stay” saying that at this point you just stay with the needs, let them sink into you, so that it’s not just a mental process.]
F: So, your inner educator loves you so much that she wants you to have [The facilitator reading the needs from the paper] “Trust, protection of life, openness, authenticity, ease, relaxation, security, hope, celebration, joy.” Your inner chooser is the same, she loves you so much – [reading the needs] “Hope, empathy, space, freedom, safety, support, protection from pain, belonging.” The intention with the choice was to help you with these needs.
P: Well. I’m saying a bit, that both of them are a bit stupid, not so clever. They are complete fools if they realized, that these are the needs. Anybody can see that these strategies won’t meet these needs. I feel complete compassion for them now. They’re like two animated characters, making a big mess.
F: Is that your need for support speaking now?
P: At first I get angry. If these are the needs, it is not working so well. But then I feel compassion. Thinking: ‘You’re kind of cute, cause you’re trying so hard, but it’s not working so well..’
F: That’s why the inner educator is screaming so loud: “Hello! There’s something here you are missing!” [the facilitator is pointing at the needs listed in the educator column]
F: This is a way of dealing with our mistakes. I want to care for the need of protecting myself from pain, but I also want to care for this stuff [pointing at the educator list of needs] So I want to figure out a solution, a strategy, that can fit both needs. During the ‘stay phase’ is where the learning is happening – also mourning. I’m really sad that I didn’t manage to protect myself or have these other needs met.
[The facilitator adding at number ‘5. Stay’ “ – mourning” and “6. Learning” in the chooser column]
P: It’s difficult to mourn. I tell myself “Stop being sad. There’s nothing you can do about it.” I’m not willing to learn when I’m sad.
F: What is that jackal scared that you will not do – what you will miss – if you mourn? When you connect with that need, that might help you to just be there. – And the mourning might take just two seconds, or – some years. You will know that you are finished with all the jackals, if the mourning feels ‘sweet’, if the tears feel good. If the mourning tears you up and apart then there’s still something that you need. After mourning – learning comes easy.
Additional note to this exercise: The model captures the role as a mediator. Going between the two – the Inner Educator and the Inner Chooser – transferring the needs, so they can see the needs.
Snack break —
EXERCISE 2: Reconciliation – The different ways of saying ‘Sorry’
Be aware of the difference between being sorry, or expressing it as a way to get over guilt (it’s easy to miss the needs) or as a way to create a power over relation (to place yourself above or below the other [– “Can you please forgive me – please take the power over me, and forgive me” –])
When having stimulated pain in someone, and they are there with the pain – when wanting to say “sorry” – not to ask the other person to listen, and hear you out [– “Now do something for me – I want you to hear that I’m sorry” –] not to focus on your need of getting heard, while the other person is still in pain. First see what needs were triggered in them – hear the person out. When you do something that you suspect caused pain in somebody else – you go there first (before expressing own feelings and needs).
The group was asked to think of an example where somebody has done something that has stimulated a lot of pain in us. “Who is this person and what did they do?”
What was shared in the group: ‘One of these days I will go to the vet and have your dog put down’ —- ‘I told someone that I was in a certain place, I didn’t want it to be known, and she told others’ —- ‘We had an agreement to go to an exhibition. I made preparations.. Then when I met with them later on, they told me they had just gone to the exhibition’
The example worked on in the group: ‘I was talking of panic attacks when we were driving in the car, and my mother, ‘closed it out’, and started talking of something else’.
Facilitator: So, before doing anything, I will tell what we will do, what we will bring home and do for the rest of our lives.
Reconciliation process, the way we say we’re sorry:
a) What did you / somebody do?
b) Listen ‘really well’, listen until there’s some kind of shift, the ‘jackals’ kind of calm down
c) When the other person is feeling completely heard (the same process as with the inner educator and inner chooser) then check with the other “Do you want to hear what I’m feeling + needing?” and then you share your feelings and needs
d) and then you listen again.
F: There’s no focus on solutions – when people have been heard, the solution will come naturally.
[Explaining to the participant]
F: I will role-play your mother and just listen to you, and then when we get to a point when I feel you’re ready, I will share my own feelings and needs. How do you feel hearing that?
P: I feel terrified.
F: You want to say more about that?
P: There are so many needs that haven’t been met in that relation. She and me. I’ve tried to push her away. I’m afraid of everything bursting up, and seeing what might rise up. There’s a lot of bitterness. It’s difficult for me to deal with that. And it’s one of the things I’ve been trying to push down.
F: So. For my part it’s important that you do it not as a ‘rebel’ thing – “I’m terrified but I’ll do it in spite of that!”– but that you really want to do it.
P: I want to. Want to move on, and.. So, I’m safe to move on.
F: Do you cry a lot. Do you need paper?
[People offering tissues. Laughter.]
F: Are you okay with me sitting here? — The space is okay?
P: Yes. The example that came to me. Is something that I’ve repeated many times. It’s a certain moment where it was so clear, that she was feeling uncomfortable.
F: So, are you okay with me being her? Like talking with me as if I’m her?
This role-play is bits and pieces of what was said. It lasted for quite some time, and when the ‘shift’ was done I had a toilet break, and missed most of what was said when the ‘mother’ was sharing her feelings and needs. But at least this gives you some idea of how the process works.
Facilitator as mother: So, dear daughter, today is a special day, I have my ‘giraffe ears’ on, and I want to listen to you, and the example in the car, where you were talking of panic, and I talked about trees. And this is just one example of the times you wanted to be heard.
P: It’s important to me that you know of the inner struggles that I’m doing with myself. There has been moments where I haven’t had strength to do what you’ve asked me to do, but I have done it cause you haven’t known where I’ve been at.
Fam: So there are many moments of struggle you wanted to share, cause it would help us..
P: Things that you’ve thought been okay. Daily – common things difficult to handle, and you didn’t know. And you could have supported.
Fam: How sad you’ve been many times, cause you didn’t have support..
P: Yes, many moments where I’ve been feeling alone cause we were in the same house. And when I tried to tell you. You didn’t want to hear. Like you didn’t care. And this made me feel worse. Cause I felt I didn’t have support if I didn’t have friends around supporting me. That’s why I’m spending time with them – cause they give support.
Fam: So, things that I’ve done and said caused pain and loneliness..
P: I just want to feel accepted – that I’m okay. Like my imbalance or my sadness is not accepted. It’s not okay, that I’m not okay. So, I avoided you, so I don’t have to act like I’m something that I’m actually not. I see there’s a distance between us. That you want to be closer.
Fam: So, you see the distance. And that you want us to be closer. And that the consequences now are that you are struggling with who you are..
P: Yes. I need acceptance, but most of all support. I spend the night crying in the next room, and you see my eyes the morning after, and you don’t ask questions. You don’t touch me. You ask something superficial. I can see that you can’t handle it.
Fam: So, you want me to take in how much support you need also now, and trust that I can hear you out..
P: Yes. That you don’t escape, cause it makes me feel like it’s really wrong to express these inner things. So I feel like it’s been making my process a bit slower.
Fam: You’re longing for stability, that I’m here, and that I stay with you..
P: Yes. That you listen and accept that I’m not perfect, that I’m not ‘kind’ and ‘good’. The other side of that is that I’m really insecure and have a lot of doubts that I’m okay.
Fam: You would like to be seen with all the colors that are there..
P: Yes, that I’m complete, that I’m in a process, doing something with this.
[The words start slowing down]
P: What’s most painful for me is the feeling that I can’t be complete. That I have to lie with my expression and being when I’m with you. That’s the most important thing, that I would be allowed to have these feelings.
Fam: That there’s room for you to be alive in my presence..
P: Yes. Like some sort of sign that you are interested in who I really am. I’m feeling responsible for you so you don’t break listening to me. Like I need to care about you, when starting a conversation about this, you start saying “I’m a bad mother” and you’re the ‘victim’, or you haven’t been ‘good’. I want acceptance.
Fam: Is there something I can do or say now that would help you with this?
P: Well, you could ask something… like what I’m thinking… and what I’m really feeling about things.. like if I’m in a relationship.. Listen and be interested in me.. not just spend time doing these… uh.. –
Fam: So, these questions.. That would help you with connection and acceptance..
P: Like if you really ask me how I’m feeling.. so that I know that you’re not just asking it ‘because’, but that you are really interested in who I am.. cause I don’t feel you have a clue.. just as I don’t know you..
Fam: There’s sadness in you that you don’t know so much about the beautiful things in me.. all my colors..
P: Worst thing is that I don’t remember from my childhood either – knowing you.. There were no emotions..
P: Growing up you told me that “Nothing is bad enough for you not to be able to return home”– Now I’m an adult, and I want something different, I need more meaning in the conversation. This relation has affected other relations. I’m limiting myself – how to be in society – cause I look for acceptance. I’m listening for these ‘limits’, and change to avoid the conflicts.
[The role-play continues for some time]
Fam: You are longing to be seen as a gift..
P: What? That goes like here, over my head [moving with a hand above her head].. I don’t hear it.. It’s difficult to relate..
[Sitting quiet for a while]
Fam: What is happening now?
P: Just trying to… to see what is the real… The need… it’s really difficult to hear or see because of listening so much to others.. trying to control the situation – where will they take me? Thinking of what I do with others – not allowing them to express themselves.. like, I’m doing the same..
Fam: Are you at a place where you feel calmer inside.. empty?
P: I don’t feel empty, but I do feel calmer.. I feel a bit calmer.. and I feel that I have the need to be heard and supported.. Someone to be a bit bigger than I am, like a tree to hug.. in a difficult moment.. and I don’t have to do everything by myself..
P: Like I’m okay with it.. but knowing that there is support, in case I would need it.. you know.. just some arms.. to be hugged.. the support that comes in being heard.. not being alone in my family..
Fam: Is there something you would like to hear from me now? Or is there something you would like me to hear?
P: I want you to express interest in my feelings.. cause thats the taboo…
Fam: So what do you want me to do now? You want to share more.. or would you like to hear what’s going on in me?
P: I would like to hear..
Fam: Okay.. [pause]
Fam: I have a lot of pain.. It’s very painful to hear all these things.. I’m desperate cause I really want to know how I can do things differently.. I really want to be with you and I want to know how to do that.. and that’s why it’s painful..
Fam: How is it for you to hear that?
P: Really important.. cause I need to be aware of your feelings as well. And you showing them and telling what’s going on..
Fam: So you’re really glad to hear that?
P: Cause it makes me feel like I.. [long pause] ..like, it’s important for me to hear you.. that you’ve been suffering.. not that I’ve been wanting you to suffer. But that I can see that it has affected you as well, that it’s not only me..
Fam: I didn’t understand that it was enough for me to be with you.. I thought I needed to help you..
[And here’s a break in me taking notes…]
AFTER THE ROLE-PLAY
Facilitator: So, how are you feeling now?
F: Would you like to hear from me – the facilitator, and the rest in the room, what was going on for us during the role-play? And is there something that you don’t want to hear, at this moment?
P: No, I want to hear..
Some of the feedback:
Participant 2: As a daughter, as a mother.. to hear the huge need in a child.. and to experience the guilt.. It was great hearing “but I am not blaming you” from the daughter. It’s unbearable to be a mother that can’t help.. it was a healing sentence to hear that it can be said.. thank you for this learning.
Participant 3: This was something important to hear as a friend. I’ve been wanting to hear you say this.. really wanting to hear this.. and thinking that our friendship is too superficial.. not wanting to push you.. too much, so that you get scared… This helps me understand and connect with you.. Heals all kind of conflicts that are sometimes between us..
P: I’ve been aware of that..
F: For me, in the role, what kept on flashing in my mind was “How can I support you? How can I support you? I want the best for you..” – all the time, continued throughout the role-play.. And now I have so much sadness about these ideas that we have.. if I call myself a ‘mother’ there are certain things that I’m ‘supposed’ to do and there are certain needs I can’t take care of. I couldn’t imagine that I could ask for support from you.. like daring to say that I’m really insecure not knowing how to be with you.. all my energy to support and help you, could have actually been there for you..
Food break —
After the break we talked about the local groups and empathy partners. We had a round where everyone got to express if they had some particular interest – for instance: working with children, working on oneself, mediation, facilitating groups, etc – or if there were other preferences in relation to how the groups would be split, such as what parts of the city the meetings would be in, what outlook on life or life-experiences members of the group would have. I expressed rather bluntly that I would have a preference to not being in a group with men.
After having decided about the local groups – each consisting of three persons – we were asked to write down three names on a paper if we had any specific preferences in relation to empathy partner. The papers were handed over to the facilitator who would later announce our partners by sending an email to the group’s internet forum. It was done this way in order to save time.
Then we got a moment where we were asked to look through some papers that we had received in a folder, including: Key Assumptions and Intentions of NVC; Key Differentiations in Nonviolent Communication; ‘Evaluation of your knowledge and planning your learning process‘; ‘Studies February-April‘, and a list of feelings and needs.
I was too tired to ask that we read through the papers together out loud, and sufficed with skimming through the material.
EXERCISE 3: Ending – space for celebrations and mournings
We ended the day by giving space for celebrations and mournings experienced during the weekend of the course.
We were asked to write down:
One thing that you’ve done during the last twenty-four hours that you celebrate. My answer: I meditated. Taking time and space for myself, focusing on my physical being.
One thing you’ve done since you were born. My answer: Speaking out. Speaking my reality and through that having supported others in doing the same. [The facilitator asked how I knew this, and I said that others have expressed this to me verbally]
One thing during this meeting. My answer: Another participant’s willingness to contribute to this space – cleaning and cooking and wanting to care for the atmosphere.
One thing that someone has done since you were born, that you celebrate. My answer: First I thought ‘Any act of kindness – all the work done on understanding violence and sharing that information to others’, and then I thought of the space that we were using for the course, and that the reason that we were in this space, was that I, in relation to one of the persons contributing to Oranssi, had experienced kindness and understanding – and authentic connection – and that this had made me turn to this place for having the practice weekend.
Think for a moment about that what you celebrate – what other people have done that you celebrate – and think for a moment what that feels like.
Also take a moment and connect with the needs that have been met. The other choices that other people have made – what needs have been served – what needs have been served by these actions – these choices.
My answers: Hope – Safety, Care – Meaning.
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