Tip #315: Nonviolent Communication #6: Take Responsibility for Feelings

In last week’s Tip, we posed a test of your ability to identify statements that express feelings rather than interpreting other’s feelings or behavior. The statements in bold print are feeling statements. The remaining statements either express: our interpretation of how others feel or behave, our thoughts rather than our feelings, or our feelings with words that are too vague.

1. “I feel you don’t want me here.”
2. “I’m glad that you’re back home.”
3. “I feel angry when you do that.”
4. “When you don’t invite me to dinner with your friends, I feel rejected.”
5. “I’m terrified about the situation.”
6. “You’re infuriating.”
7. “I feel like hugging her.”
8. “I feel misunderstood.”
9. “I feel bad about what he did.”
10.”I’m useless.”

“People are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them.” Epictetus

According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, the third component of Nonviolent Communication requires that we learn how to take responsibility for our feelings.

We do this by acknowledging the root cause of our feelings. What others say or do may be the stimulus for our feelings, but not the cause of our feelings. Our feelings result from how we choose to receive what others say or do, as well as our specific needs and expectations in that situation.

NVC identifies four options for receiving verbal or nonverbal negative messages. We can:

(1) take it personally by hearing blame and criticism. In this case, we accept the
speaker’s judgment and blame ourselves.

(2) blame the speaker. In this case, we often get angry with the speaker.

(3) recognize that our response has to do with our own feelings and needs. In this
case, we become conscious that our feeling is caused by the fact that our needs are not being met.

(4) explore the speaker’s underlying feelings and needs that prompted the message.
In this case, we focus on the speaker rather than our reaction.

Assertiveness training teaches us to accept responsibility for our feelings, rights and needs. NVC takes this one step further by adding that: “We accept responsibility for our feelings, rather than blame other people, by acknowledging our own needs, desires, expectations, values or thoughts.”

For example, when I say, “You hurt my feelings when you didn’t call me back right away, ” I attribute my hurt feelings to the other person’s behavior.
However, when I say, “I was hurt when you didn’t call me back right away, because I really wanted to plan to get together tonight,” I attribute my hurt feelings to my unfulfilled desire to get together.

An important NVC concept is that the more we are able to connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for other to respond in a compassionate manner.

There are three common speech patterns that make it sound as if we are stating how we feel, but actually end up blaming others:

1. Using impersonal pronouns such as it and that. For example, “It really frustrates me when the Internet is slow.” “That worries me.”

2. Using the expression “I feel (an emotion) because… (followed by a person or personal pronoun other than I)”. For example, “I feel sad because you forgot my gift.” “I feel terrified because my landlord has not changed our locks yet.”

3. Using statements that mention only the actions of others. For example, “When you constantly forget my name, I feel badly.” “Grandma is nervous when you don’t come when I call you.”

We can accept responsibility for our feelings rather than blaming the other person if we connect our feeling with our need: “I feel…because I need…” This will convert our previous statements as follows:

1. “I feel frustrated when the Internet is slow because I can’t get my work done on time.”

2. “I feel terrified that my landlord hasn’t changed my locks, because I don’t feel safe.”

3. “Grandma feels nervous when you don’t come when I call you, because I get worried that you might be hurt or in trouble.”

Judgments, criticisms, diagnoses and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our own unmet needs. What this means is that if someone says, “You never appreciate me,” they are really saying that their need to be appreciated is not being fulfilled.

When we express our needs indirectly through evaluations and interpretations of other’s behavior, the person at the receiving end is more likely to hear the message as criticism. This starts a negative chain of events, because when someone feels criticized, it is natural for them to become defensive. They then focus their energy on either defending themselves or counterattacking. As a result, we definitely do not get the compassionate response we desire.

The more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately. Unfortunately, we have not been taught to think in these terms. Instead, we tend to think about what is wrong with other people when our needs aren’t met.

For example, we may complain that our roommates are inconsiderate when they don’t wash their dishes thoroughly. A NVC statement, in which we connect our feelings to our own needs, would be, “I feel disgusted when my roommates don’t wash their dishes thoroughly, because I don’t like eating on dirty dishes.”

According to Marshall Rosenberg, “It has been my experience over and over again that from the moment people begin talking about what they need rather than what’s wrong with one another, the possibility of finding ways to meet everybody’s needs is greatly increased.”

Let’s test your ability to identify statements in which the speaker acknowledges responsibility for his or her feelings. Which of the following statements accept responsibility for feelings rather than blaming someone else?

1. “You insult me when you do not introduce me to your friends.”
2. “I am jealous when you choose to spend time with her instead of me, because I need to feel important in your life.”
3. “I feel delighted when you bring me flowers.”
4. “I’m horrified that you feel that way because I was hoping that we would be able to reach an agreement.”
5. “I feel despondent because you never fulfill your promises.”
6. I’m worried because I thought we would make good time on the road.”
7. “Certain words make me very uncomfortable.”
8. “I feel relieved that you weren’t hurt.”
9. “I feel exhilarated when they shout out my name.”
10. “I am hurt that you did not invite me to your party, because I thought that we were friends.”

If you email your answers to me with NVC Answers in the subject heading, I will send you a list of the basic human needs that we all share.

In the next Tip, we will continue our discussion of this third component of NVC with a look at basic human needs and the three stages in developing emotional responsibility.

May your learning be sweet.

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