What other people say or do may be a stimulus for our feelings, but never the cause. Whenever someone communicates negatively, we have four options:
sense our own feelings and needs
sense the feelings and needs hidden in the other’s negative message
Judgments, criticisms, diagnoses and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our own needs and values. When people hear criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense and counterattack. The more directly we can connect our needs to our feelings, the easier it is for us to respond compassionately.
In a world where we are often harshly judged for identifying and revealing our needs, doing so can be very frightening, especially for women who are socialized to ignore their own needs while caring for others.
In the course of developing emotional responsibility, most of us experience three stages:
Emotional Slavery: Believing ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everyone happy, which can be very detrimental to intimate relationships.
Ex: “I’m really scared to be in a relationship. Every time I see my partner in pain or needing something, I feel overwhelmed. I feel like I’m in prison, that I’m being smothered.”
The “Obnoxious Stage”: Where we refuse to admit to caring what anyone else wants or needs. We’ve become aware of the high costs of trying to accommodate others’ feelings at our own expense and we get angry. “That’s your problem! I’m not responsible for your feelings!” We are clear what we are not responsible for, but we have yet to learn how to be responsible to others in a way that is not emotionally enslaving. We may continue to carry remnants of guilt and shame around having our own needs so we end up expressing our needs in ways that sound rigid and unyielding.
Emotional Liberation:We accept full responsibility for our own feelings but not the feelings of others, while being aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others. Emotional liberation involves stating clearly what we need in a way that communicates we are equally concerned that the needs of others be fulfilled. Nonviolent communication is meant to support us relating at the level of emotional liberation.
Although we all have capacity to hurt one another, there is a difference between a mutual commitment to learn and practice more positive communication and the psychological harm of abusive behavior. If you suspect you are a victim of abuse, there is help! http://www.thehotline.org/
The following was excerpted in part from Nonviolent Commuication: 2nd Edition by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. This article is the second in a five part series about clean living through toxin-free communication. To read Part I about Nonviolent Communication, click here.
Aline Bethea Defiglia LCSW, MPH, CADC is a licensed psychotherapist, life and career coach, trainer and consultant practicing in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois. You can find out more at abwellness.life