Many of us are dismayed about the violent rhetoric in politics and on social media. We need ways to be able to communicate across social, cultural, economic and political divides. Nonviolent Communication and Focusing enhance each other and when practiced, are accessible tools for change.
Listening for Feelings and Needs in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can lead to felt sense formation. For that reason, it’s useful to use Nonviolent Communication as a doorway to Focusing, especially if you are not used to the idea of self empathy.
Jackal language and Giraffe language
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) helps us notice when we are speaking Jackal language, i.e. naming, blaming, diagnosing, trying to prove who is right and wrong, etc. NVC encourages us to speak Giraffe Language:
- First, you describe an interaction without evaluating it.
- Next you turn inward to notice your own Feelings and Needs.
- Then you listen empathically to the Feelings and Needs of others.
- As a result of knowing your Needs, you can make requests of yourself or others to meet your needs.
You can easily see the big difference in the two languages, right?
The Revolutionary Pause–an opportunity to decide which language we want to speak.
When there is a conflict, the Revolutionary Pause is an opportunity to decide which language to speak. It’s difficult to pause in daily life! But after the initial difficulty, you’ll start to see what a difference the pause can make. You’ll start noticing when you are making statements that imply judgements and blame. Then you’ll start to notice the way you have been judging yourself! This helps you open to the notion of empathy toward your own inner world. As you start listening to your own Feelings and Needs, you’ll already be in levels 4 or 5 of the Experiencing Scale: http://www.experiential-researchers.org/instruments/exp_scale/exp_scale_long.html
Noticing our Beautiful Human Needs
In NVC, our Beautiful Human Needs are seen as something that unites us as human beings. A Beautiful Human Need is defined as “vital energy that motivates us to act and to grow.” This concept is new for most people, experienced Focusers as well as non-Focusers. Listen to your Beautiful Human Needs and how they feel inside. This lays the groundwork for you to notice naturally-arising felt senses.
Beautiful Human Needs can be physical or emotional, such as the needs for safety, respect, connection, authenticity. There are many more Beautiful Human Needs. We feel angry, resentful, sad, fearful, etc. when our needs are not met.
According to Nonviolent Communication theory, other people are not responsible for how we feel. Our Needs, met and unmet, give rise to how we feel. Everyone is trying to meet their Needs. Sensing into our own Needs and listening for another’s Needs, helps us understand each other’s motivations.
Listening for Feelings and Needs can help a felt sense to form.
Through sensitive, spacious listening for Feelings and Needs, an inner space is created in which a body felt sense can form. With practice and good listening, people are on their way to learning to pause and pay attention to the felt sense of the whole situation. The felt sense of a situation often extends far beyond what could be defined as needs and values. When people access the felt sense, what started as a conflict can transform into forward movement. The carrying forward, the right next step, is often something that could not have been conceived by either individual in a conflict.
NVC is a theory, the practice of which can lead to felt sensing. Felt sensing is pre-conceptual— fresh, intricate and unpredictable in every moment. A lot of practice and careful listening for Feelings and Needs are necessary before people can learn to trust the felt sense in all its transformative power.
Focusing is a practice, not a theory. My friend Susana Alvarez from Argentina recently posted a saying that roughly translates to: “Communists until they get rich, lesbians until they get married, atheists until the plane starts to fall…”. I wrote back, “But Focusers forever.”
That’s because, by Focusing, we tune into our own felt experiencing as long as we have bodies, to get our own body perspective on what’s happening.
Right now I am translating parts Marshall Rosenberg’s Speak Peace in a World of Conflict. I’m translating it into Spanish to be sure that I am faithfully transmitting his theory to my students in Latin America. His theories are extremely enlightening.
However, I have studied Gendlin. Therefore, I want to make sure that theories never become more important than the lived experience of my students.
AND, as Rob Parker points out in our Process Model class, it is also important to read a new theory with a humble mind, rather than thinking that one can discuss it from one’s own philosophical stance. Once we have studied and understand the new theory, we can discuss it from within the new theory itself.
Theories are conceptual frameworks
Apparently Gene Gendlin used to entertain himself when he was young by absorbing various theoretical frameworks and seeing that he could out-argue proponents of those theories from within the frameworks they espoused. He could do it because he saw them all as “conceptual frameworks”, whether Marxism or evangelical Christianity, or what-have-you.
This awareness is so revolutionary! It could mean so much for peace if people could be taught from childhood to value their living experience rather than having to fit themselves into a theoretical structure.
Focusing and what it means and how to use it–all this grows as I grow. That’s why I can be a Focuser forever, within whichever theoretical framework I find helpful at the time. I am struggling to understand A Process Model. I want to understand Gendlin’s theory of what Focusing means and how it is possible. You can get a sense of Gendlin and of A Process Model from Nada Lou’s delightful 1998 video. But even if I don’t quite understand A Process Model, I do understand what Focusing is from having practiced it. So Focusing is practice, not theory, and as Gendlin says, A Process Model “is just a theory.”