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Internal Requests for Connection

"The Awakening" sculpture by John Seward Johnson, Jr.

  

  • Would you like to be more engaged in life?
  • Are you disappointed in your daily routine, wanting more joy and fulfillment?
  • Would you like more autonomy, freedom and connection in your relationships?

  

When I first started practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I was hungry to find some connection with other people. Two decades later, I’ve realized that my NVC practice starts inside, usually with a moment of awakening. Like an alarm bell in the morning, something stimulates emotions; if I notice, I can see if I’m willing to start my NVC practice. I ask myself: "Would i be willing to give myself empathy?" Forms of that question showed up so often in my journal that i created an acronym for “would i be willing?” (WIBW).

This post explores internal requests to awaken to connection — both withing yourself and with others. They are intended as internal personal work requests, not to be used conversationally with other people. The requests are listed in an order that most naturally contributes to clarity and connection. Internal requests are important because we want to act in integrity with our values — in this case leveraging Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the consciousness that results through frequent practice. By focusing our attention on these requests, we're likely to contribute to connection in our relationships.

"NVC is a way to focus our attention to contribute to a compassionate giving and receiving." — Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Excluding the first question relating to violence, you wouldn't want to force yourself to comply with the request because there's an internal cost to doing so; it's important to search for the real willingness to follow the request (see blog post "Am I Willing?"). If you find that you are not willing to follow the request, you're invited to return to previous questions — searching for your willingness. Sometimes, we are not able to progress on our own and this is the time to seek help from friends, trusted family members, counselors, coaches, NVC Trainers or community elders.

 

Note: I start the numbering of violence with "-1" because it doesn't flow with the ideal sequence of connection, and yet it is essential to break the cycle of violence when practicing NVC. Getting started with NVC may require lots of support from trained professionals and from the community, especially if one has a history of physical or verbal violence toward oneself or others.

-1. Violence: Am I about to be violent with myself or others?

STOP. Take several deep breaths. Seek help!*

* The phone numbers and websites are provided for information purposes only. I am not associated with any of these services.

0. Waking Up: Why am I now paying attention?

I start the ideal sequence of internal connection requests with the number "0" because it's great for beginning a process. Something happened to cause me to wake up. A bell rang, I noticed a bird chirping, or my daily alarm goes off to remind me it's time for self-connection. There are other stimuli that can be helpful in waking up, such as making an agreement with myself to pay attention the next time any of the following happens:

  • I'm hungry or tired (or both)
  • My heart rate is higher than normal
  • I'm clenching my fist, or my jaw
  • I stop breathing
  • Feeling tension in my belly
  • My shoulders are tight
  • My mind is racing from thought to thought
  • I'm in a heated argument with someone else
  • I'm about to do something I've regretted before
My agreement with myself is to practice self-empathy after noticing any of the previous things happening. Once I wake up to the present moment, I begin my self-empathy practice.

1. Self-Empathy: Would I be willing (WIBW) to give myself empathy?

WIBW: would I be willing?

So, you found the willingness to focus your attention internally to your own life experience. As you look inside, what are you noticing right now? What stimulus or reminder got you to your self-empathy practice?

Observation: As you look inside, what are you observing — what are you noticing?

Are you feeling any tension in your body? Are you clenching your fists, holding your breath? Do you feel any tightness in your shoulders, in your head or in your belly? If your body could speak, what is it saying? Jot down any thoughts, judgments or feelings that come up. List whatever stimulus instigated you to practice self-empathy. Describe what is going on around you.

Feelings: What am I feeling?

Feelings describe the intensity and quality of life fulfillment of Needs

In answering the question "what am I feeling?", I've found it helpful to start by scanning my body for sensations of any kind, then inferring what they might be saying to me. I accompany the results of my body scan with scanning a list of feelings like the one I'm offering as a download below — keep it simple — look for a resonance with words that describe your experience. If you're celebrating life and experiencing feelings like happiness, contentment or joy, then look at the first section in the "Feelings/Needs" overview below titled "Feelings (when Needs met)" and select a word that matches your feeling. If you're mourning life and experiencing feelings like anger, annoyance, fear, sadness or hurt, then look at the second section titled "Feelings (when Needs not met)" to select a word that matches your internal experience. As you are learning, keep it simple — just pick a word from the list.

If you notice judgments and blame coming up, then go back to the previous section "Observation" and write down your judgment — e.g. "I'm judging the other person as stupid" — then return to this section to select a feeling word.

"Every judgment is a tragic expression of an unmet need" - Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Needs: What are my needs? What's motivating my behavior right now?

"Needs are life energy in us seeking fulfillment" - Julie Greene

Every feeling we experience is caused by the intensity of fulfillment or unfulfillment of our needs. My favorite definition: Needs are life energy in us seeking fulfillment. Needs are the "why" behind our actions — i.e. needs are also known as "intrinsic motivation." Acknowledging our needs helps us to take responsibility for our feelings. Needs are independent of People, Location, Action, Time, Objects (PLATO) which denote strategies. Strategies are the means by which we meet our needs — i.e. the "what" we do. Strategies are often confused with needs and can be a source of conflict.

For example, a strategy of going on a hike with my friend Shannon helps to meet my needs for companionship, connection, health, well-being and beauty. The good news is that there is no conflict at the level of universal human needs, which is one of the foundational teachings of nonviolent communication. If I asked Shannon to go on a hike, and she said "no," we could have a conversation about each other's needs, and in doing so, find other strategies to meet both of our needs — such as going on another day, doing different activity instead, or perhaps inviting someone else to go on the hike with me.

"Needs are independent of People, Location, Action, Time, Objects (PLATO)" - Mikki Kashtan

Mourning: Mourn your Needs not met

Make a list of the needs you identified. Consider each need, allowing yourself to experience whatever feelings show up. If it's scary or uncomfortable for you to feel, ask a friend to listen and hold space for you (finding other friends that can hold NVC empathic space helps with this step). Feel, emote, move, jump — do whatever you need to express yourself. After a while, you will notice that the intensity of the feelings begins to diminish — often you will have a bodily energy shift ~ sigh, a cry, a heavy breath. Be in that space for a while, until it feels "done."

Celebration: Celebrate the beauty of your Needs

After giving yourself enough time to mourn, go back to the needs that had the most intensity. Take 2-3 deep breaths. Tune into the beauty of the need without attachment to person, location, action, time or objects — let go of any attachment to outcomes. Why is that need special to you? Why do you care about it?

Imagine this need being fully met — without limits! Repeat for other needs on your list.

  • Sit
  • Listen
  • Hold space for your needs
  • When you reach a moment of being in tune with the beauty of your need, savor the moment — pause, be with the experience, stay in it as long as possible.

Self-Acceptance: Give yourself compassion, understanding, and love leading to self-acceptance

Sometimes I don't act in harmony with my values — sometimes I miss the mark. In this final step of self-empathy, I embrace, love and accept all parts of myself. I give myself compassion in the knowledge that I'm doing the best I know how to meet my needs in every moment — just like every other human being.

Request: What strategy would enhance life?

As I connect and hold space for my needs, I listen for strategies to serve life — and I explore my willingness to act on them. In some cases, the strategy might be to walk away or hang-up the phone. In others, I might choose to continue doing what I'm doing. Either way, I explore the strategy by asking myself "WIBW to <insert Strategy>?" and I choose to act based on the answer (see related post "Am I Willing?").

2. Silent Empathy: WIBW to listen with curiosity to another person?

Now that I've listened to what's alive in me, I notice a natural curiosity toward others arise. I am able to ponder their experience, hearing their thoughts, feelings, needs, and their implied requests. I am following their words while listening silently for all clues to their life experience in this moment; I am not leading them with my own thoughts of what should happen, nor am I judging their experience (if I do notice I'm judging them, I'd go back to ponder a willingness to give myself empathy). I give them the same quality of listening that I gave myself in the previous step.

3. Empathy: WIBW to empathically reflect what I understood to be the heart of the other person?

At some point, during my silent empathic listening, I get a sense that the other person would benefit from hearing some empathy — i.e. the heart of what I'm understanding is their life experience but in the form of a question (because I really don't know their heart, nor the words that they'd use to describe it). The empathy guess is a hypothesis of their experience.

I am willing to express my empathy guess with words — and after finding my willingness, I discern if it continues to be supportive of their connection to life to speak now, perhaps interrupting a flow of thoughts, or if it would be best to go back to silent listening. Sometimes, the other person has moved onto another need making my original empathy guess not as up-to-date as a new one.

I choose to express this curiosity in the form of a question, focusing primarily on a short phrase, followed by a guess at their need (see post on empathy).

"When you said <insert Quote>,
were you wanting <insert Need/Value> ?"

(Pause to continue listening)

Here's a video of a workshop titled "Awaken your Empathy Super-Power":

4. Honesty: WIBW to express my honest truth to the other person
with compassion?

I notice I'm energized to speak my mind. Perhaps, I've been listening for a while and I'm ready to be heard. I choose to give a voice to what I found during my self-empathy practice. I do so out of a desire to be heard and understood. If I notice a desire to punish, to teach a lesson, to criticize or blame, I'm willing to return to Self-Empathy to connect with my feelings and needs (needs are the life-energy in us seeking fulfillment independently of person, location, action, time or object).

What's different about NVC honesty, is that I'm taking full responsibility for my feelings as they're a reflection of my needs.

  • Taking Ownership of One's Feelings* — living from the knowledge that I alone cause my emotions — my emotions are not caused by others.
  • Honest Self-Expression* — owning one's experience and having the willingness to express authentically without blame or criticism.

I'm willing to express myself with compassion, with the understanding that the other person has their own experience — different from mine — and they, too, are doing the best they know how to meet their needs. I'm willing to use my NVC skills to the best of my ability, while honoring the other person's experience.

The following video playlist is an introduction into honest expression with Nonviolent Communication:

* Skills from Pathways of Liberation - Jacob Gotwals, Jack Lehman, Jim Manske and Jori Manske Certified NVC Trainers

NVC workshops are a great way to dip your toe into something new. I provide 1-2 free online workshops every quarter; check out my website for upcoming NVC workshop offerings. You can also find many other NVC offerings from trainers around the world at the Center for Nonviolent Communication (click here for workshops).

Summary

This post lists five internal requests for connection:

 

0. Waking up: Why am I now paying attention?

1. Self-Empathy: Would I be willing (WIBW) to give myself empathy?

2. Silent Empathy: WIBW to listen with curiosity to another person?

3. Empathy: WIBW to empathically reflect what I understood to be the heart of the other person?

4. Honesty: WIBW to express my honest truth to the other person with compassion?

In following these requests, you will have more:

  • life engagement
  • joy and fulfillment in your daily routine
  • autonomy, freedom and connection in your relationships

This post is based on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. Learning NVC is like learning a musical instrument; it takes time and practice before it becomes harmonious. This link will take you to my workshop offerings, or you can also go to the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Another great way to get started is to find a NVC practice group.

 

Please comment below if you found this post helpful in any way. Are you willing?

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