“Violence in any form is a tragic expression of our unmet needs.”
- Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
Everyone who feels pain – that means all of us – needs empathy.
I’m learning Nonviolent Communication (NVC), where you aim to look beyond the storyline into the underlying emotions and needs. This is the basis for giving and receiving empathy in the NVC frame.
I just finished my third class. I’m stunned by how off-track so much of my communication has been!
I’ve discovered that some of the words I use to describe feelings are not feelings at all. For example, “pressured” is not a feeling. It implies that someone is doing something to you. Same with “abandoned”.
I’m waking up to the fact that it takes some practice to know what I myself am genuinely feeling. And there’s a reason for tuning into your feelings.
Distressing Feelings: A Cover Up for Unmet Needs
I like the way my trainer describes challenging emotions as guideposts to underlying needs. Danger! There’s a need that’s not being met. That’s when suffering can begin.
It reminds me of how the Dalai Lama says we all want to be happy and we all want to avoid suffering. This is the common denominator among us all.
In the same way, we all have basic universal needs.
So uncomfortable feelings are really a cover up for unmet needs. By following the emotional trail, you’re able to find the unmet need.
Some of us – or maybe many of us – are not comfortable with the idea of having needs. It can feel like a primal resistance. That’s how it feels for me. But I see the intelligence in acknowledging my needs and joining the human race.
Getting Your Needs Met
Once we feel our emotions and needs have been heard, there’s often a sense of relief and release. Then we can move on to finding the best strategy for meeting the identified need.
Often, our needs go unmet because we are relying on the wrong strategy. For example, we rely on one person to meet a need and it becomes overwhelming for him or her. So we start feeling angry, impatient, afraid, or another distressing emotion.
Empathy can help us recognize the messenger emotions and connect with the underlying need instead of getting stuck in the painful emotions. From there, we can chose a better strategy. Maybe we need to reach out to others for support with this particular need instead of relying on a single person.
Not all needs can be need. When that’s the case, instead of dwelling in the emotions, we can acknowledge the unmet need, mourn it, and move on. Chances are we’ll have to do this more than once, but each time we do, we’ll find a little more freedom.
Every human being needs empathy when they are in pain. But it’s difficult to give empathy if your own well is dry. So it’s a good idea to receive empathy on a regular basis.
While there are different ways you can request empathy from others, a good place to begin is with self-empathy. After all, you are immediate accessible 24 hours a day. Self-empathy means listening inwardly to connect with your own feelings and needs.
The ultimate goal of non-violent communication is to care for everyone’s needs, but the process begins with honoring your own.
Do you take time to listen inwardly and connect with your own feelings and needs? Do you feel you have enough empathy in your life?
Image: Wikimedia Commons