Core Skills for Nondefensive Communication

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Emotional Enlightenment: Direct Path To Compassionate Communication with Paul Shippee, December 5-7, 2014

by Paul Shippee

“Anger and blame come from the

belief that other people cause our pain

and therefore deserve punishment.”

~Marshall Rosenberg

PART I

The practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as non-defensive communication and compassionate communication, requires a “change of consciousness.” As such it involves learning some new core skills. These interpersonal, emotional, and relational skills are new in the sense of being an alternative to familiar and habitual emotional reactivity that is often unconscious. Mindless reactivity gives rise to behavior patterns that isolate us and give rise to life-alienating experiences.

The most important core skill, besides emotional awareness, is to overcome blame.

What I mean by “change of consciousness” is really simple but not necessarily easy. It is, first, to see how our old habitual emotional reactions result in behaviors that disconnect us from others and ourselves. Then, when we re-connect with ourselves in a new way it might seem a bit strange and maybe difficult, as though we are taking on a new identity.

We can change our ingrained patterns of emotional reactivity when we become aware of what they are, and how or why they operate in us. This awareness allows us to create a change of consciousness when there is sufficient motivation and interest to do so. A change of consciousness, then, is an awakening in our being that opens us to greater vision of how to live one’s life according to one’s values. What’s the motivation for this? It is the sense of isolation, alienation and suffering.

As Anais Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”

When we gradually learn to see that our habitual emotional reactivity is clearly defensive in nature, we can examine what it is we are trying to protect. We look into the question of whether the continual habit of both our gross and subtle defenses is worth it by considering its cost to openness, warmth, connection to self and other -natural human qualities that we might like to enjoy. The task here is to gradually transform toxic reactivity into responses that connect.

After seeing, in this way, our defensive reactions for what they are, the main skill in NVC practice is learning how to honestly identify and express feelings and needs. This often translates into vulnerability, a scary place for most people and often viewed as a weakness. So a core skill here that invites a change of consciousness is inquiry, to see and acknowledge when we are being defensive, why we are being defensive and how we are being defensive. This is a key first step because you can’t change what you can’t see.

In other words, obstacles and resistance to change will continuously arise along our path toward warmth and sanity. Long-term defenses that protect against feeling the pain of unhealed emotional wounds are entrenched. They have worn deep grooves in our present consciousness called habits. In the face of such obstacles we ask ourselves: what is blocking my capacity to see and express my feelings and needs as well as to practice empathy in seeing the feelings and needs of others?

We can identify four popular ways to escape and avoid feelings. What these four have in common is that they call upon external references and thus avoid connecting with what is going on within oneself. These four obstacles are:

-complaining,

-inventing a story,

-blaming & judging,

-shifting into analytical interpretation.

Most often we discover the primary defensive strategy in this NVC inquiry is blame. When we blame others or ourselves we’re not taking responsibility for our feelings or our emotional depths. Instead we are escaping, exiting the places inside that scare us. Sooner or later we might realize that to blame is to disconnect from others and oneself. When deploying blame (as a defense) it is like an attack; we are shifting and transferring emotional pain that belongs to us onto others. This defense mechanism is sometimes referred to projection in psychology.

Part of our inquiry is to ask: what is really going on when we react to a difficult message from others, one that triggers long-buried emotional pain and discomfort that we do not want to feel? The answer is that our reactivity is designed to block and defend against feeling those unwanted feelings because they hurt. I have learned that anger and blame are most often used to cover over and hide the hurt lying underneath. I have also learned that feeling these difficult unwanted emotions is healing. It opens the door to human connection, compassionate connection. This is the whole purpose of NVC practice.

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PART II

The urge to escape emotional pain is somewhat natural, a very strong habitual pattern engraved in our DNA and consciousness, in our being. But this learned behavior pattern, when no longer productive or needed, can be changed with education, motivation and practice. We can actually stop blaming others and making people wrong (so we can be right) and find that applying NVC skills can make life wonderful.

However, as long as we find more so-called safety and comfort in escaping and projecting the pain of our emotional wounds onto others than in taking responsibility by staying with the pain, then we probably won’t be motivated to change. We still prefer escape, whereas change involves the risk of communicating and sharing “what’s alive in us” …feelings and needs.

So blame, as a primary escape strategy, blocks the warmth and connection possibilities with self and others. Alternatively, the human connection of replacing reactivity with response feels satisfying and more fully human than our defensive strategies. However strange and uncomfortable it may seem at first, a slogan I created to capture the essence of how to change our consciousness, and take responsibility for our difficult emotions, goes like this: “cut the blame, stay with the pain.” Mastering this core skill is a healing activity that uncovers the natural inherent wisdom and compassion, spiritual awakenings that can open the door to authentic self-love and peace. On the other hand, bypassing this emotional awareness and healing opportunity can present obstacles to a genuine spiritual path.

Of course, there are many other subtle and not-so-subtle defensive behaviors besides blame that can block feeling and foster disconnection and distance, such as one-up-man-ship, interrupting, making others wrong, etc. Ideally, the wholesome process of NVC practice, preferably done in a group, will offer an opportunity to see through all defensive strategies and gradually move beyond them.

“The dynamic communication techniques of Nonviolent Communication transform potential conflicts into peaceful dialogues. You’ll learn simple tools to defuse arguments and create compassionate connections with your family, friends, and other acquaintances.”
John Gray, Ph.D., author, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

To learn more about NVC interpersonal relationship skills read, Nonviolent Communication –A Language of Life and visit http://cnvc.org

~~~

Paul Shippee Paul Shippee, MA Psychology, studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) intensively with founder Marshall Rosenberg and other NVC trainers. He has facilitated NVC groups continuously for the past 8 years and teaches NVC workshops around the country.

Ten Tips for Non-Violent Communication

By Paul Shippee

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Emotional Enlightenment: Direct Path To Compassionate Communication with Paul Shippee, December 5-7, 2014

Non-defensive/Nonviolent Communication, also know as Compassionate Communication, is a way of relating to others so that everyone’s needs matter. NVC fosters connections between people rather than competition, one-upmanship or judgment. Shifting your attention to inner space rather than finding fault with what’s out there is the secret sauce for life-enhancing connections. Here are Ten Tips for NVC to get you started in the right direction:

1. Recognize and acknowledge that everyone’s basic nature is compassion and basic goodness, no matter what they are doing or saying on the surface.

2. Recognize and identify obstacles to compassion and empathy, such as unexamined beliefs, judgmental thoughts and old habitual patterns of reactive emotional behavior.

3. Cultivate emotional awareness in the present moment so that your reactivity is not projected outward onto others.

4. Become precisely aware of feelings, if you can, as they arise in the moment and move through you. You may have difficult reactive emotions that you are not conscious of.

5. When triggered into painful reactive emotions, realize that no one can “cause” you to feel anything. See your anger as a blessed signal – use it to connect with your primal, hidden feelings of hurt and fear that may lie hidden underneath.

6. Practice making neutral and factual observations instead of evaluations, projections and judgments.

7. Work continuously with your impulses that want to make others and/or yourself wrong, also known as blame.

8. Learn how to clearly identify and express your basic, universal needs without shame or expectations.

9. Practice what you would like from others without making a demand.

10. Look inside at your motivation for blaming, complaining or shaming others. What are you feeling now?

~~~

Paul Shippee Paul Shippee, MA Psychology, studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) intensively with founder Marshall Rosenberg and other NVC trainers. He has facilitated NVC groups continuously for the past 8 years and teaches NVC workshops around the country.

Relationships that Work Beautifully

By Paul Shippee

Paul Shippee will lead a NVC weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center September 13-15

megan smiling

The main positive effect of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice is to increase your chances of getting a compassionate response from others. I have found that NVC has an amazing result of disarming others as well as one’s own deeply embedded defenses that lead to painful conflicts. Usually, somewhere deep in our conditioned brain, we really think that our defenses are the best way to be safe. But, in NVC practice, we invariably discover that real safety comes from being vulnerable. This unearths a contagious authenticity that fosters relationships, both intimate and casual, that work beautifully.

girl staring at reflectionOnce we can open our heart to ourselves and honestly express what we are actually feeling and needing in the moment, we begin to glimpse new dimensions of life. We take baby steps in trying out vulnerability as a means of trust and smarter safety. This feels uncomfortable as it invites us into a larger world of undefended love and connection to others.

We are conditioned in our culture to speak from the head. The main learning in NVC is to direct your attention to what’s alive in you and become aware of feelings and needs as they arise in ourselves and others. We find that to develop compassion we must bring our attention more and more to the emotional body.

girl screaming at reflection

Even our most functional and fruitful relationships can be marked by judgment, criticism, and other self-limiting junk. When this happens, examine the link between pain and blame inside yourself. It’s simple but it ain’t easy. We are addicted to pleasure; habitually leaning into what feels good. By affecting another person whom we care about, we realize that this dedication to the pleasure-principle is totally irresponsible emotionally. So our escape is blame, and blame feels good because it lets us off the hook as we cleverly and conveniently move our attention to the other person. NVC seeks a softer approach to challenges and helps us to realize that a flow of brilliant communication, joy, and natural peace is always available.girl smiling at reflection

We have a local NVC practice group which has been working with opening this heart space and here’s a sampling of what they have to say about their experience:

Aliyah Alexander: Despite 30 years of working as a psychotherapist and doing my own internal work, I am still challenged every time I utilize Marshall Rosenberg’s guidelines (the founder of NVC) of moving from righteousness (being right) to vulnerability (the heart). Through this practice, communication becomes a stepping-stone into the spiritual realm, which involves moving into a place of empathy with self and others.

Gussie Fauntleroy: One of the most important things I’m learning is how to listen as if everyone matters. A lot of it is learning to recognize and accept, and therefore transform, my own longstanding habitual patterns of communication and interaction and ways of seeing myself and others.

Larry Lechtenberg: I used to go around feeling quite lonely and deeply longing to connect with people, and trying to always discover the “right” thing to make this happen. Now, I think much less; instead I try to observe closely, with the intention of becoming aware of what I’m feeling and needing, and what the other person’s feelings and needs are. This usually produces an amazing feeling of connection.

Kirsten Schreiber: One aspect of NVC that I find myself especially appreciating lately involves being able to go into a space where I can express myself and then step back and listen or imagine what the other person might be experiencing. Having the inner space for that without reacting doesn’t necessarily solve something but it can help me broaden my vision and see a bigger picture.

 

Paul Shippee

Paul Shippee, MA Psychology, studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) intensively with founder Marshall Rosenberg and other NVC trainers. He has facilitated NVC groups continuously for the past 8 years and teaches NVC workshops around the country. Paul Shippee will lead a NVC weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center September 13-15