Much of our emotional pain and struggles in life are due to unmet needs. These have developed through resistance and denial of what is and being trained that some emotions are unacceptable. This is most obvious in relationship troubles where we’re expecting our partner to meet those needs. However, this is often an unconscious process – we don’t even know what those needs actually are, except maybe generally. How can we then ask for them properly? Nor do we properly distinguish between needs (non-negotiable) and wants (flexible). We end up projecting blame and judgement on others. Conflict and disappointment are the inevitable result. And a desire for control.
This judgement and positioning mode is so common in our culture that even professional helpers don’t recognize it. In fact, it’s built into our language. For example, depression has become classed as a mental illness when in most cases it is the simple consequence of missing self-skills. We don’t even know that, just as physical pain is a signal something is off, so too “negative” emotions are a sign of energetic discord and unmet needs. Needs that can be directly addressed if recognized. Rosenberg on the subject. (Youtube)
Poor skills have made it acceptable to shame others and lay on guilt trips and make having feeling bad. Many don’t even think happiness is safe. But we all feel so it’s better to develop some decent emotional skills. Otherwise we’re walking bags of crud, ready to explode and radiating disturbance in our body and the community.
With the right skills and self-empathy, we can actually meet many of those needs ourselves internally. But others behaviour still has an impact on our experience of life so good tools to resolve conflict and communicate better can be potent.
I’ll shortly be taking an empathy workshop based on the principles of non-violent communication (NVC). I thought it worth reviewing the main points prior, which lead to this.
NVC is about shifting from a divisive will-based stand to communicating with a feelings-based empathy model. It’s also called compassionate communication. In any communication, you listen empathetically and express honestly. This happens in a simple 4 stage process, paraphrased.
1) Observations – Rather than evaluating and judging which we’re often cultured to do, we simply state factually the behaviours and conditions that are impacting us. This steps out of blame, but the listener has to recognize this or they’ll immediately be defensive.
2) Feeling – we name the feelings that result. Because of the above, I feel ______.
You need the mind to name the feeling but not its judgment. You want to identify internal feeling states. There is no right or wrong here. Being able to name the emotion without moral judgment enables a connection of mutual respect and cooperation rather than blame and defence.
3) Needs – what do we need to resolve the feelings? What needs are not being met? These unmet needs are what is triggering unpleasant emotions. NVC has a short list of emotions and needs that serve as a handy reference. Needs are pretty universal. They are not tied to a specific person or individual. Pleasant emotions like happiness and peace arise when our needs are met.
4) Requests – State what we want (not don’t want), as a request. Be clear and specific. This is not a demand which brings emotional pressures, like guilt. As a request, the other person must be able to say no or propose an alternative. You take responsibility for getting your own needs met, and you let them take responsibility for theirs. You want voluntary consent or it’s just another conflict.
With enough self-empathy, you can ask in spirit. And you can use internal techniques I talked about here.
For some, this may seem pointless or primitive, especially if you’re a man. But it’s a remarkable re-framing if we’re willing to explore. Get out of the head a little and find out whats happening in the feeling space. If it’s confused or numb, there’s some resolving to do.
You can use this in relationship and within yourself. When you follow the named feeling back to the unmet need, it may surprise you. Whats been bugging you (the unmet need) may not be what you thought it was at all. It’s always about you.
These feelings and needs are not complex. The primary ones NVC lists are around a dozen each.
[Update: Feelings & Needs Inventories (pdf, 833k)]
A lot of communication is just saying Please and Thank You: Please meet my need and Thank You for that. But it so often is masked in stories and drama and thus brings mixed results for everyone.
With a little practice – and it will need practice as the old habits can be persistent – it can change our relationships and satisfaction significantly. Here’s a wiki on how to practice it.
And here’s a clip on Empathy
As the saying goes, peace begins within.