I began studying Non Violent Communication about five years ago in an informal group. Some members had attended trainings with Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of NVC, but most of us had just read the book, Non-Violent Communication. This group introduced me through Marshal’s work into a new paradigm of relating. Many concepts that I knew from other disciplines snapped into focus in a here and now, down to earth, practical everyday application. Working together in mutual support we were learning
- how to use language in a new way to better connect to ourselves and others
- to catch ourselves when we spoke from judgment, evaluation, or opinion
- to see and hear each other through guessing and asking if we were getting their communication (especially when emotions were running high)
- to cultivate clarity about our needs and how we could have them met through making doable requests
After a year, I joined a formal practice group led by a certified NVC trainer, Kathy Marchant (1). Under her guidance my understanding of the work deepened but also my frustration with how challenged I was to put it into practice. I was so stiff when applying the steps that I could sound like a robot. A statement I often make when referring to NVC is, “This work is so straight-forward to grasp and the MOST difficult to practice.”
Even after I stopped practicing with a formal group I still used NVC as a mode of communication on a daily basis. I was muddling along when I heard Kathy was offering a 12 week course in NVC at the yoga studio where I was teaching. Though tempted I thought, I don’t need to do this – I’m practicing on my own. I’ll have to change my teaching schedule in order to attend. It costs money. I’m so glad I could acknowledge my concerns and still hear my need for growth. I decided to do it! Going through Marshall’s book in a methodical manner with assignments that helped integrate my understanding was incredible. Kathy’s insightful guidance and clarification helped me see my subtle habits. Habits which keep me stuck and do not support positive growth. It was the jolt I needed to commit a new to this life serving work.
As the course progressed, I realized there were many things I hadn’t really understood. A big one was seeing that safety is not a need met by another person or something that is outside myself. When Kathy said that the need for safety, respect, and acceptance was a slippery slope I was confused. I could hear the words but the import of what she was saying slipped away as fast as I was understanding her. I couldn’t let go of the belief that safety lay in the situation or the other person. Wasn’t it that, that created a safe place for me to express feelings and needs? These are needs, doesn’t that mean they are to be met by another? How can I be my own safety?
I’m learning. Life is always offering me opportunities to understand that when I’m willing to be connected to my heart and relate from this place of profound knowing, there is no safer place to be. It is self connection which gives safety. When I feel safe I am much more willing to be open, authentic, and have honest communication. My three New Year’s resolutions. The wonderful surprise is that the person or persons I’m with feel safe too. Maybe not at first, but over time an environment of openness draws even the most wary in. When I read Mary Mackenzie reflection today I wanted to share it. She tells through her own life experience how safety can be that slippery slope and how she finds sure footing.
I’m no longer afraid of storms, for I am
learning how to sail my own ship.
—Louisa May Alcott
I spent most of my life looking for my personal safety in other people. With this attitude, I spent a great deal of time determining whether someone was safe or not, judging other people as abusive, and blaming other people when I felt hurt or disappointed. The result was that I felt afraid because I depended on others to keep me safe, and I didn’t feel empowered to manage my own life.
Nonviolent Communication teaches that safety is not something that other people can provide. I can best meet my needs for safety when I gain trust in my ability to take care of myself. In this model, safety can come from such tools as learning ways to meet my own needs, speaking up when I am unhappy or worried, and trusting my own instincts. When I trust myself, I am empowered to stop looking to others for my safety.
Be aware of how you look to other people to meet your need for safety.
This reflection is an excerpt from Peaceful Living: Daily Meditations for Living with Love, Healing, and Compassion by Mary Mackenzie, published by PuddleDancer Press, and is offered courtesy of NVC Academy and Mary Mackenzie.
(1) Kathy Marchant works in Portland, OR . She has 12 week courses every few months and is available for group and individual work. She can be reached at the following: