(Note: NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a fluid, ever-evolving language process created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, and is based on universal human feelings and needs, the giving of empathy and making humble requests rather than demands.)
I’d like to stretch the analogy one more time between dog training… and dealing with furious, vicious jackals. Remember that in NVC terminology, a jackal is that voice in our mind which judges others or ourselves harshly and often quite angrily.
In an episode of Cesar Milan: The Dog Whisperer, Mr. Milan takes it upon himself to approach an extremely vicious dog in the owner’s backyard. He succeeds in connecting with the dog, and gives it the understanding and empathy it needed in order to relax into a calm, submissive state. He did, however, sustain a bite wound to the hand in the process.
It seems to me that a dog only becomes that violent if it has not received enough understanding, empathy and guidance from the pack leader (the owner) for many months or years.
We all have our own hot buttons that trigger vicious jackal attacks in our minds. These buttons didn’t get so explosively hot overnight, just as the internal jackals didn’t get so frustrated after just one incident. It’s probably due to years or even decades of ignoring or “shutting up” our jackals. Some quiet their painful jackal emotions by turning to alcohol or drugs. Others may do it in an organic way, by engaging in strenuous physical workouts, Tai Chi, Qigong, meditation, etc. These practices may be very supportive and healthful ways to regain balance, yet if used to ignore or neglect emotional wounds, they may come with a price down the road.
Eventually, our jackals need to be addressed. Ignore a jackal long enough, and it may get frustrated, desperate and livid. The image of Sigourney Weaver comes to mind as she faced highly aggressive aliens in the movie by the same name. Sigourney’s character had a powerful gun to defend herself. When we face a desperate, vicious jackal, we have no guns. Our only super-weapon is conscious empathy or compassion. You might also call it love or understanding. We can recharge or reload our super-weapon through practices such as meditation, wherein we get in touch with the aliveness of compassion within our heart and soul.
It may be extremely difficult and trying to give loving attention, empathy, compassion or understanding to a screaming, howling jackal that is right in your face. Instead, it seems easier and less scary to give in to our jackals and lash out angrily at the “enemy,” i.e., whoever or whatever seems to be triggering our pain. The jackals tell us that causing pain to the person who is “causing” our pain will force them to understand and to have mercy on us.
This may work temporarily but it will never help the so-called enemy to give us the empathy and compassion we yearn for on a deeper level.
Going back to Cesar Milan, it seems to me he gives tough love to dogs he doesn’t even know. He approaches them with extreme bravery, as a sort of top dog, head of the pack. He lets the vicious dog know by his very presence, by his very consciousness and demeanor that he is in control now, and it’s okay to stop howling, barking and seething. He does not back down from the vicious dog no matter how loud it protests, and may take a bite wound in the process, but he does connect with that dog. The transformation in the dog’s behavior takes only a matter of minutes or even seconds, even though he’s never met the dog before.
We, on the other hand, know our jackals well. They are products of our mind and emotions. Some call them negative thought-forms. They’ve howled at us many times. They may frighten us terribly, they may even disturb or harm us emotionally with their intensely aggressive energy. But if we really listen to their original message, that there is a painfully unmet need we have, then we can begin to find strategies to begin to meet that need.
That is how we can connect with our internal jackals, and actually benefit from their harsh voices. They are only looking after our unmet needs. Like dogs, they are happiest when they serve to help and support us.