At a recent gathering of my NVC practice/support group, the subject of grown children came up. Trying to get them to call more often seems to be a sort of lost cause. I often hear people say that if you have kids, then you understand. This NVC just won’t work on them. It won’t work with them, not now, not ever.
Remember, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg did have children of his own. After they were grown, he still reached out to them at times in this compassionate way. Sometimes he managed to meet more needs that way, other times perhaps not so much.
While I have no children, I do have four nieces and nephews, fully grown, two with their own young children. I have seen some changes in their phone calling patterns since I began speaking in a more NVC way to them about my feelings and needs. Before that, I figured it was just another lost cause because they’re all grown up.
Is it really a lost cause, though?
One niece used to insist she will only look at text messages from me. No phone calls. Then we had two or three email exchanges and talks about our feelings and needs. Over the course of several years (not days, weeks or months, but years), and with some humble, heartfelt requests from yours truly, I did get some needs met. Now I do receive the occasional call from her. What’s more, if I need to talk with her briefly, she will actually answer her cell phone if she’s available. Yes, it’s amazing, I know.
Of course it can be even harder with grown kids who are not nieces or nephews. I won’t deny that is true. But let’s try to remember that NVC is not about making a technique or a process “work” on anyone. It’s not about managing or controlling other people’s behaviors. What it is truly about is standing in your truth, and sharing it in a compassionate way. Being vulnerable, over and over again, for minutes, months or years, however long it takes. Realizing that you are never more powerful than when you find the courage to be vulnerable by standing in your truth.
“Truth is above all, but higher still is true living.”
— Sant Kirpal Singh Ji
What tends to happen is we forget that NVC is about self-expression and then listening carefully to the response. Even a “no” response is a gift because it reveals the person has other unmet needs.
Deep NVC, which is a more advanced practice, is an adventure. It involves taking that journey to the tender places deep in our heart of hearts. It challenges us to express openly from there. It’s not about expecting anyone to change their personality or character or even their behavior. By reaching out from the heart, we start to build a bridge, a connection that goes from heart to heart.
Many times people will not respond at all; they may ignore you. If you persist, they may resort to laughing at your efforts, calling them ridiculous. If you press on, they may resent or even fight you. Ask yourself which of these stages do you find most closely matches your situation?
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” –Mahatma Gandhi
If we want that connection enough, we don’t have to give up. We may choose to give up at times, naturally. Another choice is to stand in our vulnerable truth, expressing it openly, yet tenderly, from time to time. That will sometimes soften even the busiest, most businesslike person. Even those who insist they just don’t have the time or interest or desire to talk and connect with you.
I do agree with people when they say it won’t work with this grown child or that one. It simply won’t “work” on anyone if the intention is to change the person or their behavior on our timetable. If that’s the intention, then we’re not truly practicing NVC at all.
When we just give up totally on someone, we sometimes tend to slip into judgment mode. That’s what I did with my niece. I judged her as being uncaring and distant emotionally. I judged her as too caught up in the world of work and her own family and friends. I judged her as someone who could forget the special bond we’d forged together over so many years of her childhood. Those judgments only intensified the pain of my unmet needs… needs for connection and care, for love and affection.
So I kept trying. I recall once writing to her, “I’m just not willing to give up on you.”
Remember, the moment we slip into judgmental/jackal thoughts (which is only human and not a wrong thing to do) we also intensify the pain of our unmet needs. Judgmental thoughts are natural; they are part of the whole process of NVC. But staying in those thoughts is painfully counterproductive. Those thoughts keep us in the right/wrong paradigm.
One of the first things we learn about NVC is that, like Rumi, we aspire to meet up beyond all ideas of right and wrong. We long to meet in that sweet and tender field of spiritual consciousness.
Of course we won’t always land there with ease. It takes some deep self-introspection to get to that tender place in our own heart. Then it takes still more outreach work to let the other person see the beauty of our universal human needs. To make it attractive to them is not always easy, yet it can happen. And it’s not always by way of a miracle; it’s just one open heart reaching out to another. That’s the seemingly miraculous power of pure, unconditional love.
I urge you to realize when you’re feeling discouraged–when you’re about to give up on someone–before you think it’s totally hopeless. A Facebook post once said “That’s the thing about giving up, you usually don’t realize you’ve given up until it’s already happened. Then it’s too late.”
I’ve found that it’s not always too late. There’s an old BeeGees song, How Deep Is Your Love? That’s the question to ask yourself. Dig a little deeper into your heart of hearts. Communicate from there with no expectation of “results” or “effectiveness” or of a technique “working” on someone. Do it repeatedly, whenever you find the energy, the hope, the inspiration or faith.
In some instances, you may not get all your unmet needs met. Even so, you’ll know that you stood in your truth vulnerably, powerfully. You’ll know you gave your loved ones every single opportunity you possibly could.