Meeting Violence with Nonviolence

(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. For information on services offered by Steve Pollack, please visit

In a sense, NVC could be compared to martial arts as a kind of verbal equivalent to Aikido. Aikido’s goal is the Way of unifying with life energy, or the Way of harmonious spirit. It enables one to defend himself while also compassionately protecting one’s attacker from injury. Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the physical force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on.

NVC achieves that blending, but not with the physical force of the attacker. Instead, NVC blends with the emotional and verbal momentum of the attacker by doing reflective listening, by receiving his emotional energy in an empathic way. This immediately shifts a victim’s perspective and attitude to one of compassion, and away from fear, anger and retaliation.

This shift is so potent that even while under threat of attack, the simple consciousness of compassion sometimes transports one’s attention to a profoundly empowering sense of universal compassion. That in itself is quite calming to an enraged attacker, and to the victim as well.

An angry verbal attack is usually full of judgments, demands and threats which may lead to physical violence. It’s reasonable to assume that the typical attacker has a number of painful feelings. He may be feeling exasperation, disgust, fear and rage. He may have these feelings as a direct result of unmet needs for respect, fairness, consideration, freedom, and connection with his family/community/society. He may even have unmet needs for food, shelter, medicine, or hope for a better life if he’s been struggling financially.

If the victim of his attack responds by feeling frightened, horrified, terrified or angry…those emotions may only feed the attacker’s rage, thereby fanning the fires, making violence more likely.

On the other hand, if the victim of the attack responds by shifting away from fear and into a consciousness of compassion…the attacker will energetically feel that shift. It can be made in a split second, and once it’s made, the energy of compassion will not feed the attacker’s rage or other painful emotions.

On the contrary, by helping to name what the attacker is feeling and needing, the victim will also help to calm and soothe the stimulated core of the attacker’s brain. This actually soothes the amygdala, which is the fight-or-flight portion of the brain.

If the victim responds with fear or anger, that will tend to further stimulate the basic-survival portion of the attacker’s brain. All knowledge and wisdom contained in the attacker’s cerebral cortex will be temporarily inaccessible or shut down. Anger “turns out the light of the mind” as it takes the entire cerebral cortex offline.

Responding to violent threats with NVC compassion and empathy is sometimes the most effective way to help a deeply distressed, angry attacker to gain perspective and to feel compassion for his victim. Studies of the brain have shown that naming his feelings and needs for him helps to calm the amygdala and bring his cerebral cortex back online.

As the attacker calms down, the victim may go further to make a request in simple, positive action language. If the request is made with respect, with fairness, with consideration and compassion for everyone concerned…then it may actually be helping to meet the attacker’s unmet needs for respect, fairness, consideration and compassion. The lack of these is what possibly triggered the attack in the first place.

For information on services offered by Steve Pollack, please visit

Visiting the Miami area? You can attend Steve’s NVC Support Group by leaving your rsvp here:

About swpollack

I’m an independent mediator and collaborative communication coach who can help you to co-create greater ease, connection and mutual understanding in your personal and professional relationships. As a non-traditional specialist, my aim is to get concrete results for my clients in a fraction of the time usually required by traditional therapy and counseling. Please visit my business website: . The emotion-based coaching work I do is deeply therapeutic, yet I am neither a psychologist nor a psychotherapist. Instead I work with a holistic, empathic process called compassionate, nonviolent communication. I also facilitate ongoing support groups for people who want to learn this organic process of nonjudgmental communication to help build bridges of connection, harmony, collaboration and understanding. For more about my Build Compassionate Relationships meetup group, visit: . I’ve been offering these services to the public since 2000 in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, as well as by phone and through Skype conferencing. . Nonviolent Communication is a process developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It’s based on a very pure, nonjudgmental language of feelings, needs and requests. I’ve found this to be a powerful tool in my mediation work which involves bringing two or more people together despite a painful history of conflict.
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