More on Loved Ones who Seem Forever “Stuck” in their Story

(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.)

That last blog entry I wrote, “people telling their story more than you’d like” got me to thinking, and y’know thinking can be dangerous because you can get lost in thought and then where are you if your health insurance plan doesn’t cover a mental search and rescue mission?

But I think I found my way through the woods on this one. It was a long hike!

Have you ever read an article or book, or seen a movie or play, and you just didn’t like the story line? It seemed to go nowhere or was too confusing to follow, so you felt bored or annoyed because your needs for understanding or learning or excitement or fun were not met? What did you do? Probably put down the book or magazine, or walked out of the theater.

On the other hand, did you ever read a book or see a movie that was intriguing or touching, thrilling and tantalyzing, where you enjoyed the story because you identified strongly with the protagonist’s struggle, and you felt curious to see what happens next? You turned the pages excitedly or kept watching the movie to the very end and wished it would continue because you started to care for and root for the protagonist.

When someone close to us keeps telling us a personal story or drama that they seem caught up in, they may feel the same way about their story. They become deeply involved and attached to it, and anything we say, e.g. that it’s “just a story” or “a self-created drama”… anything we say that could be an evaluation or judgment of their precious story, when they hear that, they are likely to feel hurt and/or angry. They are likely to shut down on us.

Even though their story may be an outrageously frustrating or painful scenario, they see themselves as the protagonist, as the good guy, struggling against “evil.” As they tell you their story, notice how the tone is one of blame or finger-pointing. As they point the finger at what the other person(s) did to them or to their loved one…they are outraged. They needed some self-empathy in the moments when the story played out, but didn’t know how to give self-empathy. They also didn’t know how to empathize with the “bad” guys through the use of NVC language.

So…they tell you the painful story hoping to receive some compassionate understanding and empathy from you. They assume, since you know and love them, that you will identify with them as the good guy, the protagonist with a worthy struggle or cause. This is what’s going on consciously…they want empathy. They keep repeating this same old story, because their subconscious mind knows very well that empathy and healing can only happen by connecting with Source in the here and now (“Sourcery,” to quote Dr. Wayne Dyer). So they keep bringing the past drama into the now moment, searching desperately for empathy from someone, anyone! They don’t know how to access their own pure source of self-empathy, so they just keep the story on a loop, repeating it like someone with an addiction. They hope against hope that one of these times, they’ll tell the story and someone will give them some deep, pure empathy, and thereby help them to access their own deep empathy so they can start to heal. Then, finally, they won’t want to repeat the story anymore.

Notice how, as they tell the story repeatedly, they don’t acknowledge their own part in the drama? When they point a finger at all the “bad” guys in their story, there are 3 fingers pointing back at them. They tell themselves a false story about the “bad” guys and they harbor enemy images of them, which only intensifies the pain of their many unfulfilled, unmet needs.

We cannot force them to see the false stories they are telling themselves about the bad guys. We can only offer support by helping them to find the accurate words to express their feelings, and once that is done, we can help them get clear on their deeper needs.

If they are willing to go deeper into the truth, to dispel the false stories they are so attached to about the “bad” guys, we can help them to see what those guys may have been feeling and needing.

Then we can finally help them step off the page of the tiresome fictional story they were writing, back into the reality. The reality is that nobody is evil or bad, and everyone has some of the same universal human feelings and needs, and pain from unfulfilled needs. Then they might finally understand why we were so annoyed, tired or bored with their story, because it had no resolution to the protagonist’s torture. For us it was like seeing some heart-rending torture scenes repeatedly. Kind of like The Passion of the Christ, only they have cast themselves in the role of Jesus.

If, in talking with the “victim,” we say things like:

1. You’re stuck in victim consciousness
2. You’re caught up and lost in your self-created dramas
3. That is just story, complaining about it only makes you more miserable
4. You’re pointing fingers and playing the blame game when there are three fingers pointing back at you
5. You’re making them bad/wrong and making you good/right
6. You’re being harshly judgmental
7. You’re going on and on about this same old thing for weeks, months or years
8. You’re telling yourself a one-sided and thereby false story about the “bad” guys or enemies.

Any or all of these may have some truth to them, yet as Marshall points out, the storyteller is likely to hear judgment, evaluation, criticism or diagnosis in these comments. If he hears any of those, he will shut down. Your desire or need to offer insight and support may not be fulfilled by pointing out any of these things.

It’s more likely you’ll be able to help him by paraphrasing key points of the story back to him as accurately as you can, so he can see you are listening closely without judgment, evaluation, criticism or diagnosis. It may also help to offer insight and empathy by saying things like “So, you felt really hurt when you saw that happen! I wonder what you were needing at that moment…maybe some consideration or compassion? Maybe some understanding or kindness or courtesy?”

Another approach might sound like this:  “What would you have really liked for the other person(s) to have said in that situation?  What words or actions from them would have helped to meet your needs for respect, consideration, fairness? (or whatever other needs were unmet)  We can also ask them if they’d like to brainstorm about possible new creative strategies that may help to meet some of those needs now, or they may say that just getting a clear understanding of what was going on inside them is helpful enough for now.

Note from Steve: If you find this entry helpful, please let me know and I will follow up with more on the subject. Thank you for your readership and support!

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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