(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 make an extensive analogy, comparing dogs to our inner jackals, so please bear with me on this…
A wild jackal looks to me kind of like a fox crossed with a small dog. Whenever I think of jackals attacking, I tend to picture angry dogs. I happen to be a dog lover myself, but have you ever noticed how many people who love their dogs, seem to have little or no control when it comes to the dog’s behavior? Their dogs sometimes seem anxious, frustrated or hostile, barking at other dogs and people, and sometimes even biting. The owner shouts the dog’s name in a harsh, stressed tone, hoping this will bring about the desired behavior. All the dog hears is his own name in a strong tone of voice, and for all we know, this may be simply reinforcing his self-identity with the aggressive, unwanted behaviors. Some resort to hitting their dogs, which may stop the behavior for the moment, but often intensifies it in the long term.
According to Cesar Milan of the TV series, The Dog Whisperer, the need dogs have for safety and security is met only when they perceive their owner as being calm, assertive, and in control. When we let dogs run ahead of us on a leash, they think we are putting them in charge of safety and security, thus the barking and aggressive behavior.
Many dog owners who struggle in this way insist that they’ve tried training their dog, but it didn’t work, or the dog was not responsive or smart enough. I wonder if they were persistent and consistent in the training process. Training requires time, patience, and effort. Some lose patience or simply are not willing to dedicate the time.
Internal “jackals,” in NVC, are those harsh, angry, barking or howling voices we hear when we judge or criticize ourselves or others. Some spiritual teachers might call it the ego, the egoic mind, or the reactive mind. We tend to hear those voices when someone says or does something we don’t like, and some of our universal human needs are not fulfilled. We then have angry, hostile thoughts, blaming ourselves or others–or the universe at large–for not meeting our needs and wants.
We can train ourselves–our minds–to become fully aware of the dynamics of our own internal jackals. Through developing our emotional intelligence and insight, we can grow to understand why the jackals howl so loudly. By understanding them, we can harness their intense energy toward a desired end of truthful communication with ourselves and others. If we don’t persist in training ourselves–and this training is a lifelong process–we are more likely to suffer from what I call extreme “jackal attacks.”
A jackal attack can be mild, where we observe someone say or do something we don’t like, and we just hear one or two judgmental thoughts about them. An attack can also be severe, where we fly into an internal rage, and possibly express it by yelling furious words at others. You could resort to self-punishment, by “jackaling” or criticizing yourself for having lost control over such painful emotions. Scientific studies have shown that self-punishment may only weaken our willpower to do better next time. A Topical Currents interview show on National Public Radio explains why self-flagellation weakens the desired behavior. It features Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal:
One of my NVC coworkers, Stephanie King, has shared insights on what happens to trigger a jackal attack. She writes, “Looking for the word that fits that experience of reactivity to what another says or does has intrigued me. Pema Chodron calls it being hooked. Others call it being lost in projection. Cheri Huber settles for pure description, ‘When I hear……., I tell myself……, and feel……..’ It is quite provocative to look for names for that runaway train sensation. Sometimes I tell myself, ‘Oops — I just hopped the train to jackal town.’ Sometimes I say to myself ‘Judgment alert, judgment alert….’ The important moment for me is the moment of recognition that I am in a state of dis-ease and I need to stop what I am doing and attend to it.”
When a dog barks or bays loudly, we may instinctively feel frightened. Same thing may happen when one of our internal jackals begins to howl intensely in pain, so we may try to hush it up or sweep it under the rug. Yet that is the crucial moment to pay close attention. Not the time to judge the jackal, or to slap it down or hush it up. That’s the time to look closely at the painful feeling that arose because your human needs were not being met. If you train yourself to do that, then your jackals are serving their purpose. The more you respond in that emotionally connected way, the more your jackals will trust you, and the less they will think they must howl wildly to get you to protect yourself.
It’s a lot like training a pet dog. For a human being to train his or her own mind to understand the howling of internal jackals is a lot of work and repeated effort. Some insist that they’ve tried to retrain themselves, but it didn’t work. I wonder if they were persistent and consistent in the self-training process. I wonder if they knew all the specific NVC training and reading materials and classes that are available nowadays (see my recent post about this). Training requires time, patience, and effort. Some lose patience or simply are not willing to dedicate the time.
I hope you will find a way to dedicate the time to this work. After all, internal jackals, like pet dogs, can be your best friends.
In my next entry, I’ll talk about vicious jackal attacks that are so overwhelming, we feel too afraid to even deal with them.