(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.)
At a recent support group gathering, I witnessed so much courage as we delved into real-life relationship challenges that may be a bit scary to reveal in a group setting. Afterward, I felt inspired to share some anonymous insights on the subject of how our loved ones may sometimes get caught up in “story,” and what is needed to help them (or us) out of it.
We talked about living and being in the now moment, and how it is possible to bring anything from the past or future into the now moment to discuss the past or make plans for the future. If that is done consciously by choice, for some purpose or reason, then there is nothing un-spiritual about it. If it is done unconsciously and beyond our control, to the point where we focus more time and attention on the past than we’d like to… If dwelling in the past interferes with our life in the now, or if it stresses our current relationships, then it may be our desperate cry for deep empathy and support.
It is probable that many people, (many of us even), sometimes get “stuck” in a story from the past. It is likely that they keep bringing it into the now moment by talking about it repeatedly, because they sense deep down that the empathy they seek is only available in the here and now. Only I’d like to change that spelling: the empathy they seek is only in the “hear” and now. They are longing to be really, deeply, empathically heard, right now. “Hear” me now, please, someone! Like that song, “Stand by me, stand by me, won’t you stand by me?”
The reason we don’t feel inspired to give them empathy is an evaluative story we’ve been telling ourselves. Namely, that story is “Oh, this person is so stuck in their story, why don’t they just let it go and get over it?” “This person is such a chronic complainer.” Labeling them as stuck is a subtle sort of evaluation or even judgment, even if it is true, it is a diagnosis of sorts. Marshall suggests that even the word “complain” is a judgmental word.
So it may be our own jackal stories from the past that keep us unable or unwilling to give the pure empathy the storyteller is so desperate for.
Due to this story we keep telling ourselves from our own past, we feel tired and disgusted, unwilling to give empathy. We can then tend to our own needs for rest, relief, space, peace and quiet.
There is nothing wrong with that, or with any of it, actually. In NVC consciousness, there is only observation of what is, and the feelings and needs. Even painful feelings, even jackal stories and harsh judgments are not wrong. Not wrong at all, it’s just that criticism and diagnoses are less likely to help us fulfill needs and contribute to well-being.
We don’t *have* to do anything. We are not required to do anything in the “correct” NVC way. The ideal NVC way is a fluid, organic energy that molds itself to each new situation in the hear and now. We may hear someone “complain” or “bore us with their old story” dozens of times, and we may choose to take a break from that.
Then, one day, we don’t know exactly why, we may hear them in the hear and now, without seeing it all through the jackal lenses. Then we may be fully present to our own deepest, innermost self, which is a wellspring of natural empathy. We can have empathy for ourselves, for all the times we suffered the boredom of unwanted stories, and yet still have and give empathy for the storyteller.
We might paraphrase and reflect a few key points of the story back to them, and ask if we’re hearing them correctly. Once they see we are really hearing them, we might then ask them if we can help them to look behind the painful feelings to see what the unmet needs were. And then if they are willing to go even deeper, we might ask them how they might imagine ways in which these deeper needs could be fulfilled in the future. If they can’t fulfill those needs through other people in the outside world, they may be able to find fulfillment inwardly through breathing or meditating. Sometimes they will not be at all ready or willing to hear strategies, in which case we can always ask them next time if they are ready.
Sometimes they are eager to hear our suggestions, our helpful strategies and ideas about how to resolve the issue. If our ideas don’t appeal to them, or they don’t work for them, and we just don’t have any more strategic ideas to offer, we can be truthful with them and ourselves, and ask if they can find another source of support. There’s nothing more exhausting and frustrating than trying to give pure empathy when we are actually needing a lot of it ourselves.
Hope I didn’t use more words than you were willing to read, to share my views and insights on this very profound subject from chapter 7.