Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication or NVC for short) has profoundly changed my life or rather the way I experience my life – the quality of my relationships in my family, at work and in my community. This way of communicating has also given me hope, hope for a more peaceful future and easier solutions to the challenges we face in the world today.
My journey into NVC really began with my son. From an early age, he was fiercely independent and what I then labelled as extremely bossy. People told me his bossiness showed future leadership tendencies but living with him felt like living with a little dictator. At five, he told me “mummy, when I grow up, I’m going to be the government and I’m going to ban people from cutting down trees”. We live in an Ecovillage and my son often contemplates world problems like poverty and deforestation and comes up with ideas to solve them. So on one hand I felt greatly encouraged that this future leader was wanting to solve pressing world problems. On the other hand, he seemed to think and function as though he was the centre of the universe and everyone had to do as he wished. We parented him as best we could but used quite a bit of coercion and threat to get him to conform to the daily routines of bedtime and school life.
As our younger daughter (a more compliant people-pleaser) grew out of babyhood and into being the younger sister and playmate, I painfully witnessed the results of our parenting being mirrored in how our son was communicating with his sister. I realised that if he really was going to grow up and be the government and help to solve the world’s problems, I would rather try to foster a democratic leader than a dictator and therefore, I needed to change my communication style so I booked myself into a foundation training weekend in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) at the Relaxation Centre in Brisbane with NVC trainer Cate Crombie (metacommunicate.com).
In that first course, I had two big awakenings – one was the realisation that I had needs and that I was seriously disconnected from them. I barely understood what words like connection and belonging meant but I knew that I desperately wanted more of them in my life. But an even bigger “Ah Hah!” for me was that I realised I had been focusing on what I wasn’t getting in my life and what was wrong with everything and everyone: the things my husband wasn’t doing, the friends that I thought were leaving me out of social activities, what my children were doing wrong, what I wasn’t getting in life.
By exploring universal human needs like love, connection, intimacy, fun, creativity and belonging, and working out how to increase their presence in my life in concrete ways, life began to change and at 45 I felt joy for the first time in my life. I also discovered that the more I nourished myself through self-empathy, the more love and connection I could give to my family and friends.
I learnt to communicate with my heart and with vulnerability, to let go of resentment and wanting people to read my mind, to stop analysing, judging and criticising. One day, early in my NVC journey, frustrated with the grind of modern life, full time jobs, little children and our mismatched schedules of work and sleep, I was trying to express a desire for more connection with my husband but I had lost my new found NVC communication style and slipped back into old ways. He was defensive and angry. I asked him to reflect back to me what he had heard me say. He said, “Once again you are the school teacher, I’m the student and I’m being scolded for all the things I’m doing wrong.” (our strength is our weakness and as a teacher, it’s very easy for me to slip into trying to educate people).
I took a deep breath and asked him what he thought I was feeling. “Sad” he replied and suddenly everything shifted. We were in our hearts. I could express what I truly wanted and I felt deeply heard and understood. It was a huge turning point for us.
NVC also helps us to hear the feelings and needs of other people no matter how they are communicating. Exploring the universal human needs, I realised that one of my husband’s core needs is Autonomy – the freedom to make his own choices and do things his own way in his own time. This helped me to understand why he heard my requests as demands and not to react when he called me controlling or demanding. I discovered that when I voiced my need for support or connection instead of just making a request, he was much happier to do the things I was asking because he could understand why.
In our family, slowly we are learning to own our feelings and to ask for what we want rather than to criticise and accuse and expect the other person to know what we need. A few months ago, my husband turned to me with a huge smile on his face and said “I feel free.”. Our children love what NVC has brought into our lives. When I’m losing it (peace and transformation is a lifelong process), the kids will say “that’s the mummy from before NVC!”. Slowly we are all learning to blame less, to judge less, to ask more, to express more. And “our son the tyrant” is becoming “our son the democratic leader” – learning that when he’s inclusive and considers everyone’s needs, he gets more cooperation, more willingness, and more positive reception.
My relationships with family and friends now feel more nourishing, deeper, and more real. NVC has given me the communication tools to have hard conversations, to become a better listener to my friends and children, and to express more clearly what I need and want in my life in a peaceful, inclusive and positive way. So this is just one family’s experience. We’re still learning, we stuff up, we slip into old ways but we’re growing and it’s getting easier. Love, joy, fun and hope are increasing day by day.