9: Who's Responsible For Your Feelings?
"What others say or do may be the stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause...Our feelings result from how we receive what others say and do, as well as from our particular needs and expectations in that moment." — Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication
For nonviolent or compassionate communication to occur, observation and expression of emotions aren't enough—we also need to communicate and take responsibility for our needs.
Here's an example of how it works:
1. This is an observation: "You didn't call last weekend."
2. This is how we express our emotions about what we've observed: "I feel hurt because you didn't call last weekend."
3. And this is how we acknowledge our own needs or expectations: "I feel hurt when you didn't call last weekend because I was hoping to talk to you and have been missing your company for weeks."
If we stop at #2, we would only be attributing our feelings solely to someone else's actions—as if saying, "If you didn't do this or if you only did this, I wouldn't be feeling this way!"
That's not taking responsibility for our own feelings at all!
But by expressing our needs and expectations and connecting it to our feelings as in #3, we are not blaming someone else's words or actions for how we felt. We are simply sharing what we felt and why we did, without attacking or blaming the other person. This makes way for compassionate communication.
"When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism. And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack.
If we wish for a compassionate response from others, it is self-defeating to express our needs by interpreting or diagnosing their behavior. Instead, the more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately.
If we express our needs, we have a better chance of getting them met. Unfortunately, most of us have never been thought to think in terms of needs. We are accustomed to thinking about what's wrong with other people when our needs aren't being fulfilled. Thus, if we want coats to be hung up in the closet, we may characterize our children as lazy for leaving them on the couch." — Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication
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