One of my favourite things to do is peruse local thrift stores for books. I am a self-professed book junky. I consistently I have more books than my measly bookshelf can hold, which leads me to pile books on my desk, dresser, and floor. Yep, I have a problem. I was looking for books in one of my favourite thrift stores and I found this gem: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg.
What is “nonviolent communication”? Rosenberg defines nonviolent communication (or NVC) as “a way of communicating that allows us to give from the heart”. At first, I thought this was some airy, fairy idea. I mean, come on, it sounded more like a way of sappy communication. It didn’t seem like it was for me. However, as someone who is known for historically being a poor communicator, though I’ve made big strides in this area, I decided I should give it a shot.
I have to be honest: this is one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time! I never knew that it was possible to clearly get right down to the bottom of my feelings, why I truly felt that way, and to be able to authentically express it to another person without them feeling attacked, judged, blamed, or discouraged. I also never realized that that there was a way to interact with other humans without constantly casting judgement on them (even just in my mind) wherever I go. It sounds -duh- so obvious, but how many people actually live their lives without judging or blaming the people around them? Not very many (myself included).
NVC basically comes down to being able to observe a situation, discover how we feel in relation to that situation, the needs and desires that are creating those feelings, and concrete actions other people can take in order to enrich our lives. It sounds convoluted or maybe too difficult to apply in every day life, but Rosenberg does a great job at giving practical applications for NVC.
The other thing that I love about this book is that it doesn’t just focus on expressing our own individual feelings and needs to another. In reverse, it’s about truly understanding the feelings and needs of others and responding with empathy. It’s also about being able to express our feelings and needs to ourselves and being able to give ourselves understanding. Not only is it important to have empathy for others, but I think a lot of people lack empathy for themselves. I think this is a large part of why depression is so rampant in our society. We judge, and blame, and hurt ourselves thinking that this will motivate us to gain the life we’ve always wanted, but instead it leaves us feeling worthless and downtrodden.
I’ve also experienced NVC at work in my own life. I have more empathy for others, even if they are communicating to me in an unhealthy way. One person, in particular, is notorious for coming at me with judgement and blame, but I’ve now been able to look past it and see the needs behind her expression without excusing her behaviour, of course.
Also, this has helped me in my relationship with my boyfriend. As I’m sure he would say, I am an emotional, sensitive woman. None of these things are bad, per say, but I tend to get upset about things more easily. While he and I never have major conflict, we do have miscommunication here and there. Yesterday was one of those days and he said something that hurt me without meaning to. (He’s a very loving and kind man who would never say anything on purpose to hurt me.) I was feeling upset about it, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was bothering me, so I decided to use my NVC skills. I recognized what he said, clearly identified how it made me feel, and looked at my unmet needs that were creating those feelings. Boom. It all became clear. I was able to use all that information to clearly, and lovingly, express to my boyfriend what was going on. Our conflict has always ended well, but I felt especially good knowing that I was able to express myself without making the situation worse.
There’s so much more that Rosenberg talks about, too much for me to write down here, so I would highly encourage you to read this book. It has truly revolutionized how I see communication with others and with myself. Hopefully I can become an nonviolent communication expert, strengthen my relationships, and encourage myself and others.