Stories and feelings

One of the lessons I continue to learn from the practice of NVC is that there is an important difference between things we feel and things we imagine. For example, “abandoned” is not a feeling, it’s a story thought up to retroactively explain why you might be feeling the way you’re feeling—which might be afraid, or jealous, or frustrated. But “abandoned” is not something that can come from within your own mind; it exists in someone else. So when I say “I feel abandoned”, I’m not communicating what my needs are: I’m making a judgement and an accusation. I’m saying, “you abandoned me”, which may or may not be the case, but it is bound to provoke defensiveness and combative behaviour.

Focusing on what the feelings are and ignoring the accusations we’re so eager to jump to is a step toward actually addressing the underlying issue. When I focus on what I’m feeling—afraid, perhaps—the natural thing to do next is look to the need I have that isn’t being met. In this case, perhaps I have a need for stability that isn’t being met. Once I’ve identified that, it’s really easy for me to fall back into an accusatory thought pattern, usually preceded by “because you…”, but that’s a trap. Instead, I want to formulate a request, something specific I want the other person to do so that my need will be met.

Separating what comes from within my own mind from the way I imagine the world to be has been a hugely powerful tool for understanding what my own needs are. I’ve also found the CNVC’s needs inventory and feelings inventory to be immensely valuable.

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