In my experience, most people (including myself) were not socially trained to express themselves with what they are actually feeling and needing – the language of feelings and needs is foreign. We often use the phrase “I feel like…” or “I feel that…” but in my experience, what follows is usually not a feeling, it’s an assessment of the situation. Our language is permeated with judgments of ourselves and others. Many of us are even taught that to have needs and express those needs is selfish, taught to please others (or conversely, take what you can while you can). Many of us are taught that a “win-lose” situation is all there is, that either I am giving and Other is taking (and I am good) or I am taking and Other is giving (and I am selfish.)
What I came to realize at my first NVC workshop was that it does not always have to be that way, that in dialogue, in relationship, there are ways in which both individuals are giving and receiving. I remember I was talking to one of the NVC trainers for at least 45 minutes during an exercise. He listened to me and offered me empathy while I vented topical frustrations until I was in touch with the root feelings and needs beneath my surface expressions of anger, that I was desperately longing for understanding, to be heard, and to be okay, to not be judged for how I was feeling and what I was needing. When Jesse (the trainer) made an empathy guess about what I was longing for, that it sounded like I was really wanting to be heard and to be okay, I broke down crying. Then I quickly cut myself off from being present with my feelings because I felt guilty for “using up so much time” in this small-group exercise.
When I expressed my anxiety to the trainer and a fellow participant, I was completely surprised to discover that both the trainer and observer were also benefiting, receiving from my exchange with the trainer. NVC can be a tranformative experience, a tongue for which to speak and an ear for which to hear in a connected manner. This is why my practice is so deeply rooted in NVC.