I immersed myself in NVC training, attending a couple of retreats that were more than a week long, including one lead by the developer of NVC, Marshall Rosenberg. This year, i started out as part of a year-long program to deepen my NVC skills and be supported by a community to launch my wise livelihood. Or so i thought. It turned out differently, possibly because i was looking for something in that program that it didn’t even mean to offer. Or because we are all so removed from the experience of community that we think spending an hour on the phone every once in a while is community. Either way, i dropped out of the program in April after some agonizing and painful decision making.
And then i somehow got stuck. Possibly triggered by the undertreated hypothyroidism, i ended up in depression. As i was grappling with my inner malaise, i stumbled again on meditation and Tara Brach‘s teachings in particular. It was immensely healing and through a regular mindfulness practice i am slowly regaining my inner balance.
The more i learned about meditation, the more i began to wonder: Is there something in Nonviolent Communication that got me stuck, that contributed to the rumination cycle i landed in during the summer?
Today, i got a quote that seems to point to an answer:
Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit, talk about your joys.
– Rita Schiano
The NVC retreats were filled with tears and supposedly healing – and yet, it seemed like i wasn’t the only one who got stuck, somehow working on the same underlying belief again and again and again and again. I cannot remember much talk about our joys, though we were encouraged to share celebrations, most of us shared mournings.
It seems that there is a different approach to beliefs between NVC and meditation. Both approaches teach that our current situations are influenced by what happened to us in the past, especially beliefs that formed during childhood that helped us adjust to an imperfect world that is often very normative. The beliefs reflect cultural pressure to conform to – with the threat of not being worthy of love and belonging otherwise, which, when internalized, turns into an ever-present sense of shame.
How we deal with these beliefs differs greatly, though. In NVC, we look at the belief and spend considerable amount of time and energy to understand it – what are the underlying feelings & needs? – with the ultimate goal to heal it by transforming it. Through mindfulness meditation, i have learned to recognize a belief as just something the mind produces – and i can chose not to believe it. The important thing is to develop enough awareness to recognize when i am acting out of the belief so that i can come back into choice.
And that’s why NVC can get us stuck: We cannot heal a belief like “there is something wrong with me” because there is so much reinforcing it in our culture (just turn on the TV and watch some ads!). No matter how often we try to reframe it, how much we see the underlying longing for love in it. There actually is something wrong with me by cultural standards: I am not married and i left my well-paying corporate job! I do not conform and that is often punished by withholding love or approval. That’s how normative cultures are reinforced. So, i got stuck in a loop of recognizing the belief and working with it through NVC, filling miles of journal paper. With meditation, i learn to recognize the belief and then realize that i don’t have to believe it. I don’t give the belief any weight – or not anymore than i give my sweat (i think it was Tara who likened the mind’s habit to produce thoughts to the sweat glands to produce sweat – this is just how it evolved). There’s nothing to figure out. The belief is there, it’s wrong, and i can move on. Or to put it differently: In NVC, i learned to take a belief seriously; in meditation, i learned to laugh at it.
Now, honestly, i am not entirely clear if this is how it works. It just seems that it explains my experience better than anything else i’ve come up with. Others might have different experiences and i want to put this out here to raise some awareness around a potential side-effect of using NVC – at least as the healing modality it has turned into. I still find NVC very useful when it comes to untangling needs and strategies (like the idea that being in a couple is the only way i can be loved). I have become rather cautious, though, about using it to move beyond the good-girl-habit and attain inner freedom. For that, mindfulness seems to be a more radical approach – radical in the sense that it goes to the root.
What do others think, especially those of you who have experience with both NVC and meditation? Am i onto something or am i missing something? Or both? 😉