Applying Nonviolent Communication Within Ourselves: An Excerpt From The Nonviolent Communication Training Course by Marshall Rosenberg

To Marshall Rosenberg, nonviolent communication is more than just a way of speaking and listening—it is a way of deepening our connection with our own compassionate nature. An internationally renowned peacemaker and teacher, Rosenberg has dedicated his life to studying the power of words, and how language can be shaped to allow our natural compassion to flourish. To better relate to others with generosity and kindness, he suggests we examine how we speak to ourselves. In this excerpt from The Nonviolent Communication Training Course, he examines how our own self-talk shapes who we are.


The most crucial application of Nonviolent Communication (or NVC) may be the way we treat ourselves. When we make mistakes, we can use the process of NVC for self-forgiveness to show us where we can grow instead of getting caught up in self-judgments. A basic premise of NVC is that whenever we make a judgment that someone else is “wrong” or “bad,” the underlying truth is that the person's actions are not in harmony with our needs.

We judge ourselves in the same way. It seems odd, but each of us harbors many depths and complex motivations. It's often not immediately clear to us what has influenced us to act the way we do. I am convinced that we learn a lot more about ourselves when we get in touch with our needs and values, and see how our actions do or do not meet them.

We often act in ways that we regret. When we do, our best approach is not to react with shame or self-hatred, but to turn inwards and ask ourselves with compassion: “When I behaved in the way that I now regret, what need was I trying to meet?”

I believe that human beings are always acting in the service of needs and values. This is true whether the action does or does not ultimately meet the need. When we listen to ourselves with openness and empathy, we will be able to hear the underlying need.

Self-forgiveness occurs at the moment this empathic connection is made. Then we are able to recognize how our choice was an attempt to serve our need. Our challenge, then, is to evaluate ourselves moment by moment in a way that inspires change—out of respect and compassion for ourselves rather than out of guilt, self-hatred, or shame.

An important aspect of self-compassion is to be able to empathically hold both parts of ourselves—the self that regrets the past action, and the self that took the action in the first place. The process of self-forgiveness frees us in the direction of learning and growing. In connecting to our authentic needs, we increase our creative capacity to act in harmony with them.

One critical way we can use to cultivate self-compassion is by consciously choosing in daily life to act only in service to our own needs and values, rather than out of the perception of duty, for extrinsic rewards, or to avoid guilt, shame, or punishment. If we review the joyless acts to which we currently subject ourselves and make the transition from “have to” to “choose to,” we will discover more play and integrity to our lives.

Exercise: Translating “Have To” to “Choose To”

  • What do you do in your life that you don't experience as joyful? List all of those things that you tell yourself you have to do, any activity you dread but do anyway because you perceive yourself to have no choice.
  • After completing the list, clearly acknowledge to yourself that you are doing these things because you choose to do them, not because you have to. Insert the words “I choose to…” in front of each item you listed.
  • After having acknowledged that you chose to do a particular activity, get in touch with the intention behind the choice by completing the statement “I choose to…. because I want…”
  • As you explore the statement “I choose to… because I want to…” you may discover important values behind the choices you've made. I am convinced that after we gain clarity regarding the needs being served by our actions, we can experience them as play even when they involve hard work, challenge, or frustration.
  • After examining the list of items you have generated, you may decide to stop doing certain things. As radical as it seems, it is possible to do things only out of joy. I believe that to the degree that we engage moment by moment in the playfulness of enriching life—motivated solely by the desire for its enrichment—we are to an equal degree being compassionate with ourselves.
Marshall Rosenberg

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Marshall Rosenberg has initiated peace programs in war torn areas including Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, Serbia, Croatia, and Ireland. A clinical psycholo...

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