In the blog post series “AI explains NVC“, Joachim Berggren (JB) asks questions about NVC to Alex Incognito (AI), a fictional character representing Artificial Intelligence in the form of the tool ChatGPT.
JB: Hi Alex! After asking you questions and receiving answers about the four components of NVC, I now move on to questions about how we can use these components in communication. In relation to ourselves and others, we can basically direct our attention in four different ways. We can focus on what’s alive within ourselves, in silence or verbally. And we can focus on what’s alive in others, silently or verbally. In this blog post, I begin to ask how we can take care of ourselves when our needs are not being met.
From an NVC perspective, can you describe the concept of self-empathy?
AI: Self-empathy is a key component of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) that involves turning our compassionate attention inward, towards ourselves. It involves becoming aware of and understanding our own feelings and needs with the same level of care and empathy that we would offer to others.
In NVC, self-empathy is seen as an essential part of effective communication, as it helps us to communicate more authentically, to make clear and honest requests, and to better meet our own needs. It also allows us to cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance, and to develop greater resilience and emotional well-being.
To practice self-empathy, we can begin by:
- Becoming aware of our own feelings and needs. This involves taking the time to identify and acknowledge our own emotions and the underlying needs that are driving them.
- Offering ourselves compassionate understanding. This involves treating ourselves with the same kindness and compassion that we would offer to a close friend. We can offer ourselves words of comfort and support, and validate our own experiences.
- Focusing on self-connection rather than self-judgment. Instead of judging or criticizing ourselves, we can focus on connecting with ourselves and our own needs. We can offer ourselves empathy and understanding, and work towards finding solutions that meet our own needs in a compassionate way.
- Practicing self-care. This involves taking care of ourselves in a way that honors our own needs and values, such as taking time for rest and relaxation, engaging in activities that bring us joy, or seeking support from others when needed.
By practicing self-empathy, we can develop a greater sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance, and cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships with ourselves and others.
JB: Thank you so much Alex! I like the way you describe how we both can receive ourselves with empathy as well as practise self-care through specific actions. It broadens the concept of self-empathy to also include concrete requests for doable strategies to ourselves. Self-empathy is thus not only about receiving ourselves with compassionate understanding.
Our inner critical voices
You write that ”Instead of judging or criticizing ourselves, we can focus on connecting with ourselves and our own needs.” I would like to add that our inner critical voices, our self-judgments, have a good purpose. Just as all actions humans perform are attempts to fulfil needs, our inner voices are also attempts to do the same.
Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, wrote somewhere that the uglier the judgment is, the more beautiful the need behind it. Listening to our judgments can therefore be a rich source of discovering our needs. Instead of trying to silence our inner critic, by, for example, thinking “positively”, we can make use of the voice inside to detect what we value and long for.
When we are in touch with the beautiful needs behind our self-judgments, we gain more perspective on the event that stimulated our inner critical voices. Because there are countless ways to meet needs, we now have greater freedom. Instead of being hard and beating ourselves up through self-criticism, we have access to several choices. Some of these choices are the following:
- We can mourn that our needs have not been met in the ways we wanted.
- We can be in touch with the needs within us that are activated, with acceptance, without striving to change anything.
- We can make requests
- to ourselves, or
- to others
to potentially fulfil the needs we are longing for.
Moving out of passiveness
When we get triggered and start ruminating about our emotions, it’s usually connected to feelings springing out of unmet needs. We may feel sorry for ourselves or that others are to blame for how we feel. A tendency many have is to consider ourselves as victims. We allow ourselves to be passively controlled by our emotions and tend to act emotionally. It can be nice for the moment but rarely leads to constructive results.
With the help of NVC, we can connect our feelings to our needs and thus become more easily motivated to act to meet them. Sometimes we also need to mourn that events did not turn out as we expected. Instead of dwelling on our feelings, we can mourn our needs that are currently not being met. We then have an easier time finding alternative strategies that can meet our needs.
By connecting our feelings to our needs, we also find it easier to learn and grow from our experiences. We then have a potentially easier time making more constructive choices in the future.
Connecting to our life force
When we are self-critical and judgmental towards ourselves, it also becomes more difficult for us to respond to others with empathy. We can learn and change our behaviour by being motivated by shame and guilt or other feelings. However, the risk is great that we disconnect ourselves from our inner life force. Others will consciously or unconsciously notice that we don’t act out of our joy to contribute.
If we instead are in touch with our needs and our inner drive, we are motivated by enriching life, regardless of whether we act to meet our own needs or those of others. Both ourselves and others will experience our joy in contributing and we reduce the risk of others hearing demands when we express ourselves.
External and internal stimuli
I have a follow-up question that I would like you to answer Alex. Our inner critical voices are fueled by both external and internal events.
Can you say something about self-empathy when (a) stimulus is external and (b) stimulus is internal?
AI: Certainly! In Nonviolent Communication (NVC), self-empathy can be practiced in response to both external and internal stimuli.
(a) When the stimulus is external, such as a conflict or a difficult interaction with another person, self-empathy can help us to better understand and process our own emotions and needs in response to the situation. We can ask ourselves questions like: “What am I feeling right now?” and “What need of mine is not being met in this situation?” This can help us to gain greater clarity about our own inner experience and to develop more effective strategies for meeting our needs in a way that is respectful of both ourselves and others.
(b) When the stimulus is internal, such as a negative self-talk or a feeling of self-doubt, self-empathy can help us to offer ourselves the same level of care and compassion that we would offer to a friend in need. We can practice self-empathy by asking ourselves questions like: “What am I needing right now?” and “What self-talk is getting in the way of meeting my needs?” This can help us to acknowledge and validate our own emotions and needs, and to develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with ourselves.
By practicing self-empathy in response to both internal and external stimuli, we can cultivate greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and emotional well-being, and develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with ourselves and others.
JB: Thanks Alex! Your answer clarifies how self-empathy can support our relationship with others by connecting our feelings to our needs and finding useful strategies. And that the relationship with ourselves can be strengthened by an empathic approach in the same way as with someone else.
Something that comes to mind when I read your answer is what we have and don’t have power over. We have very little control over what happens externally. The control we have is to, with the help of NVC, train our skills on how we choose to act in relation to external events. By practising taking responsibility for our own experiences and distinguishing them from what other people do, we will influence our experiences, and thus our feelings and thoughts.
Focus on what you can influence
As mentioned above, I have hardly any control over events in the external world; we are exposed to stimuli whether we like them or not. The stimuli from the external world can be seen as static because we can’t change them in the present moment. We will perceive this objective reality in different ways depending on our ability to take responsibility for our reactions.
Stimuli from our interior, on the other hand, will change throughout our life. We can let this happen unconsciously through the growth and development that we all go through in our lives. However, we can also consciously influence how our ability to handle internal stimuli develops, for example by practising NVC.
It thus seems sensible to try to influence how we experience events rather than trying to control the outside world to act according to our wishes. Sensible in the way that trying to control the objective reality is impossible and will take a lot of our energy and resources.
Of course, this does not mean that we passively allow ourselves to be pushed back and forth by external factors. We will still act to influence what we can, to better meet the needs of ourselves and others. However, I think we can more constructively do this by focusing on what we have control over (our interiors) rather than what is outside of our immediate control (the exteriors). One way to strengthen this ability is to practice self-empathy.
If you would like to read an article about three forms of listening with empathy, please got to this BLOG POST.
In this blog post, except of being inspired by Marshall Rosenberg, I have gotten a lot of inspiration from the book Cracking the Communication Code by Liv Larsson and Katarina Hoffmann, specifically the chapters about the key differentiations of self-empathy.
Joachim Berggren is a certified CNVC trainer. He has been a student of NVC since 2009 and has taught his understanding of NVC since 2010. He writes blog posts, offers workshops and hosts events about NVC, as well as offering individual sessions. He is passionate and intrigued about exploring human connection and our capacity to grow and evolve as individuals and groups during our lifetime.
In the blog post series “AI explains NVC“, Joachim Berggren (JB), is in dialogue with a fictional character, Alex Incognito (AI). Alex uses Artificial Intelligence to help Joachim explore questions related to NVC. Joachim asks questions and Alex generates answers from the tool ChatGPT. The text from ChatGPT is not edited, it’s just copy-pasted. The only change is the layout so the text fits in the blog post. Alex’s answers are indicated in italics.
To learn more about NVC, please visit the Empathic Way Europes website and check out other blog posts and our coming events.