“Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.
I believe life-alienating communication is rooted in views of human nature that have exerted their influence for several centuries. These views stress humans’ innate evil and deficiency, and a need for education to control our inherently undesirable nature. Such education often leaves us questioning whether there is something wrong with whatever feelings and needs we may be experiencing.
We learn early to cut ourselves off from what’s going on within ourselves.”
~ Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
I still remember when I broke up with my first boyfriend. I went to an art gallery and felt the joy of spending as much or as little time at each painting as I wanted. Nobody there to put on a show for, to pretend that I was interested in something I was not.
One of the big side-effects of following an Ayurveda lifestyle with mindfulness and meditation is getting in touch with your own feelings and needs. Unfortunately, with years of training all the way back to childhood, we are encouraged to shut those down and put on a show of happiness instead, especially in the United States.
People ask you “how are you”, but they don’t really want to know how you are. They are just being nice and expecting to be nice in return and say “I’m fine” with a fake smile. If you share how you really are, it becomes pretty uncomfortable and unpleasant for both parties – for them as they really don’t want to know how you are and for you as you realize that the whole interaction was fake.
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know”
As someone who grew up in a Russian family, I was bad at the whole fake interaction. I can’t really hide my feelings like that – if I’m happy, I’ll smile. If I’m upset, I won’t smile no matter how funny you are. If I’m angry, you’ll know.
But the truth is I wasn’t really good at communicating my feelings and needs effectively in society. For example, I got so angry at meetings in one of my jobs, I walked out on a regular basis.
I got recommended the Nonviolent Communication book at my very first job. Wish I read it and followed it closely back then, but it’s never too late to start!
I’m still working on this! If I feel upset, I’ll now warn a friend that I’m upset (and potentially explain why) so they know up front that it’s not them that’s making me upset. I also proactively ask to have a moment if my mind is still busy, and I can’t fully pay attention to someone else at that moment – before, I would pretend to listen, but not hear anything.
Even when I’m angry at someone – this happened recently with me having to open and close an account at a bank just to do a money transfer – I’ll notice and explain to them that they’re really a nice person, but I’m having a bad day and they shouldn’t take my anger personally. If I’m so angry at the moment that I can’t even do this, I try to follow up with the person later when I calm down if I can and apologize. Hopefully, I can control my anger better in the future, but this is the best I can do for now.
I try to be more mindful of how I’m feeling in the moment and communicate that to those I’m interacting with.
The interesting and challenging part is communicating that I care about and respect the other person’s needs and requirements without judgment. Some people are good at stating their boundaries, but others are not. Those who are not are very hard for me to work with.
For example, I once hosted a party and we decided to do an impromptu after-party in a smaller venue with limited seating. I needed to go to every person and ask them if they’ll join the after-party. Even though I was just asking a yes or no question to get the count for the after-party, I noticed that many of the people who didn’t want to join started apologizing and explaining why they can’t join. They expected me to judge their no.
This also happens a lot when I travel with someone. Friends will agree to do something if I’m super enthusiastic about it. But in reality, they don’t want to do it and the outing turns badly for them and me – they’re not happy and I’m not happy because they’re not happy. If they stated their needs and feelings about the activity up front, we would have found a better compromise that would have made both of us happy.
Unfortunately, many of us are trained to please others and not to look inward. In my very first relationship, I avoided fighting at any cost because I found fighting upsetting – the cost ended up being losing myself. So it’s not a surprise to me that other people agree to do things that go against their feelings and needs just to avoid even a slightly unpleasant interaction.
I’m still learning to communicate that I’m open to the other person’s needs and will not judge them if they say no. With Nonviolent Communication, practice makes perfect (or at least slightly better!).