So many of us muddle our thoughts with our feelings. It is very common to hear and read expressions like “I feel like I need a break” or “I feel she doesn’t listen to me” or I feel as if I am eating too much”. When we use I feel with “like” or “as if” or with a name, we are in our head and in our thoughts and not sensing into our feelings.

When we are triggered by something we see or hear or a thought we have, our body will often go into a flight, fight or freeze state. When we can identify the way this resonates in our body, we can name it using feeling words, for example “I am noticing that my chest feels tight and I am having trouble breathing, a part of me is feeling sad and a part of me is feeling stressed”. We can then identify a need and find a strategy to meet that need.

 It is important that we distinguish the difference between a feeling and a thought. Awareness of what resonates in our body and naming the feeling helps us to take action and calm ourselves. We are then more present and better able to handle the tricky situation at hand.

I will give an example, yesterday I was nervous about a zoom presentation I was giving to eight people. I was not sure I could handle the technology. Forty five minutes before the allotted time I noticed that my heart was beating faster, my stomach was churning and my throat was dry. I named this as anxiety and nervousness. I knew I needed to relax and ground myself. I looked for some strategies and tried some breathing techniques but I found going into my studio and looking at the progress of one of my paintings was more useful. It helped me turn my thoughts to other things and brought me back to the present moment. Thirty minutes later I went into the call and I was calmer and more confident.

I have found regularly checking in to see what is alive in me (what feelings are alive) helps me to be more aware and conscious of myself and those around me.

Why and when is it important to speak about your observations and not your judgments?

Indian Philosopher J. Krishnamurti once said that  “observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence”. This is a pretty loaded statement and I wanted to look at it further

What do we mean by our “evaluation” of someone or something? We mean our own thoughts, or beliefs. These have been taught us, or absorbed by us through our culture, our upbringing, our schooling, our religion and our experiences.

On the other hand when we talk about observations it is as if we are looking through the lens of a camera or a video camera. There is no personal interpretation, no comparison, no opinion, no evaluation and no diagnosis.  Certainly some of us will see some of the things in more detail or will notice more, but ultimately we can agree that we are seeing the same thing.

Why is it important to understand the impact of our evaluations? When we judge or evaluate someone they usually hear criticism and this blocks compassion and connection. This is particularly sad as it is usually happens to those closest to us. They tend to  receive the most criticism, (our partners, family and kids) and this is where our relationships break down and unravel.

Slowing down and being mindful about the way you speak to someone is important if you want to connect to them and be heard. In challenging conversations we can choose to be especially mindful and use our observations and not our evaluation of the situation. After all judgments cause wars and not just within the family

Constantin Brancusi, La Muse

We all have great stories to tell one another when we meet for social occasions. Stories are a way we connect and learn more about one another. But what about the stories we make up in our head about others. Beware of these stories, as they are very often false.

I will give you an example of something which has happened to me, I see someone I know in the store and I make a gesture to say hello. They don’t respond. I am confused and my thoughts begin to make up stories, to find a reason. I say to myself ” he or she does not like me, they want to avoid me, it must be because of something I said the last time we met”. So suddenly there is an obstacle in the way of connection and the next time I meet that person I feel uncomfortable and try to avoid them. They are then confused and stories are created in their head.

I did not verify my story, why didn’t the person greet me- there could be many reasons, it could be they are short sighted, lost in their thoughts, didn’t recognize me etc.

I have learned not to jump to negative conclusions and judge the other so fast. Instead I made a pact with myself. I want to be aware of the stories I am telling myself and always assume innocence. Assume that the other party is innocent of any ill will towards you. I have found it is a sure way to improve my well-being and happiness.

You are not the cause of someone else’s anger.

Something you say or do might be the trigger for someone else’s anger, but the individual who responds to you with judgments and anger has chosen to respond in this way. This might sound bizarre, using the word “chosen” but we do have a choice how to respond to a hard to hear message. Very often the response is not a conscious choice, it is an immediate impulsive reaction or it might be a learned behavior (strategy to get their need met) and it is alienating for both of you.

So when someone responds with anger or judgments to your actions or words, remember that it is their reality, experience and pain, which causes them to react in the way that they do.

Instead of reacting with judgments and anger and increasing the conflict try empathizing and finding out what is behind the outburst. Become curious and connect with the person to learn more about their triggers. I can assure you that it will bring you closer together. Here is an opportunity to learn more, to connect on a deeper level and to gain more understanding.

I can remember a teacher of mine saying “Love your triggers”. At first I was confused, how can I love what challenges me, but then I realized that it offers the opportunity to grow in the relationship. It offers the possibility of learning more about the other and deepening the connection to one another.

“You deserve” as in you deserve to be rewarded? Or you deserve a good life. We hear it all the time and I wondered if you have thought about the meaning of the word? The dictionary definition is:  

To be worthy of, to be entitled to, to have a right to, have a claim on, 

When you say, “you deserve” you are making a judgment, and judgments (or diagnosis) disconnect us. If you judge someone as being deserving, you are working in a power over paradigm. As I said in one of my last blogs, judgments can be very destructive and in the case of the word “deserve” you have singled out someone as special. There is a sense of control from a more powerful person or group. You are passing judgment on them.

So you might ask – how can I acknowledge that something someone did or said pleased me or made me happy without telling them that they deserve to be rewarded?

I suggest we use words that convey the need that has been met. For example, you might say, “I appreciate all the work you put into the project and I recognize that you met the deadline.  Congratulations on your work”. There is nothing wrong with offering the person in question a gift as a way to express your appreciation. Just be careful of saying you deserve this! Needs connect us, so language like “I am grateful for” and “thank you for” connect on a “power with” basis.

I run a small company and I enjoy organizing a get together with my supervisors to thanks them for their work and to listen to their experiences. We celebrate the achievements of the team by having a meal together. Celebrating achievements is an important way to recognize our community.

I will often thank an individual by sending flowers or a gift. It is a way to acknowledge how grateful I am for their hard work and loyalty to the company. But I am careful not to say “you deserve”.

­­ What is the difference?

To me “having compassion for yourself” means to treat yourself with loving-kindness. “Being sorry for yourself” is to pity yourself – to say “poor me”.

With self- compassion I experience a sense of holding oneself with gentleness and understanding: of loving oneself and caring about your own personal well-being. I experience self-compassion as a warm red, orange feeling, radiating warmth and protection.

There is a real sense of giving your power away when you are feeling sorry for yourself.  To me “feeling sorry for yourself” is about powerlessness, helplessness and hopelessness. “Being sorry for yourself” to me means to judge yourself and seek pity and sympathy. I am wondering if this is then a small step away from a feeling of disgust and distaste for yourself.  I experience “feeling sorry for yourself” as a heavy, dreary, gray feeling; a lack of energy and passion quite different from self-compassion.

When I was away working with a group recently I had a bout of stomach flu. I missed the final gala and dance and the celebrations the following day. Of course I was upset and sad that I couldn’t join in the fun but I decided I needed to treat myself with care and compassion. I mourned my loss and acknowledge the disappointment I experienced. I know life challenges us in every way and this was just another unexpected occurance.

In conclusion, “Having compassion for yourself” for me means to treat yourself with loving-kindness. “Being sorry for yourself” is to pity yourself – to say “poor me”. Please be compassionate towards yourself and give yourself some care and tenderness when in pain or experiencing disappointment.

Nonviolent Communication teaches us that what other people say or do is not the cause of our anger. What people say or do might be the stimulus but the true cause of our anger is our own thoughts of blame and judgment (what we are telling ourselves).

If we are able to separate the stimulus from the cause, we can realize that we can be triggered (stimulus) but we can choose how to respond (the cause).

So often we hear people and especially parents say things like “ You make me so mad when you do that.” The truth is that they make themselves mad – they choose to be triggered by the other. They blame the other, when in fact they did not take responsibility for their own feelings and needs.

Before I started studying and practicing NVC I must admit that I sometimes used the strategy of blame to get my needs met. So often it was when I was rushed and believed I had to be somewhere on time. I needed some co-operation and ease (universal needs) and I wasn’t getting it. My three kids were running around throwing toys at one another. I can remember my mother using this strategy and I thought it was the way to get your need met- a way to discipline the kids. However, I knew when an adult used “you make me feel” directed at me, I felt angry and resentful.

Marshall said “The cause of anger lies in our thinking- in thoughts of blame and judgment” If instead we sense into our feelings and look at what we are needing (our unmet universal needs), we can find strategies to meet our needs in ways which help us understand and deal with our anger in a non-violent way.

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