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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.

We never know what will happen. We can plan our day or trip or meeting in great detail, but we are never sure what will happen. All we can do is to stay present, stay open to the possibilities and enjoy and appreciate the way things unfold. I used to get annoyed and frustrated when things didn’t go the way I wanted. I would have planned and visualized how a meeting or event would proceed and I would be frustrated if things changed, if I didn’t get what I needed when I needed it. I have learned to let go of this. I now try and go with the flow and find the pleasure in the unexpected. 

When I was working for the local Member of Parliament I had to go to a printers to pick up some flyers and I had huge trouble finding the location. I thought I knew where it was. As I drove up and down the road looking for the printers I became more and more frustrated. Finally, exasperated, I called in at the nearest store to ask directions. There I discovered a magical world, a store full of environmentally safe cleaning products and beauty aids in bulk – “bring your own containers” they said. Of course I found out where the printer was located and made my way there, but in the meantime I discovered a place I frequent on a regular basis for gifts and products. A store I enjoy supporting and a business I believe in and want to promote. I would never have discovered this store if I hadn’t walked in to ask directions. Life is curious, and discoveries are just around the corner. Stay open, embrace the unknown and take advantage of the situation

Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communications, said “Judgments cause wars”. We all know the damage judgments can do. This is because people usually hear your judgments as criticism and this triggers them. They close down and become resentful. They don’t trust you anymore as you have attacked them, and it is hard to redeem the relationship. The fact is, we remember a judgment much longer than we remember a compliment. Judgments are hard to forget. I still remember the judgments of my English teacher at high school!!

But we all have judgments about places, people and things. Can we re-frame this and turn the judgment into curiosity. Instead of saying “That person dresses in a really bizarre way”, we say, “I am curious as to the choices that person has made” or “I am curious as to why he said that at the meeting” instead of “He made a really stupid comment”. This curiosity is not judgmental, we just want to find out more and re-framing allows us to delve deeper. We gain more understanding, connection and ultimately feel more compassion towards those around us.

Try and use curiosity instead of judgment see how it changes the conversation and your perception of the situation.

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