One of our deepest needs as humans is to feel connected with ourselves and others, open, safe, alive. Our ritualised customary greeting of “how are you?” is a reminiscent of our deep need for human contact. At the heart of many conflicts and misunderstandings lies our inability to identify and express our feelings and needs. Our biggest challenge of this century will be to learn to make ourselves vulnerable with each other, to reveal our deepest feelings and truest needs to each other.
Our strongest obstacle lies in our unwillingness to take time and listen within, with an open, curious and compassionate attitude. The warmth of deep listening melts the ice that encloses our very tender hearts. That ice has built up over years in response to harsh words and actions from others, and then ultimately from ourselves. Our very protection leaves our hearts cold and lonely. Our protection comes in the form of a heavy armoured guard that reminds us “if you open up others will use this against you, judge you, reject you, ridicule you, expose you, punish you, humiliate you, patronise, label and pity you”.
It also comes in the form of a very small terrified voice, “if I feel all that I feel, I feel so much pain that I will not survive it”. No wonder we use and create various forms of distractions to numb ourselves in order not to feel. No wonder, we run from or fight people that evoke feelings in us. In our attempts to not feel our pain, we also miss out on the opportunity to feel our joy, which is directly connected with our tenderness, openness and aliveness.
Once we begin to open to our felt feelings, sense them in our bodies and verbalise them in our minds, and finally express them outwardly in our behaviour, we also open the doors to contacting our needs. When the door is too heavy and large to open, we know we hold judgements on our needs, “I shouldn’t need to be held, acknowledged, reassured, etc.”. And by the time we hold judgement on our judgement, we begin to feel a little insane; split from our deepest need for warm, simple, open human connection with self and others. Breakdown at this point can also be a break-through towards becoming in Welwood’s words “a broken-hearted warrior”, a person that is willing to be in full contact with his/her feelings and needs and equally interested in another’s feelings and needs.
He/she uses “compassionate communication” (Rosenberg) to deepen the understanding in connection with the other. Only when I know what I need I will be able to request and participate thereby actively in the human giving and receiving exchange, the building block to developing close relationships with others.
Marshall Rosenberg has developed some useful communication tools that not only prevent painful conflicts, but also generate respect, compassion, understanding and goodwill amongst humans.
“Criticisms, complaints, judgments and attacks are all tragic expressions of difficult feelings and unmet needs.” (Marshall Rosenberg)
Copyright © 6/2003 by Rumijabu | Originally published in “Partners in Dialogue” June 2003