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Liberating Your Power: Move Beyond Guilt
to Find Your Personal Power

By Holly Michelle Eckert

I met Erika some years ago -- a single, working mother in her late thirties who was the primary care provider of a 13-year-old son with both physical and mental disabilities. On the rare occasion that Erika went somewhere other than work, Jesse would scream and cry endlessly at being left with any care provider. Yet the day I met Erika, something else was on her mind. Keep reading this article below >>  
Expensive Emotions: An Exercise from
the NVC Toolkit for Facilitators

By Raj Gil, Lucy Leu and Judi Morin

At one time or another all of us have experienced an “expensive emotion” – those emotions which take a lot of energy from us without offering much in return. Anger, hatred, vengefulness, guilt, shame and depression are great examples of “expensive emotions.” In the exercise that follows, we’ll guide you to reflect upon these emotions to discover a new way to respond that is far less costly.
Keep reading this article below >>


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"We can make life miserable or wonderful for ourselves and others depending upon how we think and communicate."

- Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

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Liberating Your Power, continued

Three days before, Erika had put her elderly neighbor’s newspaper on the porch railing so the neighbor, Esther, could reach it easily. Erika had then forgotten about Esther until that very morning, when she noticed there were two newspapers in the driveway, in addition to the one on the porch railing. Erika called a couple of other neighbors, and the three of them began to talk to Esther through her bedroom window.

Esther couldn’t get out of bed but still had enough strength to shout through the closed window. Erika and her neighbors were trying to figure out what to do -- wait for a locksmith for up to an hour and a half or call 911 to break down the door. Erika knew that Esther’s financial situation couldn’t sustain replacing a door, and Erika’s intuition told her that Esther was still OK. After all, if Esther could still shout, she certainly couldn’t be near death. Erika called the locksmith to come.

I encouraged Erika to use the Graduating From Guilt process to get to heart of what she experienced in this situation. As you read through her answers, relay them to a situation in your own life where your feelings of guilt have overwhelmed you.

Step 1: Identify the Guilt
“Erika, what specifically do you feel guilty about?” I started.

“I think it comes down to leaving Esther at risk for another hour and a half instead of getting immediate help,” she replied.

Step 2: Name the “Shoulds”
“What are you telling yourself that you should or shouldn’t have done?”

Erika had a long and immediate list for herself. “Well, first of all, I should have checked on Esther the very first afternoon when the first newspaper wasn’t taken in. And then, I definitely should have checked on her the next day, only I just didn’t think of it. I shouldn’t have put myself first. I really should be aware of what’s going on with others, and I should be a better neighbor.”

After Erika paused, I read back the list and asked her which should-statement felt the strongest to her. “I think the thing that gets me the most is that I didn’t check on Esther the next day.”

Step 3: Connect With the Unmet Needs
I moved Erika into step 3. “So you’ve got some unmet needs around not having checked on her. Can you connect with what those might be?”

“Sure,” she replied. “I need to be a good neighbor.”

“Being a good neighbor -- do you think that would be a need for community or accountability?” I wondered.

“Both of those,” she confirmed. “Needs for attention and awareness, too.”

“I’m wondering if you’re not experiencing the peace of mind that you’d like as well,” I offered.

“Yes, peace,” she confirmed. “And maybe more than anything else – integrity -- what is the point of acting concerned and then spacing out?”

“Erika, in addition to your own needs, including your need for integrity, would you say that there are some unmet needs in your community, too?” I asked.

Erika looked surprised. “So this can be about unmet needs for others, too? Well, if that’s the case, there are many more unmet needs as well, like safety, communication, reliability, and support. Our block had made up an emergency plan that got vetoed by one person who has since moved away, but no one has gotten the ball rolling again.”

“What would be the advantages, or met needs, in having that emergency plan?” I prompted.

“It would give us a sense of security and clarity about what to do. For example, if I had a working key to Esther’s door, this whole thing wouldn’t be a problem. We need to carry through on our responsibility to each other,” she said with a great deal of fervor.

Step 4: Experience the Feelings of the Unmet Needs
“Let’s sink into the emotions you have in the situation. I’ll read your list of unmet needs to you, and just let them enter your heart,” I suggested.

When I was done reading the list, I asked Erika how she felt. She started shaking her hands nervously around her abdominal area. “Uneasy and anxious. Overwhelmed and stressed.” She paused for a moment. “Also sad and tired,” she added with a sigh.

Step 5: Connect With the Positive Motivations
After a few breaths together in silence, I continued with the process. “Erika, I think you’ve learned from your reading that one of the fundamental principles in Nonviolent Communication is that every action has a positive motivation. So on that day when you didn’t check on Esther, what was motivating you to do the things you chose to do?”

“Selfishness!” she answered, suddenly agitated.

“It doesn’t sound like you have a very favorable opinion of that motivation,” I said to her, feeling tender. “What if you looked at the situation like this—that there is a positive motivation under any negative motivation? What would be a positive motivation under selfishness? Could you tell me the things you were doing that day?” I asked.

“I was not doing much at all! There I was with my one day off work without my son. I had a million things to do but was doing practically none of them,” she answered with both sheepishness and irritation.

“So maybe you were attending to your needs for rest, balance, and self-connection? To have a moment of peace? And perhaps to once again fill your teapot because you know that you’re going to be pouring again soon, and you want to make that contribution from a place of love?

“Erika, from what I know about your life with your son, you do an immense amount of contributing with very little community. I can see how you would want to be able to rely on the whole community to support Esther and relieve you of the burden of doing it alone.”

“Wow, now that you put it that way, it doesn’t seem so selfish,” Erika replied, softening. “And on that day off, I wasn’t totally lazy. I did make some progress on my papers since my health insurance got wrongly terminated.”

“Important needs there!” I affirmed. “A need for order, to get your health insurance back, which will bring you safety, support, and security.”

“Hmm . . . maybe a little attention to my own affairs isn’t so bad,” she concluded with a sweet smile.

Step 6: Check In and Make a Request
“Let’s see where you are right now. Can you check in with yourself and determine your Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests based on the present moment?” I suggested.

OBSERVATIONS: “When I recall my decision to wait for the locksmith rather than breaking down Esther’s door . . .”

FEELINGS: “I feel numbed out . . .”

NEEDS: “because I want to protect myself from an overwhelming amount of emotion.”

“Yes, that makes sense. Just settle into yourself for another moment. Do you notice any other feelings as well?” I wondered.

FEELINGS: “Well, I feel good that I actually took action this morning! My other neighbor saw the newspapers in the driveway but didn’t do anything. So I have a tiny amount of appreciation for myself . . .”

NEEDS: “because I met my need for competence,” she concluded, with a little wink.
“As the last step in the process, can you think of any request you can make of yourself?” I asked.

REQUESTS: “Yes. I’d like to get an emergency plan together for our block. We had started before, so the first step would be finding the notes from the previous meetings and asking three people to co-facilitate the committee with me -- there is that need for community again! And even just making these plans, I feel empowered.”

Holly Michelle Eckert is the author of Graduating From Guilt, as well as a certified trainer with the global Center for Nonviolent Communication and the Nonviolent Communication Skills Online. Since 2001, she has worked with thousands of participants in her Radiant Relationships seminar series, led women’s retreats, facilitated organizational mediations and provided communication coaching for families and individuals. In 2008, Holly founded the Nonviolent Communication Training Center of North Seattle.

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Expensive Emotions, continued

To participate in the activity described below, download the “Expensive Emotions Worksheet” now – this is one of many exercises available in the NVC Toolkit for Facilitators.

Which emotions do you experience as “costly” or “expensive”? Costly emotions drain our energy without contributing to our needs being met. Think of a time you experienced an expensive emotion. On the Expensive Emotions worksheet, write down the feeling-word(s) by which you identify the emotion.

Using the pie chart on the Expensive Emotions Worksheet, shade in the portion of your total energy you spent on that emotion in the situation you are recalling.

Next, in the first column of the worksheet, under “FACTS”, write down what actually happened: what you observed (saw with your eyes, heard with your ears, etc.).

Now, in the next column of the worksheet, write down your thoughts and interpretations about what happened. What do (or did) you say or tell yourself about the situation?

In the third column of the worksheet, write down the need that was not being met behind each thought or statement. (Write the need next to the statement to which it corresponds.)

Hold each unmet need in your heart for a few moments. Focus only on what you need or value in this situation. As you do so, are you aware of any feelings being stirred? If so, write them down in the last column (next to the need which stirred that feeling).

Choose one need that is most strong or poignant for you in this moment. Place your full attention on this need. Hold it and notice how much you value and cherish it — how important this quality is for you.

Now, brainstorm strategies that would address this need. Choose one of those strategies and decide how you will carry it through, or, instead of strategizing, simply hold the need with compassion, being fully present to what you are feeling and acknowledge how deeply you value this need.

Suggestions for continued practice in your daily life:
When you find yourself experiencing an expensive emotion,

• Stop and take a few deep breaths,
• Check in with yourself by asking, “What am I telling myself?”
• Then sit with the question, “What am I really needing here?”
• Notice any shift in body sensations or emotions.

Raj Gill began practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in 2001 and currently serves as a CNVC Certified Trainer and life skills coach. She is co-founder of the Inclusive Leadership Adventures, a training program for young leaders, to which she brings 30 years of teaching experience.

Lucy Leu first encountered NVC in 1995, after which she joined the CNVC Board, founded the Puget Sound Network for Compassionate Communication (PSNCC/NWCC), and co-founded Freedom Project. She edited Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and wrote Nonviolent Communication Companion Workbook.

Judi Morin, Sister of Saint Ann and CNVC certified trainer, has been a prison chaplain with the Correctional Service of Canada for 26 years. She is an educator by training and passion. Judi was first introduced to NVC in 1999 through Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

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