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The Big Cover-up
By Lucy Leu

How to stop hiding behind the stories we make up about ourselves.


This article and exercise were adapted by Tiffany Meyer from the NVC Toolkit for Facilitators, written by Lucy Leu, Raj Gill and Judi Morin.

Just weeks ago my partner and I had reached our biggest moment of disconnect, and our relationship was hanging on the brink of disaster. But before we dove into the third round of listing everything that was wrong with the other person, we decided to stop, take a break and get clear. Keep reading this article below >>


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The Big Cover-up... continued

What I discovered was this: we'd created the biggest cover-up story in history.I had covered up my heart under the story I'd made up about myself. And worse yet, I couldn't even hear the man I love. Why? Because I'd buried him deep under the story I'd made up about him.

Getting Underneath it All
We've all been burdened at one time or another by the stories we make up about ourselves, or the people we love. We can go on as is, feeding our stories and never finding the depth of love and connection we really want. But I suggest a much more enriching alternative: Uncover the needs behind the stories and open up your heart once and for all.

Try this Exercise
Let's look at how the stories we make up about ourselves prevent us from seeing and hearing what is alive in our heart. Follow the exercise below on your own, or with a practice group:

  1. Download and print out the easy to follow PDF worksheet for this activity: The Big Cover-Up Worksheet

  2. Stand in front of a large or full-length mirror.

  3. Close your eyes, take a couple of breaths, and relax your body.

  4. Using the worksheet, write down all of the labels and judgments you believe about yourself — whether positive or negative (for example: "stupid," "smart," "compassionate", "mean", "loser", "winner", "drug addict", "teacher").

  5. Now, write down all of the thoughts about what you deserve ("to be treated fairly," "forgiveness," "to be punished," "to be alone"), about what you should or should not be thinking, saying or doing ("I shouldn't have said that," "I should be more responsive," "I shouldn't react so quickly.")

  6. Cut out all of the labels and judgments you give yourself and tape them on the mirror.

  7. Now add on to that mirror all of the self-blaming statements you say to yourself. ("you're just not cut out for love," "you mess things up," "you cause all of the conflict in this relationship," "why don't you just let things go?")

  8. Finally, add to the mirror all of the things you believe you deserve.

  9. Now look at the mirror. Can you see yourself? Or do you just see a pile of words and thoughts about yourself? Do these thoughts cover up your real self? Is it possible that they are only a story about you?

  10. Now start to remove each thought from the mirror, one at a time. With each thought that you remove, read the word/phrase slowly, and state, "[state the thought] _____ is only a story I made up about myself. I can leave the story and return to who I am in this moment and connect with what is alive in me right now."

The stories we create about ourselves can be like heavy blankets covering up our heart. Sure, they might feel warm and protective at times, keeping us from that potential pain of getting hurt. But at other times they are more like a lead blanket, a barrier that keeps us from experiencing what we want.


Digging Deeper . . .
The Big Cover-Up works in both directions. The stories we make up about another person can keep us from seeing and hearing them as well — leaving our relationship disconnected at best. Whether an intimate partner, a family member, or even a co-worker, these stories are often the fuel for conflict.

Bring to mind someone significant in your life you think about a lot. Follow the exercise below:

  1. Draw a simple sketch of the person on a piece of paper. (It's ok if you're not an artist, just a simple stick figure will do.)

  2. Now, write those thoughts you have about him/her on the piece of paper such that you no longer can see the figure behind the writing. ["He doesn't put me as a priority in his life; he's self-absorbed, he doesn't love me as much as I love him; he doesn't acknowledge my feelings. He treats me like a child."]

  3. Now ask yourself,  "Is there any thought I am willing to let go of?" If so, cross it off the paper. ["Yes, I know he loves me, and I want to trust that he loves me as much as I love him. I'll let that thought go."]

  4. Circle the thoughts that are most in the way of your seeing and hearing the other person in the present moment. ["He's self-absorbed. That judgment keeps me from hearing about his interests in the moment."]

  5. Ask yourself, "What need am I trying to meet by holding on to that thought?" ["When he makes plans to go do fun things without checking in to see if I'd like to go too, it doesn't meet my needs for partnership, companionship, and acceptance."]

  6. Now ask yourself, "What is one other strategy that I could use to meet that need?" ["Instead of labeling him as self-absorbed, I can make sure he understands that our interests are quite similar. I can be proactive in expressing my needs and wants to him, instead of just reacting."]

As you approach conversations and interactions in the next few days, think about the stories you are making up. Are they covering up your ability to see your needs, and the other person's needs in the moment? Throwing off these lead blankets is liberating. It helps us stay connected to the only moment where we can enjoy life — right now.


Find more help removing the stories that keep you from discovering the love, companionship and friendships you hope for in the book Being Genuine, by Thomas d'Ansembourg! Drawing on his own real-life examples and stories, d'Ansembourg provides practical skills and concrete steps that allow you to safely remove the masks you wear that prevent the intimacy and satisfaction you desire with your intimate partners, children, parents, friends, family, and colleagues.


Lucy Leu is a CNVC certified trainer and the author of the NVC Companion Workbook, co-author of the NVC Toolkit for Facilitators, and is the co-founder of the Seattle, Washington based Freedom Project, which supports the transition of prisoners into peacemakers.


Tiffany Meyer is the past editor and a contributing writer to the NVC Quick Connect e-Newsletter, the founder of the Help Share NVC Project, past marketing director for PuddleDancer Press, founder/president of Numa Marketing, author of Writing a Results-Driven Marketing Plan: The Nonprofit's Guide to Making Every Dollar Count, and creator of the companion online training program, Results-Driven Marketing Mastery. She has been learning and practicing NVC for more than a decade and remains committed to integrating it into her personal and professional life.


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"If I'm using Nonviolent Communication I never, never, never hear what somebody thinks
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Never hear
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Hear the truth. The truth
is that when somebody's telling you what's wrong
with you, the truth is they have a need that isn't
getting met.

Hear that they're in pain. Don't hear the analysis."

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