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Change Within Ourselves: Growth Through Self Education
(Excerpted from, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict)
By Marshall Rosenberg, PhD

Earlier (in this book) I outlined that the purpose of Nonviolent Communication is to create a connection that allows compassionate giving to take place. And I clarified the basic literacy that's necessary to live this way, which is...

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NVC Quote of the Month

From our online Marshall Rosenberg
NVC Quote Collection


NVC is interested in
learning that is motivated
by reverence for life, by
a desire to learn skills, to
contribute better to our
own well-being and the
well-being of others.


We use NVC to evaluate
ourselves in ways that
engender growth rather
than self-hatred.



Change Within Ourselves ... continued

... a literacy of feelings, needs, requests, and how to express them in a way that is a gift to other people so they can see what's alive in us.

It's a gift when they can see what would make life more wonderful because it gives them a chance to contribute willingly to our well-being. And I talked about how through empathic connection we can receive that gift from other people, even when they're using a language that is quite violent.

When we look at how Nonviolent Communication can contribute to change, remember this: We want people to change because they see better ways of meeting their needs at less cost, not because of fear that we're going to punish them, or "guilt" them if they don't. (In this excerpt), we'll look at how that change can occur within ourselves (when we are acting) in ways that are not in harmony with our values.

Reflecting on Past Mistakes

First, think of a mistake you made recently, something you did that you wish you hadn't done. Then think, How do I educate myself when I've done something I wish I hadn't done? That is, what do you tell yourself at the moment you regret what you've done?

Not long ago I was doing a training session, and we were seeing how Nonviolent Communication can be used within ourselves to learn from our limitations without losing self-respect.

A woman told us she had been screaming at her child that morning before coming to the training. She said some things to the child that she wished she hadn't said—and when she looked into her child's eyes, she saw how hurt the child was. I asked her this question: "How did you educate yourself at that moment? What did you say to yourself?"

And she said, "I said what a terrible mother I am. I told myself that I shouldn't have talked that way to my child. I said, What's wrong with me?"

Unfortunately, that's how many people educate themselves. They educate themselves in a way people educated us when we did things that authorities didn't like. They blamed us and punished us, and we internalized it. As a result, we often educate ourselves through guilt, shame, and other forms of violent, coercive tactics. We know we're doing that. How do we know that we are educating ourselves in a violent way?

Three feelings will tell us: depression, guilt, and shame. I think we feel depressed a good deal of the time, not because we're ill or something is wrong with us, but because we have been taught to educate ourselves with moralistic judgments, to blame ourselves, to think like this mother did. She told herself that, because she had screamed at her child, there was something wrong with her, that she was a bad mother.

Incidentally, I often tell people, "If you want to know my definition of hell, it's having children and thinking there is such a thing as a good parent." You'll spend a good deal of your life being depressed, because it's a hard job. It's an important job, and repeatedly we're going to do things we wished we hadn't done. We need to learn, but without hating ourselves. Learning that occurs through guilt or shame is costly learning. It's too late now to undo that learning. We have it within ourselves. We've been trained to educate ourselves with violent judgments.

Catching Your Self-Talk

We show you in our training how to catch yourself when you're talking to yourself like that and to bring those judgments into the light, to see what you're telling yourself. You realize that this is your way of educating yourself—to call yourself names, to think of what's wrong with you. Then we show you how to look behind these judgments to the need at the root of them. That is to say, what need of yours wasn't met by the behavior?

And I asked this mother that very question: "What need of yours was not met by how you talked to the child?" With a little help from me, she got in touch with the need.

She said, "Marshall, I have a real need to respect people, especially my children. Talking to my child that way didn't meet my need for respect."

I said, "Now that your attention is on your needs, how do you feel?"

She said, "I'm sad."

I said, "How does that sadness feel compared with what you were thinking a few moments ago—that you're a terrible mother and the other judgments you were making of yourself?"

She said, "It's almost like a sweet pain now."

"Yes, because it's a natural pain, you see."

When we get in touch with needs of ours that weren't met by our behavior, I call that mourning—mourning our actions. But it's mourning without blame, mourning without thinking there's something wrong with us for doing what we did.

When I help people get to that connection, they often describe the pain in a similar way to how she did. It's almost like a sweet pain compared with the depression, the guilt, and the shame we feel when we are educating ourselves through blame and judgments. I then asked her to look at the good reasons she did what she did.

She said, "Huh?"

I repeated my request: "Let's look at the good reasons you did what you did."

"I don't understand what you mean. You mean screaming at my child the way I did? What do you mean by good reason?"

I said, "It's important for us to be conscious that we don't do anything except for good reasons." I don't think any human being does anything except for good reasons. And what are those good reasons? To meet a need. Everything we do is in the service of needs.

So, I said, "What need were you trying to meet when you talked to your child that way?"

She said, "Are you saying it was right?"

"I'm not saying it was right to talk to the child that way. I'm suggesting that we learn to look at the needs we're trying to meet by doing what we do. We can learn best from it if we do two things. First, see the need that wasn't met by the behavior. And next, be conscious of the need we were trying to meet by doing what we did. When we have our awareness focused on those two needs, I believe it heightens our ability to learn from our limitations without losing self-respect."

"So, what need of yours were you trying to meet by saying what you did to the child at that time?"

She said, "Marshall, I really have a need for my child to be protected in life—and if this child doesn't learn how to do things differently, I'm really scared of what could happen."

"Yes. So you really have a need for your child's well-being, and you were trying to contribute …"

She said, "That was a terrible way to do it—to scream like that."

"Well, we've already looked at that part of yourself that doesn't like what you did. It didn't meet your need to respect other people. Now let's be conscious of what need of yours was met by doing it. You care for the child; you wanted to protect the child's well-being."


"I believe we have a much better chance to learn how to handle other situations in the future if we ask ourselves how we could have met both needs. Now, when you have those two needs in mind, can you imagine how you might have expressed yourself differently?"

She said, "Yes, yes. Oh, yes. I can see that if I had been in touch with those needs, I would've expressed myself quite differently."

How to Make Life More Wonderful

This is how we show people how to use Nonviolent Communication within themselves. When we do something we don't like, the first step is to mourn, to empathize with ourselves about the need of ours that wasn't met. And very often we'll have to do that by "hearing through" the judgments we have been programmed to make. In this way we can actually make good use of our depression, guilt, and shame.

We can use those feelings as an alarm clock to wake us up to the fact that at this moment we really are not connected to life—life defined as being in touch with our needs. We're up in our head playing violent games with ourselves, calling ourselves names.

If we can learn how to empathically connect with the need of ours that wasn't met, and then look at the part of our self that was trying to meet the need, we're better prepared to see what's alive in ourselves and others—and to take the steps necessary to make life more wonderful.

Often it's not easy to empathically connect with that need. If we look inside and say what was going on in us when we did that, very often we say things to ourselves like "I had to do it; I had no choice." That's never true! We always have a choice. We don't do anything we didn't choose to do. We chose to behave that way to meet a need.

A very important part of Nonviolent Communication is this recognition of choice at every moment, that every moment we choose to do what we do, and we don't do anything that isn't coming out of choice. What's more, every choice we make is in the service of a need. That's how Nonviolent Communication works within us.

(Excerpted from, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict)

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
(1934-2015) founded and was for many years the Director of Educational Services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication, an international peacemaking organization. Dr. Rosenberg passed on Feb. 7, 2015.

During his life he authored fifteen books, including the bestselling Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (PuddleDancer Press, 9781892005281), which has sold more than one million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 30 languages, with more translations in the works.

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How we choose to look at
any situation will greatly
affect whether we have
the power to change it or
make matters worse.



When we make mistakes,
we can use the process
of NVC mourning and
self-forgiveness to show
us where we can grow
instead of getting
caught up in moralistic



I would like us to create
peace within ourselves.
That is to know how we
can be peaceful with
ourselves when we're
less than perfect, for
example. How we can
learn from our limitations
without blaming and
punishing our self. If
we can't do that, I'm not
too optimistic how we're
going to relate peacefully
out in the world.


From our online Marshall Rosenberg
NVC Quote Collection









Speak Peace in a
World of Conflict
by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD
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News from the NVC Network... continued

How Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication changed the world!

A one hour "Gratitude to Marshall Rosenberg and NVC" YouTube interview with Susan Allan on GiGi Amour's, Compassionate Connection Show.


IIT for Life-Enriching Education in the US ~ July 2015

The Center for Nonviolent Communication proudly continues the legacy of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (1934-2015) by offering the 1st International Intensive Training (IIT) for Life-Enriching Education.

This IIT for Life-Enriching Education is a 9-day Nonviolent Communication "immersion experience" for educators intent on exploring Marshall Rosenberg's vision and its application in the daily life of classrooms and schools.

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