Author: Ludmila

Recognizing childhood trauma

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Have you suffered a childhood trauma? Probably the majority of people if asked this question would answer ‘no.’ And yet many of them will be mistaken.

It may seem to you surprising how it is possible to be unaware of such a big thing as trauma – it is like overlooking an elephant in the room! Yet this is exactly what is happening. And the reason for that is that we simply don’t recognize an elephant for an elephant. Instead we see it as an integral part of the room’s interior.

When we hear the word ‘trauma’ we tend to think of a sudden shocking event with visibly manifest physical or/and emotional injuries. For example, surviving a car crash. Or being raped.

People who have lost one of their parents as children would sometimes say it was a trauma. Often, however, they would regard it just as a sad fact of life and won’t recognize that they have been traumatized by it.

Redefining trauma

We need to rethink then what we understand by trauma. I would say this: trauma is an event or a long-lasting situation that has a damaging impact on one’s emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.

When trauma is not addressed promptly and thoroughly it usually has long-lasting effects, which may severely undermine one’s life. Unfortunately, traumas resulting from suffering a long-term emotional distress very often go unnoticed and untreated for years, until some major crisis hits and a person suddenly finds him/herself at the point of a breakdown. It is about this type of trauma suffered during childhood that I want to write in this blog.

Fundamental childhood needs

Contrary to what we are used to thinking, being a child is very challenging! Look what a huge difference there is between a new born baby and a two year old toddler, and between that toddler and a first grader. As adults we don’t normally experience comparable developmental leaps. We tend to live more or less in our comfort zone and won’t leave it by our own accord. Children, however, have no choice! They are hard pushed by the very nature of their growing and developing – physically, cognitively and psychologically. They have very little space to bask in the comfort zone. Mostly, it is an ongoing climb.

When you look at childhood like this you can begin to appreciate how much support children need in order to transition successfully through all the developmental stages. The fundamental basic needs include:

  • SAFETY (emotional and physical);
  • Unconditional affection and consistent engaged interest of their parents and caretakers;
  • The right to make mistakes;
  • The right to express their feelings and have them acknowledged;
  • Positive encouragement and validation.

Probably most of us didn’t have all these needs met equally well at all periods of our childhood. But some people, sadly, had to grow up with the exact reverse of these conditions. Read on to see if it might have been your case.

Traumatic conditions in childhood

Existential threat

If a child gets beaten up or witnesses physical violence between the parents or towards other siblings, the child will experience it as a threat to his/her survival. Similar fear is also being engendered in a child if she or he is being constantly shouted at or hears his/her parents shouting at each other.

The lack of healthy boundaries also makes children feel unsafe. Children need a holding structure, within which they can explore, experiment rebel and grow. Growing up in a chaotic household is like being on a boat without an anchor in the open sea. Growing up with overly rigid boundaries (which usually involves punishment for breaking them) is like living in a prison.

Psychological overload

Sometimes young children are made to carry a burden that is too big for their age. For example, in a family with several children and hard working parents the elder child (sometimes at quite a tender age) may become like a parent to her/his younger siblings. This person will skip the carefree stage of childhood and grow up feeling overburdened by the heavy sense of responsibility, finding it difficult to relax and just have fun.

It also happens that a child may become like a parent to their parents if one of the parents is seriously ill or depressed. The parent’s needs in such a situation become a priority and a child learns to suppress his/her own needs in order not to disturb or upset the parent. The message that the child ingests is that of his/her own unimportance. As adults these children often struggle to express themselves, to say ‘no’, to assert their rights and to appreciate themselves and their needs and desires.

Blame, guilt, shaming

Are you constantly feeling guilty about things? Do you believe it is your fault if something goes wrong at work or at home? If your mother misses a doctor’s appointment do you gnaw yourself for not having reminded her?

Persistent feelings of guilt are a symptom of a childhood trauma. They are the result of the culture of blaming and shaming, of being made responsible for your parents’ problems and unhappiness. If you were told by your mother that she has sacrificed her academic career for you, she was giving you a guilt trip. If you have been ridiculed for not knowing the name of some composer, you have been shamed for ‘ignorance.’ The shame about your mistakes transforms into pervasive shame about who you are. It is toxic and paralyzing.

Emotional neglect

In order to thrive children need to feel (not just know intellectually!) loved, welcomed and appreciated. They feel this if parents spend enough time with them, hold them, play with them, talk to them about things that matter to them and take interest in their activities. If parents are working long hours and are only at home to fix dinner and send the child to bed, the child will feel abandoned.

The lack of caring attention during childhood is like the lack of nutrients and vitamins. It stunts the person’s emotional/psychological growth and impairs the development of strong healthy self-esteem. Emotional neglect and abandonment have long-lasting effect and can seriously undermine one’s life and ability to be happy.

Emotionally unstable parents

Children of emotionally unstable and mentally ill parents are in the highest risk category. There is virtually no safe place for them. They suffer from neglect and abandonment because their parents are preoccupied with their own stuff. They have to tiptoe around their parents to prevent them from snapping and ‘flipping.’ They suppress their needs, while trying to guess their parents’ needs and desires and learn to please in order to get approval. They can’t express their own preference or feeling without having it invalidated by the parent who always ‘knows better.’ If they do get praised it is usually for doing something that reinforces the parent’s sense of self-value. Emotional connection is either non-existent or erratic. Or a child may be made a confidante of a parent and a recipient of their psychological unloading. These children have been heavily traumatized and need help.

Acknowledging versus blaming

As a rule, parents who have failed in their role of a parent have themselves suffered childhood trauma. They deserve empathy and compassion. But so do you! It is not about blaming it is about acknowledging the facts and helping what we can help. It is about breaking the chain of trauma transmitted through generations and healing your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Please help me to help others

This blog article is the most general sketch on childhood trauma. To learn more please follow my Facebook page (Soultap Therapy) where I post links to other literature and resources.

Please share this article with your friends and people who may benefit from this information. And feel free to post comments or write to me if you have questions.

 

 

 

 

 

From the therapy room: Beyond bad feelings

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In my previous blog ‘What scripts are running us’ I invited you to challenge your conceptions of how things should be. We have so many firm ideas about all kinds of things! Yet so many of them are not our original thoughts, but have been ‘downloaded’ from our society – through parents, school, mass media, church, books, traditions, etc. Some of these ideas may align with your deeper feelings and experiences and some not, but how can we tell one from the other without questioning them?

Questioning old ideas and our habitual approaches to life is a big part of my therapy work. I challenge my clients and my clients challenge me. That’s why it never gets boring! And today I want to share with you one such conversation that I had with my client Guy (the name has been changed for the sake of confidentiality). It began during a session and continued via emails. Hope you will find it as interesting and stimulating as I did.

G. I have been feeling kind of flat this week. And I also feel strange now, a bit panicky… It worries me a little… I thought I was making good progress and was getting better, and then it got worse again.

L. You know, somehow the words ‘progress’ and ‘getting better’ jar my ear… It sounds like you are constantly measuring where you are, according to a certain scale, instead of simply living and taking each experience on its own…

G. Well we’re taught from an early age to strive to be ‘better’ always, to ‘improve…’ like we’re on a mountain relentlessly moving to the summit… that’s where our eyes always are, rather than on the ground beneath our feet! We need more flexible criteria. Maybe we could spiral around the mountain, or perhaps head downwards to the base if we want more stability, or even stop in the middle somewhere for a balance and different views. All places have their advantage!

L. Well – if we think about it – ‘better’ or ‘worse’ is a convention, a relative thing, just as what we designate as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feelings. Why, for instance, feeling sad is ‘bad,’ while feeling ‘joyful’ is ‘good’? Feeling sad may be uncomfortable and heavy, true, but is it ‘bad’? When we apply labels they obscure the experience itself, stop us from exploring it and from seeing its value.

G. I think the whole structure of the way we see the world as adults is based on our attempt to hold on to ideas or concepts we have been taught are ‘good.’ And we try to get away from those we have been taught are ‘bad.’ Out of which emerges a corresponding struggle with our feelings. This is simply conditioning and represents a movement away from the experience itself. As small children we saw the world as flowing and whole… I think we need to try and somehow return to this state, coming through all we’ve learnt back to a new balance.

L. Yes! In a way it’s like going back to a pre-verbal stage where we experience things immediately. Marking things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only comes with the acquisition of language, which is a conventional structure – limited and limiting (while also useful and necessary). I believe we need to become really clear that ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘better’ or ‘worse’ are just labels belonging to a particular framework of references. We tend to associate comfortable feelings with ‘good,’ and uncomfortable with ‘bad,’ but this is totally arbitrary!

G. Can we regard our state in any moment like an interesting natural phenomenon such as the weather, and become really fascinated by all its manifestations, and unexpected changes, or even unexpected stability at times… because really there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ weather… those notions always depend on your viewpoint… for example dark clouds and heavy rain might be ‘bad’ for a tourist, but very ‘good’ for the plants in your garden!

L. My favourite analogy is the sea: it can be rough and wavy or still and translucent. But we don’t talk about it as being ‘better’ in one state than in the other. (Unless we are fishermen for whom ‘good’ sea would mean ‘easy for navigation’/’favourable for fishing’ or whatever term they use.)

G. When we truly integrate the feeling that ‘there’s no better or worse’ it actually frees us to have criteria for ‘better or worse’ when required – as is sometimes necessary to live in the world.

L. It is a valid point: we need to have a ‘better or worse’ criterion to get by in daily life.

G. But to integrate (or live) the feeling that ‘there’s no better or worse’ this feeling itself has to be ‘no better or worse’ than anything else.

L. I am not sure I understand you here…

G. It’s difficult to express… let’s take ‘acceptance.’ We can say we’re going to accept everything about ourselves but to really do that we also have to accept our own feelings or emotions of ‘non-acceptance’ about ourselves. We can say that everything we feel is necessary and fitting but we only fully do that by somehow also seeing as fitting our feelings or emotions of things being wrong and not fitting! This is important, otherwise we can get hooked into yet another ‘better’ way of being, that of ‘accepting’, and be back in a rut again.

L. Yes, I see what you mean now: we need to also embrace our own feelings of non-acceptance as they too are integral part of our existence and experience. From what I know about Buddhism, it encourages precisely this kind of approach: accepting or rather witnessing without rejection any state in which we find ourselves. Even if it is uncomfortable and difficult. Allowing it to be and being ok with it.

G. Yes .. but even if we think we’ve got really good at this ‘non-rejection’ thing, but suddenly find ourselves back again vehemently rejecting something, that’s exactly the point where, instead of hopelessness, if we’re really living this dialogue, we don’t reject that very ‘rejection’!

L. You are totally right and – well, yes – it is a challenge! And we can only meet it by learning to be compassionate towards ourselves.

What scripts are running us? Reprogramming your mind

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Do you sometimes wonder, like I do, if one day our world will be run by smart robots? Developments in Artificial Intelligence increasingly endeavor to decipher the governing properties of the human mind and create machines in the image of humans.

I hope that these machines won’t be as evil as presented in some science-fiction. What alarms me more is to what extent we, humans, resemble computers. Just like computers we are being run by the scripts encoded into us. Wars, social injustice and much of our collective and individual misery results from the fact that we are being programmed a certain way and we don’t even realize that.

So today I would like to invite you to contemplate together our computerized ‘condition’ and what we can do about it.

The matrix  

Our programming begins even before we are born. And here genetic codes play a significantly smaller role than psychological and emotional algorithms. The matrix is provided by our parents and grandparents, as well as society at large. Without consciously knowing it we inherit their anxieties, preconceptions, taboos and values.

Furthermore our early interaction with the world serves as a mirror through which our self-perception is formed. And if the mirror is distorted (as unfortunately is often the case) we end up with all kinds of insecurities and misconceptions about ourselves. They generate fear and mistrust. They stop us from opening up and reaching out. They inhibit our growth and limit our self-fulfillment in life.

So what can we do?

Opening to change

I would say we need to rebel! Like ‘Neo,’ the protagonist of The Matrix film, we can try and undo the programming that keeps us under control. But first we need to realize that our reality is not the actual reality, but in many ways is an illusion created by the innumerous complex scripts. We need to really see it.

Awareness is the key to success in this process. We need to become aware of what scripts are running us and how they operate. Only then can we stand a chance to break free from them and move forward.

Of course, if we continue the computer analogy, we may say that what we are doing is just a re-programming: replacing the old script with the new one. But this is not entirely so because in the process we learn to be open to change. And such an ability of continuous self-evolvement from within is something that computers don’t possess.

Opening to change may be unnerving and one has to be motivated enough to face the challenge… But if there is a part of you that feels curious please read on and see how the free spirit within you responds to it.

Safety maps

We are hardwired for safety. The need to be safe is linked directly with the survival instinct and is, of course, very important. However, there is a catch as we tend to associate the safe with the familiar – even when the familiar is not really safe, if we look at it objectively.

It may sound like a paradox, but consider, for example, this pattern. Why do so often people who have been abused (emotionally or physically) as children end up in a relationship with somebody who continues to abuse them in a similar way?

I don’t believe that these people consciously or subconsciously ‘attract’ such partners. They don’t want to be abused again! But their ‘alarm system’ is impaired because they have been used to certain types of behavior that other people won’t tolerate. So they miss the first warning signals and go headlong into the trap. Thus for some people a person with unstable moods and a tendency to ‘flip’ will be a definite ‘no-no’ while others will just take it as something they can manage because their father or mother were like that.

The misleading subconscious association of the safe with the familiar can also prevent us from speaking up for ourselves, having fulfilling relationships or getting a dream job.

If someone grew up in a house where emotional expression was not encouraged he or she will later have difficulties emotionally connecting with other people. It won’t feel safe.

Or if one’s parent had been prone to outbursts of anger the child would often adopt a strategy of being quiet to keep out of trouble. And that would be just the right strategy for the child. But then the child becomes an adult who cannot face conflict situations or express his or her needs for the fear of provoking anger.

Safety maps, as with all maps, need to be constantly revised because the territory is changing continuously. What has been a desert yesterday may be a rapid stream today and we need to be able to recognize the change and to find a new strategy for navigating it.

Inherited beliefs

To a greater extent than we realize we are prisoners to the ideas handed down to us by parents, teachers, media, magazines or books. For the most part, we didn’t consciously choose our values – we have inherited them and adopted them for our own. And we rarely question them until we face some deep crisis that turns our world upside down.

One of the great “bookish” beliefs that I held on to for a long time was an idea that “true love” can only happen once and it lasts forever. Because of that belief I used to have a great difficulty of letting go (within myself) of relationships that have already ended. I felt that by doing so I would be betraying myself and my ‘everlasting love.’

Our inherited ideas are usually very rigid and black and white. There is ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and very little gray area. This dualism is also linked to safety because we derive comfort from sorting things neatly and clearly into fixed little boxes. This is how we deal with the anxiety of uncertainty and the pain of impermanence.

Where to start?

It may be a good idea to start questioning our everyday behaviour, our ideals, common truths — everything. Imagine that you are an alien who has landed on this planet and is trying to make sense of what is going on, not take anything for granted. What do you do? Why do you do it this way and not another? Why do you believe certain things to be good or positive and other things to be bad or negative?

Turn it upside down, give it a shake and take a fresh look. Reawaken the inquisitive child within you and learn anew to ask questions, even about the simplest and seemingly obvious things. Don’t be afraid! At this point you don’t need to change anything in your beliefs or in your ways. Simply become open to the idea that different perspectives are possible.

It can be immensely helpful to talk things through with a person who is not afraid of asking difficult questions and doesn’t leap up with ready-to-hand advice. Psychotherapy or counselling provides a safe space for such an exploration. And if you have friends who can become your companions on the journey by all means do engage their support.

It may also be useful to keep a diary of recurring thoughts and emotions. I have created a simple Word template for this purpose which many of my clients have found helpful. If you are interested please feel free to send me a request and I will email it to you.

Success with your journey!

Ludmila

 

Emotional co-dependency: Why do we get stuck in dysfunctional relationships

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What makes people stay in a dysfunctional relationship where they don’t feel appreciated and cared for? Why continue in a relationship where there is no joy, laughter, fun, trust and real intimacy – a relationship that has run its course and cannot be revived?

Sometimes people say that they are staying together because of the children. Yet there are also couples who do not have children and even they are not able to bring an end to their unhappy relationship and go separate ways. Children’s wellbeing is of course a very important factor, but usually it is not the only reason. And neither is the financial factor.

There is special glue that keeps people stuck together. And this glue is emotional co-dependency.

The underlying reason for emotional co-dependency

A degree of co-dependency is present, of course, in all relationships and in life, in general, as there are very few people who would live completely autonomously, in solitude. We depend on bakers to eat bread and on teachers to have our kids educated. So also within a couple one comes to rely on the other for certain skills and knowledge, as well as for support and encouragement in a moment of difficulty.

What I am speaking about is a particular type of co-dependency that springs out of deep insecurity. It springs from self-doubt that we have about being worthy, lovable and deserving attention. We also doubt our right to express our individual needs. It springs from the fear of being alone, of not being able to cope on our own. Usually this insecurity is the inheritance from our childhood that may have been further ingrained by later events in our life.

When we are emotionally insecure we may hang on to a relationship that is not working because we believe (often unconsciously) that we don’t deserve anything better or because we fear that nobody else would want to be with us. Thus we compromise and settle for less, accepting that the crumbs of affection and the illusion of a partnership is better than nothing.

Below I outline a few common patterns of co-dependency and discuss briefly how we get trapped in the loop.

Co-dependency in abusive relationships

One of the particularly destructive types of co-dependent relationship is abusive relationship. It may or may not involve physical violence, but always involves emotional violence. If your partner regularly puts you down, tells you that you are good for nothing, that you can’t get anything right, that you are messed up, that nobody else will love you – these are the signs of emotional abuse. They are also the signs of emotional manipulation because they press your buttons, such as insecurity and fear, to make you do what your partner wants you to do.

It may seem that the abusive partner is in a stronger position, that he or she can do without us and we are at their mercy. This is an illusion as abusive behavior also arises from the same set of deep seated insecurities and is often a result of the earlier experienced abuse.

The frequent pattern within the cycle of abusive relationships is when you confront your partner and say you have had enough and you are leaving, they would turn around, be very apologetic and promise that this will never happen again. Yet their efforts do not endure for long because the inner foundation is lacking, and so they relapse and the cycle begins anew.

Pursuing unattainable love

This is a very common and very painful pattern of co-dependent relationships that may get one hooked for years. Usually it starts from somebody paying us attention in a way that elicits a hope of love and emotional intimacy. Then, when we begin to respond, that person withdraws, but comes back again just when we are ready to give it up. Our hopes get revived only to be disappointed again. It is tantalizing and confusing. It is there and not there, and we don’t know whether we can trust that person and whether we can trust our own senses. Yet the flickering promise of affection is too tempting to resist.

Anybody can fall into such a trap, yet for some people it takes significantly longer to break out of it. Usually these are people (and I too share the experience) for whom in their childhood the hope of emotional intimacy with their parents has been frustrated as their parents, for one reason or another, were emotionally unavailable for them. So as adults we continue to yearn for the consummation of this hope. If only we could attain what used to be unattainable – then we will finally find peace! Then our value and desirability will be confirmed. So we are replaying the same scenario over and over again, hoping that this time the ending will be different. Only it rarely happens so…

Over-giving

Co-dependency can also manifest itself through over-giving. This trend is not always easy to discern because it tends to camouflage itself as generosity, love or altruism. But let me ask you this question: do you lavish on your partner the super-abundance of caring and attention, while forgetting your own needs? Do you sometimes feel the stirring of suppressed resentment and the wish you had received more in return?

If you answer yes to these questions, the chances are that you are not getting the balance right. And this is not just out of love or because it is your nature to give. If we over-give at the expense of our own needs and well-being it is a sure sign that our insecurity plays a role here. Subconsciously we ‘think’ that if we give more we will be liked more and won’t be abandoned.

There is a subtle flavour of manipulation in it, even though we may not at all be conscious of it. Through extra giving and caring we attempt to habituate another person to depending on us thereby securing his or her attachment. I have been and still am, to some extent, liable to this form of co-dependency and am aware that it requires a considerable mental effort to recognize and counteract the inclination within oneself.

The way forward

Codependency may lead to very painful and harmful entangling. Fueled by fear and sealed by habit it can keep us trapped within an unhappy relationship for an indefinite time, undermining our self-esteem and our sense of power.

To break away from the tenets of co-dependency and build up a partnership based on mutual respect and appreciation we need first of all to become aware of what is going on. We need to face up to our insecurities and recognize how they play out in our relationships. It does take a lot of courage and we need to seek help through relationship counselling, if necessary, to deal with our past wounds.

And – however we pursue our way to freedom – we need to learn to BE KIND to ourselves and to give ourselves the understanding, appreciation and support that we require and deserve.

 

 

 

Nonviolent Communication: How to get your needs met

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What is your habitual response to being hurt, annoyed or irritated by another person? Do you swear? Do you smash plates? Do you withdraw within yourself? Do you tell that person how wrong (insensitive, selfish, etc.) she or he is?

And now think of the habitual reaction that you get from that person, in response to your response. Most probably they will try to argue back to defend their cause or pull away and withdraw, too.

Too often, unfortunately, in our communication with each other we get trapped in the vicious circle of attack and defence, which often takes a form of a counter-attack and generates more violence. And here I am not speaking about physical violence (although situations can escalate to it), but about emotional violence. This type of violence permeates our daily life to such an extent that we tend to take it for a norm and may not be able straight away to identify it as violence.

Marshall Rosenberg explains that this is because we all have been educated in a ‘school of jackals’ where violence is the norm.

I have first heard about Marshall Rosenberg and nonviolent communication (NVC) from a friend several years ago. I bought his book and it really resonated with me, so since then I have been learning to practise NVC and also passing it on to my clients, who also found it very useful.

In this blog I want to introduce you to a few fundamental principles of NVC, which is designed to help you being heard and have your needs met while maintaining good healthy relationships.

 

  1. Differentiate between feelings and interpretations

How our message will be received depends a lot on how we convey it. The words in which we package our message may either help or prevent it from being adequately understood.

For example, let us say that at a party your partner has been speaking to other people and did not pay much attention to you. As a result you are being hurt and upset. Yet when you finally get to talk to your partner and let him or her know how you feel you say “I felt ignored by you!”

Now ‘hurt’ and ‘upset’ are feelings, while ‘ignored’ is an interpretation that entails an assumption about your partner’s behaviour or intention. If their intention was not to ignore you they will understandably respond to you in a defensive way, denying that what you said is correct. Then you will feel even more hurt because your message hasn’t been heard. But it hasn’t been heard because you used the wrong words! If you say “I am feeling hurt” your language is matching your emotions and your partner will be more likely to hear it and less likely to get on defensive.

Marshall Rosenberg suggests that it is very important that in expressing ourselves we differentiate between feelings/emotions and interpretations or assumptions that we make about another person. It doesn’t mean that we cannot make an assumption, but we have to clearly identify it as our assumption (e.g. “I began to think you were ignoring me”).

 

  1. Stick to the facts, focus on yourself and give the reason

Very often when instead of stating our feelings we jump to interpretations, we also omit mentioning the exact thing that caused us distress. Furthermore, we formulate our message in a form of an attack (blame or accusation) on another person. Thus, continuing with the same example of the party, we may express our feelings in the following way: “You ignored me the whole evening!”

From the point of NVC, this sentence contains three communication mistakes:

  • It substitutes feeling/emotion (‘hurt’ or ‘upset’) by interpretation (‘ignored’);
  • It contains an accusation (“you ignored me”);
  • It doesn’t explain what your partner actually did that has upset you.

The example of a correct statement may be as follows:

“I am feeling upset because you talked to all other people at that party for the whole evening and haven’t said a word to me!”

In this sentence you keep the focus on you and your feelings. The explanatory statement, of which your partner is a subject, describes what exactly about his or her actions you found upsetting. When you express yourself in this way your partner won’t feel the target of an accusation or the blame. They won’t feel the need to defend themselves from an imposed interpretation and will learn what to do and what not to do in the future so that not to hurt you again.

 

  1. Express your needs clearly

 More often than we realize we expect another person to intuit our needs. When they fail to do so we get disappointed and upset. A vivid illustration is a story my mother told me about a falling out she had with my father during the early months of their marriage. She had a bad toothache and needed to see a dentist. She was anxious and wanted my father’s support. However, she didn’t ask him to come with her; she expected him to guess that this was what she needed from him. You can imagine how disappointed and upset she was when instead of offering to come with her he went to play football with his friends!

I am quite similar, in some ways, to my mother and share a number of her inhibitions and defence mechanisms (including withdrawal). So I know how difficult it is to bring yourself to articulate what seems to you plainly obvious! Yet it is plainly obvious only within your own emotional system of references. Alas! Sometimes it is healthier and helps create happier relationship when we treat another person a bit as an alien. If they don’t guess our needs it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t love us. It may simply mean that on their planet 2 + 2 doesn’t make 4!

 

  1. Listen to the message behind the words

The counterpart to Marshall Rosenberg’s character of ‘jackal’ is ‘giraffe.’ I believe he says somewhere that he has picked up giraffe because giraffe has the biggest heart of all mammals. (This assumption is erroneous by the way… Do you know which mammal has the biggest heart?) In contrast to ‘jackal,’ ‘giraffe’ speaks from its heart and listens with its heart. It means that ‘giraffe’ listens to feelings behind the words and not just to the words as such.

Consider this conversation between the ‘jackal’ and the ‘giraffe’:

Jackal. You ignored me the whole evening!

Giraffe. Are you saying that I have hurt you?

Jackal.   Yes! I am very hurt.

Giraffe. Oh… Is it because I haven’t spent much time with you?..

Jackal.   You haven’t spent any time with me at all! You were busy talking to all these other people.

Giraffe. And you thought I was ignoring you…

Jackal.   Yes! And I am very upset.

Giraffe. Of course, you would be upset. I am very sorry.

When your child screams at you “I hate you!” you know that it doesn’t mean she or he hates you, but that they want your attention (or something you are not giving them). In the same way we can practise understanding emotional needs behind the words and the behaviour of other people. It is not easy – but it is possible!

 

Video of Marshall Rosenberg’s workshop

Well, this turned out to be quite a lengthy article and we have only covered the basics!

If you are interested, you can learn more by watching this video. Enjoy and have a good laugh!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBGlF7-MPFI