When I read about Non-Violent Communication (NVC) in the past, I saw it as a way to help resolve conflict between groups. I hadn’t seen it as a healing tool, especially not for self-talk. But it’s actually excellent for getting clear in communication in general, including with yourself. What are the facts and feelings, what is the judgement and blame? And how can we meet needs and come to satisfaction? (I review the steps here)
Another key point is that if you try to “figure out” what will make you happy with logic (left brain), you’ll likely miss the target. This is because our emotional needs are emotionally driven. We have to use feelings to identify the unmet needs. You CAN get satisfaction, in spite of what Mick Jagger sang.
Recently, I took an NVC-based workshop. It included some of the science behind our emotional state. For example, the Vagus nerve running in front of the spinal column has 3 channels.
The Dorsal, closest to the spine, drives our Freeze response. It mutes our response time and brings emotional states like shame, sadness, overwhelm, and confusion. We also go there when we’re badly injured. External symptoms include loss of muscle tone in the upper back and difficulty meeting people’s eyes (it’s not just psychological). Broadly, we tend to feel numb and disconnected from the body.
The second channel is our Fight/Flight alarm channel. That can express as anger, frustration, and so forth. Blood rushes to the limbs and away from the prefrontal cortex (higher mind) and digestive system. We become faster but stupider. Chronically, this activation we experience as anxiety.
You can divide the “Feelings when your needs are not satisfied” from the Feelings & Needs Inventories (pdf) into these 2 channels.
The third or Vental channel is operating when we feel safety and are socially engaged. Our brain hemispheres are more balanced [and nostril breathing] and we’re face focused. Much easier to meet needs in this mode.
If you’re familiar with the 3 gunas, these easily align. Tamas (inertia), Rajas (fire), and Sattva (evenness). When this pattern shows up, you know you’re looking at fundamentals.
On a constant basis, our amygdala inside the brain checks if we’re safe and OK. If not, we shift into the first or second channels. The amygdala is what holds the emotional charge in memory. It requires a single exposure. It has no time stamp and thus creates an eternal ever-present past. And emotional charge. This is our implicit and largely unconscious memory.
Behind the amygdala is the Hypocampus. It retains explicit memory after multiple exposures that is factual & timestamped. It tracks them for 3 years until they migrate to the cortex as long-term memory.
Together, the 2 bring us both the facts and emotions associated with various memories. However, during trauma, the hypocampus goes off-line, leaving only the timeless charge. If we’re able to name the feeling state though, the memory becomes explicit & conscious. At first it can be a little muddled but it gets clear with practice and clearing the backlog.
We also explored the evolving understanding of the brain hemispheres. If we carry a lot of unresolved trauma, our right brain can become like a “jungle.” Thus, we favour the left and control, detail, and judgment or blame. It’s a way to resist pain and feel safer. If we become disassociated, the right hemisphere goes quiet.
From an energetic standpoint, we’re talking about the lower 3 chakras. Safety, emotions, and lower mind.
Parents who are stressed and action-driven are typically left-brain dominant. The left brain sees others as tools & objects. (objectification) They’ll see their child as a collection of tasks for them. Such parents will expect specific careers, good grades, status and accomplishment. The child will often feel unseen and unknown, not received. Many teenagers thus balk and rebel at apparently pointless expectations and unmet needs. If the parent is barely functional, we learn to stay small and disassociative in dorsal mode. The worst of course is when parents visit their traumas on their children.
It’s also useful to note that children don’t even have the left brain orientation engage until ~2 years old. It doesn’t fully develop until around 6 so parental feedback is taken in as fact, including any shaming control measures. We may learn it’s safest to be invisible by functioning from the dorsal. Self-shaming becomes automatic.
Other kids stay more in fight/flight and thus lash out at others, perhaps becoming the bully. They find it easier to be in hate than shame. Adults can be the same way.
With such examples, we have to relearn natural relating techniques. Hence the role of NVC. If we ask others for empathy when we’re not feeling alive and in the body, there is no one there to accept it. We’re energetically closed. We have trouble receiving and will find it easier to give than receive. Often, we’re habitually trying to be invisible while asking to be seen so our needs don’t get met. We have to be awake and alive within to receive.
On the flip side, if we know we’re supported, it’s difficult to stay in shame or anger. Make sure that the people you hang out with can receive you, where self-expression is safe. You want 2-way relationships and you may need to learn to invite them. If you’re invisible (closed lower centres) you will be felt as unavailable by others.
When we’re relating and are not received (tuned out, subject change, talked over), how do we respond? Acceptance? Others may sometimes need a nudge. Do we repeat ourselves? Or do we ask for acknowledgement? If it still doesn’t work, there isn’t really a relationship taking place. It’s more like 2 toddlers who play near each other but have not learned to relate yet. They are together but separate.
The Energy Side
The techniques the workshop used to help heal skirted the edge of going into the mud of emotions. I would consider this the hard way. NVC is very useful for identifying emotional states. We can use them as signals for things to resolve. We want to allow feelings to arise and complete (resolve the charge). But we don’t want to wade into them – it’s a subtle but huge difference. Wading into the feelings amplifies them and can make them more real. For our shadow, it’s wading into the mud.
Emotions are the subjective experience of energy states. In energy healing you resolve the underlying energy blockage or resistance and thus resolve the resulting emotional effects (not to mention the karma). Thus energy healing is deeper and more effective than the drama.
When you learn energy healing, the first thing you learn is how to ground and not take on the energy you’re trying to resolve. Becoming more energy-aware allows us to resolve the root dynamics. While we still may experience a wave of emotion, we don’t have to wade into the trauma, just let it go. Watch it go by.
This process is also much simpler. For example, for a particularly big one, the teacher ended up engaging over a dozen other people as support plus engaging some role-playing. I can see the way this allowed the individual to feel safe and release, but the complexity and skill required to do such healing is much higher.
The exercises also made reference to being in the “resonant witness.” There was no inquiry or other techniques to make this more conscious and not everyone is aware enough of their own awareness for this to be valid. But being in an observer state makes watching the emotions go by much easier.
It’s also worth noting that if we learn to work with our internal energy environment, we can meet the majority of our emotional needs internally. They are simple energy states that can be adjusted with attention. I talked about this back on Feeling is Believing.
There is perhaps a ways to go from being deep in shame to being energy-aware and in a witness state. But having the support of others and some simple techniques can really help.
For a good introduction to energy healing, I’d suggest the Dreamhealer books, especially #2. His workshops are an excellent practical experience but are mostly in Canada.
From there, you can learn to feel and read energy and to ground and protect yourself. There are quite a few modalities around. Many such healers have studied several and integrated various features. But the key is simplicity. Energy is simple. It’s moving or not, it’s smooth, harsh, or sluggish (the gunas again), and so forth.
Most importantly, we can learn to heal ourselves.