June 9, 2013 ~ Finding One’s Communicative Center-of-Gravity

It is not at first with our own hands that we pick the acorns and apples from the commonwealth of nature to nourish our own bodies. It is the hands of other people that supply the needs of our bodies, both in our infancy and beyond. For each of us lives in and through an immense movement of the hands of other people. The hands of other people lift us from the womb. The hands of other people grow the food that we eat, weave the clothes that we wear, and build the shelters that we inhabit. The hands of other people give pleasure to our bodies in moments of passion and aid and comfort in times of affliction and distress. It is in and through the hands of other people that the commonwealth of nature is appropriated and accommodated to the needs and pleasures of our separate, individual lives, and, at the end, it is the hands of other people that lower us into the earth. (James Stockinger, as cited by Robert Bellah in The Good Society, p. 104)

Sunday, June 9, 2013 ~ Finding One’s Communicative Center-of-Gravity

Although I often wonder if Marshall Rosenberg developed the principles/components of NVC in reaction to his diagnostic training as a clinical psychologist — thereby rendering it a bit taboo to speak in ‘jackal’ labels such as ‘narcissistic’ — for the purposes of this blog post, I’m exploring the pervasive societal narcissism that has permeated our culture (so hopefully this will offer a bit of a caveat for the more puritan giraffes who may peruse this blog).  In effect, from my vantage point anyway, NVC does seem to offer a counter-cultural ethos which rests on a fulcrum of interdependence (rather than the individualism that dominates our nation/world).

So, when in dialogue, sometimes we come across someone with a all-consuming ‘egocentric gravitational pull’ – whether as a personality trait or due to a more transient upset/crisis – which can be challenging to navigate.

Andrew Cohen says narcissism is not a personal problem of any one individual but has become a culturally conditioned epidemic.

Me All the Time: The Epidemic of Narcissism | Think Tank | Big Think

See more:  Narcissism | Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen: “Narcisism is compulsive self-infatuation…A psychological disease that has become a cultural epidemic.  I’m a baby boomer.  I’m 56.  I grew up in the age of the individual.  When I grew up, my life was all about me.  My generation, and our children’s generation, are very different than other generations because we’ve grown up in an age when our life is all about me.  We are almost conditioned to be very narcissistic.  When I was a young boy, my parents said, ‘Sweetheart, you should do whatever’s going to make you happy.’  And teachers at school, when we spoke about what are you going to do, it was always, well, what do you want? I was never told that you are part of a bigger context, a bigger process, that might need something from you.  I was never told that, you know kiddo, you’re probably one of the luckiest that have ever been born, relatively speaking, upper middle class, well educated, unparalleled freedoms…maybe you have an obligation to help those who are less fortunate than you.  Narcissism is a culturally conditioned epidemic of literally pathological self-concern.  So the experience of the narcissist which is very common for many people of this generation is we think about me all the time.  What we like, don’t like, want, don’t want, all the time.  So the fears of our ego become the narrative of our lives.”

According to Cohen, narcissism makes us “unknowingly inherently selfish because we’re always thinking about me.” This cultivates, he says, “a very materialistic relationship to life” and to other people.

So what’s the way out? In order to “transcend” this condition, Cohen says people need to become “inspired.” In other words, you really need to care about it, and focus on it. The constant self-referencing that is narcissism is habitual, so the cure is a matter of breaking a psychological habit. Cohen says that to successfully overcome this habit we need to be very committed, or else “we probably won’t do it.”

Narcississtic Ethos & the Dance of NVC

In these encounters, both the skill set of self-connection (i.e. finding our own center of gravity, within — see the need to ‘be-at-the-center-of-one’s-own-life here: Living Energy of the Needs) and then, and here’s the counter-cultural piece, navigating the interdependent dance of holding needs with care, both of ourselves and others, comes into play.

In these moments, we can become adept at negotiating space in a non-toxic way, which honors all parties at the table, while yet embodying the capacity to set boundaries.

When Empathy might not be the most Life-Serving Response (Notice -> Choice between Empathy &/or Expression)

Wisdom on when to implement Self-Expression instead of, or in addition to, Empathy:

When Empathy might not be the most Life-Serving Response

Frequently when I am teaching people empathy skills and practice, I get a question that sounds something like this:

“How could you just stand there and talk with the person endlessly if they ______,” and then the person fills in the blank with any number of scenarios.

This illuminates how empathy — whether done silently or out loud — is actually NOT the preferred response in certain situations. So, as valuable and life-giving as empathy can be, I invite you to consider ditching empathy in the following situations and trying the alternative:


SITUATION: You notice resentment or irritation when you imagine offering your empathic presence to another.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Remind yourself that the only way that empathy connects is when the listener is acting out of the joy of giving, and is meeting his or her own needs by offering the empathic presence. In other words, empathy is not a commodity that we “dole out,” but rather a compassionate embrace of the other that enriches our life.

SITUATION: You are too upset or triggered in that moment to genuinely offer your empathic presence.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Take a time out. Take a deep breath. Shine the light of empathy on yourself (“self-empathy”). Connect with your own feelings, needs and requests, and/or ask another person (not the person who triggered you) you trust to listen to you with empathy.

SITUATION: When you want to share your own truth with the person.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Express yourself honestly to them. This sometimes involves “Screaming Compassionately,” as in, “I am overwhelmed and needing to take care of myself, and I am not able to hear you right now! Can we talk again after dinner?”

SITUATION: The other person has a need that is more alive than empathy, such as information, clarity or honesty.

ALTERNATIVE RESPONSE: Tune in to the person’s present-moment need(s), and respond accordingly… rather than defaulting to or assuming that empathy is always the primary need. It can be extremely irritating to receive empathy – particularly the verbal reflection of feelings and needs – when another need is alive… (continues here: http://www.cnvc.org/when-empathy-might-not-be-most-life-serving-response at Jeff Brown’s blog)

See also:  Heartfelt Communication

FYI ~ Free Online Seminar on June 13th:  The Key to Evolving Beyond Ego

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