What’s Up Next?
Sunday, October 4, 2015 ~ Forbidden Fruit
& the Full Array of our Universal Human Needs
Inquiry: Which branches of Universal Human Needs fall within your ‘comfort zone’ (to attend to, whether in making requests of yourself or others) and which are more of a stretch, an (‘needs-attending’) edge, to reach out towards?
One of the things that I look forward to, each year, is hearing Max Rivers present his unique blend of NVC and marriage mediation on the 24 hour Gandhi-day/empathy call (which occurs each year on October 2nd in honor of Gandhi’s birthday and in tandem with the United Nations and its International Day of Non-Violence & Empathic Action, see: 7th Annual Empathy World Call Oct 2nd).
While Max’s specialty is working with married couples, for the last 15 years he’s honed an entirely unique approach to marriage mediation, his insights into both the intra/interpersonal dynamics in play in a myriad of scenarios, could be fruitfully applied to just about any interpersonal dynamic, I suspect.
Excerpt: “…Conflict is badly handled differences. Rivers maintains that differences are really good — a couple has the benefit of more skills and views to access as they move along in life.
“What’s important to realize”, Rivers says, “is that most negative marital interchanges are about judgments. As soon as you judge your partner, their ears fall off.”
Instead of judging (and being judged), Rivers says that the key is for people to identify their needs. Then their concerns don’t come out as a judgment, and the other person can respond to the need without feeling attacked.
If you try this at home, you’ll be surprised how often the “judging voice” is in your mind when viewing your spouse’s behavior. You will begin to be aware of mutual verbal “attacks” in marriage. Once you identify the judging voice and the attacks, you can proceed to eliminate them and have a better marriage. You start to observe without judging. Then you start listening to what your partner really is saying, and grasp their feelings and needs. Mutual empathy and compassion develops; the marriage gets better.
Rivers reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which Seinfeld thought he had finally met the perfect woman he would marry. How did he know? Because they both liked to eat cold cereal in the morning. Seinfeld said, “I finally found someone to love — and she’s just like me”. They broke up within a week.
It turns out that people pick out mates who are different than them. This causes problems after the initial infatuation wears off. But it’s actually better. Love and attraction were about the differences in the beginning, and can be about the differences in a mature marriage.
For more on Max Rivers and his work, visit his blog “Tired of Having the Same Old Argument.”
Read the above blog post, in its entirety, here: HuffingtonPost.com – Laurie Israel: Marriage Mediation
As I mentioned above, in what has become a kind of annual ritual that I eagerly anticipate, these past half dozen years, below is a bit of a summary culled from hastily jotted notes while listening to Max Rivers — TheMarriageMediator.net — and his presentation on ‘forbidden needs’:
Max Rivers, referencing Marshall Rosenberg’s notion that ‘everything we do is an attempt to meet a [universal human] need’ forged the idea of “forbidden needs” (which, as shorthand for anyone familiar with the ‘imago’, is a process in which those we encounter in the present stir archaic longings rooted in our past). Max prefers the use the term “heart’s desire” to that of needs (given that of the multitude of dictionary definitions, almost all are negative in their connotation, think ‘needy’ etc. – a word he thus surmises has quite a bit of baggage for most of us). When thinking of your heart’s desire, Max posited that God gave expression to a divine desire for connection/creation/love through the big bang and the resulting atoms/molecules which morphed into cells and eventually into beings (who also are infused with these elements of creativity, love, etc.). In this expansive framing, Max spoke of how one can know the satisfaction of seeking out and having the whole set of universal human needs attended to and posited that, along these lines, he often defines human beings as ‘self-satisfying needs machines’ (could Mick Jagger lyrics wafting in the background be far behind?), meaning that each individual is inherently hardwired to go about life attending to their needs, albeit some opting for more tragic strategies than others.
As children, some subset of our universal human needs winds up being frustrated, as it may go consistently unattended to or dissatisfied in some way, especially within the context of our unique family of origin. Max offered a specific example that whether due to cultural stoicism or religious prohibition, the need for sensuality as manifested in human touch may seem off limits through the child’s eyes. It then gets construed as a ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’ need which is subsequently warded off from conscious awareness and replaced by a sense resignation and then candy coated with a kind of despair. Max’s theory is that our subconscious mind scans the horizon for those who might satiate these ‘forbidden’ (or warded off from consciousness) needs. Falling in love then can be viewed as an attempt to attend to that which we dare not ask, an encounter with another in which the broader buffet of one’s universal needs, once forfeited are now seemingly effortlessly fulfilled, such that those needs such as that of ‘touch’ in his example, that we once perceived to be off limits instead now seem readily within our grasp (pardon the touchy-feely pun).
In Max’s illustrative example on the call, someone may consciously identify a variety of traits he or she may prefer in an ideal partner, yet then show up with someone surprisingly different, a choice of partner who seems entirely at odds with what one consciously intended. However, Max posits that it’s likely that our ‘forbidden’ needs, such as a subconscious desire to be touched, may be in play (overriding more conscious criteria in a partnership selection).
Then, during the honeymoon phase, while there is a sense of delight as a fuller array of needs are more deeply satiated (as never before, an experience that seems both scary and powerful). Then, as the relationship continues, invariably cooling a bit, as more familiar patterns reassert (due to the hectic pace of life, etc.), Max offered this example of how one of his mediation couple might have interacted: by saying something like this, ‘you know, when we met you really seemed warm, but really you’re a cold fish!’
Max suggests that the reason we will express some needs as judgments is due to our fear or sense of certain needs being off limits. By this inartful attempt at attending to our needs, the dynamics of our family of origin get recreated, complete with all the judgmental/jackal flesh-piercing hooks. At this juncture, there is a kind of fork in the road, which can lead to either a conflict or healing phase of the relationship. Max again referenced Marshall, who offered that ‘there is no information in the content of a judgment about the person being judged.’ If partners can discern that the lashing out stems from a sense of despair — which he sees as sadness + forever (i.e. “you always/never…”) — and that this sense of the hysterical is rooted in the historical, or our family-of-origin, then it becomes possible to listen to the content of things expressed as judgements such that one can discern the underlying needs. Max underscored that when we’ve set off a forbidden need, whether in ourselves or another, the emotion that is stirred can feel both awful and overwhelming. When couples devolve into attempting to attend to their respective needs through the constant experience of attacking the other, it can become increasingly intolerable. However Max noted that the darkest form of an unsatisfied need may be when one has a forbidden need yet doesn’t recognize it (which he noted from his experience in mediation often warrants a tremendous amount of empathy to identify the feelings that point to the need which is crying out to be resourced). On the other side of despair, which is not purely that of present time (but intertwines archaic elements/experiences), is what is often referred to — in NVC circles — as the living-energy or beauty-of-the-need, where trust is engendered and partners can ask for their needs to be attended to with a quality of request-consciousness rather than remain entangled in judgements.
Often much of the initial work is that of an internal process. Discerning not just ‘what’s alive’, in Marshall’s original conceptualization, but via Max to instead/further inquire ‘where is this alive in my body’ (such that sensations of heaviness or lightness, something numb, a chill, a sense of being hot-under-the-collar or flushed, etc.) is identified. Next question to pose is ‘what is your heart’s desire’ (that communicates through this sensation of _______. Max also offered that this longing for an experience of one’s heart’s desire can often be paired with a tender sense (read, hope/yearning) that it land in a field of non-judgement. By becoming more aware of the ‘living-energy’ of the need within ourselves, it may then be more possible to attune into a clear request of something we would want from ourselves (a possible direction to move towards attending to this newly acquainted need). He concluded by observing that learning the (proverbial) ropes of this process is best first done with oneself, as it becomes more of a ‘graduate course’ when engaging with other, thereby tripping off one another’s ‘forbidden needs’. From this place, it’s more possible to perceive others through the lens of unconditional positive regard, as all judgements an be perceived as clues to forbidden needs, especially when they seem highly charged from an especially unresourced state. It’s then possible to hyperlink the judgment to the need. In a sense, when another seems to ‘attack’ us, it could be seen in the light of their own ‘forbidden’ needs yearning for access to the resources perceived to be at our disposal. During the Q&A that followed the presentation of this unique conceptualization of NVC marital mediation, Max paralleled how parents always have to be on their best behavior with their kids, that there is never a time when it’s appropriate to not be. Similarly, he suggested, given our awareness of the vulnerability and tenderness that underlies even challenging conduct — perhaps especially when it appears to be the most egregious — Max recommended always having our jackal-to-giraffe NVC translator cap on!
For more on Max Rivers and his work, visit his blog “Tired of Having the Same Old Argument.”
Extrapolating from the personal to the political (below):
This may seem like a bit of a non sequitur, however once again thinking about this idea of the full range of universal human needs and having some portion warded off from our conscious awareness, with a sense of despair being triggered whenever these most ostracized set of needs are stirred up within our subconscious awareness — I couldn’t help but extrapolate this concept of despair-as-a-tell-tale-sign and relate it to the notion of pretraumatic stress vis-a-vis climate change awareness.
We spend vast amounts of time and personal energy trying to calculate the most urgent threats posed by climate change. Washington, D.C. psychiatrist and climate activist Lise Van Susteren, however, says the most insidious danger may already be upon us. She’s not talking about heat, drought, floods, severe storms, or rising seas. She’s focused on the psychological risks posed by global warming.
Van Susteren has co-authored a report on the psychological effects of climate change that predicts Americans will suffer “depressive and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides, and widespread outbreaks of violence,” in the face of rising temperatures, extreme weather, and scarce resources. Van Susteren and her co-author Kevin Coyle write that counselors and first responders “are not even close to being prepared to handle the scale and intensity of impacts that will arise from the harsher conditions and disasters that global warming will unleash.”
There is currently no organized discipline for the study of the psychological risks of climate change, yet it is already taking a toll on many people who tackle this issue. Surprisingly susceptible are those who might seem to be immune.
“The climate deniers? I always say they‘re really too stressed to hear the truth,” said Van Susteren. “We see this kind of thing in my work all the time, where people who aren’t ready to hear the truth about something will simply say it doesn’t exist.”
Those who do acknowledge the problem face a different set of issues, particularly those who work on the problem. Lisa Van Susteren coined the term “pre-traumatic stress disorder” to describe the grief, anger, and anxiety clinging to the scientists and advocates whose job it is to gaze into a future that can look increasingly bleak.
The longtime counselor is profoundly empathetic, and her interest in pre-traumatic stress is intensely personal. Said Van Susteren, “Pre-traumatic stress disorder? It’s what I see. It’s what I live. It’s what I see others living.” Scientists and advocates suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder, she explained, face frequent, intrusive thoughts about the future. “In the worst of cases, it sends them into a feeling of despair,” said Van Susteren. Those battling pre-traumatic stress have accepted the truth about climate change, but rather than turning to a coping mechanism like denial, they have soldiered on, and they have paid for it with grief, sadness, and worry.
Exacerbating the problem are the piles of research telling climate crusaders to lay off the apocalyptic rhetoric, meaning that, in order to be effective communicators, experts must often stifle their most dire predictions. The problem is that climate change threatens feelings of self-efficacy — the sense that we can control our destiny. This is precisely why social scientists urge communicators not to overburden the public with catastrophic predictions about the future, because doing so can inspire fatalism.
Van Susteren offers guidance for coping with climate-induced anxiety. Take care of yourself, she says. Sleep. Exercise. Nurture relationships with friends and family. Laugh, dance, and play games. But most of all, she says, do something. Climate action can make for powerful medicine. It can restore self-efficacy and banish fear and fatalism. Granted, said Van Susteren, “you still need to have a strong stomach and a certain resiliency to want to go down into the trenches.” But that way lies hope, community and a shared sense of purpose.
The psychiatrist has taken a healthy dose of her own medicine. She is helping to organize a rally for climate justice, to be held the morning of September 24th on the National Mall while Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress. The rally is the work of Moral Action on Climate, a coalition of social justice, environmental, and faith organizations. Said Van Susteren, “The faith tradition is bringing this incredible sense of the moral grounding in what we’re doing.”… (continues)
By having an unprecedented ‘bully pulpit’ on a world wide stage, Pope Francis seems uniquely poised to make a dent in the moat of denial encircling our contemporary collective conscience and/or consciousness. This could be seen during his recent visit to the United States in which Pope Francis spoke often — whether at the White House, to Congress, at the United Nations or in Madison Square Garden — of his concerns as to our common home.
Excerpt: …Climate scientists not only wade knee-deep through doomsday research day in and day out, but given the importance of their work, many also find themselves thrust into a maelstrom of political, ideological, and social debate with increasing frequency.
As Naomi Klein writes in her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, “We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of their own research. Most of them were quietly measuring ice cores, running global climate models, and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that in breaking the news of the depth of our collective climate failure, they were ‘unwittingly destabilizing the political and social order.’” Talk about a lot of pressure.
“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan is quoted saying in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.” “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she says, referring to an ocean reef she has studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”
Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C. — and co-author of the National Wildlife Federation’s report — calls this emotional reaction “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” a term she coined to describe the mental anguish that results from preparing for the worst, before it actually happens.
“It’s an intense preoccupation with thoughts we cannot get out of our minds,” Van Susteren says. And for some, it’s a preoccupation that extends well outside of the office. “Everyday irritations as parents and spouses have their place, they’re legitimate,” she says. “But when you’re talking about thousads of years of impacts and species, giving a shit about whether you’re going to get the right soccer equipment or whether you forgot something at school is pretty tough.”
What’s even more deflating for a climate scientist is when sounding the alarm on climatic catastrophes seems to fall on deaf ears. “How would that make you feel? You take this information to someone and they say they don’t believe you, as if it’s a question of beliefs,” says Jeffrey Kiehl, senior scientist for climate change research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. “I’m not talking about religion here, I’m talking about facts. It’s equivalent to a doctor doing extremely detailed observations on someone and concluding that someone needed to have an operation, and the person looks at the doctor and says, ‘I don’t believe you.’ How would a doctor feel in that moment, not think, but feel in that moment?” (continues)
How might a critical mass move beyond its current comfort zone, as in the narrow range of concerns and/or needs that we are accustomed to speaking of (whether deemed in moral or policy terms), and instead expand to those which are less familiar, towards a broader range of concerns, which invariably includes crossing through a barrier of despair in which the gravity of what the scientists have been pointing at for decades now, empirically demonstrated in a myriad of ways (climate modeling, earth/ocean monitoring, etc.), and is bearing down upon us with an escalating momentum is as much a question of psychology/communication as one of economics/technology. In being a lightning rod for this awareness, Pope Francis may be uniquely poised (and as we shall see, equipped with a kind of NVC consciousness).
While working on a doctoral dissertation in Germany, Pope Francis focused on Romano Guardini, a theologian and priest who has influenced both the Second Vatican Council and the two popes that preceded him. Then Bergolio’s “immersion in the writings of Guardini decisively shaped his thinking,” Bishop Barron has said.
Excerpt: “…He began a PhD thesis on the dynamics of disagreement. He studied the way contrasting points of view, held in tension, led to new fruitful solutions, and how the task of a leader was to hold polarities in tension, without letting disagreement fall into division. The PhD was never finished, but he applied its lessons, as cardinal archbishop, to the renewal of Argentine politics… (continues)”
This unifying dialogic capacity could be witnessed when Pope Francis spoke of ‘environmental degradation’ briefly before congress, in reassuring tones, while highlighting the connective tissue of four exemplary Americans (to keep those leaning forward in their chairs) or interlaced the notion of ‘smog’ as a shade of darkness in a homily’s biblical referent, while in NYC (terms embroidered to be perhaps less radioactive than the usual stone-turning fanfare such as ‘climate change/global warming’).
Perhaps a bit of a leap, but nonetheless I noted that just as Max Rivers emphasized the tenor of one’s tone, in addressing common partnership needs, so did Pope Francis seem to do so, vis-a-vis our common home, and on an exemplary grand scale.
Just enjoyed how the sentiments beneath were articulated…
|What I believe.|
Charles Pierce: Excerpt: “…As far as atheism goes, well, unfortunately, that ship sailed for me a while ago. We all have different ways of getting in touch with the transcendent. For me, these include sunrises over Lake Michigan, the way the rain falls in the part of Ireland where my grandparents were born, John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” the last paragraph of James Joyce’s story The Dead, the way Madison writes about government and religion, Robert Johnson’s music, and the Catholic ceremony of the Mass. All of these lead me to contemplate, in one way or the other, the existence of something beyond myself. You can call it God or not call it God. I do, but that’s all shorthand. I don’t think that this ever has limited my intellectual development or my ability to think for myself. (Sorry, Bill.) As for the great mass of other churches, I don’t get that same experience from their rituals. That’s not their fault, nor is it mine. It doesn’t make my church the One True one and theirs not. My experience is my own…” [ More ]